El Nido Series People

Interesting People I Met in El Nido

Saturday, February 23, 2013Ryan Mach

The first thing you'll notice in El Nido is the abundance of foreign tourists. They're literally all over the place. The chance of not seeing a foreigner when you're in El Nido is close to none. Whether you're walking down the beach in Bacuit Bay, or having a stroll along Calle Hama or Rizal, you're bound to meet and see White people, that's for sure. So if you're the type of person who's afraid of foreigners or have something against them, you better think twice before going to El Nido because they dominate the place. Not in a bad way though.

When you're alone in a far-flung but beautiful town like El Nido, it's hard to play the I'm-alone-so-don't-talk-to-me game. I traveled here all by myself but having been surrounded by hundreds of people who were mostly foreigners, I didn't feel so alone anymore. Despite the unpleasant part of my stay at La Banane, I don't regret the fact that I spent two days at the hostel. If anything, it let me meet cool foreign travelers and mingle with them. I threw the introverted persona in me out of the window and let my guard down. In a place I didn't know a single soul, there's a danger of becoming out of my element but there's also an exciting possibility of experiencing something different - something that I wouldn't have gotten to experience if I were with a company of friends.

The best part about traveling solo, at least for me anyway, is meeting people. Because you have no one to talk to, you're compelled to connect with individuals by striking a conversation with them. The verbal exchange can start with a friendly nod or a smile of acknowledgement. In the past, I would rarely start a conversation with a stranger unless they'd start talking to me. This time around, I tried to be more friendly by proactively saying 'hi' and 'hello'.

I've met really nice people in El Nido - they're mostly foreigners who came from around the globe. The only Filipinos I talked to were the staff from La Banane Hostel, tour organizers from the island hopping tour and the owner of El Nido Plaza Inn.

In no particular order, here are some of the cool folks I interacted with.

Johan [Belgium]
[Breakfast at The Alternative Inn]

I met Johan at La Banane Hostel. Like me, he was also looking for a dormitory room. He was told that the dorm was fully-booked and was offered a single room. As an incorrigible cheapskate, Johan declined the offer and told the receptionist that he'd just look for an affordable pension house. That's when he was told that there's a vacant bed at the dorm. "Weird," he told me later as we ate dinner at some eatery along Calle Hama, "It's a terrible up-selling." He spent the first night at the hostel and checked out the next morning. He has been to cheap hostels but according to him, they were far better than La Banane in terms of dorm quality and amenities.

Having been recently to Vietnam and Thailand where he was exposed to rich gastronomical treats, Johan was interested to experience the Filipino cuisine. He noted that so far he wasn't very impressed with local food. He liked Red Horse though. Johan blogs his Southeast Asian backpacking experience at http://jinseasia.blogspot.com

Jorge [Mexico]
Jorge was one of the early risers at La Banane. He was the first person I saw at the front lawn of the hostel, whose gate facing the beach was still closed. Having arrived in El Nido late evening last night, it's interesting that he got up very early. He didn't have any hotel reservation when he came to town and he was fortunate to have come across the hostel still open at 1AM. "You're staying at a fan room upstairs?" I asked while we waited for the hostel staff to open the wooden gate so we could walk on the beach. "No, I got a dorm room," he said, smiling. He was staying at the girls' dorm room. "That's weird," I said, amused. Jorge laughed beside himself.

As soon as the gate was opened, Jorge and I excitedly went to the beach, which was only inches away from the hostel. He began scribbling some name on the sand. Ron Ezpina, it read. I asked if that was his real name. "No, that's my friend's name. I want to make him jealous by taking a photo of the beach with his name on it," he shared. I met Jorge again early that evening. He just arrived from the island hopping tour and was waiting for his turn at the common bathroom. He looked suntanned but undoubtedly happy.

Jordi & Clara [Spain]
This lovely couple was one of the nicest and friendliest people I've met in El Nido. Jordi and Clara were among the tourists I was with on Tour C, an island hopping tour that was supposed to take us to Secret Beach and Matinloc Shrine but came up short due to the strong current. I was sure they were Spanish because I was able to catch some of the words they were saying as we were on the boat on the way to Helicopter Island. (I wasn't eavesdropping, they were just sitting close to me) I took a few units of Spanish back in college so I knew some words in Spanish. It wasn't until we were in Cagbatang Cove when I finally had the confidence to talk to them. "You guys Spanish?" I asked Jordi as they were preparing to snorkel. His face lit up, and answered "Yes" with a smile. "How did you know?" he asked back. "I know a few Spanish words," I said, "but un poco."

After telling me his name, he introduced his wife, Clara. "Me llamo Ryan," I said with a pretentious Spanish accent I mimicked from Spanish films I've seen and remembered. I wasn't sure if that impressed Jordi, but he smiled anyway. They told me (well mostly Jordi did the talking because Clara was more interested to swim - haha) that they're doing a tour in Southeast Asia and they needed to go back before the end of January. That kind of made him sad. Apparently, they're enjoying their stay in the Philippines. "We'll be back though," he promised, hopeful.

Kess & Dirk [Holland]
[At the other side of Cadlao Island, after the memorable cave visit]

Kess & Dirk are long time friends who took some time off work to travel. They came all the way from Amsterdam. After realizing that I was alone in the tour, these two gentlemen were kind enough to invite me for some drink at SeaSlugs restaurant, where they downed a couple of San Miguel Beer Pale Pilsen (they're favorite local drink) and wolfed down freshly-cooked seafood.

These guys were amazed to find out that language barrier wasn't much of an issue in the Philippines because everyone knows how to speak English. "That's just convenient for us," Dirk said. "But it's also saddening to realize how poor most people in your country are" he added as an afterthought. Apart from the friendly locals, what these Dutch men loved about the Philippines are the food. "Those fish and rice we ate during lunch at the tour were equally good," Kess said as he munched a grilled squid.

"The only problem we have is getting money from the ATM," Dirk shared. "We're running out of cash and  there aren't banks here in El Nido, which is surprising considering the number of tourists that come here." Dirk suggested that tourists who plan to go to El Nido should be advised to bring as much cash they need.  

Daniel [Scotland]
My conversation with Daniel, a young Scottish guy I met in Ipil Beach, began with monkeys. I was admiring this lovely tree with its beautiful flowers, when he approached me and started telling me about the monkey he spotted earlier at the same spot. I couldn't tell for sure if he's just pulling my leg or wanted to while the time away by talking to a complete stranger. But his unusual discovery sounded authentic so I didn't rain in his parade.

"Spotted two monkeys right there," he told me enthusiastically, pointing at the nice-looking tree.

"Oh yeah? Where did they go?" I asked, intrigued, looking up.

"Hid away, I guess. Took some photos on my iPhone though."

"I wish they'd show up again," I said, hopeful.

"Yeah, I guess they got shy or scared."

Daniel said he had just graduated from college and was taking a month-long vacation in the Philippines. "When I come back, I have to find a job real soon," he said. He talked about a few interesting spots he wanted to visit. He wanted to go to Mt. Pinatubo and see the whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu. He also liked to visit Mt. Mayon. When he asked me for suggestions, I mentioned Caramoan as he could see the volcano and at the same time, see butandings in Donsol. Our conversation ended with him scribbling my travel blog on his iPhone.

Janus & Daniel [Germany]
[The blokes preparing for a Skype call back home]

I was preparing to leave for dinner when Janus came to the room and started having a lively conversation with me. He and his cousin, Daniel, had just arrived in El Nido. They were the newest dorm occupants at La Banane. Janus had this bubbly and super friendly personality which made the room feel so warm. I felt like I was a tourist being welcomed by a local. His energy level was top-notch and the smile on his face didn't seem to fade. As soon as Daniel came bustling inside the room, he introduced me to him.

"Where are you guys from?" I asked.

"Germany," Janus responded.

"Frankfurt?" I guessed, only because that was the first city that came to mind.

"Yes!" Janus said, excitedly. "Have you been there?"

"Nope. I'm just good at guessing."

They both laughed. They invited me to do some night swimming but unfortunately I had to meet Dirk and Kess at SeaSlugs. They asked where SeaSlugs was and told me they'd check out the place later and maybe share a few drink with me. And they indeed went to the restaurant a few hours later but they didn't see me. When I came back at the hostel a little before 11PM, they were setting up a Skype call back home.
[Goofy Janus]

Out of the blue, they started singing "Happy birthday" to me - both in English and German. I told them earlier that the reason I went to El Nido was because I wanted to spend my special day there. If it weren't for Janus and Daniel, I wouldn't have been able to mingle with the rest of the guests at La Banane. They dragged me along to join the Dutch travelers who were having a rum-coke party at the lawn. One of those cool Dutch peeps was Ida, a nursing student traveling in the Philippines with friends. Prior to El Nido, they spent several weeks in Boracay and Sagada, which she found beautiful.

Sean [Australia] & Brennan [Canada]
[With Sean (guy wearing white shirt) and Brennan]

Sean and Brennan were both solo travelers who met earlier that day on a bus bound for El Nido. Passionate about traveling and going to the same destination, they hit it off pretty well. I even thought they were best friends because they looked like they were.

Sean is an Australian dude who's got Filipino blood. His grandmother is in fact a Filipina who hasn't come back to the country for a very long time. He's kind of tracing his roots, so to speak, by going back to where his folks have originally come from. Chattering away in his thick Aussie accent, Sean shared his ideas about the colonial mentality of Filipinos. It obviously ticked him off.

While Sean aired his views heatedly, Brennan, a good-natured Canadian, had only good things to say about the Philippines. He was definitely loving it here.

Other Interesting Folks I Met in El Nido
[A Slovenian couple on the tour]
[A Korean couple, also on the tour]
[Dutch guests at La Banane]

Similar story: Interesting People I Met in Dumaguete

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