While my primary purposes in choosing the Philippines was to visit the girl I sponsor, I was also feeling like I just needed a relaxing vacation. I tend to plan vacations that are quite busy and full of seeing and doing things, so it's uncommon that I feel the need for a vacation that involves just laying around.
It turned out to be exactly what I needed though! I arrived with bright ideas of doing morning yoga, swimming, etc. I did . . . some of it. First, the flight on AirSwift was great! It's a little tricky figuring out what to do after you book your flight online because the contact info doesn't appear to be correct, but they give you a nice bag of snacks and water after check-in and you have your own designated seating area at the gates.
When you land at El Nido though, you're nowhere near anything that has the appearance of an airport. You really get to enjoy a little local experience though with the bus to the airport!
And then you arrive at the airport. This is the arrivals hut and there is a second one for departures. I've traveled quite a bit now, so it's uncommon that I see something REALLY shocking, but this was certainly a first for me - clearly, I haven't traveled enough yet!
I was really happy with the place that I chose, even though it was in a secluded location an hour from town. As you drive through, you really get a sense of the lifestyle of the local people on the island, which introduces an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, it feels a little uncomfortable (for me) to cruise past a large number of people crammed into a small "bus" for transportation while you're alone in your air conditioned 8 seat van on your way to your "quaint" cottage that is larger than most of their homes. On the other hand, tourism is the lifeblood of many of these communities.
While I'm not particularly comfortable with Americans buying up islands and prime real estate in impoverished nations so we can turn them into expensive resorts for other Americans, if it provides options for people so they can earn a living without leaving their island, maybe it isn't all bad?
Having said that, the particular American who built this resort did a really nice job with it. It isn't one of those overdone all-inclusives and has a limited number of cottages. Above is the beach, which you can see is not crowded with a sea of humans. You are in the jungle and it feels it - huge plants, more strange looking bugs than I've seen in my life!
Really, this is the place to go if you want sun, tropics and to just relax! There were water sports (wooden kayaks, stand-up paddle boarding and kite boarding) and island hopping tours, but I was ready for basic relaxation. I find it difficult because part of me is like, "did I just pay all of this money to lay around, read and swim? I can do that any number of places!" Realistically though, it was exactly what I needed!
One of my favorite things was going on a tour of a local fishing village. My big plans up until then had been getting a 90 minute massage, but I wanted a real sense of the local life. On this trip and my trip to Egypt, I've perhaps been a little too brave about trying things because I got sick both trips and, by far, this trip was the worst. It may or may not have been because I tried coconut wine out of a very dirty bottle! Of course, it was fermented, so it may not be the most likely suspect! You can see the tiny bottles in the tree if you look closely.
I will say that my first trips to places with unsafe water, I followed all of the rules. I relaxed a bit after being told that most major tourist hotels and restaurants use filtered or purified water; however, both trips since then, I've gotten really sick . . . I think it's back to no ice (no matter where from) and only sealed beverages for me. I know people who take many more risks and never get ill, but I don't seem to have that luck! Coming down with a serious illness on a flight wasn't as bad as I'd thought though - you have somebody to bring you water and you're forced to rest. As long as you have an aisle seat, it could be worse!
It was really interesting to see the local houses, then go through one that has been set up as a museum. There's also a huge traditional boat that you can view as a museum. It's interesting to see how they manage to make such clever use of everything in their environment with coconut shells, bamboo, etc. employed as spoons, containers to store documents, food storage and even weaving leaves to make the roofs. The houses are raised off the ground both for storm surges and because of wild pigs.
While it was fascinating to see, I also enjoyed knowing that the local village benefits from part of the fee for the tour. It was also interesting to see my first mango grove!
At the end, I had the opportunity to participate in a traditional healing, so I figured, "why not?" The healer burns some herbs in a small pot and you breathe in the smoke. A small white item is placed in there and will turn a color with a shape on it to indicate what type of evil spirit may be troubling you . . . except I apparently have no evil spirits around and mine stayed pristine white.
The women seemed a little perplexed by this (hopefully not because I'm an American) and decided to try a slightly different second process. This time, there was some bubbling, but still pristine, which I was told means that I have been around evil spirits before, but passed them by because my own spirit is too strong and fought them off. They weren't trying to sell me anything else, so I'll take it!
Shortly after, it was back on a plane to Manila, then the next day was my flight home. Palawan was a lovely place to get some relaxation and to see another corner of the world where people still live in a very traditional way!