Philippines: El Nada in El Nido

If the Philippines has taught me anything it’s to expect the unexpected, more so than any other place I’ve been too. And this was probably best embodied in El Nido, a stunning paradise where I was to spend New Year. Sun, sea, sand, island hopping and relaxation awaited me. The reality was very different. Someone in the hostel suggested that with my current run of bad luck, I should maybe call it a day and head home to the comforts of pie and chips and rubbish tele. Part of me thinks he may have had a point…

Only part of me though. I’ve actually had a great time. Staying in OMP Hostel (Rizal Street) has been great fun and there’s a really good crowd here. I didn’t want to spend New Year alone and there’s not a shortage of people up for drinking and swapping stories here. There’s certainly a more varied mix of travellers in the Philippines than anywhere I’ve previously been.

The reason we could spend so much time sitting in the hostel swapping stories was because the weather was awful. Just as I arrived at El Nido, it was battered by tropical storms so it was just sodden. The rain was never-ending, the island tours were cancelled and the beaches were deserted. Paradise had more or less closed down. This did wonders for my social (and drinking) life here but didn’t nourish my hunger to explore this incredible place. The rain would let up for a couple of hours a day so I could wander round but soon after the heavens would open yet again.

The bad weather did give me a chance to explore the many tasty restaurants in El Nido. Food here is more expensive than other places but is very tasty. The bars along El Nido waterfront serve good food, though the service can leave a lot to be desired. Squidos is another popular choice for seafood but it’s really small and gets busy at mealtimes. Backpackers also flock to the Art Cafe which serves delicious pizza and is really spacious with a good vibe.

Not the El Nido I imagined...
Not the El Nido I imagined…

As well as eating, New Year in El Nido meant lots of drinking too. The uber-cheap rum (Tanduay) was our drink of choice and this culminated in us visiting Corong-Corong beach for their NYE beach party. It was absolutely packed because other events had been cancelled so they ran out of most drinks well before midnight. Most of the night was just asking them to throw over whatever they had, so there were lots of spirit + pineapple juice combos.

Midnight arrived with a very abrupt and not too accurate countdown, followed by people setting off fireworks along the beach. We’d seen the fireworks going off all day and they looked deadly, with people just firing them up and running off with no idea of which direction they’d end up. This isn’t ideal on a crowded beach full of people, which I learnt the hard way.

I didn’t go near the fireworks and had no intention of letting any off but one still managed to find me, flying on the ground beneath my feet before exploding right underneath me. Less than 15 minutes into 2015 and my leg was covered in burns of varying severity. It was sore but I couldn’t help feeling I was very lucky indeed. The burns aren’t too bad and there have been many more horrific incidents people have had with fireworks so I feel as if I had a lucky escape. It’s quite funny how nobody really batted an eyelid apart from the people I was with. If a firework exploded underneath me at a party in the UK, I’d have probably made the news.

An exploding firework on a busy main road. Makes sense.

Some good karma came my way the next day though as the sun finally sort of came out. It was still cloudy but nice enough for us to head down to Marimegmeg Beach. It’s a beautiful beach about 20 minutes away from the town (150php in a tricycle) or around an hour’s walk. We lounged there for most of the day before going back to get food and have a more chilled out evening after our big NYE.

El Nido hadn’t gone to plan. Not in the slightest. But like the rest of this crazy country, it’d been one hell of an adventure and if that’s a sign of things to come in 2015, I think I’m OK with that.

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