El Nido Revisited Tour C
El Nido Revisited: Memories of Blue Summer (Tour C)Friday, July 12, 2013Ryan Mach
I shook my head. We heard the girls who had just emerged from the rocks shriek.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.