The last weeks I travelled through mega cities such as Seoul, Osaka, Kyoto, Shanghai and Hong Kong. All those cities have a tremendous speed, density and its own kind of automatism which catches you whilst staying there. You feel subjected to the dynamic of the city like you are captured in an endless ribbon of time.
Unless… life washes you ashore at one of the wonderful islands like El Nido, Palawan – one of over 7000 islands at the Philippines.
El Nido, or ‘Hell Nido’ like it is also called in the meantime is a deceptive paradise !
My journeys take me around the world and I can’t get enough of discovering new places and cultures. I love to dive, climb and to explore diverse landscapes while following my passion, the photography. So I am very aware that I am also responsible on how tourism is effecting and changing developments from ‘unknown’ to ‘overcrowded’ places, especially when I write about it. The whole situation and process of development repeats itself all over the world, same indicators – different location and YES that makes me think on how I will share my information through this blog. Now and in the future, I already have some ideas and here is the fundamental approach: SHARE TO PROTECT Details, thoughts and ideas I will enclose in the following newsletters.
As soon as I landed at Palawan I felt a colourful lightness and my own amazement, amazed me once more. I almost forgot how simplicity feels like, the unplanned and the modesty. The village of El Nido is located on the northwest coast of the island Palawan and reminds me on some of islands in Thailand early 1990 where you could hear Reggae music in every bar and restaurants. Offers like diving, massages and surfing did pop up everywhere while countless accommodations were offered for every budget. So why is El Nido booming ?
The incredible amount of untouched beaches, bays and lagoons is without a doubt the major attraction and reason why travellers from all over the world are drawn to El Nido. By sailing through this magic world you will be amazed, besides that, the easy lifestyle and kindness of the Philippines people, is another reason for attraction. Most islands are harsh limestone formations, washed out by rain and shaped by wind and extreme weather conditions over thousands of years. Finally I can use the word paradisiacal to describe this great landscape, formed by nature. Milky turquoise or crystal clear waters can be found and beaches where the colour of the sand varies between dazzling white and glossy gold. God is turquoise !
But as we all know… not everything that shines is gold and so El Nido will suffer (sooner than later !) massive challenges and problems because of mass tourism. El Nido will also not to be spared from the excessive predatory exploitation of nature, including overfishing. Since a couple of years you can see the indicators, like totally uncontrolled building in terms of housing, roads, harbour and other infrastructure. The amount of boat trips to the so called exclusive wonders of El Nido is increasing rapidly and with it the numbers of accidents among colliding boats. To see this is just shocking, alerting and even more embarrassing. It is so busy that the demand exceeds supply !!! (similar to the whale shark watching in Oslob). El Nido, another wonderful place of former tradition, beauty and simplicity is, for you to decide, vanished. Traditions are only found in books or in the museum now but in exchange we can order Cafè latte, Falafel and Cereal ! ‘Our’ demands reach way beyond the mentioned food products and that’s just one of many reasons why you can see the environmental problems increasing on land, sea, in and around El Nido as well as on other islands of the Philippines.
The offered boat trips to the beautiful islands around El Nido in the traditional Banca Boats are as mentioned, the main attraction for tourists. Just be aware, that it does not matter if you decide to go on tour A, B, C or D, you will encounter and share all those places with many tourists. The landscape is beautiful without no doubt but personally I do not recommend any of the offered bout tours. Instead check if you can find some more people to share a private boat, it is defiantly worth it. If you decide to join one of the regular tours don’t be surprised if you need lots of patience in general (or while the skippers are fighting to get anchorage ground in the overcrowded bays). I know my details and information about El Nido do not sound very inviting but what I try here is, to prevent from disappointment. Do not get me wrong, Palawan has lots to discover, just make sure you are the explorer ! The coast guard of El Nido had lately a dramatic increase of rescues from the open ocean because many (unexperienced) guests renting sea kayaks and totally overestimating the current, waves, tides and themselves.
The demand for the tours is so high that they are getting even more boats now, prices are constantly increasing (not just for the boat tours) and with the increase, risks and accidents are found more often. Like many places in the Philippines business is very chaotic and uncontrolled and because of demand the recently introduced some Party – Boats (surprise !!!)
Regulations, if they exist, are rarely adhered and the grievances are just ignored (for now). The Philippine law, where the coastline hast to be accessible for the public, (up to 18 meter measured from the highest point of the tide) are totally ignored and used to build hotels, resorts and private housing. Disappointments by guests are preprogramed !
An alternative you might won’t to check is (if you plan a boat trip) to ask other travellers if they are willing to share a private tour. This investment pays for sure (as mentioned above) because you can choose the places you are sailing to and you are more flexible. Skippers just love individual trips. And then… there is Florent with his private sailing boat ‘Serenite’. A great boat for ocean lovers which provides space for up to six people (four is comfortable) and it looks like Florent (native French) will not hoist the anchor from El Nido so soon. He lives here with his wife May and their two year old son.
,Serenite’ is 11 meters long, made of steel, has three sails and a quiet nice interior. Florent is asking the preferences of his guest so he can adjust the tour individually. Great, we loved it !
So for those of you who like to sail, snorkel, hang out in beautiful bays, taking pictures or ‘just’ would like to enjoy this exclusive feeling of solitude check the Airbnb website for information and booking: Sailing with Florent. All those experiences going to be spiced up by the great food May is providing and which makes this trip really unique.
Marc from Switzerland, who I met on the plane from Manila to El Nido, and I did charter the ‘Serenite’. There was a strong resonance right from the beginning so our priority for sailing on this trip was clear for booth of us as well. And yes we did a lot of sailing and enjoyed the evenings in sheltered bays with, swimming, fishing and amazing sunsets. Marc and I went to Corong Corong, just a view minutes south of El Nido. Florent was waiting there for us and after he introduced us to his wife we loaded all our gear in the little dinghy and made our way to the sailboat. The red colour of ,Serentine’ looked just great in the shiny turquoise water and after the enrolment we were set to sail, helping Florent wherever we could. The crew: Skipper Florent, Marc and I were ready and…. I just loved the sound of the rattle chain while hoisting the anchor.
I am not sure but it definitely feels like, that sailing for Florent is genetically defined. His grandfather, as well as his father, were sailors and his passion we could see and feel since we first set sail.
Florent showed us a lot of knots, sailing handhold, explained the boat technically and gave us navigation lessons. We love helping him whenever we could. The sails were in power and ,Serentide’ was sliding silently through the turquoise waters of Palawan Island. Not much words were spoken between us, we were happy and Florent was answering all our questions with patience. Everything what surrounded us was nourishing, like the hot coffee which I enjoyed sip by sip.
We talked about adventures, his daily challenges but also about the present political and economic side of the Philippines. I felt positive isolated in my own ‘big’ small world and we sailed into empty lagoons, colourful bays while passing impressive old rugged limestone rock formations and islands. Being part of all that was fascinating. Late afternoon we anchored protected from the wind in bay and swam or fished till sunset before we enjoyed the great food May provided for us. Marc brought a bottle of wine and with it we enjoyed each others company before we hit the sack.
After all those incredible impressions and experiences came the disillusion, the about: Myth Swallow Nest Soup The countless limestone islands are host for the Swiftlet, so the region El Nido is paradise for them. What distinguishes many but not all species from other swifts and indeed almost all other birds is their ability to use a simple but effective form of echolocation to navigate in total darkness through the chasms and shafts of the caves where they roost at night and breed. The nests of some species are built entirely from threads of their saliva, and are collected for the famous Chinese delicacy bird’s nest soup.
The Philippines are always keeping them under guard and when the time to collect them comes closer the even place a warden there to keep other (human) thieves away for stealing the white gold ! First I could not see any of these fragile structures for the warden but then and through my strong lens I spotted them.
The island of Palawan has of course more to offer then just El Nido town. Island hoping and great food is some of it. So for those of you who are explorers there is much to discover. Rent a motorbike (like Marc & I did) and drive up north to see waterfalls, almost empty lagoon and lots of jungle.
As mentioned, most tourist hang around El Nido or the make there way up to Nacpan beach, most likely you will see the same faces there again. But if you are on a bike it takes you about 40 minutes from El Nido and you will reach the great and long Duli beach. I love the place, there is one bar and a nice Resort, nothing else. Duli Beach Resort
January 2017, Palawan – Philippines