30th December 2013

Good morning Manila, you look so much better at night!

Our plan for the trip was written on the back of a fag packet in the UK and the first part is one night in Manila then fly to El Nido in Palawan for new year. From there it will be down to luck and a fair wind.

So we have a few hours to kill this morning before hopping back down to the airport but first housekeeping and to change more money to tie us over for the week in bank and ATM free northern Palawan.

The best exchange rates normally come from the banks but this morning proves the opposite. In addition, you give a money changer Dollars and he gives you Pesos, job done. With the bank you go through the rigmarole of being passed from cashier to cashier, fill in form A with the details from form B, have to give your personal details along with your inside leg measurement before being divvied with your dosh.

Suitably financed we cross the road for a romantic stroll along the Manila bay promenade and to have a view of the fortress that is the US embassy. The bay can only be described as romantic if the love of your life is a container ship and your idea of eau de cologne is that of sewage and piss. I’m sorry Manila but you have some shabby areas. No wonder the teller in the bank when told we had a couple of hours to kill suggested the nearest Mall.

Just a short walk north of where we are is Rizal Park so we head of for some respite from the street.

The park is actually a very pleasant place to stroll. One side of the road that bisects the park has the National museum of the Philippines faced by the grandest tourism office you are likely to see.

Also there is an enormous and rather severe statue of Lapu Lapu one of the first Philippino chieftains to say “Hindi” to the colonialists and a huge but  rather tired looking diorama of the Philippines.

The other side is interesting and makes a visit very worthwhile as it has the monument and shrine to José Rizal the 19th Century doctor whose writings fanned the flames of revolution and independence from Spain. If of course you ignore the small matter of the one and only US Spanish war!

First exiled to Mindanao by the Spanish Rizal returned to Manila at the back end of the century where he was tried and found guilty of insurrection. He was shot in the back by firing squad in what is now Rizal park. There is a graphic depiction of the event at the site of his execution.Also in the park is a tranquil Chinese garden where young lovers gather for an illicit smooch and you can walk the covered path of knowledge and righteousness with Chinese proverbs posted on the many pillars.

We’ve run out of time so it’s back to the hotel, check out and taxi to the aiport.

Back in the UK we booked a flight from Manila to El Nido in Palawan as the general plan is to rotate anti clockwise through Palawan, over to Cebu, Bohol then to Negros before flying back to Manila to spend time in lake Taal and northern Mindoro. When I was here in 2005 we found ourselves in the position of having to back track to Manila more than we wanted to. That’s the plan anyway, subject to change of course.

The small airline we have booked with ITI has it’s own hanger just off of the ageing domestic terminal. The flight is expensive at just over £100 each one way as it caters primarily for holidaymakers to the the ultra up market resorts found on islands just off El Nido. We have our own little table in the hanger terminal with free coffee, cakes and wifi. We take the opportunity to stuff our faces and I can post the first of my blogs.

Chris is given the crushing news that her Kindle has not been handed in. She feels sick!

The flight is on a small thirty seat Dornier and we pass straight overhead Lake Taal where we hope to be in a couple of weeks.

Lake Taal volcano.

Lio airport (for El Nido) is unchanged from when I visited last 9 years ago apart from the cheesy welcome by “indigenous” singers with their buffalo cart. They sing and wave merrily as we pass and continue being merry until the posh passengers are deposited in their jeepneys and carted off. Those of us poor people that are travelling into town watch as the merry wavers go off for a lie down and the buffalo continues fertilising the airport field.

Transport into El Nido is courtesy of Honda trikes, a motorcycle with an all metal sidecar. Once our plane has departed a line of them appear rolling down the runway. Individual owners decorate their trikes with garishly but ours is just, well…knackered.

The sidecar is designed for the average Philippino family. Put 2 lardy arsed westerners in it and you have an interesting and somewhat intimate experience. If you don’t know your fellow traveller when you get into a trike then will you certainly will when you get out!

We had some difficulty finding accommodation in El Nido from the UK as we left it far too late to book for the busiest period of the year. We found a “deluxe” room eventually at the Pereking lodge and here we are checking in. The room is hugely expensive at £46 a night and can not be described as “deluxe” but that’s what peak season does. The view from our balcony however is astonishing.

I have to get the “El Nido has changed” moment out of the way. El Nido has changed hugely since I was here last. We expect it to be busy as it is the time of the year but it is now packed with bars, restaurants, cheap and not so cheap lodging and street massage parlours all catering for hordes of western tourists.

A few surprises for me: the Alternative when I visited first was an “alternative” juice bar with no alcohol and no smoking. It’s now a proper bar and restaurant and we stop by and have a beer and a plate of very passable mee hoon albeit in the fog of a French couples fags.  At least they are still insisting that everyone has bare feet upstairs.

The Alternative in 2013. No Hammock!

The Art Café is still there, still run by Judith and her Philippino husband but is now much, much bigger with a dedicated travel centre, dive shop and restaurant.

Only when we have eaten do we discover that Abdulla Street has been entirely given over to street barbecue grill stalls. El Nido has expanded backwards towards the cliffs and northwards beyond Lally & Abbets Cottages (Where we stayed before) where once there was a wall demarcating the resort to the shanty where now there is a new posh hotel and bars/restaurants.

I promise to keep the “When I was here before’s” to a minimum but when I was here before my friend and I found an eclectic  little bar called Balay Tubay that has just opened. The owner Bong Costa wanted to inject a little Palawan into an increasingly western El Nido. A through scan of the street proves fruitless. I later discover that he closed this year and his worst fears have come true.

Maybe my memory serves me ill but I do not remember El Nido being about drinking but as it has become de rigeur it would be rude not to take part so 3 vodka and tonics and Tagalog lessons from the barman at the Seaslug bar later we wonder home.

On the way a bottleshop beckons and there is a bottle of Tanduay rhum (Philippino spelling) with “DRINK ME MIKE” written all over it.

Heavens help me, we are out on the ocean tomorrow for a day’s snorkelling.