As one of the most beautiful places on earth, El Nido was a week of pure indulgence. Relaxing in a hammock, staring out across an aquamarine bay studded with gorgeous islands, tucking into a good novel, eating great food, and with barely anyone else there, what could be better than that?
Really Fresh Chicken For Dinner
Of course there were a few surprises. Like the day we were sitting in the restaurant of our resort, Garden Bay Beach Resort, wide shutters open to a soft breeze on a warm day, when we heard a fluttery noise nearby. Looking over to the middle of the room, this is what we saw.
Chicken for dinner?
The chickens were around the resort here and there, quietly eating.
Unfortunately, the rooster was not so quiet. Morning wake-up calls were routine. What’s more, than brazen rooster started coming up on our deck any friggin’ time he felt like it, and I swear, he acted like we were on his deck. He was not a bit afraid of us; he stood two feet away. We imagined him saying,
“Ok you squatters – out! This is my deck. It belongs to me and my hens. You can leave any time now.”
Since we didn’t move off of our deck chairs, he started to look agitated. The hens starting coming a bit closer for back-up.
All of a sudden he leapt up on the railing right in front of us, blustering and adjusting until he obtained exactly the right position.
And then… he started squawking in his loudest “Cock-a-doodle-do!”
Well then! We were a little taken aback as you can well imagine, and hadn’t taken him too seriously until that moment. Should we evacuate? Report him to the authorities? Or just ignore him? We decided on the latter.
After a few more hearty crows, the pompous cock must have decided we weren’t altogether responsive to his pleas, or perhaps he had other business with the hens, and made his departure, not without a backward cocky glance.
In fact, he was so cocksure of himself that he returned every few days to reassert this swaggering brash behaviour. We found him mildly amusing but learned to ignore him.
The Clothes Line
We had a terrible time washing clothes, all over S. E. Asia. We ended up washing clothes by hand in tiny sinks, and then setting up real alternative make-do clothes lines like this.
With such extremely high humidity, the clothes took 3-4 days to dry! Word to the wise: bring lightweight quick-dry clothing.
A Sweet Italian Couple
Our next big surprise was getting to know Jane and Pasquale, the couple we had met on the boat.
Jane and I spent hours on the hammocks talking and talking. What was really strange is that she could barely speak English and I could not speak Italian, though I knew a little Spanish, and the two languages do have similarities. Since she was originally from Brazil, she spoke fluent Portuguese as well. I knew a little Portuguese from our visit to the Azores, so we spoke part/English, part/Spanish, part/Italian and part/Portuguese. We struggled, we laughed, we got totally confused, and then finally the “ah ha” moment would come when we would understand each other. It was great fun.
There were times when we really got stuck, Jane and I, and we just could not understand each other. No matter how many languages, hand gestures, pointing and arm flailing we tried, we would be at a loss. We even tried pictures in the sand. It was at this time that we would call Pasquale over to interpret. Pasquale spoke English fluently, and then the three of us would have long conversations.
We invited Jane and Pasquale to join us for supper one night to share a bottle of wine, and he secretly went to the counter and paid the bill – the rascal. We had a great evening talking about everything under the sun, and they were ever so kind to invite us to Italy to visit them.
One day, Pasquale showed up in the morning with his back and legs covered in tiny red bite marks. He had been walking in the sand at dusk the evening before and sand flies had bitten him. We had plenty of experience with sand fly bites, especially in Belize, where we scratched and scratched all night long and woke up having little sleep. The worst thing about sand flies is that you don’t feel them biting; it is only hours later that you see the red bites and start itching. At that time, we went to a pharmacy and the pharmacist recommended Hydrocortisone Cream. It was a life-saver. It takes away the incessant itch that makes you half-crazy. Now we never travel without hydrocortisone. I quickly dashed into our villa to lend them our tube of the cream.
A Canoe Trip
One day Jane and Pasquale went canoeing out to the closest island. We were a little concerned because of course an island always looks closer than it really is. But they were a fit and active young couple, so we probably need not have worried. I took photos as they got organized and headed out.
I continued until they were a mere dot in the camera, though still not at the island.
My eyes watered as I strained to get a glimpse of them, but it was impossible. In the end I decided that if they didn’t return in a reasonable time, at least I could send out a search and rescue party. Occasionally, from my comfy perch in the hammock, I would scour the horizon for the canoe without success.
They returned of course, after a successful trip, and stopped by our little villa the next day with presents for us that they had gathered from the bottom of the sea. For T, they brought a piece of white shell shaped like a comb for his massive head of hair, all the more hilarious because he has precious few hairs left. For me, they brought a round and flat white shell embedded with a fossil. Fascinating. How kind of them to think of us. We were tickled-pink.
On our last night in El Nido, we decided to have dinner together again, and we had another wonderful visit, though we could see that Pasquale was becoming exhausted from constantly interpreting from Italian to English for us and from English to Italian for Jane. Of course, this time, we secretly paid the bill.
There is something special about making friends from other countries. When you are travelling, you feel like strangers in a far-off land, where you expect and even want people to be different from your own culture. Part of the fascination of travel is not just the new landscapes, but the ways of the people that are unique and different from your own culture back home. So when you connect with someone from another country, it is a warm and welcome feeling. Perhaps we feel less alone and vulnerable through that connection. Certainly Jane and Pasquale were concerned about my inability to walk any long distance, and were always at the ready to help. This type of kindness is precious, especially when one is far away from home.
Homeless Mother and Child
After taking a walk far around this rocky bend at the end of our bay, a makeshift hut was discovered in the rocks.
This led to the discovery of an amazing story of a young Mother and small child who actually lived in this tiny hut very recently.
It was hard to imagine, a woman and child, living in the sharp black lava rocks with no bed, no bathroom, no water, and no food. The mother and child would be seen walking to town and returning carrying a big container of water. People at the resort had noticed them, and when someone realized that they were living in the rocks, they invited them to come into the resort for a meal, and then told the Manager about the situation. Someone else went to town and bought them a mattress, carrying it back to the hut. Eventually, the Manager was able to find the woman and child accommodation in El Nido town, much to the relief of everyone in the area.
Our collective hearts broke to hear this story.
El Nido Town
Though I was only in El Nido Town when we arrived and when we left our resort (Garden Bay Beach Resort), and although it was full of tourists with a bay that has become polluted, there were a few highlights.
T reported that it was a busy town teeming with tourists, and with lots of beach bars, tour/diving shops, restaurants, boutique hotels, a few grocery stores and hundreds of tricycles.
Marbers Restaurant in El Nido had the best Chicken Soup he has ever had. So good, in fact, that he went back three times to enjoy it again. Each time, he said, it was a little different, but still delicious. The service in restaurants was extremely slow; you can expect to wait at least 15 minutes for even initial service.
Trying repeatedly to get money from the ATM, which never seemed to work, T felt sorry for a young man and his wife with two small children standing near the ATM. The man was wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap and Thomas had to tell him that the ATM was not working. The young man looked a little panicked as they turned and walked away. By the way, The Garden Bay Beach Resort accepts only cash.
The Garden Bay Beach Resort Restaurant
Food at the restaurant was excellent. The highlights and recommendations are the Cashew Nut Chicken, the Tomato and Cheese Sandwich, Prawns in Coconut Curry, Pancit, Pork Adobo, Squid, Sweet Potato Fries, Mango Banana Split. Not recommended are the mushroom omelet with raw onions and canned mushrooms.
Breakfasts were included with the accommodation, other meals were about $5 CAD (180 Philippine Pesos). Breakfasts were usually eggs, toast, jam and coffee but there were other options, like yummy Mango-Banana Stuffed Pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit plates, and oatmeal.
One day, just before we got our supper, the power went out. Pitch black. Staff rushed around with powerful battery-operated lights hooked up over each table, plus candles. People began appearing through the dark with flashlights as they came in for dinner. We’re not sure how they continued cooking dinners, but they did it. They also gave us one of their big battery-operated lights to get back to our villa; then we found our little flashlight and returned the big lantern. Since it was black as coal, no reading was possible, so we were in bed by 9 pm. Other nights we stayed up as late as 10 pm (woohoo). We were often up before 6 am.
We were sitting on our little deck relaxing in the late afternoon watching the sun sparkle on the blue-green water of the ocean. Then “SMACK”, a loud sound rang out as a gecko, seeing a jumping off point, came flying down from high on the wall, landed on T’s bald head, and skidded off the edge of his head into the bushes in front of the deck. I nearly died laughing, while T was rubbing his head and trying to figure out what just happened! In between fits of laughter and holding my stomach, I tried to tell him that a good-size gecko just used his bald head as a landing pad! He said he thought it was a big animal because it landed very hard, that it caused him consider pain, and that I should not be laughing. OMG, I never laughed so hard in my life.