I started my journey by flying Sydney>Manila. Once in Manila, I had a solid four days of time to myself to explore Manila. I stayed in the Makati area, at a mid-range hotel. I split my time between training for the upcoming Tokyo Marathon, exploring various parts of Manila, and beginning the process of wrapping up the antarctic season.
Overall, Manila was an interesting, although not overly majestic experience. The city is a massive sprawl. Giant, modern skyscrapers are intermingled with small shanty towns. The city grid is cut up by winding alleys and backstreets. Large, free-flowing avenues are rudely interrupted by snarled traffic jams, and a constant flow of jeepneys, busses, and motorbikes. People are everywhere, doing everything.
I entered Manila without much of a plan, and was fairly overwhelmed – but ended up having a great time, and getting into the vibe of the capital city. As a word of advice for future travelers – Manila is definitely worth seeing in order to understand the city-dwelling style of the Philippines, but before you go, establish a good plan of what you want to see. Get it and get out – it’s intense. I spent four days there, but could have done with three.
After four days in Manila, Brad and Talitha flew in, and I met up with them at the airport. Flights from Manila to Puerto Princessa, the main town in Palawan, are cheap and easy – however since we were on our way to El Nido, it would have required an additional 5 hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Instead, we decided to join a charter air flight operated by ITI directly from Manila to El Nido.
In El Nido, I stayed at a mid-range hotel on the beach called Islandfront, and B&T stayed at the newly opened Mahogany Resort, just down the road. Both places were excellent. B&T spent the week in El Nido training for their PADI Open Water SCUBA Certification. I spent my days running, swimming, sailing, and relaxing on the beach. We got together every night, as well as did a few day trips together.
El Nido was wonderful and beautiful. It’s relatively un-developed compared to other towns in Palawan, but has a certain charm to it. Unfortunately, I felt like certain essential aspects – connectivity, dining options, and staff training were a bit lacking, even given the somewhat remote location. For me, I felt like it simply didn’t have quite enough charm to make up for it’s backwoods, 3rd world location. I wouldn’t go back to El Nido, but I did have an excellent time there – especially with the two best travel buddies ever!
Our final stop was in Coron. This small town is a bit closer in to Manila, and is a hub for tourism and scuba diving. The main draw of Coron is wreck diving on the multitude of Japanese military shipwrecks – the aftermath of an ambush by the USA during WW2.
In Coron, we stayed at the Coron Ecolodge, and dove with Neptune Dive Center. In Coron, we enjoyed boat trips, tasty dinners, views from the top of the mountain, massages, and lots of cafe sessions.
By far the best dive of the week wasn’t a wreck dive. It was a lake dive, in Barracuda Lake. Barracuda lake is a brackish lake that’s unique for it’s geothermally heated layers of water, with extremely dramatic thermoclines. The most interesting part of the dive was transition between layers of water, and seeing the shimmering boundaries of each layer approaching, and then traveling between the layers.