After the five-day Tao expedition during which we enjoyed beautiful sceneries, great food and lovely people, we arrived at the port of El Nido. We seemed to be quite a spectacle, as crew of near-by ships were watching us disembark, as if we were the latest instalment of the James Bond franchise. After having just been with Tao passengers and crew for a few days, being in El Nido was another contrasting experience, as the place is touristy as hell. The Magnificent Seven spent one night in El Nido to leave the next morning to Puerto Princesa to take yet another plane with destination Cebu. From El Nido to Puerto Princesa is a three and a half hour drive. I had already experienced Filipino-style driving, which involves overtaking in bends or just before a hill and tailgating, which surely makes driving exciting, but not necessarily safe. In Puerto Princesa we had lunch in a very atmospheric restaurant, where shoes are not allowed, so make sure you don’t have smelly feet or holes in your socks when you go. After lunch we boarded a plane to Cebu City, as on Cebu island we had a whale-shark watching and canyoning trip planned.
The Cebu Circus
One of the girls had booked a lovely house in an apartment complex in Cebu City, which would be our base for two days in total. It was quite a challenge to reach that base. After arriving at Cebu City airport a massive queue for the taxis awaited us and after four of us finally managed to get into a taxi, the driver was being difficult by refusing to switch on the metre and demanding extra money, despite it being an official airport taxi. After we forced him to pull over we found another taxi to take us to the apartment complex. The driver said he knew where it was and with the help of google maps, we thought we would have found the place in no time. We were wrong, however and the others, who had taken another taxi, seemed to have the same problem. After a lot have hassle and a lot of time passed one of the members of staff of the apartment complex picked us up at some central point- the 7-Eleven, an American chain of convenience stores and a popular meeting point for Filipinos- and arranged a van to take us to the place. We were only to spend a few hours there, as we were picked up the next morning at 3 o’clock to be taken to Oslob, near the southern tip of Cebu island, where we were to swim with whale sharks. I am not a big fan of animal tourism, but the trip was booked and I didn’t want to be a ‘bah-humbug’. I also secretly didn’t want to miss out on the experience of being in the water with large sea animals. We arrived at the whale-shark-watching beach at sunrise and the whole event was- obviously- a total sea zoo. Dressed in swimming gear and life vests we boarded boats and were sailed no more than 200 metres from the shore. As we were lying in the water with what felt like hundreds of people, the whale sharks were lured with bait, so we could witness them from very close by. Those poor animals probably don’t know how to feed themselves anymore and would feel ill at ease when they don’t spend the entire morning with hundreds of people. But then, I’ve been in the water with large sea creatures, which I found, despite the zoo-like situation, quite a special experience and the local community could claim their tourist pesos for the day.
Too Many Selfies on the Reef
After the sea zoo, we had breakfast and after that we were taking to a nearby island, which was also some sort of tourist attraction. Yes, the water was very clear and light blue and I’m sure the reefs were beautiful, but after the Tao expedition, it was a very underwhelming experience. The island had a very tiny beach with little to no shade and it was packed with people, many being terribly busy taking selfies. The most underwhelming thing of all is that all we had to our disposal was that tiny, shadeless beach and the dozens of people, as the rest of the island was off-limits. After an hour and a bit or so, after someone might have said something, our kind guide led us through the water around a few rocks to another tiny beach. But at least this beach was in the shade and besides us there was no one there, giving us a mini-Tao experience after all.
Imagery: Koen F Smit- Amor