Take a bus or shuttle van from Puerto Princessa to El Nido, through hills with distant views of the sea, the blue green contrasting with the pure deep blue of the sky. Through small villages whose function is to support the subsistence farmers who growing rice and enough to sustain themselves supported by their Carabao, a breed of water buffalo that does the heavy work of ploughing as well as being a mark of some limited wealth, the national animal of the Philippines. The journey time is approximate, 4 to 6 hours, about 150 miles It depends on the roads, how many times people feel like stopping, how crazy the driver is, but you will get there eventually and after all time doesn’t have quite the same meaning in the islands. It will be worth it. Have a break at a roadside café, eat some adobo, enjoy the view and the friendliness.
If you are into nature and eco systems, El Nido is perfection, beaches, caves pristine seas teeming with life, snorkelling, diving, boats and island hopping in a setting that is unrivalled. El Nido is getting well known, and in the summer its busy and full, becoming a must go destination for a lot of backpackers and others. But if you want something that is more unique move beyond El Nido itself. 30 to 40 kms past El Nido, on a dirt road you come to the village of Sinabungan, reached by a dirt road down a steep hill, leading from the road to the sea. The villages along the coast there are real habitations, and in tourist terms, just waiting to happen.
It’s a world with limited phone coverage and limited wifi and once you get your head round that and stop panicking its paradise. The pace of life is whatever you want to make it, there are no notice boards with rules, find out what there is to eat that day and enjoy it, have a few drinks in the warm night, savour the splash of water on the boat, hook up with fellow travellers, hook into the local grapevine about where to go and how, and what to do, create your own journey because everyone there is so tuned to showing you everything. Experience tolerance and curiosity and sink into freedom. Learn the culture and feel the adjustments in your head.
The small hotels are owned by local families, simple but everything you need. Sleep in a bamboo hut with the quiet noise of the sea. The solar generated electricity only works from 6pm to 6 am but really who needs it? That’s a hotel called Tapik. Nestling on the side of a hill, your focus is the sea, islands in every direction, long seemingly endless stretches of sand, and a sense of remoteness that really turns you round. Its bamboo and coconuts, fishing boats and large families, the changing colour of the sea and stunning sunrises over water as smooth as glass. Lie in a hammock and watch the world. In cities people walk to go somewhere, here they seem to walk just for the pleasure, with little sense of time.
Take a boat and wander round a few small islands, the classic desert islands, largely uninhabited, where your contemplation might only be interrupted by a small pig wandering out of the bushes. Snorkel from the boat, cook some food on the beach and eat it in a background of white sand and turquoise sea, find one that only exists at low tide where any buildings are on stilts for high tide. The small islands are all different and you can take you choice. Don’t swim near the boat the jellyfish are attracted to the heat of its engine. You learn that stuff. Enjoy the feeling that the only real definition of time is the setting sun. Bask in the isolation of the sea and then return to the shore at a place where the people who look after you live from the sea, its their livelihood. You will remember the beauty the people and the pace of life and it will change you.
Its easy to immerse yourself in the community, large families all of whom have their place. It’s a conservative country where large families are at the core of life. They gather together, live together, work together, enjoy life together and crave simplicity. Such simplicity does not make you rich but it makes you happy. You can be alone and just think, meet people and learn, or have a party.
This is a place just waiting to be discovered and as you contemplate the scene and how it makes you feel, so you get this regret at what the place might become with hotels dotted along the pristine beaches. But who are we to stop the inhabitants making the most of their community?