After our, thankfully, uneventful bus ride to El Nido, we decided to get a trike to the El Nido Art Cafe to get recommendations on where to stay in town, since we hadn't prearranged anything. The cafe is basically the central 'go to' spot in town for all of your needs - clothes, snacks, tour bookings, boat and plane tickets, as well as a good meal/drink. They were helpful in providing us with a list of accommodation (including price range) so we decided the best method would be to start knocking on doors. We originally wanted a beach side cottage but upon realizing the 'non-beach' properties were literally 10 ft across the street we settled on a cute room at the El Nido Plaza Inn for only 500php per night, such a steal. Once we were settled in our room it was time to explore the town, get to the beach and find something to eat!
Of course our first destination once leaving our room was the waterfront and views did not disappoint! The sun was already setting so it was a little late to go jump in, but we knew we'd be back early the next day. If there's a few things El Nido is NOT lacking it'd be beauty and food, there were restaurants just about everywhere you looked; making the real problem choosing where to eat. After our 'fancy' dinner the night before we wanted something a bit more authentic so we decided to test our luck with the street vendors, grilling up whatever you chose right there in front of you.
The next morning we rose with the roosters, lucky me I already get a taste of this at my apartment in Korea, so it wasn't too much a nuisance to me. It was actually kind of convenient because it got us up and going so we could figure out our plan of attack for the day. A few blocks from our place we stopped at the 'Fast and Furious' tour office and wound up booking ourselves onto Tour A for the day, island hopping here we come! Loudine needed her morning coffee so we stopped across the street, mooched some WiFi and then made our way to the beach to wait for our boat.
I think it wound up being close to 10am before we actually left but again, no problem - we were on vacation and had nothing but time! We had to share our boat with three other couples, our boatman Mark and captain whose name I forgot and some ideal weather - this was going to be a good day. Our day started with a stop at Seven Comandos beach where we had just shy of an hour to play in the water, catch some sun or admire the fish and coral. I spotted my first Nemo of the vacation but was otherwise a bit let down with the sea life. A lot of the coral in this area was dead, which according to some of our boat friends is due to the fact that fishermen used to fish with dynamite here, smart.
Next we made our way to Shimizu island where we had two hours to relax, snorkel and enjoy a delicious lunch buffet. The snorkeling here was a bit better than the previous location but still nothing spectacular, that or I was just tired and hungry. The island was beautiful but clearly the central spot for many different tours so we had to share the small beach with many people, including our favorite couple who couldn't keep their hands off each other. Lunch was prepare by our boat boys and wow did they do a good job, I had no idea what was taking them so long to prepare but once they called us over, I was impressed. There was a full buffet of fish, pork, chicken, squid, eggplant salad, cucumbers, and of course rice and fruit, it's safe to say no one left that island hungry.
Eventually it was time to get back on the boats and head to our next destination which was the secret lagoon. Obviously it was a secret at one point in time but not so much the case anymore, we were one of many boats pilled up to check the place out and had to wait in line to actually enter the lagoon. We 'parked' around the corner from the lagoon entrance and then had to walk along a beach/rocky edge to the lagoon entrance. I wish I would've caught a picture of Mark as he carried about six cameras for all the tourist as we waded through the water. Not only that but once we entered the lagoon he switched roles from boat/tour guide to photographer, so i'll have to give picture credit to him for some of these shots. On the way back to the boat we went through the customary "Where are you from, how long are you here, etc. etc." conversation, and although it was short I was glad to actually talk to him. Actually I wish we could have hung out more, these boat men left me intrigued.
It's kind of frustrating writing this and posting these pictures; as beautiful as they are the images don't even come close to doing justice for the beauty we saw that day. The secret lagoon was one of those places you can't capture the true beauty of, no matter what angle you snap a picture from there's no real way to explain what it looks like inside. Safely back on our boat, no cameras sacrificed to the water, we moved on to the Big Lagoon, which we conveniently didn't have to exit the boat for. I could honestly ride around on these boats all day just watching the boatmen work their magic, you think navigating El Nido traffic is hard, try driving one of these things. Not only do you have to navigate the sea but you also have to watch out for swimmers, snorkelers and other boats - and don't even get me started on the parking.
Our final stop of the day, and what may have been my favorite part was the small lagoon. Again, multiple boats were parked at the entrance with people swimming everywhere but once you got past that congestion it was beautiful. We were told to bring our snorkel masks but really there wasn't too much to see here. Instead it was a wide open lagoon with deep blue waters perfect for a late afternoon swim. Loudine and I took off well ahead of the group and were also the last back to the boat, only getting there because Mark called us in, I guess the others weren't enjoying it at much as we were. As we made our way back towards El Nido Loudine and I agreed that it had been the perfect day and we were both ready to be back on land, showered and rested. We were dead tired from the days adventures so settled on a simple, but awesomely delicious dinner at Blue Azule, where I ate one of the best veggie burgers of my life.
7,500 islands of pure bliss. I've been twice, both times arriving with a "what am I doing here" hesitation, but weeks later resisting my departure. Forget about being on time, or eating lots of vegetables, but welcome beautiful sunsets, gorgeous beaches, and welcoming, friendly locals.