Underwater in El Nido

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So, Palawan has so far lived up to its reputation as an unspoiled getaway, a tropical eden of sorts. Sure, it is the Philippines, so things are a bit scruffy, but my stay here so far has been off the charts.

Currently I’m in El Nido, which is on the northern tip of the island. El Nido is located in a cove, along side some huge limestone mountains (kharsts, for the uninitiated). Next to the little town is a massive bay, containing numerous untouched islands, where you can swim, snorkel, just relax, or dive.

I’ve chosen to dive.

So, Palawan has so far lived up to its reputation as an unspoiled getaway, a tropical eden of sorts. Sure, it is the Philippines, so things are a bit scruffy, but my stay here so far has been off the charts.

Currently I’m in El Nido, which is on the northern tip of the island. El Nido is located in a cove, along side some huge limestone mountains (kharsts, for the uninitiated). Next to the little town is a massive bay, containing numerous untouched islands, where you can swim, snorkel, just relax, or dive.

I’ve chosen to dive.

Today was day 2 of my PADI Open Water Diver certification. They get to the business pretty quick around here (no futzing around in swimming pools), and after a night of orientation videos and tests, we woke up at dawn, boarded a speedboat, and by 9 a.m. I was breathing underwater. I did three dives today, accompanied by Sam and our instructor, a Filipino named Jeff. The scenery literally had me gasping into my regulator, with psychedelic coral and thousands of fish of so many colors and varieties that my receptors had a hard time taking it all in. I’ve taken to diving reasonably well. I’m very comfortable in water and have no problem equalizing my ears to the water pressure as I go down. The equiptment was awkward at first, and it took me a bit to get the hang of clearing my mask by blowing through my nose, but by the end of the day I definitely had the hang of it. The water here is generally clear as can be, though there are some orange algae blooms that cloud it up a bit in some spots. Tomorrow we go out to dive a bit deeper with the proper teacher, an English expat here. He’s a good guy with a singsongy northern accent (Birmingham?), so it should be a gas.

Oh yeah – I also saw three sea turtles. Three. One on a dive and two from the boat. I’ve always been fascinated by turtles and have never seen a marine species in the wild. Evidently there’s an island in the bay that’s a turtle sanctuary, so observing them is not out of the ordinary.

Fucking. Awesome.

We’re staying in a house right on the beach, which we’re renting with three other guys we met down in Puerto Princesa. Get this: two of the guys – Scott and Matt – are from Olympia, my hometown. Scott is a whip-smart guy who decided to drop out of the beeline for success for a few months to get his travel on; Matt is a guitarist now living in Portland and working at a super-cool music shop there. They’re a good bit younger than me (12 years so), but we still know all of the same places and a few of the same people, even. Scott also plays guitar, and I brought mine along, so we’ve spent the last few evenings sipping San Miguel on our spacious porch while passing it around. Our fifth companion is a guy names Esteban, from Santiago, Chile. He’s an engineering student who’s exploring The PI for a month on his own. He’s very chilled and can generally keep up with Sam and my beer consumption, which sadly can’t be said for my hometown compatriots (Scott barely even drinks at all and never smokes, in stark contrast to the rest of us scumbags visiting this country.). Whatever the case, it’s a great little improvised crew, and we got lucky scoring this cheap place instead of some shitty guesthouse full of scabies-covered Aussies on their “gap year.”

So… yeah. So far the Philippines has exceed my expectations. And one of the best things about this place is that, despite the fact that there are some travelers and tourists here, it’s still very small, not-overrun, and still has the feeling of being undiscovered.

People flock to Thailand and Bali because they are lovely, and the Philippines often gets a miss. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while longer, so please don’t encourage too many people to read this post.



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