Tuesday, May 14, 2013

El Nido, Palawan: Day 1

For most of the time, the fish I met on the dive seemed unaware of me. They swam inches away from me-- displaying their splendid array of copper, and lime green and blue . One of them, however, looked me straight in the eye and held my gaze so steadily, that I almost dropped my mouthpiece. Face to face with an especially inquisitive fish -- it could only have happened in El Nido, Palawan.

Day 1: A Tropical Party 
El Nido is named after the nests (nido means nest in Spanish) which are built by the edible nest swiftlet (balinsasayaw) into the cracks and crevices of Palawan's ubiquitous limestone cliffs. Climbers scale these cliffs to get these nests -- for this is the main ingredient in the prized oriental bird's nest soup.

The resort lies 430 km southwest of Manila and it took a mere 1 hour and 15 minutes by plane, plus an additional 40 minutes by outrigger to get to El Nido. A veteran travel writer I knew of described this place as "heaven on earth," and when I first caught a glimpse of Miniloc resort -- a cove whose mammoth limestone cliffs surrounds dazzling blue waters and cottages on stilts -- it was clear that this was no exaggeration.

I checked into the Cliff Cotttage, which is set amidst coconut trees and against a massive cliff. The bed was big enough for three and woven sawali (bamboo slats) covered the walls. Armed with an El Nido map and wildlife checklist, I set out for my first day.

First in the schedule was a little acquaintance party right at Miniloc's pier. I knelt down and immediately, neon-colored parrotfish swarmed my outstretched hand. Even the jackfish -- one meter long and grey-black in color, gathered around us for their share of free food.

photo by Harvey Tapan

Then we went on an introductory dive, where a divemaster taught me the basics of scuba diving, and I was shown such entrancing sights as clownfish snuggling in their anemone and royal blue starfish peeking underneath a coral.

Island Buffet 
The rest of the day was a sidetrip to the small lagoon, which had a dramatic entrance -- sliding the speedboat through a small space under the limestone. Once in, serenity took on a physical dimension, in the form of an emerald green pool and towering cliffs. Our guide, Jeff, said that this was where he would kayak to, when he needed some alone time.

photo courtesy of El Nido resorts 

Soon after, we were whisked off to an island dinner with the dramatic backdrop of the Palawan sunset to accompany us. On the island itself, torches burned a soft orange glow, and there were
tables laden with a buffet of chicken inasal (grilled chicken), lechon (roasted suckling pig) and fresh fruits.

By a steadily burning bonfire, the volunteer staff from the resort performed traditional Filipino dances like the manglalatik (a war dance using coconut shells), and the tinikling (bamboo dance).

As the day drew to an end, and as we landed back in the main resort and trooped back to the room, I tell you, there is nothing the world like a full stomach, and memories of a day well-spent, to lull you to sweet sleep.

Read El Nido, Palawan: Day 2 

Read El Nido, Palawan: Day 3 

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