Oh El Nido

Palawan has been lauded the best island in the world many times over.

When a place is voted the ‘best of the best’ no matter how foreign it seems, you might earmark that destination as somewhere to visit before you die. But when it’s given the enviable accolade more than once and from different reputable sources, well, that’s when you want to see what all the fuss is all about and bump it straight to the top of your holiday bucket list.

The promise of something fresh, new and exciting; frequent flights; cheap accommodation; and a currency exchange rate more disparate than incalculably thought possible makes the decision to choose Palawan over prosaic Bali and Phuket that much more easy.

On a map, Palawan looks like the crutch of an elderly woman trying to hold up the disparate parts of the Philippines; it drifts closer to Eastern Malaysia than the Philippines mainland, and partitions the South China Sea and Sulu Sea.

It’s about an hour flight from Manila to its main gateway and capital city, Puerto Princesa, and getting to El Nido, one of its many crown jewels, can take up to an additional eight hours in a communal van picking up and dropping off locals along the way.

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It’s possible to slash the 300-kilometre ride across snaky terrains to four-and-a-half hours if you’re lucky or unlucky to have a driver mad enough (and ours was on the commute back) to overlook all the speed bumps and floor it at an average of 120 kilometers per hour.

My propensity to get motion sick is the stuff travel horror stories I tell to my friends are made of. Even after popping three preventative motion sickness pills that historically saved me from mouth-to-hole-proof-plastic-bag or face-to-toilet-bowl encounters (one potent tablet usually sufficed), every single one this time around failed me.

Unbeknownst while I was booking the flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, direct flights from Manila to El Nido exist, thanks to a charter plane company, AirSwift, that flies there exclusively for a premium. Had I known, I think it would have been worthwhile to pay the extra airfare and allocate that half a day to sunbaking or to just not getting sick. (Noted for next time.)

El Nido is at its best when the temperature doesn’t soar above 35 degrees Celsius (or when it isn’t raining between June and November); it’s gilded in sparkling cyan and turquoise waves gushing calmly behind low-pressure winds. After midnight, both wind and wave become a defiant combination and will riotously disrupt your slumber.

On a day it really wants to put on a show, spools of clouds will drop unusually low and smear the limestone cliffs – as if God couldn’t help but reach down, dip His hand in the ocean and remind Himself that what He created was good.

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