The International Man of Mystery – Philippines – Day 6

It was another early morning between the street fiesta and the roosters. Our scrawny friend outside the window was quite persistent in his crowing, despite numerous death threats uttered against him by the backpackers in the room. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up in a stew pot the next day.

I had to go back to Sanctuary Cafe for more French press coffee and crepes. Our group had decided to take an island-hopping tour around the El Nido area today, and, after seeing the possibilities yesterday during our diving expedition, I was excited to be back out on the water, this time, seeing far-reaching islands that we’d only glimpsed before. After all, these were the islands of the Bourne and James Bond movies. I could easily see why these islands would make good movie settings.

French pressin’ it.

After a majorly delicious mango crepe with caramel honey and yet another cup of perfection, we met the tour group by the water and climbed on board. We had an awesomely charismatic tour guide named Brandon who was such a ham but also incredibly informative. He jumped on the boat with the food for our beach-grilled lunch and said, “Hey, guys, look what I got you!” It was a huge bucket of writhing, wriggling prawns, all pretty and reddish-pink. Is it wrong that I was excited for lunch after seeing the extremely fresh prawns?

Our first island stop was about 45 minutes away by boat, and we hit some open water with huge waves that tossed the boat back and forth like a toy in the bathtub. I enjoyed it well enough, but I think more than one person was turning a sort of greenish tinge. We were headed toward Secret Beach, which, in and of itself, sounded very mysterious. Almost as mysterious as the lone man who was sitting on the boat’s long prow, holding on to the ropes, letting the water strike him time after time. He was in his 40’s, it looked like, very tanned, strong-looking, but very much introverted and not interested in interacting with another else on the boat.

Very mysterious. We weren’t very sure what to make of him – yet. But, we all had our theories.

We anchored just outside a large rock face with a round opening between them. Brandon said we had to jump on in with our snorkel gear and flippers and swim through the narrow opening to the secret beach inside the cove. This freaked out quite a few people, especially the nonswimmers. It was quite a swim to the rock opening itself, let alone it being some relatively open water to swim through. There were quite a few boats docked already, so plenty of people were splashing around aimlessly.

Though choppy, I jumped in, cursed at how cold the deep water felt on my sun-hot skin, and started to swim toward the opening. With this entire trip, I was glad at having learned to swim from the time I was little. It made the experience of being in the water all the time and snorkeling that much more fun.

When I neared the opening, the water suddenly became more shallow, so I could see the corals and fish flopping about there – including the ever-lurking evil of the baby jellyfish. I craftily avoided them at that moment, popping in through the tight rock opening to the shining splendor of the secret beach.

Once through, there were no more jellyfish to worry about, only the hard bumps and scrapes of shallow rocks. The sand on the beach was white and full of pulverized shells. I lifted clumps of it into my palm and picked out the tiny, tiny little shells, marvelling at their colors and designs. So much beauty in the tiniest speck of shell.

I didn’t want to sit too long on the little strip of beach, so I plunged back into the water and paddled around with my snorkel. Fuchsia and turquoise fish darted in and out of rock formations that dropped into the darker, deeper parts of the cove. Yellow, black, and white angelfish floated on by without concern. But the most fascinating thing we discovered was a rainbow-colored crab that, if you were patient enough to wait for it, would pop in and out of its hiding place. I was able to snorkel there for about a half hour and find all sorts of fish and shellfish hiding in the shallower waters.

When time was called, I ventured out into the open water, only to be shocked by the increased number of baby jellyfish. So many people were trying to get back to the boat, and some of them were kicking madly in their attempts to swim back. This was stirring up the jellyfish even more, and people were getting stung left and right. I nearly made it back without a sting when suddenly, “ZING!”

One of the jellyfish nailed my ankle as I waited to get back on the ladder to the boat. That sent an unpleasant jolt of pain right up my leg, Another girl got a sting right over her shoulder. Needless to say, it happened, and when I got out of the water, it was red and throbbing for a little while before it wore off. Not too bad, i suppose, since it was a little one. But if that was a little one, I do not want to find a bigger one – ever. Ever.

The second island stop was for our beach grilled lunch. Once all the boats were docked, I went out with a few others to snorkel. There were baby jellies here too, but definitely not as many. They were relatively easy to avoid if you saw them early enough. I spotted more clownfish and angelfish, and no matter how many times I saw them, I still got super-excited. Perhaps the most recent discovery was that of the black, ominous puffs of sea urchins chillin’ with their bad selves under the cover of rocks. You had to be very, very careful not to put yourself anywhere near them. I couldn’t believe how massive the sea urchins were! But, most impressive was how long and sharp those needles looked. Dangerous.

Ignacio the Iguana

When lunch was called, I needed it. I was very hungry by this point. I threw out the sarong over the sand and picked up my plate, filling it with the fresh prawns, grilled whole bits of grouper, amazingly juicy fresh mango and melon, fluffy rice, and this great grilled eggplant dish. We kept going back for seconds – this was possibly the best beach lunch we’d had on our trip so far. I could have eaten the entire plate of mangos. I could dedicate an entire blogpost to the beautiful deliciousness that are Filipino mangos. People, there are no words I can use to accurately describe them. Just – amazing.

But, it was during this time that we learned a little bit about our man of mystery, who had so far not spoken to anyone. However, he did mention that he liked the fish. In fact, he took the fish bodies that were left and pretty much picked them clean of flesh. So, he liked fish. That was all we knew – and actually, all we would ever know of him.

Three crosses

Just as we finished eating, one of the guys from the boat called our attention up to the rocks. A huge iguana had appeared from his home. He stretched up the side of the rock, showing himself off to the crowds of people taking pictures of him. It was pretty wild to see an iguana on the island; I’d only seen iguanas in zoos or terrariums. I named him Ignacio. He was a rockin’ iguana.

Shrine

After lunch, we boated out to a third stop, which was near a chain of a few islands. The snorkeling there was good because of clear visability, and I noticed several dark blue starfish splayed out over bits of coral. There were these very strange-looking fish with long orange bottle-noses, gray body, and black fins. Very curious.

Carved cross, top of the island

Now, we jetted over to Minaloc Shrine, an abandoned, half-finished house and shrine on an island. It was a beautiful shrine to the Virgin Mary, as the spot was said to have some kind of miraculous background. We browsed through the half-done house and then climbed up the rocks for a gorgeous view of the sea and other islands. It spread out far and wide, and the sun glittered over the water. It was the kind of scenery you often saw on postcards.

Our fifth stop was a swim in choppy water to a beach, but I declined to swim to it. I was getting tired, and the water was too harsh. A whole bunch of us decided to just stay on boat. Julia came up with the brilliant idea of holding up a lifejacket to keep ourselves protected against the hard, cold spray of the waves. Never mind that we were wet already – we just didn’t want to get – wetter? I couldn’t quite figure out our logic on that one, but it was funny to see everyone copy us.

The final stop was Helicopter Island, so named for its helicopter-like shape. Or, as Brandon said, if you were hungry, it did look a lot like a chicken drumstick. The three of us girls chilled out on the beach, as the sun was hiding behind the clouds, and the snorkeling wasn’t so very fabulous there. It was much too choppy to be a good spot that day. We were actually sort of chilled and very much missing the normal sunshine.

As a result of the dark clouds – it must have been raining on the other side of the island – and the sun suddenly reappearing, the most clear and beautiful rainbow suddenly threw itself over the island just as we were getting off the boat. It had to be one of the most well-defined rainbows I had ever seen. The colors were gorgeous and shining. Considering we had just gotten off the boat onto the dry land, it was very Noah’s Ark. I’m still picturing it in my head today. What an absolutely beautiful end to the day. A rainbow over a tropical island. Perfect. I didn’t even know that was on my bucket list until I saw it.

Check.

Rainbow over El Nido town

Our dinner was at a restaurant on the beach next to Sea Slugs, and I tried out the grilled local fish. Again, I’m a seafood junkie, so I was in seventh heaven in the Philippines. Fresh seafood, all the time. If it wasn’t flopping around twenty minutes prior to me eating it, it wasn’t fresh enough. Now that I’m so spoiled with knowing the freshness of the seafood there, I will be hard-pressed to enjoy any seafood back in the States unless I’m right on the water – clean, good water, anyway.

Fiesta banners around town

During dinner, we discussed our man of mystery from the boat. We were trying to figure out his “story” since he never really interacted with anyone on the boat, including the crew. He simply was silent, snorkeling and swimming on his own, eating by himself, and sitting on the front of the boat by himself. We didn’t quite know what to make of him. I offered up a cross between Anthony Bourdain and the Dos Equis guy, with a little bit of Nat Geo explorer. This made us all chuckle. There was a story there, certainly. We had our own version by the end of the meal, but it was still such a mystery.

View from the top of
Minaloc Island

Tonight we decided to get massages as well, since massages are incredibly cheap. Yes, I know I had a massage just a few days ago – on the beach, no less – but I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to have another one! The monkey wrench in the plan came when the young woman out front of the massage parlor asked me if I was Marco’s mother – when I’m about 7-8 years younger than him! Gagh! Most of the time, people ask me if I just graduated from high school. Sometimes it might be college. But never did I think I looked 55+ – or that I was related to Marco?

This was our last night staying at our current hostel, and since my iPhone was dead with no battery power, I finally was able to rig it up to the electrical outlet in the ceiling of our room by propping it up on a small outcropping. Thankfully, there was no more street fiesta that night, and it was eerily quiet for once.

However, the fan died on the other side of the room, which was unfortunate since it was so humid and sticky in there. The person on the top bunk of my bed kept messing with our fan. She kept turning it down; I got up and turned it up, and I will shamelessly admit that I also put a Band-Aid over the power knob so she couldn’t get it to turn back to low. C’est le vive. I was melting with heat on the lower bunk; you pull your dang sheet over you! I was not about to get as comfortable as the guy on the lower bunk next to me. He was very, very, very comfortable. Very. I was just glad his sheet stayed put during the night.

What a day. What a spectacular day.

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