From Puerta Princesa North to El Nido it’s about 250 km and you’ve got two choices – the public bus (40PHP to the terminal, plus 350 PHP for 9 hours of non-airconditioned fun), or 650 PHP for the “luxury” minivans i.e. only 1 or 2 more passengers than seats. It’s a 6.30am pickup and an hour scouring the city for the rest of the passengers (a mix of backpackers and locals), before venturing onto the National Highway – first on smooth tarmac, then less smooth tarmac, then no tarmac.
The journey can be an ordeal in the wet season, but in late May it was a pleasure – once off-road our driver stopped to reduce the tyre pressures before continuing over rivers, across hilly passes and through countless roadside settlements built mainly from bamboo and palm leaves. I can’t romanticise this – these are people living on $2 per day, but if I had more time then I would have killed to be able to cycle that trip and learn more about life in a remote province. A short break at a Roxas seaside restaurant for a perfectly chilled 20 peso bottle of Coke was a welcome prelude to the last stage of the journey – up and over a final range of hills, along the beautiful North West coast of the island and into El Nido town itself…
Forget never judge a book by its cover, try never judge a place by its bus terminal. If there’s one piece of info I love having when I pitch up somewhere, it’s how much a cab ride actually costs, and thanks to Karen this nugget was already banked, so Fort Wally Bus Terminal became a trifle rather than a trial. In El Nido things are simple for trike rides under 2km – locals pay 7 pesos per person, touristas 10 and, if there’s a spare seat, the driver will give a mate a freebie ride.
As we waited for our luggage to be unloaded from the minivan roof, predatory trike drivers started circling for the kill. I knew which direction View Deck Cottages was and I knew El Nido was tiny, but still wanted some fun, so I asked the question and got the answer I expected – “30 pesos, honest price”. Whatever. Thanks but no thanks, turn around, walk 25 feet to the road, stop, wait 20 seconds, then offer 15 pesos to the first trike that passes – you get to your cottage quickly and without hassle, the trike driver gets double the local rate and everyone’s happy, except the chancer who thought he could spring me for double that.
Our minivan for the trip North
On the road
Lunch stop - Roxas
The tarmac ends
Traffic on the national highway
Tyre pressures down
Fort Wally Bus Terminal, El Nido
My first trike ride