Coron (Philippines) to Naga (Philippines), Mrt-11-10 / Mrt-27-10
It were two very long travelling days that took us from Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Philippines’ province of Palawan, to the town of Coron, in the far north-eastern part of the same province. But it was absolutely worth it. For the first time in our lives, and probably also for the last time, we had some fantastic days of wreck diving (see also the article and the photo impression on wreck diving in Coron). After some extra days of rest on Busuanga Island, on where Coron is located, we travelled in stages back to Puerto Princesa. The first stretch was the nine hour boat journey from Coron to El Nido. El Nido is seen as one of the major reason to travel to the relatively remote province of Palawan. But for us, it wasn’t. It probably has to do with the fact that we are not really beach people. Baking in the hot sun and the uncomfortable feeling of sand between the toes is something we are not really looking forward to.
But despite of this, we still booked an island hopping tour in El Nido. If the bay area around the village is so famous, we also want to see it. The bays around El Nido are dotted with karst formations that often rise steeply from the sea. Many of the islands have picturesque white sand beaches and postcard like blue lagoons that seem to be great places for snorkelling. So, with a high expectation, with our swimming suits on and our snorkelling equipment is our bags, we met the other participants of the tour at the small boat that would take us to some of the islands in the area. Besides us, our group had two more people. Two American brothers, who hadn’t seen each other for more than eight years, travelled together through the Philippines as a reunification after so many years. The day appeared to be nice, but not really special. The bays and accompanying views are great, but the snorkelling is really disappointing. There is no coral anymore, and also fish is difficult to find. The only thing that is abundant in the area is jelly fish, which you have to evade carefully if you want to reach the boat again without being stung. Besides that, there are so many tourist boats in the area, that you won’t have a beach for yourself. Be prepared to share the beaches and lagoons with loads of other tourists. Another disappointment was El Nido village. The village lost all its charm due to unorganised overdeveloping. And that’s not all. Also the friendliness of the people left from the moment on that the tourist dollars started pouring in. It was the first time during our visit to the Philippines that we were a little bit disappointed by the people.
One of the many nice beaches around El Nido
|After our visit to El Nido, we took the bus back to Puerto Princesa. We had one more thing on our list that we wanted to see in Palawan; the subterranean river of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. This is the longest underground river in the world (8 kilometres) and is only for this already a reason to visit. But also this visit disappointed us. The river is only accessible for visitors for around 1.5 kilometres, because of the huge amount of tourists. You literally have to queue to get a seat in one of the many boats (an amusement park feeling; when you are in line for an attraction). The quality of the boats men, who also serve as guides, is really terrible. They think that they are the funniest people on earth, and the only thing they do is pointing out rock formations that look like ‘something’. We saw for example virgin Maria, Sharon Stone, a corncob and a mushroom with a penis on it. The only persons who laughed about the jokes were the guide himself and a Japanese sex tourist who visited the river with his newly ordered Filipina chick. One other guy in our boat tried to ask a serious question about the many bats that are present in the caves, but his question was indecently ignored. So, the underground river in itself is beautiful, but the experience of visiting it is a letdown. If you want to visit a similar river in this part of the world, consider going to the Tham Kong Lo underground river in Laos. It is more beautiful and the experience is awesome.
After our visit to Palawan, we flew back to Cebu City, from where we took the ferry to the province of Leyte the next day. Our next travel destination was the little village of Donsol in the southern part of the province Luzon. Donsol is one of the world’s best places to see and to snorkel with the huge whale sharks, the largest fish on earth. January to April are the best months to see them, because of the abundance of plankton in the water during these months. We were a little bit in a hurry because we wanted to visit this place before the start of the holy week, the week before Easter. The holy week is for many Filipino’s the only holiday in the year, and for that reason also the busiest holiday period. Travelling in that period is almost impossible because all hotels in the more popular areas are already booked out for months and also the public transport during this period is overcrowded. Donsol is as one of the major tourist sites in the Philippines, also a popular destination for domestic holidaymakers during the holy week. That’s why we definitely wanted to visit this place before the hordes arrive. For the holy week we booked already a room in a guesthouse in Manila. Manila seems to be one of the places during the holy week that is not crowded, because many inhabitants of the city want to escape from the city.
Waiting for the boat to leave for the underground river tour in Palawan
So, we travelled through the provinces of Leyte and Samar to Donsol, on the southern tip of Luzon Island. Because we arrived well before the start of the holy week, we had no problems finding a room in one of the resorts that line the beach of Donsol. After checking in, we went to the whale shark visitor centre to register ourselves for the whale shark snorkelling experience of the following day. Only thirty boats, with six visitors per boat, are on a daily basis allowed to search for whale sharks in the Donsol bay. The next day we were at 06.30 in the morning present to find other travellers to share a boat with. We were eventually one of the first boats that took off and after approximately thirty minutes, we spotted our first whale shark. We jumped into the water and had twenty minutes of quality time with this gentle giant. It was absolutely one of the highlights of our visit to the Philippines. And we were lucky again, because most encounters only take one or two minutes,before the whale shark leaves to deeper waters again. Absolutely fabulous and one of the best wildlife experiences we even had! After Donsol we went some days to the nearby town of Legaspi to see one of the most dangerous volcanoes on earth: Mt Mayon. Yesterday we took the bus north to the town of Naga, where we are now waiting for our bus ride tomorrow to Manila. And the day after tomorrow, the holy week starts. We will stay the holy week and the week after in Manila, to rest for a while and to get prepared for the visit of Edwin’s parents to the Philippines.
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