Looking back, it’s hard to believe that when we first set off with our bags strapped to our backs to travel the world that the Philippines wasn’t a place we ever really intended to visit. We flew in on a gamble, thinking we’d spend three weeks and wound up tumbling so head over heels in love with the country that even after nearly two months spent idly drifting from island to island (seeing but a scant fraction of all there is to discover) it was hard to tear ourselves away.
The town of Port Barton (more of a village, really), is quietly nestled on the coast of Palawan and might be best described in terms of what it doesn’t have rather than what it does. It doesn’t have any banks or ATMs, it doesn’t have any medical facilities, it doesn’t have any electricity outside the hours of 5:30 pm to midnight, meaning it doesn’t really have internet, nor does it have much of a clubbing or nightlife scene. Perhaps not unsurprisingly then, it also doesn’t have many visitors.
Are adventurous eaters the product of nature or nurture? My own childhood sheds little light on the issue as I grew up in a family with a fairly daring dinnertime table, although whether this was due to my parents having risky palates of their own or arose from sheer necessity is up for debate. I suspect it’s a little bit of both. My parents were no-nonsense when it came to dinnertime [and life — Tony], doing very little to accommodate the random culinary whims of their children and generally refusing to kowtow to picky proclivities: we could eat what was served, and if we didn’t like it then we wouldn’t eat at all, plain and simple.
“I could take you to Port Barton.”
Apo’s characteristic accent made it sound like Fort Parton, like a lisp that instead affects Ps, Fs, and Bs. For native Tagalog speakers these letters seem to be randomly interchangeable, in a way that makes it clear they can’t hear any difference.
When we were still in the planning phases of our Big Trip, one of the things I researched most avidly was other travelers’ budgets and spending patterns. Travel guides are of limited use in this arena as everyone knows that they are out of date as soon as they’re published, and this is especially true when you’re working with one that you borrowed from the library that was published back in 2008. Of course, even when you find recent budget posts during your planning phases, unless you’re just a month or two out from your departure date, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re on the ground and find that things are a little pricier than you thought they would be.
While I won’t pretend that this guide is at all exhaustive (as you might expect, there are a lot of bars in El Nido, but being who we are, we went to not a single one of them!), if you ever find yourself in El Nido, we do have some suggestions for places you might wish to seek out. So here is our list of where to eat in El Nido, and what dishes are worth seeking out.
Open your Lonely Planet guidebook to the Philippines and flip to the chapter on Palawan. “This is the hidden Philippines”, it says. “The undiscovered Philippines. The untouched Philippines.” The florid prose goes on and on as it waxes effusive about the pristine coral reefs, the untamed wilderness, the myriad of dazzling white sand beaches, all of it hidden in plain sight and just waiting for someone to discover them. This is paradise distilled down to its purest form, its most basic parts. At its core, the Philippines is very much a country that exists for explorers—forget the “beaten path”, you’ll be lucky to find a bushwhacked trail—and if you believe the hype, then Palawan is the adventurous heart beating at its very core. It is the final frontier.
There is one main road on Camiguin Island. It’s 64 km long and runs a complete circle around the island; inside the loop of the road are four volcanoes, each ringed by the road like a black ribbon hung around the neck of a fiery god. However, despite its vulcan core, Camiguin is a quiet place. Most of its residents live off the land or the ocean and lead simple lives that change little from day to day. Its people go about their lives in a slow, deliberate way that begs imitation and admiration.
At the risk of potentially causing you, our beloved readers, to OD on stories and pictures of our underwater escapades while in the Philippines, I’m… going to share yet another aquatic adventure. It seems only right, since when you’re on an island, there is only so much time you can spend whizzing around on a motorbike or lazing in a hammock before the call of the ocean becomes too much to resist. Trust me, our time on Camiguin was pretty much a scientific study of exactly this.
I am hesitant to paint with too broad a brush, but even based on our encounters with internationally-curious individuals, it seems like most people know very little about the Philippines. Instead, we scrounge the dusty corners of our brains, trying to find any morsel of information we may have once heard about the country as proof that we are not wholly ignorant. Of course, most of this information will come from major news sources that are in the business of selling headlines, and so they tend to focus on gloomy, scary bits of news. And yet, the stuff of headlines is generally as far from our daily experiences in the Philippines as you can get; the fact that there is a wide preponderance of shotguns and assault rifles out and about (even the security guards at bakeries have them… and yes, bakeries in the Philippines have security guards) took some getting used to, but honestly, we rarely if ever felt uneasy in the Philippines, never mind like our life was at risk.
Not much could top learning to dive as a trip highlight for Tony and me, but if you can believe it, the beautiful island where we first learned to breathe underwater had other delights in store for us of the aquatic variety, namely: turtles and lots of ’em!
Ironically, sometimes the hardest part about being a travel blogger is writing about the places you have visited. I’m not talking about the actual act of writing or the frustration of writer’s block—though that does indeed strike with exasperating regularity—but rather, sometimes you visit it a place and it is so completely perfect that you develop a fierce protectiveness for it, one that does battle with your mission to share your adventures with the world. Sometimes you find a place that’s not squarely on the tourist trail and you tumble so head over heels in love with it that you get a little bit selfish and don’t want to share.
I’ve done a lot of things on our trip that a few years ago I never imagined I would do. The Tony of five years ago never dared to dream that he would travel through Japan, or ride a motorcycle through the wilds of the Philippines, or walk the Great Wall of China. In the last eight months I’ve given myself the chance to do things that once seemed impossible, or at least impossibly grand, but one thing in particular has had an unexpectedly profound effect on my life: scuba.
All my life I have been a water baby, spending my summers up in northern Ontario, doing my level best to transform from girl into dolphin, or at the very least, a mermaid. Some girls spend their childhood in gymnastics or ballet lessons, but those hours I spent each day swimming about in the lake that abutted my aunt’s property, those were my dance lessons as I learned to move my body with agility and grace while in the water.
Everyone thinks that the hardest part about planning a long-term trip is choosing the places you will visit. While honing in on just one slice of the world can certainly be challenging, harder still is figuring out how much time to spend in each place. Veteran travelers will tell you not to stress out about those details, that you can’t know how much time a place warrants until you get there and see how you take to it, but even in Asia, costs can vary dramatically from country to country, and if you want to spend a month in Japan, that is going to be a lot tougher on your savings than the same amount of time spent… well, just about anywhere else. Though we freely admit that plans can and will change once you’re on the road (boy do they ever!), it’s still a good idea to have a rough idea of how long you’ll stay in each country.