El Nido – 2 days

Wednesday 11th January 2017

I woke up and had brekky and walked to the Dive Centre and was there at 8am. It was pouring rain all divers waiting there were told the dive day was cancelled as all boats had been forbidden to go on the sea that day. That also meant every single boat tour was cancelled too, everyone impacted by the heavy rain. There was a friendly Spanish couple there and we lingered around, looked at the map of all dive sites, skimmed over the Fish book and ultimately had to accept we would not dive today!

I went back to the hostel under the rain and spent some time sorting photos while it kept pouring rain outside. We chatted on What’s App and decided to meet for lunch with Priscilla, Lorenzo and David.

I walked past the school on my way to meet them where street sellers sell local sugar treats. Better than a vending machine.
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Walking around
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Heading to the Art Cafe
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Pretty loaded trike!
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Quite cool place with swings
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We arrived at the Boutique & Art Cafe and chilled there for 3 hours, eating Western food and chatting. It is quite an institution in El Nido among tourists. It was opened in 1995 by a Swiss girl and a Filipino guy as a boutique offering island hopping tours, then closed and opened as a Cafe in a smaller location and then in 2008 they opened in this place as a Boutique & Art Cafe. They have their own organic farm too and serve the veggies and fruits grown on their farm, recycle the bio-degradables from the restaurant on their farm, installed solar energy panels, replaced plastic straws with wooden ones and give back to the community.

After our looooong lunch break, we went back to our respective hostels and decided to meet again in the evening for dinner. On the walk back there was this man regulating the street traffic.
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I stopped at the beach for a quick look at the ocean.
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Then I went back to the hostel, just before a big down pour hit again. I continued editing the photos. Later in the evening, we met with Judith, Andi, Lorenzo, Priscilla and Daniel at a Filipino restaurant which food was really nice and spent some time chatting there then said a final good-bye and went back to our respective hostels.

Thursday 12th January 2017

In the morning, it was raining again for a good while. On one end, I was happy when thinking we had had 5 great days during our expedition with no rain. On the other end, I would have been happy with 2 more days like that! So I simply stayed indoor and continued editing the photos, deleting a lot to only keep the best.

At lunch time, I went for a take-away falafel. I had passed by several times and it looked really yummy and it happened to be really good.
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Here are the standard tourist tours available in El Nido. Tour A and B.
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Tour C and D.
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I chilled during the beginning of the afternoon, sorting photos, reading my book, preparing some blog articles, while the rain kept pouring, on and off. Around 3pm I took a trike to the El Nido airport. Arriving at the entrance of the airport. I had to change trike because my trike didn’t have the ‘airport license’.
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Sounds like a little controlled business is going on there.
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The airport landing field.
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The AirSwift plane. This is the only airline operating from El Nido to Manila with little planes of a capacity of 48 seats and there are 3 flights a day at 8am, 4pm and 5pm.
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Arriving at the airport waiting area.
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It was quite something,that airport. Betty and JC had taken it the morning before and warned us on What’s App that the El Nido airport was an interesting experience, as I was taking it next and then David the next morning followed by Priscilla and Lorenzo a few days after. The ‘x-ray’ scan was a manual quick check of the bag. The waiting area offered free refreshments and a local treat wrapped in leaves called kakanin. There were even random books on a shelf available to read to kill time, ranging from ‘Philippine Ancestral Weave’ to ‘Leading Brands of Spain’ with ‘Images of Lapland’ and a book of paintings of French Impressionist Seurat in between. To check-in, you needed to go on the scale first to be weighed. And to continue with its uniqueness, you were waived good-bye by a singing band and driven to the plane in a jeepney. What a surprising experience, one of these rare flight journeys in the world any flight passionate should do!

Boarding the plane.
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I happened to sit at the back next to a French girl Loren, from Perpignan who worked as a barrister there and told me how hard it was for her to take 2 weeks off. She had come to travel with a friend for a bit and was now going back home. She kindly left me her window seat although that was after take-off and I missed the best views from the plane. I had simply forgotten to ask for a window seat. If you can request one, ask for the right side from which you see much more. Here are a few shots of that plane journey, including a picture of the rock detached from the other rocks which we had seen from the sea while cruising.

We landed in Manilla and were welcomed by a full moon.
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We picked up the luggage and while Loren carried on to her transfer plane to Singapore where she would see her friend again before a flight back to Paris, I took a taxi to the Ermita neighbourhood where I had booked an airbnb room in a tall building called the Pearl of the Orient. I was welcomed by Monette, a woman who was welcoming people while her owner was at work. The view from the building of the traffic below was quite impressive.
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View to the right.
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There was an Italian guy, Giovanni, in the other room who had been there for a week and had kept exploring the surroundings and was waiting to be sent to some undetermined place in South-East Asia some still photographs and shooting for a  movie. We went out in the streets of Manila and walked half-an-hour to a vegetarian eatery in a mall. There were 2 striking things: pollution and poverty. At each corner where we crossed the road, we could hardly breathe. Imagine an air so saturated with monoxide of carbon that taking a breath is a struggle. I had never experienced this to that extend. Giovanni explained to me that although the jeepneys were really great, their motor for most of them was really old and polluting a lot. We spent our dinner re-inventing the world, trying to imagine solutions to Manilla’s pollution problem, planting more trees, building a metro or a tramway, replacing the jeepney’s motors with less polluting ones even electric ones, while keeping the jeepney shell which gives all its character to the Philippines. What could be done? And why was nothing being done? Manilla used to be the Pearl of the Orient until the Second World War happened. Within a month in February 1945, 100,000 civilians were killed and 80% of Manila was destroyed. It is said to be the second city which got the most damaged, Warsaw being the first. This short article expands on this topic.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/19/manila-was-known-as-the-pearl-of-the-orient-then-world-war-ii-happened/?utm_term=.7ec39fe6bb64

The second aspect of Manila was the poverty. The poverty I saw that night was shocking. I have been to capitals of Asia such as Delhi, Bangkok, Yangoon, Ventiane, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi and Phnom Penh. I had never seen such a desperate poverty, to that extreme. Thousands of people sleeping at the bottom of trees, poor, probably starving, trying to get by and survive each day. What was even more shocking was the contrast between this extreme poverty and the expensive cars, restaurants and hotels that the richest Filipinos were enjoying right next to it. Poverty in fishing villages means people don’t earn more than a dollar a day but they still might be able to fish and function as a community, they might not have electricity and running water, but they might still have a roof, some water they fetch from the river or a lake and store in buckets, some alcohol lamps, some food to feed their families and the community around them even if it means only a meal a day. Poverty in the streets of Manila has reached the level of extreme distress, with people scattered in the park, with not just running water but no water, with no roof, with one piece of clothes and probably not much food during the day.

After that walk, back at the airbnb place, yes it was noisy with the traffic downstairs and hot, but in comparison, I felt more conscious of the luck I had and the privilege of sleeping in a bed, thinking of the thousands sleeping right there, so close, so poor.

Next day, one day of exploring Manila.

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