What to do and not do in El Nido
By Ching M. Alano Updated May 03, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – First off, the easiest and cheapest way to get to El Nido — that island
a lot of people are raving about that’s masterfully carved by nature
at the northwestern tip of Palawan, located 430 km. southwest of Manila — is to be a Smart Infinity subscriber. Hello! Haven’t you heard of the dream vacation package (on top of a free phone) with a minimal cash-out (so minimal it won’t cause a meltdown in your pocketbook) that comes with being an Infinity Plan 5000 or 8000 subscriber? Now, stop dreaming and get Smart!
The most premium postpaid service in the country today targeted towards the A and upper B markets, Infinity was the first to launch a three-day/two-night vacation package and a sunset cruise in 2007. The package comes with the following freebies: daily buffet meals for two — breakfast, lunch, and dinner; island tour and water sports activities (snorkeling, island hopping, etc.), private boat transfers for El Nido Lagen and Miniloc; sunset cruise for two on the largest trimaran yacht in the Philippines, M/S Vianelle; and cocktails for two on a most romantic sunset cruise — cruise your heart and hope to die — catered by El Nido Resorts. Don’t you just love freebies?
From here to Infinity? Infinity first did it at the Nami Resort in Boracay. Now, they’re doing it in El Nido. So, to El Nido, we will go!
The first “do” when packing for a trip to El Nido: Do pack at least a piece of swimwear — it will come in handy if you’re going to a place that boasts 45 islands and islets. They will provide you with the rest of the paraphernalia if you want to engage in the assorted water sports like snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, hobie cat sailing, etc. With all these water activities, expect your stay at El Nido not to be dry.
Bright and early Saturday morning, we catch our Transvoyager flight for El Nido at A. Soriano Aviation Inc. hangar along Andrews Avenue, Pasay City (note: not at the Manila Domestic Airport). We’re welcomed to the passengers’ lounge that’s got so-comfy sofas that are great for lounging — or sleeping on. We enjoy canapés and coffee while waiting. Then we have our luggage and ourselves weighed. Tension fills the air as the girls in the group fuss about excess weight — that is, their unwanted pounds!
Flying time on the 19-seater, twin-engine Dornier (let’s call it LET) is approximately 75 minutes.
Twenty winks later, we arrive at the El Nido Airport and get an instant taste of Palawan hospitality via a group of women in native costume welcoming us with a song. We snack on palitaw and coffee as they transfer our luggage to the boat (on the way home, they would serve us some brown delicacy, causing somebody in the group to ask if the white palitaw was burned this time). A jeepney ride that takes faster than you can say El Nido takes us to our boat. The boat transfer to our destination, El Nido Resorts on Lagen Island, takes about 50 minutes while it’s only 40 minutes to Miniloc Island.
We get our first glimpse of Eden as we alight from our motorized outrigger wearing our life jackets, which would be de rigueur for us for the rest of our stay in El Nido. Amid the haze, the postcard-pretty El Nido Resort on Lagen, our home away from home for the next two days, beckons.
At El Nido, brace yourself for a truly wet and wild time. Do prepare to take a walk on the wild side. For El Nido is home to over a hundred bird species, around 200 species of fish, three species of the endangered sea turtles, some reptiles, and an awesome number of marine invertebrates. You’re bound to meet some of them — up close and personal now — during your stay at El Nido. So, do remember to take along your eco-checklist (it’s provided in your room) wherever you’re going. One of these wildlife creatures found in the crevices of limestone cliffs is the edible nest swiftlet from whose nest, made of its saliva and plastered on the walls of caves, El Nido gets its name. The very pricey nido or bird’s nest (a kilogram can fetch as much as $1,000) is touted for its health benefits, from curing asthma and improving your voice to raising the libido. But if you can’t afford the real thing, there’s always the instant nido soup — just remember to add one egg.
To rattle off the names of El Nido’s prized denizens from our eco-checklist: whale shark, parrot fish, clownfish with anemone, jack, blacktip reef shark, giant clam, crown-of-thorns, barrel sponge, feather star, sea urchin, Bryde’s Whale, bottlenose dolphin, Palawan squirrel, the long-tailed macaque, tabon scrubfowl, green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, water monitor lizard, banded mangrove snake, grey imperial pigeon, Palawan hornbill, lesser frigatebird, eastern reef egret, white-breasted sea eagle, and black-naped tern.
I guess we’re not too much of a bird watcher — rather, we’re bored watchers — because we manage to spot only the Palawan hornbill, but it flies and gets away.
When in El Nido, do remember never to mess with the place’s dangerous creatures. Our very concerned and versatile tour guide Christopher Sugali (he also makes those pretty hats and animal art made of palm) shows us some pictures, like flash cards, and identifies each one: box jellyfish, crown-of-thorns, stingray, stonefish, sea anemone, sea snake, lion fish, fire coral, striped eel, jellyfish (its mere sight can give you the itch), sea urchin, moray eel.
One of the most important sites of biological diversity in the country, El Nido has been elevated by the government from a marine reserve to a protected area. The people of El Nido have an unflinching respect for their natural resources that they’re so abundantly blessed with. There are, for instance, the oh-so-awesome limestone cliffs, estimated to be 250 million years old. And there are the placid lagoons that the people of El Nido have kept crystal clear — so clear it’s to dive for.
The people of El Nido are such staunch guardians of their environment — and all the creatures, big and small, in it — that killing a pawikan (sea turtle) can send you to prison for life.
El Nido Resorts make ample use of what nature has to offer. When you check in at any El Nido Resorts property, you don’t have to pay extra for the ambience — you
don’t even have to order one. There are the water cottages built on stilts, the beachfront cottages with a perfect view of the entire Lagen Island cove, fringed by a thick forest, and the forest rooms and forest suites built on the fringes of a tropical forest. Needless to say, all the rooms have a view.
Likewise, El Nido Resorts minimize the use of plastic by not serving bottled water in the rooms (so please don’t look for one in the mini bar, but of course, there’s clean water in the thermos). More, the resorts, managed by Ten Knots Development Corporation, work closely with the El Nido community to ensure that there’s no illegal fishing, to promote coastal clean-ups and environmental education campaigns, to monitor snorkeling and dive sites, and to install and maintain mooring buoys.
To do our bit for the El Nido environment during our brief stay, we observe this big do and don’t: Do properly dispose of your litter and don’t pick up anything on the shore (there goes our shell collection).
Again, we hear this friendly reminder: Leave nothing but footprints (and please cut down on the carbon footprint), kill nothing but time, and take nothing but pictures.
Of course, we take these reminders to heart by turning off all the lights when we leave our room, not littering, taking all the pictures we possibly could, and killing as much time as we could at the clubhouse, where we while away the eternal hours drinking and singing to our hearts’ — and lungs’ — content (but perhaps not to the other guests’ content). Since there’s no TV in our room, we whip up our own entertainment. What, no TV? Yes, there’s no TV in paradise. Adam and Eve survived without one, didn’t they? Of course, they were much too preoccupied getting more than a bite of the forbidden fruit. But c’mon, you didn’t come here to watch the news on CNN or the gore on CSI, did you? If it’s any consolation, there’s a CD player in the room and you can rent your favorite music. And yes, there’s Wi-Fi so you can still catch up on Facebook.
El Nido is home not only to a most diverse wildlife but also to some of the most gracious people you’ll ever meet in your life. On day one, you’ll meet your very friendly guest activity coordinator who will tell you what activities you can enjoy on the islands. There’s kayaking in the secret lagoon. Or you can explore the caves on the isolated islands, take a mangrove tour, snorkel with the colorful tropical fishes, go rock climbing, go scuba diving. Or if your idea of getting physical is simply lifting a finger or jumping to conclusions, you can always just sunbathe, have a picnic lunch on a secluded beach, have a relaxing massage or spa treatment. Or just enjoy the scenery that’s worthy of the cover of National Geographic magazine — lots and lots of it. Take your pick.
At El Nido Resorts, you’ll also meet some of the kindest and most skilled boatmen who know the waves and whims of the sea like the back of their hand as well as the curves of the hills and the cliffs like they do the shapes of their women.
And then there’s Randy Lucas, the small town boy from Iloilo who made it big via singing in the big city. He’ll regale you with old songs that are much older than him as you sip your favorite drink at the al fresco bar of the clubhouse.
But how’s the food in paradise? Simply heavenly! There’s a different set of buffet dishes for lunch and dinner, which include Asian and Western favorites. There are crabs and prawns, among the day’s freshest catch. A hot favorite is the Mongolian grill, where you can have fun mixing and matching all the fresh stuff available on the island. The breads are baked fresh every day. Mangoes and other fruits in season are aplenty. And of course, there are the terrific calorific desserts. But do go easy on the latter as you don’t want to end up with excess baggage when you leave El Nido, do you?
Surely, you don’t have to be reminded of this final “do”: Do come back — again and again and again. For once the sand of El Nido touches the soles of your feet, your soul will never stop longing for it.
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