Day 27 (8th December 2010) – EL NIDO 4: MOTORBIKING, NORTH PALAWAN
DAY 27 (Wed 8th December) – EL NIDO: DAY 8
Pitstop Website http://www.pitstopbikeadventure.com/
We awoke early this morning and it was raining!! What was happening - we hadn't ordered this. Anyway by the time our breakfast was delivered, it had eased off and we decided the worst was over, so headed off into town to collect our motorbike from the Pitstop. It was costing us 700 pesos for the full day and the rate included for travelling up to 100kms.
At this point I should mention that I do not have a motorbike licence and only hire the semi automatic Honda type bikes when we are on holiday (by semi auto I mean there isn’t a clutch on the handle bars and you change gear by foot). So, I wouldn’t recommend this form of transport unless you have confidence in your abilities, and the roads outside of El Nido (or lack thereof) can be a challenge. Furthermore, you should take into consideration, that in the case of an accident, you may well find that your travel insurance does not cover you. Luckily ours does, but only for Medical Expenses (not Personal Accident i.e. loss of limbs, death etc.) up to 125cc, so we were partially covered.
Arriving at the Pitstop, we were glad we had reserved a bike the evening before, as today they had all the bikes booked out. So, bear this in mind, it may be best to book one in advance instead of simply turning up on spec. Anyhow, after signing our life away, we were introduced to our red throbber, a Honda XRM 125cc motorbike. As Arnaud had told us it was set up for off-roading and had higher and tougher suspension, (which they checked was set at the correct height for two people by making us sit on the bike), upgraded brakes and good knobbly chunky tyres, plus shielded handlebars. We were given a map and a spare inner tube which one of the helpers explained should we get a puncture then it should cost between 50 to 100 pesos for a local to change it for us. He also pointed and marked on the map where we could visit and what landmarks to look out for together with places of interest. He said if we were adventurous (which we are) it would be possible to complete the full northern circuit in the day and just come in under the 100kms allowance. So that was it, we donned our crash helmets and off we went, with the intention of first stopping at Nacpan and Calitang Beach. These beaches were supposed to be really nice and quite isolated, so we were looking forward to the visit.
Heading down to the main road from the Pitstop shop, we turned right and left the town. The first 7 kms were on a concrete road which led us past the airfield of El Nido. The road was a little wet but not a problem. Our first stop was at 9:00 am to take a picture of some misty twin peaked mountains to our left, which lay beyond some paddy fields. Here we watched a man with his water buffalo tending his fields. A chap passed on his bike and slowed down to ask if we had a problem, it was reassuring to know that people were happy to offer assistance should we need it.
Moving on, we had only been driving for another 10 minutes, when it started to rain again. This wasn't in the plan and we hadn't brought our rain coats with us. One thing we did have was a nice bright orange plastic bin liner bag (courtesy of Bolton Council), which we could cover the camera in my day sack with. Stopping the bike at the side of the road under a largish tree, we sheltered. But the rain came down even heavier. So we improvised by ripping a couple of large leaves off some nearby bushes and sticking them over our crash hats and bags! It only rained for about 10 minutes and at 9:15 am, we were off again.
After the 7kms of lovely concrete we hit the dirt road. However, as mentioned, the bike was set up for just this sort of condition and whilst it slowed us down and was more of a challenge it didn’t seem like it would be a problem. The sky was overcast and looking gloomy, but you can't have everything, so on we went. The track took us through many paddy fields and we stopped to take photos of the men working knee deep in mud with their water buffalo.
At 9:50 am, we eventually we came to the tiny dirt track on the left which leads down to the above named beaches. It was so small, we missed it at first and had to turn around. The chap at the Pitstop had mentioned we had to cross a bridge, but it turned out to simply be a few wooden planks which were very slippery after the rains. The beaches down here were supposedly deserted and pristine, so we had come prepared with swimming togs and towels. However, we hadn't gone far down the track when it started to rain again. We hadn't expected this, as usually once you've had one torrential downpour, that's it for the day. It started to get worse and we had to stop and shelter under a banana tree which has very large leaves. It was quite effective really – we’d found Natures umbrella, just when we needed it. After about standing there for almost 30 minutes and getting some strange looks from the occasional local passing by, the rain again eased off and we continued towards the beach. Well, we tried anyway. The rain had turned the track into a small stream and we splashed our way slowly along. I think only we would try and reach a remote beach when it's raining!! Most other people would have more sense.
As we headed down hill, we eventually came to a longish stretch of what looked like clay. This had some ruts to follow, which in the dry would have been fine, but after the rain it was like an ice rink. The bike was skidding all over the place. My wife had to get off and I had to walk it slowly through. The bike was covered in mud and my sandals had about 1kg of wet clay stuck to each of them. It was at this point that we had a sudden attack of common sense (rare, but it does happen) and we decided that this was far from being fun and that we should turn back. The only thing was that returning meant going back through the clay again. We watched two locals to see how they did it, but they had just as much a problem as we did. One guy actually stopped and said "Very difficult" - he wasn't joking. Anyway, we again walked the motorbike through and managed to pick up another kilo of clay. If we carried on like this we could open our own brick factory!! Slowly, and I mean slowly we made our way back to the main dirt track, which we reached at 10:30 am.
Here we had the option of turning right and going back to town and calling it a day, or turning left and heading towards the dark clouds. Now I know what you are thinking – you’re thinking we turned left. Well you are wrong!! We got on the phone and rang Arnaud at the Pitstop and asked if we could just do a half days hire and return the bike. He said that as we had booked a full day, he had turned people away who wanted a half day hire – so no. That was fair enough - so it was only then that we turned left and headed towards the approaching storm!!
This route took us on the loop around the north of Palawan and into the remoter areas. As mentioned the whole circuit was just under 100kms (60 miles), but we had a full tank of fuel and a spirit of adventure, so off we went. Maybe the clouds were moving the other way, or if not, possibly they would just head out to sea. – please?
No..... now don’t be silly....... of course they didn’t
Continuing on with our journey, we passed by the Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls and the Mankinit Hotsprings on our right. We decided to give them a miss, as we’d seen enough waterfalls for this holiday and done a hot spring on our Tinglayan trekking adventure, a few weeks back. I believe you can do these places as a day trip tour from El Nido or try them yourselves as; there were a few places on the right of the road which advertised guides to lead you there.
We had only driven for another 20 minutes, when at 10:50 am, the rain came down, this time with a vengeance. Yet again, we sheltered under a large tree opposite a shack. The children all came out to see the strange people in crash hats huddling together. They were really friendly and we waved back and forth. This time, however, the storm was right over us and no tree was going to be any good. The rain progressively got harder and harder and a river started flowing down the road. We could hardly see the shack across the road through this waterfall. Then a yellow vision in a raincoat appeared with an umbrella. One of the young girls had come across and she gave us the umbrella. She told us to follow her and we all ran across to the shack where we sheltered in their doorway. The children kept peeking around the stairs at us, laughing and running away. We don't think they’d seen many white people, this far off the tourist route, or possibly their parents had told them to go take a look at the mad people!
Finally, the rain eased off again and we managed to fire up the bike. Fortunately we had 125cc of raw power and we were going to need all of it this day. The road led further north and eventually started to turn right. We had reached the top of the loop, but were still not half way. We had lost a lot of time, sheltering and we had been told in no uncertain terms that we should be back at New Ibajay the final town, no later than 4:00 pm. This town, we had been advised was 20km from El Nido and in very poor condition. If we didn't leave by 4:00 pm deadline then we would end up driving in the dark. Not a prospect we wanted to encounter - so we plodded on. The countryside was quite lush (possibly due to all this bloody rain) and what people we met were very friendly and waved. In fact we proved to be somewhat of a curiosity for the children who congregated around us when we stopped at 11:35 am to take some photos of the verdant green paddy fields and the water buffalo. Of course we took some camcorder footage of the kids and twisted the viewing screen around so they could see themselves. This provided the usual chorus of giggles and antics.
We had been told there were a couple of places to stop off at and visit, along this loop, but with the weather being lousy and being possibly behind schedule, we couldn't take the risk of stopping. Luckily, my wife hadn't listened to me and had packed some provisions in her bag. So when it started to rain heavily again, we took refuge in a covered bus shelter near to the turn off for San Fernando and dined on 3 day old hard boiled eggs (see I told you in report 15 - you never know when a boiled egg will come in handy) and emergency biscuits (we started stock piling biscuits during our trip around Australia, as you never knew where the next stop would be, and this had continued in the Philippines).
From here the track, which up to now had been reasonably wide, narrowed and became a single lane rocky trail. So we were quite glad that there wasn’t much traffic. We pushed on and passed by the left hand turn to Buluang Beach, which on a better day would have been a nice stop off point. At 12:00 noon we stopped to take a picture of a really remote house nestling in a valley surrounded by what appeared to be pristine jungle and forest. That was one thing we noticed on this side of the peninsula, the jungle, inland, hadn’t been cleared as much as the west coast.
Next, at 12:15 pm, we again stopped off to take a quick photo of a cluster of islands offshore. These could have been the group that contains IIoc Island and Bagambangan (see Google Earth if you’re interested). But on the other hand I could be completely wrong. Whatever – we could see that they were receiving a real dunking from some big rain clouds which seemed to be heading our way. This was confirmed when we heard a loud rumble of thunder and sure enough in 10 minutes we were again driving through heavy rain. At 12:40 pm we came across another of the tin roofed jeepney shelters and sheltered from the worst of the showers. Here the shelter had been almost filled with hundreds of sand bags and whilst we sat there a wagon arrived and the locals started to load the bags onto it. We decided it must be time to leave as we still had no idea how much further we had to go and our 4:00 pm deadline was approaching. So despite the rain we headed off.
The remainder of the day is just a blur, due to the fact that this time the rain simply didn't play fair, as it refused to stop. The track had become treacherous due to the rain, and with the loose gravel and really slippery surface, it made for some quite challenging conditions. I had to hang on to the handle bars with all my might to try and stop the bike from sliding. I was clinging so hard that the rubber grips had made an imprint in my hands and the blood kept being cut off. We had to keep stopping to try and get some circulation back into them!! What the countryside was like from this point on, neither of us can tell you, as we simply had to continuously stare at the track ahead of us, trying to pick the best line to take. Up hill and down dale we slowly slithered, whilst always having that not so pleasant trickle of rainwater down our necks and the feeling that at any moment we would fall off. Anyway, to make a long story long, somehow we made it to New Ibajay by 3.00pm and celebrated by eating our last bananas. Then it was time to tackle the last 20 kms. The road indeed was extremely rutted and full of potholes, but we'd tackled worse in Cambodia (5 weeks earlier). Finally the rain stopped and we made it back onto the concrete stretch leading to El Nido. You'll never know how good a concrete road felt after almost 7 hours of solid torment. I felt like doing a Pope and kissing the ground!
Arriving back into El Nido for 4.15pm, we still had time before the bike had to be returned and we hadn’t quite used up the full 100kms. So we drove through town and went to explore the beach on the far side, called Corong Corong. Looking for a road down we carried on and by the time we’d gone past the Sunset View Point and reached the track leading to Las Cabanas Beach Cottages, we realised we’d gone too far. Then guess what happened - yep, the rain came back. We finally gave up (so we never did get to actually see the beach at Corong Corong), stopped at a stall to grab a swift snack of fishballs and then back into town. We treated ourselves to some cakes from the Midtown Bakery and plonked down at the Skyline Grill and Restaurant to fill up on pig fat and rice (well I did, my wife had veggies with pork which she picked out). Just to complete the day, we got soaked whilst we queued up with all the trike drivers at the petrol station down on the pier, as the bike had to be returned full of fuel.
Back at the Pitstop, when they saw the state the bike was in, they asked where we had been. We told them we'd done the complete loop, and surprised, they asked "You didn't fall off?" For once I didn't have to lie and told them no!
On the way back to our cottage, we dropped by Rics Sons to see about booking another private island tour for the days ahead. Now if you’ve followed these reports, you’ll know we had already done 2 of their trips, but they’d been booked by Rose from Makulay Lodge. When we’d tried direct, they’d quoted stupid prices. This visit proved to be just the same. However we did stand our ground and told the guy that we knew the proper rates as we’d been with them before. We ended up choosing to go on Tour B instead of Tour D, as they told us the snorkelling opportunities were better. We ended up agreeing on a rate of either 1,800 or 1,900 pesos for the tour and said we’d want it in 2 days time (we deserved a day off after the tribulations of the bike ride!).
As we walked back to the Golden Monkey, Rose from Makulay Lodge spotted us, as we passed. She called us in and we chatted about what we had done since we left them. Before leaving she gave us half a papaya, which was a nice gesture.
Back at our cottage in the dark, we asked the couple staying next to us, where they had got to, as they also had a bike and had intended doing the loop. They told us they only went out for 1 hour and turned back due to the rain and spent the rest of the day lazing in the cottage - no contest as to which of us made the right choice!!
Anyhow, would we do the circuit again? Yes we would, but only if we had a cast iron guarantee on the weather being great, as today had been one day of our lives we'll never get back again.
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
Part 14: El Nido 2 – Kulambo festival + Island Tour C
Part 15: El Nido 3 – Golden Monkey Cottages + Diving