Thursday, February 07, 2008

Philippines Yearbook 2008: El Nido

This is an intro to the article I did for the Philippines Yearbook 2008 whose theme for the year is Travel and Adventure. Filled with informative activities throughout this awesome archipelago, supported by excellent photography from some of the country's best, the book as a whole is an excellent addition to any bookshelf. It makes a great gift as well.

El Nido: The Last Stop of the Last Frontier
Text by Kage Gozun
Photos by: Erik Liongoren
Photo in blog: Kage Gozun

If Palawan is the Philippines' "Last Frontier" then its town of El Nido is the vanguard of the frontier's borders. Flora and fauna are a premium draw here as there are only five islands where development for tourism purposes is allowed.

Majestic marble cliffs stand guard over sandy shores and glassy waters. Small villages co-exist a mere boat ride away from some of the most luxurious resorts in the area. There are lagoons filled with emerald depths and endless discoveries. Explore age-old caves and learn their whispered secrets. Or simply be on the look out for the multitude of wildlife both common and rare that make their homes on this enchanted place. There are 16 endemic and 10 threatened species of birds, 6 types of marine mammals endemic, and four species of endangered turtles that call the waters and forests of El Nido home.

Celebrated author Alex Garland is said to have drawn inspiration for his bestseller "The Beach" from his stay at El Nido's Bacuit Bay. One visit to this marine reserve and you will understand why.

To Do:

Island Hopping is of course, a major portion of the activity. Within the area of Bacuit Bay alone are over fifty beaches. Many of the larger resorts offer packages that cover your boat, tour guide and a packed meal for the day. The higher-end hotels will even load a few kayaks onto your boat so you can paddle around the lagoons and explore at your own pace. Barring that, the town proper can supply you with the same. All you need to do is take a walk down the beach.

Scuba diving is a popular pastime. There are at least 30 known dive sites suited for a wide range of certifications from Open Water One to advanced qualifications. Keep your masks clear for sighting of dugong, rays and turtles. Live coral, a variety of reef fish, morays and, if you are lucky, the whale shark completes the list of marine wildlife on display. The larger resorts will sort this out for you or even offer a 15-minute intro dive as part of the package. On the mainland, look for Bacuit Divers and ask around for Willy, who has gained a good reputation from many a satisfied diver.

Make note of Paglugaban Cove for its healthy population of Gorgonian fans, table, fire and brain coral and fields of Staghorn coral. And what would this coral fiesta be without its accompanying reef fish? The rainbow of color will take your breath away.

Miniloc Island houses two hidden lagoons, the smaller of which is good for snorkeling. The larger (northern) lagoon is accessible through a quick swim along a break in the cliff.

If dry land is more to your liking, you can book guides to take you spelunking and cliff climbing. The El Nido Tour Guides Association is your best bet for assistance, especially if your resort does not have this included in your package.

Now, if packaged tours are not your thing, then hire a motorbike, get some information from the friendly locals and take off on your own adventure through the Final Frontier. The bikes are for rent at about Php800 pesos. Mountain bikes can also be rented in town.

Local lore states that during the last war, the Japanese held prisoners in a series of caverns now called Bone Cave. If this is fact or myth is still on dispute but this shouldn't hinder you from crawling through the small opening to come into the first of the caves. Tunnels lead you to other chambers, many inaccessible without a rope and a sturdy guide. A natural skylight in one of the easier-to-reach chambers sheds a soft and lovely light.

For the rest of this, please go out and get yourself a copy of the yearbook. National Bookstore retails the yearbook for around Php1,800.

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