Days 22 - 24 (3rd – 5th December 2010) – EL NIDO 2: KULAMBO FESTIVAL + ISLAND TOUR C
DAY 22 (Fri 3rd December) – EL NIDO: DAY 3 - Kulambo Festival
Today, we again decided just do nothing, recharge our batteries and take advantage of the lovely house and view we had at Makulay Lodge. So we simply just sat on the deck and read our books. Also, following our wonderful island tour and the decision we made yesterday to stay longer in El Nido, we re-jigged our proposed itinerary and cut out Taytay. Yes, it looked like a good place to visit and explore, but El Nido had captivated us and we were held in its spell. Oh, and I took some photos of the view from Makulay Lodge main house.
The plan of chilling out today proved to be the right choice, as there were some some intermittent rain showers in the morning. We did hear some commotion coming from down below near the beach area and when Derek made one of his visits to the house to find something (again not 100% privacy, but still not a problem for us) he told us there was a festival in town today - later in the afternoon This was to promote the awareness and use of mosquito netting and was called the Kulambo Festival. Miss Philippines 2010 (Ms. Venus Raj, who was the 4th runner up in Miss Universe), was to be there and she had visited the Marine Reserve Guardhouse, down at the base of the hill and that was what all the noise was about. Derek also told us apparently the festival was sponsored by the hotel group that runs the Lagen and Miniloc resorts and they pay for the mosquito nets that are given away.
As we needed to restock our supplies (mainly more coke for the rum and tinned tuna for our sandwiches), we decided to head into town after lunch to see what was going on. We arrived at 1:45 pm and the procession was already passing the Municipal Hall. There were a few drum and pipe bands and everyone had mosquito nets draped around them like sashes and some women had even made them into dresses. There were different groups sporting various coloured netting and were preceded by presumably the beauty queen of that barangay? Some people were even dressed in black and wore masks so they appeared as mosquitoes. The parade lasted quite some time as it snaked its way around the streets and eventually ended up back at the hall. Here there was a cluster of seats and a sign stating there would be a fashion festival. So we treated ourselves to a 10 peso ice cream and joined the crowds to see what would happen. Well we waited for ages and it seemed like organised confusion, so we left and went and bought our supplies and then returned to the Municipal Covered Court to see if anything was going on. There were lots more people now but still nothing really going on. After waiting for some time, eventually the VIPs arrived and were introduced and proceeded to make really long speeches. Of course we couldn’t make head nor tail of what they were saying. So, at 3:15 pm, after taking a couple of photos we finally gave up and headed back, first stopping at a carenderia to purchase a take away for our dinner that evening. El Nido for us was stay posh - eat cheap!
Now we had a bit of a problem, as I’ve previously mentioned, Makulay Lodge House was booked out from Dec 6th. In fact we had been lucky to get 6 nights. But now we had to find somewhere else to stay. We had explored and looked at a few other places but we thought that the Golden Monkey, which was right on Caalan Beach, albeit a way out of town, was the best option for us. So we headed off there and timed our walk from town. It was going to take about 15 minutes, but that wasn’t a problem for us. We chose one of the nicest rooms and told Kevin, the owner, we would take it from the 6th Dec onwards. So, that was it then, we were definitely staying longer in El Nido!
Back at Makulay, we had another choice to make - whether to do another private island tour the following day, to go diving or to hire a motorbike. We had asked at Ric Sons the previous day how much a private Tour C would cost, but they had said 2,600 pesos, which was too much. So we had a chat with Rose at Makulay and she said she would again have a word for us. She rang them and got the price down to 2,200, which we thought was reasonable, so we booked it.
That evening we lay out on the deck watching the stars and trying our best to finish the bottles of rum still left in the fridge. On the horizon, we noticed that the bright lights we’d seen each evening were more numerous than usual. At first I’d thought that the lights may have been Coron Island. But Derek had put me straight and explained they were large boats fishing for squid. Apparently they used bright lights to simulate the full moon and this brought the squid nearer to the surface. He told us in March to May time there were even more boats and they caught hundreds of tonnes of squid.
Anyway that was it for this day; we’d relaxed, seen a festival and sorted out our next place to stay. Where had the day gone? It seemed time passed much faster in El Nido!
DAY 23 (Sat 4th December) – EL NIDO: DAY 4 – ISLAND TOUR C
Again we woke early in anticipation of the day that lay ahead. Breakfast as usual was taken on our verandah, however the weather today wasn’t great, as it was overcast and windier. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best as we headed off and walked to Ric Sons. This morning we had to wait a little longer whilst they loaded and stocked up the same boat we had previously used; the good old "Jasper Jake". At 8:30 am, and with Rocky, our guide for the day, we set off into gloomy overcast skies and strong wind, which meant the waves were bigger. Tour C takes you to some of the furthest islands (hence it’s the most expensive trip), so we had over an hour of noisy engine and pounding waves before we arrived into the more sheltered waters between Tapiutan and Matinloc Islands. We knew it was sheltered as there were a couple of decrepit old fishing boats moored up. Presumably they were waiting until evening to set sail. Anyhow, at 9:45 am we anchored off Star Beach and were told it was a good place to snorkel. We knew it was going to be difficult to beat the snorkelling we had done off Shimizu Island (on tour A), but it did - hands down. It was simply superb. We swam through crystal clear water and spotted a variety of different coloured Sea Stars (I wondered if this was why the site was so named). There were groups of small bright blue possibly Damselfish (You Tube Video – see links below). Next we saw a group of juvenile Two-Striped Damsels clustered amongst a coral group and then we had a large shoal of Jackfish drifting by (see video link below). The snorkelling was amazing and there were so many different types of coloured fish. Some of those that I recognised included Clarks Anemone Fish, Moorish Idols and Needle Fish It has to be one of the best snorkelling spots we have ever done. It certainly makes our top 3, alongside the Maldives and Great Barrier Reef. Even some of the fish posed for photographs. It was great and got even better when the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and stayed out for the rest of our trip. We could have simply stayed here all day, but it would have been difficult to serve our lunch underwater!
Reluctantly, after an hour, and running out of memory on our dive camera, we headed back to the boat and puttered off to "Secret Beach", which we had been told was indeed difficult to find. We had no idea where we were going, even when we slowed and anchored next to some other bancas, just off from the islands rock face. We thought it must be some more snorkelling, especially when our guide donned his mask and snorkel. But he explained there was a small fissure in the rocks we could swim though. He was right and once through, at 11:20 am, we were in another lagoon with a small sandy beach. However, as we had been snorkelling for so long at Star Beach, the other tour groups had caught us up. But it was worth it, as they hadn't done the snorkelling we had. Our guide pointed around the walls of the lagoon and said he was named after it. We said "What, you are called Secret Beach? - No he explained - my name is Rocky!!" After taking a couple of photos we swam back and then returned down the straights to a small beach, near to Star Beach, on Tapiutan Island for lunch. The islands have lots of deserted beaches on them, but only some have shade, so most groups use them. We were not the first onto the beach at 12:00 noon, but again our lunch was the finest and we had the best table and chairs. The two other group tours had small fish and had to sit on logs, whilst we were pampered. Rocky and the captain/ cook, even came over and moved the table further in to the shade for us, part way through the meal, as the sun had come round. For lunch this day I had a large white snapper (which I reckoned had more teeth than our Lodge owner - Derek), that had been freshly barbecued on the beach.
After lunch, at 1:40 pm, we were taken back up the straights (sounds a bit rude that) between the two islands and anchored off a small sandy beach on Matinloc Island. This Island is heart shaped, when viewed from the air and also has some rock formations that resemble the face of Christ (again viewed from the air). So in 1982 a sacred monument called Matinloc Shrine (also known as Shrine of Our Lady of Matinloc and Shrine of the Blessed Virgin) was built here and on May 31st each year there is a big festival. It was quite unusual to walk up from the beach and see this large domed construction surrounded by cliffs. Below the shrine was a crypt which had plaques and photos detailing the history of the shrine and how it was built. Also near to the shrine was a very large private house complete with its own large dock. Walking to the end presented great views across the straights and to some amazing razor rock formations.
Our guide, Rocky, explained the large house complex was owned by a German chap, who was married to a Filipino, but they had now separated and it lies empty. Plus as there is no longer any water on the island, so it’s extremely difficult to live there.
From here, at 2:30 pm, we again rounded the top of the islands and hit rough seas. Luckily my wife’s seemingly never ending supply of ginger, that she had brought, was working, and she never felt totally seasick.
It wasn't long (15 minutes) before we headed towards what seemed to be a large cave which we thought we would be exploring, as there wasn't anything else to see apart from rock walls. But just at the last moment, the banca turned right and entered a small channel between the cliffs. This led to a totally secluded beach area, which Rocky told us was called Hidden Beach and boy was he right. It was totally hidden. That day no other boats came here, so we again had the whole place to ourselves. It had a beautiful beach with a shallow sandy area and lush vegetation complete with a couple of coconut trees, and was perfect for lazing or snorkelling. My wife decided on the lazing option and sat at the waters edge. This being due to the fact that she'd been badly bitten by sand flies on 7 Commando Beach last time. Some of the islands have sand flies and some don't. Nobody can tell you which is which, so she was erring on the side of caution.
I went snorkelling and there were lots of juvenile fish in the shallows. But because the beach was hidden, it also didn't get the sun at this time of day, so was slightly cooler.
Finally we headed to our last stop, which was to be Dilumacad Island - better known as Helicopter Island, as it does indeed look like a helicopter. On the way, at 3:40 pm, we passed by Pacanayas Rock which was a small limestone outcrop sporting a crown of trees. Mooring up at the sandy beach off Helicopter Island, we were the last to arrive and the place was busy. But we'd again come for the snorkelling, which Rocky said was the best. Sadly the wind had chopped up the waves and the visibility was slightly cloudy. But there were some amazing corals to see and, yes you guessed it, lots of fish. I even spotted a lobster and a lion fish.
At 5:15 pm we were the last to leave the beach, as we had asked to see the sunset on the way back (also saves 500 pesos for the sunset cruise). We weren't disappointed, as on the way back we got to see the sun sinking behind one one of the lower islands and got some good photos.
Back at Ric Sons for about 5:45 pm, we jumped off the boat into waist high water and paid our bill, which we again thought was very good value for money, for what we had done and the food we’d had.
Dripping our way back through town, we shopped for our usual, tomatoes, onions (sibuyas), bread, coke etc and headed back for cold showers (not at all bad in those temperatures) and to rinse sand out of places we didn't even know we had places that could hide sand!
That evening we were still stuffed after that huge lunch, so we dined on tuna salad, lovely fresh bread and had a treat of vanilla egg custard slices, from the Midtown Bakery. Fine dining indeed.
DAY 24 (Sun 5th December) – EL NIDO: DAY 5 – Lazy Day
This was to be our last day at Makulay Lodge, so we decided for the amount we were paying we should make the most of the place and just stay put and relax. As previously mentioned we had fallen for El Nido and were smitten. Over the past 7 weeks we had done quite a lot of travelling and been reasonably adventurous, but now we were nearing the end of our 2 month long trip, we were enjoying the downtime. So yet again we looked at our loose itinerary to see what we could do. We’d already cut Taytay and now looked to see if we could cut some days from Puerto Princesa. We just didn’t think it held that much of interest to us really. But it was a necessary evil as we had to fly back from there to Manila. Anyway after looking at our remaining time, we reckoned we may be able to cut Puerto out completely if we could catch an early enough transport from El Nido. So maybe – just maybe, we could spend all our remaining 5 or 6 days here.
Sadly we couldn’t sit there all day, as we were somehow running out of provisions, so had to head back to town to re-supply. We had quite enjoyed having the kitchen and making our own food now and again. It was lovely just lazing around in the evening not having to go out. We could just chill, listen to our music, sip rum and cokes and relax. The thought crossed our minds that as the Golden Monkey also had a great view, that maybe we could have the occasional meal in the evening there also. So whilst we were in town we found a store and bought a couple of plastic plates and then went on the hunt for a can opener, which were as rare as hens’ teeth. We did eventually find one, so we were sorted. Talking of rare finds in El Nido, we tried to find a card on which we could write a thank you message to Derek and Rose. I don’t know which was the most difficult to find. Finally we found a small card that would do and headed back.
Back at the ranch Derek told us we could use the wifi connection that evening up at the top house (we had our own netbook with us). He was hoping to get it extended so it reached the main house, so maybe by the time you read this it will have happened, or more likely not. We had tried the connection from the top house once before, whilst sitting on their roof, but it hadn’t been great and only worked when he had his computer switched on. So we had tried one of the internet cafes in town. There we had had to use an Ethernet cable which they provided, but the speed was OK for what we needed and it was cheap.
Anyhow we took our netbook up to the top house and sat outside checking our emails. Whilst we were sat there, Rose came out and gave us two large glasses of mixed fruit and ice cream, which went down very well!
Derek also asked how we were getting to Golden Monkey the following day and we told him that Kevin (whom he knew quite well), had offered to send someone to collect our bags, but would have to call him to arrange a time. Derek said he’d organise it and asked what time we wanted, before calling Kevin and sorting it all out for us.
So that was it really for our time at Makulay Lodge. We had our usual evening meal of tuna sandwiches and fruit salad out on the verandah and then once the sun had gone down, we dragged the soft cushions out and lay there gazing up at the stars. What a superb way to end our time there.
YOU TUBE VIDEOS
Blue Damselfish? - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C011SQRrOE
Shoal of Jackfish - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1GbOi0bIKI
PREVIOUS LONG TRIP REPORTS
Part 1: Cauayan to Banaue
Part 2: Batad
Part 3: Batad to Cambulo to Pula to Banaue
Part 4: Sagada (Part 1)
Part 5: Sagada (Part 2)
Part 6: Sagada to Bontoc to Tinglayan
Part 7a: Tinglayan to Dananao and Tulgao
Part 7b: Tulgao to Tinglayan
Part 8: Tinglayan to Tabuk to Tuguegarao and Manila
Part 9: Manila to Sabang
Part 10: Sabang Day 2: Explore + Waterfall
Part 11: Sabang Day 3: Underground River
Part 12: Sabang Day 4: Mangrove Tour + Getting To El Nido
Part 13: El Nido 1 - Explore + Island Tour A