Monday, February 20, 2017

Body surfing with a sea turtle {El Nido, Philippines}


Sometimes, I want to discover what a place really has to offer, almost as if I was a local. Therefore on a holiday such as this, there is, more often than not, no better way to discover the hidden gems of a place than to put on those shoes and hit the dirt.  I believe it was Robert Frost that wrote:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Palawan is no different. There is so much of the island that hasn’t been commercialized, that’s rugged, muddy, overgrown and lush; and may leave you with a few bumps and scratches.  So what? We only live once.

We found numerous small secluded beaches, overgrown paths that lead to breathtaking views and bamboo houses that stand guard over miles of rice paddies. Ultimately our 6 days had come to an end and it was time to say our farewells before heading off on the last leg of our adventure – Sabang.


A shuttle bus (air-conditioned minivan) picked us up at the local bus station, which also doubled as a market (people were selling pig heads and other exotic delicacies).  The 5 hour trip from El Nido to the intersection between Puerto Princesa and Sabang felt arduously long, but we made it there with our bags and bodies intact.  At the intersection we had the option to wait +2 hours for the daily Jeepney to pass or take a tricycle. We opted for the tricycle and were blessed with a private tour of the world’s most windy road.  Our driver’s name was Roger, he didn’t look like a Roger, but man did he have some mad skills!
Jeepney - Courtesy of Google
Amazing Race Pitstop, Roger and my beautiful wife Kit

Sabang is a very small town and most famous for the New 7 Wonders of Nature: The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park aka The Underground River. I had decided beforehand to splurge a bit and so we stayed at the Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort.  The Resort is situated on the best beach in Sabang and is home to the endangered Hawksbill sea turtle (Chelonia Mydas) which they protect from exploitation.


Most people that we have met whilst in Philippines had organized to do the Underground River through tour agencies in Puerto Princesa.  This is all good and well except that you have to travel to Sabang by minivan which takes 2 hours and then wait in a queue at the harbor as only a limited number of boats are allowed to dock at the Underground River.


Fortunately for us, we had arranged to do the tour with our hotel. Granted it was a bit more expensive than the conventional tour prices but it included a 3 course lunch at our resort as well as having our own banka (local pump boat) AND being the first people at the Underground River.  It tends to get very crowded so experiencing this unique wonder before anyone else was truly amazing.


Our tour boat had 5 occupants, I was in the front, on light duty (holding a huge flashlight) whilst our tour guide took up the rear. He explained that the river was first discovered by Spanish settlers in the 1800s.  Our little expedition set off and ventured up river for less than a kilometer, whilst the entire river is approximately 8.2km long. There’s a common saying among the tour guides: “If you feel something cold drop on you, it’s most probably water from the stalactites, if it’s hot, then its bat poop.”


The caves are occupied by millions of bats (quite literally) and so we were warned beforehand to close our mouths when looking up.


We really did enjoy ticking this item off our bucket list though it is safe to say that if you’re not into caves or rivers you’re not really missing anything spectacular.  The whole trip roughly took 2 hours.

After an amazing 3 days of drinking Mai Tai’s and indulging in crepes infused with condensed milk and mangoes (the food at our resort was incredible!) it was time to pack our bags, exchange the wife beaters for thick winter jackets and embrace South Korea for one last time.


We live in a day and age where everyone longs for adventure.  For the most part we feel it is out of reach.  All of Earth has been explored; there is nothing new under the sun. And yet, if we dare to wander off the path set before us by Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet and other similar sites, we open ourselves up to a world of new opportunities. So where ever you find yourself the next time you’re on holiday, or travelling, take the risk and be surprised at what you’ll find. Take the road less traveled. Who knows, maybe one day, you’ll find yourself body surfing with a sea turtle.

This adventure was made in the Philippines.

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