Transportation Adventures in the Philippines – El Nido

Posted by on Oct 16, 2016

Transportation Adventures in the Philippines – El Nido

Getting to El Nido
I was booked on a trip to Tubbataha in June 2016. and decided to go to El Nido just before. El Nido is a beautiful area in the north of Palawan Island in the Philippines known for its multiple limestone islands rising sharply from blue, blue water. There are three options to get to and from El Nido. One of them is to fly. I flew to El Nido on AirSwift, a small local airline. The flight was about an hour.  It was expensive but the airline has excellent service and I recommend going that way. The other two options to get to El Nido are to fly to Puerto Princesa and take a bus (up to 10 hours one way) or a van (up to 5 hours one way). To leave El Nido one can either fly back to Manila and continue on from there or take a bus or van to Puerto Princesa and continue on from there.

AirSwift unloading passengers and luggage at a tiny airstrip near El Nido.

AirSwift unloading passengers and luggage at a tiny airstrip near El Nido.

Leaving El Nido
Since I was going to Puerto Princesa to board a dive boat when I left El Nido I decided to take a bus (an air-conditioned one) as it was cheaper. But when I asked the staff at the Spin Designer to book a space for me in one of the buses they talked me into paying a few more dollars to take a private van. That doesn’t mean I was going to be the only one on the van, it means that I was going to be one passenger in a 10 passenger air-conditioned van (if you’re lucky as I found out). The van is faster than the bus because they don’t make as many stops to pick up more passengers. This is important as the drive takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours! Two stops are made; one for potty and one for lunch. My van with 10 passengers took off and within half-an-hour stopped for the “potty” stop (they don’t really call it that but that’s what it is). At that point we took on a few more passengers. Now we’re at 12 passengers in a 10 passenger van. I’m thinking to myself wait a minute; what happened to the more comfortable van option. Then, a few miles down the road the driver sees a couple on the side of the road and he picks them up also!

Notice how the maximum passenger capacity is blank?

Notice how the maximum passenger capacity is blank?

One of the buses I "could" have taken to get from El Nido to Puerto Princesa.

One of the buses I could have taken to get from El Nido to Puerto Princesa.








So there we were, 14 people in our 10 passenger van and a driver. I had no idea where my luggage was including my unlocked carryon bag. I did have my camera backpack, and a small bag with iPad, iPhone, wallet, and passport with me. Luckily when I got on I had picked a seat in the row behind the driver next to the door and this row was the only one that did not get extra people squished in. I felt really bad (not bad enough to trade though) for one gentleman who had to be 6’2” stuffed into the back of the van with very little leg room. He was part of the couple that had been picked up on the road. And even with the air-conditioner going full blast it was hot in that van! The two twenty-something girls from Manila sitting next to me said that this was standard procedure. So just an FYI, if you take the van make sure to sit in the front seat or second row. All other seats get stuffed with people beyond their capacity.

View looking over bay in Palawan, from van.

View looking over bay towards El Nido, from van.


At that point I was wishing I had taken the bus where I would have had one seat allotted just to me with my luggage down below and carryon above or under my seat. Sure it would have taken longer with more stops. But the scenery was beautiful; after climbing up the hill out of El Nido there is a view looking back out over the blue water to see the multiple beautiful islands of the El Nido area rising out of the water. The lunch stop was at a roadside restaurant in a pretty spot with a pond and green hills around, with a colorful tent roof. As we continued on we drove past banana farms, rice fields and other farms. There was road construction in some areas, but most of the road was quite good.

Colorful lunch stop El Nido to Puerto Princesa

Colorful lunch stop El Nido to Puerto Princesa

Van driver navigating road construction.

Van driver navigating road construction.








In the end it took a little over 4 hours to get to my hotel in Puerto Princesa and I had another interesting travel adventure to tell about my Philippines trip. And the driver dropped me off at my hotel, what a deal!

Read the full El Nido trip report!

Read More

Coming soon: Another SCUBA Diving Adventure

Posted by on Mar 13, 2016

Sister ship to the Philippine Siren.

My last SCUBA diving adventure was on the Palau Siren, sister ship to the Philippine Siren.

The next SCUBA diving adventure is coming soon! I’m heading to the Philippines to SCUBA dive Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on the Philippine Siren with seven friends. We’ll be on the “extended” trip boarding the Philippine Siren in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island and disembarking at Cebu City, Cebu island. This adventure has been a long two years in the making, but it’s almost here, and before I know it I’ll be taking off from SFO headed to Manila. I’ve been saving my United miles and will be flying round trip to Manila using those miles, and on the way home I’ll be flying first class. Woohoo!

Map showing location of our SCUBA diving adventure. Image thanks to the Siren Fleet.

Map showing location of our SCUBA diving adventure. Image thanks to the Siren Fleet.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a remote collection of two coral atolls in the Sulu Sea that is only accessible from March through June (when the weather permits) that is known for its incredible coral reefs and marine biodiversity. The park consists of approximately 10,000 hectares of coral reef at the heart of the Coral Triangle, known for its beautiful coral and a high density of marine life including many endangered species (sharks, turtles, whales…). In addition to the Tubbataha Reefs we’ll visit Apo Island, Dauin, Sumilon Island, Pescador, Oslob, and Moalboal to name just a few of the famous dive sites! I am so excited to be diving such an amazing place! And we’ll be diving on the Philippine Siren, one of the luxury liveaboards owned and ran by Worldwide Dive & Sail.

An extra adventure to El Nido, Palawan! Due to the flights available when booking with miles I ended up arriving in Manila a few days earlier than I need to be. I considered options of what I can do (not really wanting to stay in town for three days) and decided to go to El Nido to check out that beautiful area of towering limestone cliffs. I’ll do a kayak tour through the islands around El Nido; Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret lagoon, how cool does that sound. My Sony in its housing is perfect for kayaking and snorkeling because it is so small and easily hand held. I’m staying at a nice looking hostel for a decent price with a private room and bath. The resort with the rooms over the water I wanted to stay at was $375 a night, sigh…a bit more than I can afford. And I’m flying to El Nido from Manila to save time and then will ride the bus from El Nido to Puerto Princesa. An extra adventure!

Getting ready for the trip. I’m at that point of trip preparedness where I’m getting my gear serviced and looking into either upgrading my laptop or trying to do a trip with only my iPad. My Sony NEX5 camera needs servicing and I am thinking about leaving the trusty Nikon D300 at home and taking a lighter weight camera with me for land photography. I have my packing down to a science and can go on a three-week trip with only one checked bag, my carry-on and a camera backpack but am taking flights on some smaller airplanes where baggage weight is restricted. The dilemma is not whether I want to pay overweight charges, but how much do I want to pay in overweight charges, and honestly how much weight I want to pack around on my back. So many decisions to make before departure day!

I’ll be making updates to my blog as I am able before I go and while traveling. Parts of the trip will be completely unplugged. No “cloud” in the Sulu Sea, haha. So keep an eye here and on my Facebook page, for photos and updates on the journey.

If you have any questions you can leave a comment here or on the Facebook page (which will probably get faster replies).

See you in the water!


The Philippine Siren
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park


Read More

Kosrae Village Ecolodge & Dive Resort

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014

For years I have heard from Katrina and Bruce about Kosrae; how great the diving is, how beautiful the island is and how peaceful life is at their resort, Kosrae Village Ecolodge. Finally after booking a trip on the Palau Siren I decided since I was going to be in the area I was going to visit Kosrae.

“I’m going to Kosrae” I would tell people. Where is Kosrae? How do you get there?

I'm Here! Kosrae Village Ecolodge.

Kosrae is an island in Micronesia. To get there I flew from San Francisco to Honolulu where I spent the night at the Airport Pacific Marina Inn which was comfortable and convenient although a bit expensive for what you get. The next morning I flew to Kosrae stopping at two of the Marshall Islands (Majoro and Kwajalein) on the way. The Marshall Islands are atolls, barely above water and one of them was just wide enough for the width of the runway and a narrow road going parallel to the runway. So I was very surprised when we descended to Kosrae to find that it was mountainous and covered with trees. The runway is on a man-made peninsula inside a protective coral reef. After a 30-40 minute drive along the coast I arrived at Kosrae Village Ecolodge.

The cottages at Kosrae Village Ecolodge are called “lohms” and are built in traditional Kosraean style with a thatched roof and walls of woven reeds. The peaked roof is open to the ocean breeze at the top front and the plank floor is made of hardwood sanded smooth. On three sides the walls consisted of windows.  The windows are covered by screen (no glass) and are open to the ocean breezes. This allows the cooling ocean breezes to come through the room and keep it reasonably cool without air-conditioning. The windows had roll-down blinds for privacy and/or to keep the rain out. Did I mention that it rained? It rained a lot! Everyone told me it was out of the ordinary to have this much rain at this time of the year. The wind would start to blow and then I knew that I had moments to get to cover. The sky would open up and downpour and then it would be over…until the next time.

Inside my lohm at Kosrae Village Ecolodge.

In my “lohm” there was a large table (that I used as a camera table), a smaller table (with coffee pot and required accessories), a refrigerator and the bed. The bed was draped in mosquito net which I found kind of fun and exotic and the bed was soft and comfortable and had plenty of pillows. The room was quite large and had plenty of electrical outlets although I hesitated to use some because they were wet and/or rusted. Because of the rain the walls were damp, the ocean facing wall so wet that it dripped onto the floor and the front floor was soaked for about a foot from the wall.

Bathroom and shower in my traditional Kosraen lohm.

The bathroom was large and in similar style with wood floor, woven reed walls and thatched roof. The shower was separated from the rest of the bathroom by a wall. The floor of the shower was wood slats with gaps between them so the water could run out. There was a bamboo fence around the shower with a gap between the shower floor and the fence so that if you wanted to you could climb down there and check out where the water goes and what is going on under the room. I considered doing that and then decided I really didn’t want to know what was going on down there and opted not to. And an important shower detail; there was plenty of hot water for after dive showers. There were some shelves in the bathroom and an area for hanging clothes in the bathroom. I used two of the hard plastic chairs as a stand to hold my suitcase and lived out my suitcase instead of unpacking everything since I was only there for a few nights.

My lohm looked through the palm and mangrove trees to the ocean where in the morning I walked out and photographed the sunrise. As I mentioned earlier, it rained a lot while I was there occasionally causing me to run back to the shelter of my porch to protect my camera. But it rained only 5-10 minutes and off I would go again. At high tide the waves pounded at the debris and sand berm protecting the shoreline and at low tide the exposed reef stretched way out and I would see locals fishing on the very edge of the infringing reef. One time I walked way down the beach and when it started raining I had to shelter at the very end lohm, which luckily was not occupied.Sunrise from my lohm balcony.

The open-air restaurant was built in a similar fashion to the lohms and had a large open dining area with a bar in the back. There were plenty of tables nicely covered with cloth and vases of flowers. I felt that an improvement would be a sitting area with soft chairs and a couch, maybe near the bar area where one could hang out in the afternoon socializing, reading or just having a cold drink. The only chairs at the resort were hard plastic and not overly comfortable. The local ladies who worked in the restaurant often had their small children with them who were shy at first but became very friendly and were fun to talk to.  The waitresses were very attentive and the food at the restaurant was delicious! The only place that wireless internet worked was in the restaurant and it was slow. Evidently in Micronesia they get their internet (and phone I think) from a satellite.

The office and dive locker were on the other side of the restaurant, with an area to store gear that was kept locked except when needed with a rinse area and hangers. The first day they set up my gear to my liking and after that took care of it until I left when they rinsed it and hung it to dry. There is a 20 minute +/- drive to get to the marina where the boat is docked. I understand that they can take the boat from the resort if the weather and tides allow. But the marina was fine and gave me the chance to see some of the local’s homes, and some nice views of the ocean and the mountains.

On my last day in Kosrae I took a guided rainforest walk to the Menka jungle ruins. The walk is a four hour sometimes strenuous but mostly easy hike along the river to the center of the island to the mysterious ruins where local lore says the goddess Sinlaku lived. Devotees of the goddess would spend up to a year in residence in two room stone structures;

Me visiting the Menke ruins.

worshiping the goddess and making and partaking of suka (also known as kava), a mildly narcotic drink made by pounding the suka root on flat stones. Salik, my guide, showed me some of the edible and inedible plants on the walk and even climbed a couple of trees to get some of the wild green tangerines common to the area and to get a breadfruit for me to take back to the resort and have made into breadfruit chips (delicious BTW). It was a great last day in Kosrae!

This post is kind of an overview of my visit to Kosrae, including some information on the resort and how I got there. I need to say that everyone there was very nice and took great care of me!

More information on Kosrae Village Ecolodge & Dive Resort is available on their website.

More images from Kosrae.

Gallery of underwater images.

Read More

Jellyfish Lake Snorkel

Posted by on Mar 2, 2014

Kathy Snorkels with Jellyfish

Kathy Snorkels with Jellyfish

Snorkeling at Jellyfish Lake.

While in Palau we went to Jellyfish Lake. There are actually seven jellyfish lakes but only one is open to the public, Ongeim’l Tketau. The lake contains brackish water and is filled with rainwater (fresh) and salt water which leaches in through the limestone of the island. The Golden jellies have been in the lake for so long (maybe millions of years) that they have mostly lost their ability to sting. They pulse across the lake in search of the sun and in the middle are present in the thousands! The jellies bump into snorkelers and each other and it is hard to explain the sensation but it feels a bit like being hit by soft Jello.

Read More