El Nido Revisited Tour C

El Nido Revisited: Memories of Blue Summer (Tour C)

Friday, July 12, 2013Ryan Mach

I CLOSED MY EYES AND CAUGHT the smell of summer wafting through the air. A May breeze, gentle and warm, swelling up like a piece of wild fruit bursting with colors, its tiny seeds exploding with aroma. It's a perfectly beautiful Friday afternoon in El Nido - the light of the sun hammered down to its heart's content.
Sitting at the edge of the beach, Bong (our tour guide) and I looked across the water toward the gigantic karst walls surrounding this small haven called Hidden Beach. The summer breeze stirred the leaves of shrubs and trees behind us, rustling faintly and raising small ripples on the surface of the shallow waters, ebbing ever so slowly like time.

Before us were foreign tourists goofing in the water, having a swell time. Some of them were venturing out the rocky part of the beach, taking pictures of themselves every now and then. Their skin, sun-tanned and lathered with sunblock, glistened in the sun.

"Are you with them, sir?" Bong asked me in Filipino, his voice sounded beat and tired.

I shook my head. We heard the girls who had just emerged from the rocks shriek.

"You from Manila, sir?" He asked again.  I nodded. Eyes squinting, he stared out at the ocean as if he's able to see the skyscrapers of Manila out beyond the horizon.

"You originally from here?" My turn to ask.

"No, sir. My family's from Masbate. We transferred here just a year ago." The indifference in his voice was palpable. He stopped mid-way and rested his head on a random tree trunk lying on the sand. He became silent for a while, his mind wandering to some distant region he himself could only go to.
"Does tour guiding pay ok?" I asked again, trying hard to sound unobtrusive. He simply nodded. The conversation ended a natural death. I got up and walked lazily toward the left side of the beach, away from Bong and the foreign tourists. The afternoon sunlight cast curious shadows on the karst walls.

SEVERAL HOURS EARLIER, AT AROUND THREE in the morning, I was thrown in the middle of a sketchy-looking alley, fiddling with my phone apprehensively while looking around for any sign of life. An eerily quiet neighborhood around me. Dogs that ignored my presence. Only the far-off sound of rumbling tricycles could be heard. No matter, I told myself reassuringly, I am in El Nido.

"Dyan 'yung Art Cafe," the trike driver told me before speeding off, leaving me disheveled, a bit confused and half-scared. The instructions from the owner of the inn were clear: take a trike and tell the driver to drop you off in front of Art Cafe. The inn is situated nearby. I'll be sending someone to fetch you.

Should be a cinch. Only problem was the drivers back at the terminal were unfamiliar with the inn. "Northern Inn po," I told the third driver who, like the previous two I asked, looked confused. He shook his head and moved on to the next potential passenger. A feeling of desperation started
creeping in and before it took hold of my patience, I sent a text message to the inn owner, against my judgement, to let her know that I had just arrived in El Nido. She must have been expecting my message because it didn't take a minute before I received a response.

With the help of pale yellow lights from lamp posts, I looked for Art Cafe among the signage across the street. Nada. Taking a second look at the instructions on my phone, I realized that I was on the wrong side of the block. I needed to walk past a dark pathway leading to Art Cafe. With a heavy backpack straining my shoulders, I snaked my way through a dim-lit alley, emerging in a one-way street that's still devoid of people - save for a lone dog which regarded me with indifference. I sat next to the sleeping creature and waited for the inn owner.
Several hours later, I would eat alone at Art Cafe. That late at night however the entire place was closed, the bar shuttered and the small store walled by glass window was a completely dark space.

A young man, who introduced himself as Richard, appeared a few minutes later and led me to the inn tucked in the middle of a residential area just a few meters from the shore. After showing me the room upstairs, he handed me the key and traipsed down back to his nocturnal lair. He did all this in
perfunctory manner. The room had two queen size beds, too spacious for one person. Exhausted from the 6-hour bus trip from Puerto Princesa and ignoring the insistent stomach pain, I threw myself on a bed near the A/C. Sleep didn't come easily as I expected it to be.

IN THE MORNING, I WALKED DOWN the beach and had breakfast at Og's where I saw a group of men having coffee while engaged in what looked like a subdued conversation.

"Kids," a balding man occupying a table outside the restaurant seemed to be saying to his sons, "This is how we should spend our time together - on a beautiful place like El Nido, we sleep well, eat good food and swim in the sea all day." They must have been discussing the weather for all I know or the wild party they had last night but for a bored guy like me, making up stories seemed like a good way to kill time.
"Inuuna mo kasi ang libog mo," I heard a crew of Og's say to his pal. They were having breakfast at a small table near the kitchen, never minding that someone could hear them loud and clear. A jeering soon erupted followed by a hearty fit of laughter. The arrival of a foreigner couple prompted one crew to leave the table and assist the guests, dispersing the meeting. I caught a female crew busy cleaning the floor threw furtive glances at his workmates. Perhaps to tell them they're being inappropriate. She smiled awkwardly at me when she saw me watching her.

It's okay to be inappropriate. It's okay to have fun. I smiled back at her then took a pill for my tummy problem. The doctor said I needed to take it 30 minutes before breakfast.
At seven in the morning, guests - mostly foreigners - began to trickle down at the restaurant to have breakfast. Tables and chairs have been set up outside. Since I'm hardly a fan of al fresco dining, I chose a table inside with a good view of Bacuit Bay. Tours don't start until 9AM so I still had ample time to finish my meal - strips of bacon, two eggs, a slice of pineapple and some bread.
Most items featured on the menu were quite expensive, especially for a budget traveler like me. There were cheap karinderyas at the back, but they didn't offer a view of the bay, which is exactly what restaurants like Og's provide - at an additional cost, of course. I left Og's without finishing
my breakfast.

"YOU KNOW, AFTER SEEING ALL these beautiful beaches and islands, it's hard to go back to your own beach," I heard an Israeli woman say as we're leaving Matinloc Shrine.
She was telling the group her views about El Nido. They were talking about the countries and places they've recently gone to. She, her friend and a group of American and European guys. In this tour, I was a wallflower - I took in everything they said but I barely joined in the conversation.
Matinloc Shrine was the second destination off Tour C, after Helicopter Island. It's a peculiar site with an abandoned building and a limestone cliff which offers an aerial view of nearby islands. 
The confluence of karst formation, sea and sky was an overwhelming sight to behold, leaving me quite speechless. Seeing a beautiful scenery as such was my definition of sheer happiness.

"Halong Bay is powerful but El Nido is..." She said, struggling with the right word to say, so she turned to her companion for help but to no avail. "El Nido is just different," she managed to say after some fumbling.

The boys nodded. Yeah. Yeah. One of them glanced at her chest rather fleetingly.
I watched Matinloc Shrine get smaller as we moved away. Boats began to flock its shore, tourists perched above the limestone cliff, boat men scurried toward the old rubble carrying baskets and chairs.

It's 12 in the afternoon and I heard my stomach grumble. Our guide announced we're having lunch in Talisay, a small cove near Matinloc Shrine littered by tiny jellyfish. As soon as we jumped off the boat, we caught the aroma of grilled fish wafting in the air. It made my stomach growl. A group of island hoppers was taking their lunch.
Lunch was one of the things I loved in the tour. There's something in the sea that makes one's appetite ravenous. Perhaps it's because boat guides prepare the food a tad too long that by the time it's ready to dig in, guests are extremely famished.

While the boys swam to the other side of the cove, I joined the Canadian couple snorkel in the deeper part of the beach where the water was noticeably blue, like their eyes. But they drifted farther until I was left on my own again.
When I went to El Nido the first time, I was alone too. But I never quite felt alone that time because I met a cool group of people who I was able to bond with. This time was different. I couldn't seem to connect with my tour mates. The interaction was limited to small talks and fleeting eye contact. The only thing we shared was the collective admiration for each island we visited.

This is the kind of scene that I can't feel I'm completely part of. A disconnect somewhere. A void in the middle. No matter how much I tried becoming one with nature, there didn't seem to be an organic connection between me and everything. A translucent barrier that's hard to traverse. I'm a contrived addition to all of this.

Until that peculiar moment when I had a surreal encounter with a school of fish.

We had just finished lunch. Feeling all full and bloated, I decide to take a swim in the shallow part of the beach but I ended up immobilized and transfixed at a spot near our boat, surrounded by various fish which swam around me. I didn't have any food to offer so I assumed that they would eventually leave, but they didn't. For a few minutes, they stayed right there. I felt every hair in my body stand up. It's an unusually wonderful moment that I'll never quite forget.

That and the quiet conversation I had with Bong.

Tour C is composed of Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach and Hidden Beach.

You Might Also Like


Contact Form - Powered by Blogger