The following day, we were up early to start a 7-island hopping adventure. Along the way, our guide Rocky (who Ate Anette fondly called Papa Rocky, obviously inspired by Lady Gaga’s hit song) showed us interesting sights such as the Helicopter Island (called as such because of its shape), and caves where Balinsasayaw birds’ nests are cradled. I learned later on that these nests are the birds’ saliva, formed in the size of a fist, and cooked and served as Nido Soup.
Our first stop, the Hidden Beach, was a pocket of crystal clear water surrounded by tall and sharp walls of limestone. Like little children set free to play, my companions quickly jumped into the alluring water to swim and snorkel. Not a skilled swimmer, I took my time taking pictures instead. Of course, I don’t want to be the killjoy of the group (considering we would all be bonding for five full days), so I went down the boat and took a dip. I tried to wade farther to where they were snorkeling, but I was barefoot. I believe that was where I got a cut from a coral on my left big toe.
Other tourists started coming in, and suddenly, the Hidden Beach didn’t look so hidden anymore. So we headed to our next stop, which was the mystical Secret Beach.
I have to admit I was intrigued by the name (and the fact that these beaches were the inspiration behind Leonardo diCaprio’s movie, “The Beach”), until the boat stopped about 50 meters away from a small cavity under the solid limestone wall. We were told we would have to swim all the way through that small hole (about 5 x 7 ft wide) to get inside, and I was like, “you have got to be beachin’ kidding me.” I looked down on the water and could see nothing, which means it’s that deep.
I wasn’t expecting anything from this trip to keep me brimming with surprises, but this was pushing it. It’s a good thing I packed a lot of courage instead of a good pair of water shoes. “Swim you want, and swim you will get,” I muttered to myself as I went down with my trusted bright orange water vest and snorkel. Our guide and my inaanak Dindin pulled me all the way through the hole, laughing all the way as I made a lot of nervous jokes about not letting go and how freaked out I was.
It seemed like a lifetime of swimming for me (that was about more than 100 meters, man!) until we finally reached the shore. Never in my life have I realized how much I appreciate the sands on the shore. And then I looked around me and the secret was revealed. It was half as small as the Hidden Beach, but 10 times larger in mysticism. It was just us, the clear water, the solid walls hugging us from reality, and heaven above.
The limestone walls were thicker, with its sharp tips poking the blue ceiling of sky and clouds. I was kind of hoping it would tear portions of the sky to let angels come flying out and down the beach to share the fun with us. I was that mesmerized by the Secret Beach.
Ronnie asked me, “Kung dito ang work mo, tapos ganito ang surroundings mo…” I didn’t let him finish and, without thinking, I told him, “Work? I wouldn’t work if I live here.” He laughed and understood.
Swimming back, I felt a little braver and sorry to be leaving this beautiful creation that God carved for us. It reminded me why I want to help preserve the environment in simple ways I can.
We next headed to Tapiutan Island where we went for more swimming and snorkeling (dipping for me). The others fed the fishes with bread that we brought along, as our guides set up our lunch by the stone walls. It was cholesterol overload from crabs and grilled pork and fish, to fruit varieties for cleansing. The heavy lunch slowed us down a bit, but gave us wide smiles that went all the way back to our loved ones left behind.
At Matinloc Island – the heart-shaped island – we saw the shrine and went under the “story room”. Then we went up to scale the sharp walls where we put on our brave faces and saw the breathtaking view from the top.
We went for more snorkeling and fish feeding at Simisu Island before going to a small lagoon in Miniloc Island. I let this one pass as it was an even farther wade and swim from where we docked. I was told there is nothing much to expect, anyway, so I stayed to chat with our boat captain, Dong. A few meters away is the production crew of Survivor Sweden who were busy setting up for the final challenge.
Our last stop was the 7 Commando Beach where we waited for the sun to stretch and yawn from a tiring yet enriching day with us. Some of us even had a refreshing buko juice drink by the edge of the beach.
This is what the word “busy” means in El Nido…at least for someone like me who works like there’s no tomorrow.
I have Palawan on play loop in my mind until today, and it’s slowly making its way down to my heart.