Al’s Story: El Nido

There are over 7000 islands that make up the Philippines but Palawan Island appeals to me for its authenticity.  It’s neither over commercialised nor over-developed and so far I have only explored a small portion of what it has to offer.

I am originally from the Philippines and I feel very familiar with life there.   With its many early influences of the Catholic Church and Spanish rule it feels a safe and secure country to visit.  Education and religion have shaped the culture of the Philippines which proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. My grandparents live in a barrio (town) approximately one hour’s travel from Boracay.  Although this is a very popular spot for tourists, for me, Palawan Island has more to offer.

Earlier this year I took my two young children there to explore the wonders of El Nido (the nest) and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.  Better known locally as the Underground River, it has been chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature and is a world heritage area.  The mouth of the river is partially disguised by a sheer rock cliff where the deep water is a vivid aqua colour, a reflection of the lush rainforest that drapes the mountainous landscape.

Our guide paddled quietly into the cave and we were completely shut off from sunlight.  Using a flash light we examined the rock formations of dissolved limestone, a result of water dripping from the cave’s ceiling over thousands of years. There were several large chambers and one huge cave, home to thousands of bats. “Don’t look up!” our guide warned us.

In the dark and hushed interior the cave felt as sacred as a cathedral.  We were awestruck and totally transfixed by the beauty and serenity of this amazing natural wonder.  This is nature at her finest and we felt privileged to be there.  In the past, American soldiers had left painted messages on the rock walls but today this site is given the respect it deserves by the people of Palawan.

Through earpieces, information about the discovery and history of the river, how the formations of stalactites and stalagmites were formed and the flora and fauna of the area was being relayed to us. I felt the journey along the river was also an important educational experience for my children.

On another visit to Palawan later in the year, this time on my own, I visited Honda Bay. It’s only 30 minutes from Puerto Princesa.  Honda Bay is actually a cluster of small islands covered in dense vegetation, fringed by white sandy beaches and surrounded by crystal clear waters.  I toured the islands by Bangka, a traditional wooden fishing vessel.  At midday, our tour guide cooked fresh local seafood over a bed of hot charcoal.  It was a simple but delicious meal; indicative of traditional Filipino cuisine which is based on fresh local produce.  We finished off with fresh, locally grown fruits including mangoes and bananas.

In the past you would have had to fly to Manilla then travel by road and sea to visit these island attractions but these days for about $100 you can hop on the new Cessna Grand Caravan Land and Sea Planes for a 45 minute trip than once took three days.  Air Juan leave from Puerto Princesa, San Vincente, Cuyo and Busuanga (Coron).

The islands of Honda Bay cater for all ages and for the younger tourists there are banana boat rides, Para sailing and jet boat rides. Snorkelling and diving in the clear blue waters around Honda Bay lets you get up close to swarms of colourful fish that will eat right out of your hands and around one island the sea floor is literally covered with starfish.

With the use of modern technology; solar panels, generators and water pumps these remote and isolated islands of Honda Bay are now more attractive and accessible for tourists. Young entrepreneurial business people in the Philippines are embracing technology and using it to their advantage to facilitate on-line reservations but there are many hidden gems waiting to be discovered and bookings can still be made in person on the day.

I have lived Australia since I was ten but whenever I go back to the Philippines I immediately slip back into the slower pace of life there.  There’s time to think and no reason to rush.  The traditional food of the Philippines is wholesome and natural; simple flavours and fresh ingredients.  I feel refreshed and revitalised each time I return to my homeland.

Al Amor, Australian Business Owner and Property Investor.

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