Jill: We were one day into our stay in El Nido when we found out that our plan to meet back up with Bethany and head to Thailand together would not happen. While we had been traveling within the Philippines, a series of demonstrations by the Red Shirts in Thailand had led to the injury of more than 120 people and the deaths of at least six. The U.S. Government, the Peace Corps (Bethany’s organization) and several of Maya’s well-read relatives strongly suggested that we stay out of Bangkok and Thailand in general. We decided that if we couldn’t go to Thailand, the least stressful option would be, of course, to stay in El Nido.
Maya: This view, friends, helped us make that decision.
Jill: This is what it looked like to have me tipsily rebook two flights on a cheap phone with a tiny amount of load (minutes) and very little battery time on it. Also, the people on the other side of the phone were not native speakers of English. Fun.
Maya: Thanks to a nasty case of what I’m pretty sure was sun poisoning—though the potent mai tais surely didn’t help matters—I was good for nothing more than intense wallowing, rendering myself categorically useless. Jill saved the day, big time.
Maya: After our first day in El Nido, we were on the kind of high that only comes from island-hopping and snorkeling in paradise. With one of the town’s boat tours under our belts and many left to try, we knew that Jill’s phone-wrangling skills had paid off.
Jill: There are three main tours (Tour A, Tour B and Tour C), as well as a sunset tour and a kayak tour. Being thorough tourists, the only one we did not go on was Tour B. All of the tours began at 9 a.m., with the exception of, obviously, the sunset one, and returned to land around 4 p.m., right when El Nido’s intolerably hot sun started to hide. (We met a Canadian couple that had been in El Nido for several days. They informed us that in the middle of the day, it was best to be on a boat, where the winds and water would keep us cool.)
Maya: Tour C—our first—was the hands-down favorite, in part because the route was blissfully free from the boat congestion we would meet on our other excursions, in part because the group was tiny, just us and the aforementioned Canadians, but mostly because it touted a stop at a “secret beach” accessible only by swimming through the hole in that rock formation seen above. In truth, the beach itself was anticlimactic; getting there felt like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Jill: My first-ever try at snorkeling was during Tour C, and I quickly fell in love. I decided that floating through the coral reefs in giant rubber flippers counted as exercise and unlike our adventures in sea kayaking a few days later, it was a relatively simple “water sport” to master.
Jill: Lunch was standard with tours A, B and C, and we soon found out that for the most part, it was the same meal every day. The guides, with their excellent Boy Scout-style skills, would start a fire and set up shop at some abandoned beach on an island. (If two boats were on the same island at lunch time, they were far enough apart that if we pretended hard enough, and looked in a specific direction, we were nothing but someLost-style castaways grilling up lunch on a mysterious island.)
Maya: Most of the meals’ components were prepared ahead of time, but not the protein. Once that fire was going, on went the fish—sometimes a choice between mackerel and snapper, sometimes one or the other. There’s something utterly bourgeois about lounging on a sandy beach while your lunch is grilled for you, but we managed to enjoy every minute of it anyway.
Jill: Next up, pancit (noodles with vegetables). At the beginning of the trip, this was my favorite Filipino dish, as it was the most familiar (and did not have bones in it). In retrospect, it’s the fish and the mangoes that I crave now.
Jill: Generally, the meal also included a salad featuring cabbage, cucumbers and tomatoes. Light and healthy, this is the type of meal I should eat every day.
Maya: It was impossible to eat these mangoes without juice streaming down our arms; they were so sweet and ripe that natural sugar had crystallized on the cut surface of each slice. I’ve never had anything like ’em.
Jill: Oh, the mangoes. I want them now.
Jill: There are tours that you go on for the sights, and tours you go on for the pictures. The sunset tour (which we booked for Bethany’s arrival and to celebrate her birthday) was only good for one of these.
Maya: Our boat motored out around the bend in the harbor and parked in the middle of the bay. We were offered one lukewarm beer apiece while we waited for the sun to begin its descent.
Maya: The amenities could’ve been better, but the view wasn’t half bad.