The origins of another “kick ass” trip
Dark, cold, wet, windy and cloudy. Those were the words that described Hong Kong’s weather in the beginning of March, 2014. Naturally, the only way to counter that was through beaches, sports and ample sunshine! And, thus originated the humble beginnings of yet another “kick ass” trip to the Philippines – the land of sunshine, turquoise waters, pristine beaches and plenty of buko juice. (That’s Tagalog for coconut juice as we learnt during this trip).
Before I continue with this photo blog to summarize our trip to El Nido in the Philippines, I will have to tell you what makes a trip truly “kick ass”. You see, the “kick ass” adjective can’t be used to describe just any old vacation. No Sir. A vacation has to be truly, and I mean truly, worthy of being given that description. It has to be totally kick ass. When you hear those words being ascribed to a vacation, you just know it’s going to be, well, kick ass! And, why so? Because, of the secret ingredients, of course! Namely, mountain biking, kayaking, motorbiking, island hopping, snorkeling and, the best of all, truly and outstanding “kick ass” company!
March 4th/5th 2014
Dom, Nora, Emilie and yours truly comprised of this high profile “kick ass” tour group to El Nido in Palawan Islands, Philippines. We caught a Cebu Pacific plane from Hong Kong to Manila and spent the night at a hotel in Manila before returning to the airport the following morning to board a plane from Manila to Puerto Princessa.
Then came a nice 6 hour car ride to El Nido. I was the DJ in the car and played a few Linkin Park/Green Day tunes. Not sure if my listeners enjoyed my taste in music as Emilie, Dom and Nora were largely asleep!
After having lunch en route in a local Filipino place, we checked in into Juaqinn Hotel (pronounced ‘Wa-kin’) and inspected our rooms. This hotel and the service was very cozy. Their technology was also remarkable as they have found a way to convert pee into toothpaste. Yes, that’s right. One can brush his teeth using his own pee! Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.
We then went for a stroll in El Nido. We walked past beaches and beachfront restaurants until we came across a resort called “Hippocamper” which was for sale. Here’s where a million dollar idea struck me. I knew I had to buy this resort and organize an HKTR trip to the Philippines with a mandatory stay in this resort.
Dom and Emilie were surprised when I had yet another dinner. Veggie burger at a burger joint in town!
And, we concluded the evening with a quality 8 hour sleep and woke up to warmth and sunshine the next day morning!
March 6th 2014, An Island Hopping adventure
It was time to process the first “kick ass” ingredient of this “kick ass” holiday. Island Hopping, snorkeling and swimming. (Well, for me, learning to swim).
Secret, what secret?
Almost all the couple of dozen tourist shops in El Nido offered similar island hopping tours. They called it “Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D”. (Talk about bland names!) We chose Tour C as we were going to explore part of Tour A on our own in a kayak the following day.
Tour C boasted of a “secret lagoon”. So, upon boarding the boat in the morning, my question to our guide was naturally this: “If everyone is taken to the secret lagoon, how does it remain secret?”
I was expecting some sort of longwinded, boilerplate answer to this question. But, he surprised me with a simple “It’s not secret anymore!” Hmm, well, I thought I’d be disappointed at the suggestion of a no-longer-secret lagoon but nature wouldn’t let me be disappointed! Instead, the beauty of nature came to sight gracefully in the form of emerald-colored waters glittering under the sunshine. The different shades of turquoise, green and blue were addictive to the eyes, never ceasing to mesmerize.
The next stop was the “Big Lagoon”. (These guys obviously need a marketing guy to juice up all the names). In order to enter the Big Lagoon, we had to go through a little cave to reach the other end.
The next stop was Shmizu Island for lunch. Dom, Nora and I went for another swimming/snorkeling session while Emilie decided to sun bathe to recover from a little sickness. She soon ended up earning the title “Sleeping Beauty” as she proudly announced that she had managed to sleep at pretty much every beach we visited!
The underwater world is as beautiful as the world outside
No Island Tour can be complete without a BBQ lunch by the beach. This one included.
Then we made our way to the third attraction for the day. The “Small Lagoon”. Yes, marketing isn’t one of the common expertise in El Nido.
During all this excitement, Emilie somehow got the attention of a chubby looking tourist who evidently fancied her. And, Emilie readily reciprocated. (Think of her poor boyfriend back in Hong Kong…)
Then came the highlight of the day. The ultimate, not-so-secret “secret lagoon”. Hmm. I won’t tell you where it is – that’s classified. But, anyone can go there.
We concluded the day with more snorkeling in the secret lagoon.
Once back in El Nido, we headed to our new favorite joint – “The Art Cafe” which had some awesome live music from 7pm to 10pm.
March 7th 2014, a kayaking adventure in El Nido
The next secret ingredient in our “kick ass” trip was a 15km self-guided kayaking adventure in the Palawan waters.
Dom gets a different pair of legs
Dom woke up, looked down and figured out that God had given him a new pair of feet. Feet with a spectacular bright red color – kind of like, let’s say, sun burnt feet. Here, take a look.
To get our kayaks, we headed over to a relatively remote corner of the beach where a former triathlete called “El Gordo” ran an adventure shop. El Gordo means “fat man” in Spanish but Gordon (his real name) was far from that. He looked tall and well built and told us that a “series of events” now saw him in the Philippines (far away from his hometown in Canada) and “long story short”, he was now running a shop all the way in El Nido. He had a great sense of humor and took genuine pride in having the best sports equipment in El Nido. He told us that he was confined to his premises as his wife was away and we had to go on our own self guided tour of the islands which was never going to be a problem as we had the best navigator known to mankind in our little kick ass tour group. Me! There is no place I can’t travel to if one gives me a compass and a map. (And a GPS. Oh, and someone on the phone to give me directions). But, luckily, we had Dom and Nora too who were a tad better.
We went on our on “Tour A” and reached a secluded island where Emilie continued with some beauty sleep whereas the rest of us went snorkeling.
We then paddled our way to another island for lunch. We had stashed away some buns, biscuits and oranges in the watertight compartment of our kayaks. Emilie and I had most of the stash just in case Dom and Nora decided to ditch us! Better to have some food if you are stuck on some remote island!
And, as always, we finished the day with sumptuous food, plenty of beers and live music at The Art Cafe.
March 8th 2014, Let’s go motorbiking/
It almost goes without saying that any trip that has to be “kick ass” has to involve some sort of motorbiking. Motorbiking and/or mountaineering is one of the basic fabric necessary to stitch together a kick ass trip! And, in true spirit of this “Law of Kick Ass-ness”, we rented three scooters today to do our own inland tour. Naturally, of course, I was the navigator to ensure we could find our way back.
Our first stop for the day was a waterfalls. We rode to the start and a guide who was lying down on a hammock told us that it was too dangerous for us to go alone as there were 8 different streams to cross. He strongly encouraged us to pay for a guide to get to the waterfalls which was only 45 minutes away! We took our chances. With me in the group, who needs a guide?
We then rode on our scooters on a muddy trail which, on many occasions, tested the amount of cushioning fat we had around our rears. I clearly needed more.
No trip to the Philippines can ever be complete without buko juice. And, of course, each of us just had to take a photo of ourselves with drinking one!
After having had another great lunch, it was time for lazing around on the beach, staring into the bluish-green waters and reflecting on life. However, as we endeavored to do just that, Nora wouldn’t let us! She went for an hour long swim making us feel very guilty about just eating and not exercising. So, I joined her briefly on the waters and invited Dom to running with me on the beach! We managed a 7km run and had blisters on our big toes!
Reluctantly, we left Nacpan beach but we were more motivated to leave when we knew that we were headed for yet another pristine beach called the Las Cabanas beach or the sunset beach. Dom read somewhere that this beach was especially known for stunning sunsets. I have to say – he read right. Take a look.
As usual, we closed the day at the Art Cafe with plenty of food/beers and live music.
March 9th 2014, Time for a bike ride!/
Island hopping, snorkeling, swimming, motorbiking – we had done all that. The last missing ingredient of this kick ass trip was some good old mountain biking! And, that’s exactly what we had on the cards for today.
Off we went, back to El Gordo to rent mountain bikes. Emilie requested a French style bicycle while Dom rented the bike with the largest frame. Nora and I had medium frame bikes. Nora proved her expertise with bikes soon after we rented them. She gave Emilie a Gear 101 lesson delivered with the confidence and experience of a professional biker. Similar to the way, she gave me a swimming lesson the day before. “Don’t bend your knees too much”, she said. “Imagine there’s a pipe around your leg and use your ankle to kick as though you’re getting rid of a sock”, she explained. At least I moved after her lesson. Before that I was creating so much splashing that I probably spooked all the fish inside!
And, off we went.
We soon reached our first “mofo” hill for the day. Here’s where Dom had problems with his bikes as it had hydraulic brakes and gear shifting issues. It tested his patience. Pleasant words emanated from his mouth as the cycle would just not listen to him.
El Gordo told us that we did not have to pay any money at the caves but, as usual, an “entrepreneurial” guy in the premises claimed it was “private property” and asked for 100 pesos per person. We told him no can do and agreed to pay 150 pesos for three of us. (Dom refused to go inside as he had seen enough caves in his life and wasn’t quite interested in witnessing a Chinese cobra inside one of them).
We had a déjà vu as we entered the cave and so a few guides who told us that it was “very difficult” to go into the 40m cave without a guide. Remembering that the guides at the waterfalls had claimed something similar a few days back, we told them that we were willing to take our chances!
We got out of the caves and made our way back to the bikes and stopped at a roadside stall for snacks. That’s when Emilie had her Prince Charming come to rescue her on a tricycle! She felt that 27km of biking was more than enough for her and decided to return home in a highly fashionable manner on a tricycle.
Nora, Dom and I then continued on our way back to El Nido to cover another 27kms. We stopped on the way at a Hilltop hotel to witness the view from there which El Gordo recommended. We were also hoping to get a few beers but neither us nor the dogs that were barking at us could wake up the staff there who seemed to be slumbering tightly.
After we got back into town, we realized that our kick ass trip was soon going to draw to a close. That and cycling some 52kms called for some celebratory beers at a burger joint in El Nido.
After the beers, we headed back to El Gordo and returned our bikes. He almost offered Nora a job after listening to her triathlon achievements. Then we went for a pre-dinner stroll and reminisced about our “kick ass” trip which was soon going to end.
March 10th 2014, Laziness comes to a crashing halt/
Days of waking up at 8am came to a screeching halt as we struggled to get up at 4.30am today to catch the van back to Puerta Princessa.
Luckily for us, our Cebu Pacific pilot knew where he was going. He had a huge map on the cockpit.
Island hopping, snorkeling, swimming, motorbiking, kayaking, biking – all in 4 days. And, some kick ass style company plus eating and drinking. If this isn’t a “kick ass trip”, what is?