Diane and I had learnt from our Tour A experience, and convinced our friends a private tour was the way to see the islands around El Nido. The private tour was in the comfort of a speed boat. We basically had the speed boat from 8.30am to 5pm. We could influence where we went and stopped, the tour company, though, did have a suggested itinerary for the day. The cost for this was 24,000 Pesos or AUD$600, which included a superb lunch and snorkel gear (though again the gear was of basic quality). This is rather expensive compared to the Tour, A, B, C, D options, provided by the mainstream tour companies, where the prices range from 1,200 Pesos (AUD$30) to 1,400 Pesos (AUD$35) each. The advantage for us with the private tour was that there were six of us, so the cost was spread out and we could go to more than five locations. We could go to as many locations as we could fit into the day across any one of the four tours listed above that ONLY went to five specific locations each tour. We also would be at the main tourist places before most of the overpopulated tours arrived. We went with a company called Skipper Charters, at Corong Corong beach, who were really professional.
We had to be ready and at the tour office by 8.15am. Why? To beat the crowds at the main locations, of course. The tour office is on the beach at Corong Corong about 100 metres from the Doublegem Resort, so it was nice and conveniently located.
Whilst waiting for the captain of our speedboat to arrive, a large pack of feral looking dogs roamed up the beach. These dogs then started fighting with another dog and several more mange looking beasts came running over for the fight. These dogs are called ‘Zombie Dogs’ by the locals, as most of them are maimed and disfigured – they look ugly and scarred. We were in no real danger but it is not nice seeing the pack mentality pick on one. The noise of the barking and snarling is quite intimidating. You also start to wonder about rabies in these sad creatures.
We waded out to our speed boat with our three man crew and we were off at 8.25am racing across the bay to beat the impending tourist swarm that would surely follow.
Our first stop was again at Small Lagoon (Tour A). You will remember when Di and I came here, the previous week, it was bedlam with tour boats and tourists – well what a difference an hour makes; the place was empty. We moored right next to the lagoon opening – the previous week we had to swim over 600 -700 metres to get there. We hired kayaks to enter the lagoon for 200 Pesos, rather than the price of 300 Pesos we were offered the previous week, early bird discount or supply and demand at work I am not sure which.
The entrance to Small Lagoon is a very small hole in the rock wall.
Once through the hole the lagoon opens up before you – we had it all to ourselves.
After about five minutes, of just the six of us paddling in this awesome and breathtaking lagoon, other private tours started to arrive, and there was a trickle of tourists joining us in the lagoon (#$%$#$%$# tourists!!!!).
Please bear in mind Di and I never made it in here, when we did the mainstream Tour A, due to excessive tourist numbers, we could only imagine the chaos.
We had about 20 minutes to paddle through Small Lagoon and a few minutes to paddle around outside the lagoon and then we were off to Big Lagoon again.
Big lagoon (Tour A) was fairly quiet, with regards to tourists, and we slowly made our way over the sandbank into the lagoon. The water was the most beautiful of colours and was fitting of a postcard. Again, we could only cruise around the lagoon and could not swim there.
From there we went to two different snorkel locations to get our snorkel ‘fix’, whilst the wind was calm. The first location we moored at the back of Shimizu Island next to a limestone cliff face jutting out of the ocean. This location was on the opposite side of the island where we had lunch whilst on Tour A the previous week. The snorkelling here was good though there were some jelly fish floating about and some of us were stung by sea lice.
The second location was off a small random beach and again, we were the only ones there other than some SCUBA divers.
I don’t recall the name of the island and beach, but it was not part of any of the four tours it was a ‘dive site’. The snorkelling here was fantastic. The water was shallow and crystal clear with visibility stretching for many metres. The marine life had many incredible abundant varieties. We stayed here for a fairly long time and spent a good part of an hour in the water.
Our fifth stop was at Snake Island (Tour B). Snake Island is connected to another island by a thin strip of sand. At low tide the sand is above the water level and makes for a magnificent photo opportunity.
When the tide is higher the sandbank slips under the water to knee height and from a distance people walking on the sandbank appear to be walking on water. The sandbank was underwater when we arrived.
Snake Island does NOT have snakes on it. It just looks like a snake the way it winds in a snake manner.
The island does, though, have monkeys and these monkeys do not like tourists that get a little too close trying to get a photo with them – we saw several Chinese tourists chased away by uncooperative, photo shy monkeys!
To truly appreciate Snake Island and the sandbank you need to climb to the top of Snake Island to the lookout. The hike is straight up hill but for only a few hundred metres.
The path is an easy one to follow, though steep. From the lookout the views to the sandbank and out over the ocean to other islands is fantastic.
As you wade out on the sandbank there is a small floating shop which, of course, has music absolutely blaring from it – what is it with Filipinos and their love of excruciatingly loud music!!
This is also where the various tour boats (yep, we were being caught up) anchored up on the sandbank, thus you have to take care to dodge the ropes and anchors. Once out onto the sandbank it is all very surreal as you can see deep water on both sides of you whilst you look off towards a large island in front of you and a small island behind you. The water colour is magnificent and it is an unusual experience.
We then set out for our 6th stop, which was our lunch location. The boat moored on a beautiful sandy beach on a small island.
There were several other speed boats there as the time was approaching 2pm. Lunch was a lunch fit for a king. Apart from two large fish, there were prawns, squid, muscles, chicken, pork, numerous salads, fruit ……… it was just awesome and we simply could not eat it all!!!!! We were stuffed.
We all waddled back to the speed boat and set off for Cudugnon Cave (Tour B). Cudugnon Cave is a hole just above the water line on a limestone island. There were several boats there before us and some of these larger boats had kayaks for those on board – I guess these were Tour B boats.
We waited our turn and then our boat was piloted slowly into the cave as the wind was up and so was the swell. There are swiftlets and bats in the cave but the smell is mild compared to the senses destroying vileness of Gomantong Caves in Borneo.
There is an element of eerie excitement being on a boat bobbing up and down and entering a cave on an island out in the ocean, it has that sense of adventure, “so it does Captain Barbossa!!!!”
Whilst moving from one location to another you pass the most gorgeous scenery, the views of the islands and the beaches make all your cares simply float away. It is when you pass some of the resorts hidden away on these islands that the dreams of living a life surrounded by such tranquility begins to overwhelm you – we can all dream!!!!
Our next stop was going to be Helicopter Island (Tour C), but the wind and the swell though had risen, to a point, that those of us who are susceptible to seasickness, yes we are looking at you Di, would have great difficulty keeping their wonderful lunch to themselves – thank you for sharing but no thanks.
We then set course for the calmer Cadlao Lagoon (Tour D).
There was only one other boat at Cadlao Lagoon when we arrived and that left shortly after our arrival. It was now 3.45pm and most of the Tours end at 4pm so it was not surprising to be alone. The water was not as clear as it could have been and it had a milky tint to it. The snorkelling was not as good as it could have been due to milky tint in places and the swell when you left the sanctuary of the lagoon. The lagoon though is very beautiful. We were entertained by a small blue-spotted ribbon tail ray that kept coming into the beach to feed.
It was then a short journey to 7 Commandos Beach near Corong Corong. You may recall we were supposed to come here when we did Tour A, the week before, and it was so busy we went to another beach. There are many tales as why it is called 7 Commandos Beach. I heard it is named after seven Japanese Commandos who stayed there after the war ended and continued to fight. I heard it is where seven USA Marines hid from the Japanese during WW2. I heard it is where a fishing boat called 7 Commandos was shipwrecked and the crew was marooned for a while. After they were rescued the name stuck. Take your pick!
The beach is beautiful, but busy. There are many little bars and resorts along the beach. I guess it is the perfect place for swimming, as it has a netted off swimming area, and sunbathing after a long day touring the islands. Oh and you can wash the taste of saltwater out of your mouth with a beer or a cocktail or two. 7 Commandos Beach is very close to Corong Corong and El Nido, so it is the normal stop before the various tours end.
We were well satisfied with our private tour and thought it was worth the extra expense. We did see private tours with two people and I guess if you have the money it is the way to go.
It was a long day, but for our sins our day was not over yet. After a quick shower we were back squashed into a tricycle for the journey into El Nido. The next day we were going SCUBA diving and needed to be fitted for our gear and of course sign all the wavering indemnity forms.
The dive shop was called Sub-Mariner Diving, and it was located right in the heart of the main beach at El Nido. After our fitting was over and we freed the dive shop of all liability, we had a great dinner at a lovely little Greek restaurant right on the beach – of course it was difficult to talk because the music was blaring so loudly in the restaurant but hey you tend to get used to it here in the Philippines!
It was then back to Doublegem and off to bed as we needed to be at the dive shop at 7.30am the next morning – sober!!!!
The adventure continues……………..