A Kick Ass Adventure to El Nido, Palawan

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.

Our first of many days of eating/drinking in the Philippines – Hotel in Manila

Manila to Puerto Princessa

Smile sunshine – we’re in Puerto Princessa!

Dom’s all smiles

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!

Embarking on a longish car ride to El Nido

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.

Making the most out of pee by turning it into toothpaste!

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.

Going for a stroll in El Nido. Walkin’ by beaches and resorts

Hippocamper Beach Resort for sale – all mine!

Dinner was naturally had on the beach at a seafood restaurant

Dom and Emilie were surprised when I had yet another dinner. Veggie burger at a burger joint in town!

My powers of eating dazzle Dom and Emilie

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.

All aboard!

Our guide delivering the itinerary for the day

Welcome to Stop 1: Commando Beach

Time to go under water for some snorkeling!

Random lines make the water glitter under the sunshine

Isn’t nature beautiful?

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.

Getting to the big lagoon

The big lagoon

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!

Shimizu Island – our lunch spot

The heroes of El Nido (Please note that I am just wearing the life vest just because I like the color red not because I can’t swim)

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.

Lunch on the beach. Is this life or what?

Our fellow touring colleagues – Emilie fancied the Chinese guy – more on that later

Group photo op on the beach

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.

The girls are happy

The boys lookin’ handsome as always

On the way to the “small lagoon”

Don’t we all look just awesome?

Look at the dazzling colors and the stunning Nora of course!

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…)

Emilie strikes one of her Titanic style poses (Her Leonardo Di Caprio is in the next pic!)

Emilie’s version of her chubby looking Leonardo Di Caprio. Don’t they make a great pair?

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.

The beautiful waters of the Secret Lagoon

We concluded the day with more snorkeling in the secret lagoon.

Two big fish in the water

This is what two cool guys look like

Go Dom!

Heading back home!

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.

Working up quite some hunger at The Art Cafe after a whole day of snorkeling

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.

Dom’s new red pair of feet

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.

At El Gordo’s shop – he is the second guy from the left

And, away we go!

Sometimes while “navigating”, I “delegated” paddling work to Emilie

We had to give Dom a 5km head start as he was too slow on his kayak

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.

Group pic on our remote island

And more snorkeling and beach fun

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!

Emilie paddles while I “navigate”

On another remote island for lunch

Say after me – She sells sea shells on the seashore

And, as always, we finished the day with sumptuous food, plenty of beers and live music at The Art Cafe.

A well deserved dinner (especially for Emilie) after our kayaking adventure

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.

“Scooter Diaries” – I am sure Ewan McGregor will be proud of us

Emile is in safe hands

Nora scooting away…

Dom getting ready to do 200km/hour

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?

Dom and Nora showing us the way

These pigs for some reason fascinated Emilie who insisted on taking a picture of them

My new billion dollar idea – plucking coconuts from a coconut tree. 500 million coconuts, 2 bucks for each and I am a billionaire!

Emilie, Nora and Dom try not to get their feet wet during one of the crossings. Too late for me!

After making a mistake or two here and there, we reached the waterfalls!

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.

Riding on rough roads

Our next destination for the day – Nacpan beach

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!

Getting ready for more calories intake

It’s all about the buko

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!

Sporty Nora donning her swimming cap and getting ready to do mad laps

Riding the waves! You just don’t feel like leaving!

Inspired by Nora, we ran. Inspired by us, small children joined us!

Another “kick ass” group picture on Nacpan beach!

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.

Crossing another dirt road

Dirty Dom after riding through a lot of mud

Nora isn’t clean either

First glimpse of Las Cabanas – what a beauty!

Emilie gives her new “friends” to me – live sea shells

What a glorious sunset!

And more buko juice

As usual, we closed the day at the Art Cafe with plenty of food/beers and live music.

Is this life or what?

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!

El Gordo telling us where to go on the bikes

These kids were happily splashing around in the water

Getting ready to rock n roll!

And, off we went.

Riding out of town

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.

We had 8km on paved roads before we went off road

Dom’s got bike issues!

These kids were “hello”-ing everyone passing by!

After 26kms, we reached the Caves!

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).

Getting ready to go in the caves

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!

Emilie inspecting the stalactites

Emilie explained to me that a bat is called “bald mouse” in French

100% pure limestone

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.

Eating after a 27km bike ride at a roadside stall

Emilie takes off with her Prince Charming (and his family) fashionably

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.

Group picture sans Emilie at the Hilltop Hotel

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.

All good things end with a beer

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.

The beach will be missed

This rooster too. (If it doesn’t get eaten before we leave that is)

El Nido words of wisdom. Quit your job, find a beach, take a risk, fall in love!

A toast to another kick ass trip and many more to come

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.

Goodbye El Nido

Luckily for us, our Cebu Pacific pilot knew where he was going. He had a huge map on the cockpit.

Always good to have a huge map in the cockpit window

And we bid goodbye to Puerta Pricessa and left for Manila

Trip Summary
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?