Monday, January 27, 2014

El Nido, Palawan: Escaping to the islands, kayaking in a deserted lagoon, and sailing to a beautiful sunset

El Nido Marimegmeg Sunset
Wonderful Accuweather-defying sunset at Marimegmeg
"Swerte nyo, maraming araw na ang dumaan pero ngayon pa lang umaraw" ("Your'e lucky, it's the first time in so many days that the sun shone.")

It's a statement we kept hearing on the first two days of our recent Backpack Photography trip to El Nido, Palawan.  The date maybe past mid-January but at times, it felt more like November when the wind chill and darkness set in very early, many hours before the sun does.

We actually came to Puerto Princesa a day ahead of the group, praying for better weather.  This even though Accuweather isn't optimistic about sunshine and our friendly innkeeper any more encouraging with news that a fellow guest has come back a day earlier than scheduled from El Nido since the Coast Guard refused to issue permits for island hopping due to the prevailing windy and wavy conditions caused by an approaching weather disturbance (It's good for the Coast Guard to be more involved in a lot of touristy places).  On our travel day, passing by Taytay, the sky hinted of some color, though the climate was chilly in the mid-afternoon.
El Nido Pinagbuyutan Rockscape
Pinagbuyutan rockscapes
Escape to the islands.  It took awhile for the sun to come out fully, past 8am, when the dogs of Corong-Corong have already gone about their morning rounds and resort guests have dispersed either to their boats, into town, or back to bed.  The weather alternated between fair-sunny-overcast-rainy as we went from 7 Commandos, Pinagbuyutan and Snake Islands.  By our fourth island, Shimizu, there was an added attraction of spotting gathering storm clouds visibly draping the distant karsts and racing ahead of the squall.

By mid-afternoon, the calm of the morning was noticeably giving way to windy and wavy conditions. Interesting weather to shoot with if you'd ask me though tricky conditions to sail through. However, the Big and Small Lagoons afforded us placid water conditions to kayak smoothly and admire the reefs lavishly decorated with sea urchins (lovely to look at but not to mess with) through the crystal clear water; and above, inspect the parts of the towering limestone cliffs dotted with vegetation and sheltered from the wind, waves, and salty spray.  For the kayaking parts, we left our DSLRs on the boat and lugged a rented Olympus underwater camera.

One particularly memorable stretch was paddling with Frances, one of our Backpack Photography participants, through one deserted section of the Big Lagoon and singing aloud a medley of "Proud Mary" (the part where the lyrics go "Rollin' rollin' on a river" - a case of LSS from our van's playlist coming here but I digress) and "Row, row, row your boat" with no one to hear but the wind, the karsts and the swifts hiding there, and the urchins lurking below.  It's priceless luxury to find alone time considering the increasing number of tourists finding their way to Palawan.
BP El Nido Og and Lito
Lagalog and guide, Lito, on a two-seater kayak at the Big Lagoon
Sailing to a golden sunset. Coming out of the lagoon, we entered Bonamine territory -- choppy swells that made me want to sing The Hues Corporation's "Rock the boat" (mercifully, I didn't) and kept our hopes for a good enough sunset in check.  Our sunset spot was in Marimegmeg, about 25 minutes or so by boat from Corong-Corong and nevermind the tricky landing, the pesky mosquitoes, and peskier nikniks (sandflies), we were accepting whatever God will give us that afternoon.  

El Nido Barutuan Festival Taberna Girl in Costume by the Window
Barutuan Girl
Lo and behold, for the second day in a row, we witnessed another breath-taking sunset belying the forecasts (the previous one was just a day ago by the roadside 15-20 minutes away from El Nido).  You might say we got lucky twice over though I'd like to believe we were twice blessed.


Next on Lagal[og]:  Parading soot-faced in Barutuan, Chilling out in Nacpan, and Hiking to Bulalacao

Info: Backpack Photography takes participants to wonderful off-the-beaten-track places in the Philippines on photographer-specific/camera-friendly itineraries.  For details, please visit


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