"S--t!, we're not moving", Matt was shouting. The waves were big, pummeling the bow of our tandem kayak as we seesawed up and down. It was almost 4 PM. Our guide and another pair in our group was already ahead of us, this on the second leg of our kayaking that afternoon. We started out from Bucal Island where we've rested and was paddling on our way to Paradise Beach, more than 2 kilometers on the other side of Cadlao Island, when the winds caught up with us.
While wiping away stinging sea sprays away from my eyes, I saw Justin and Susana, another member in our group, giving up on their kayaks and getting on the support outrigger boat that brought them safely to the beach. I was wishing secretly I was there on that banca too. But Matt was determined we could make it. "We're already here, let's go for it!", he egged me on. "One...two...one...two...one...", we kept repeating this loudly like a mantra as we paddled furiously against waves that were seemingly determined to push us back to Bucal Island.
|Our kayaking route. (left) Helicopter Island to a lagoon in Cadlao Island; |
(right) Bucal Island to Paradise Beach in Cadlao Island. El Nido is on lower right. Map by Google Earth.
It was while doing the so-called Tour A the previous day that kayaking became part of my agenda. I wasn't too keen on doing the next most popular "Tour C". Art Cafe was offering a half-day excursion for 1100 PHP including equipment, guide and snacks so I thought of signing up. Matt got interested but we found out that the tour, not part of the standard tours offered in El Nido, needed a minimum of 4 people to operate. We visited one hostel in the hopes of enticing others to join but no one was interested...until we convinced Justin and Susana, a couple who were also with us on the Tour A.
|Burgers a la El Nido|
Justin and Susana are Americans working as teachers in South Korea. They're on a 3-month Southeast Asian journey and the Philippines is their first destination (Matt, on the other hand, is a Chinese-Canadian who've been traveling solo for the last 2 months around Southeast Asia as well). It so happened that they haven't decided on what they really want to do so a little bit of talking got them into signing up for the half day kayaking tour with us. With that done, we all ate well as the town was gearing up for fiesta, eating hamburgers before having grilled squid for dinner.
The next day, after hiking up Taraw Cliff mid-morning with Matt, we all met again at the Art Cafe. Two European girls joined us at the last minute. A boatman and a guide brought us to Helicopter Island (locally known as Dilumacad Island) where we boarded our kayaks. We had 2 kilometers to paddle between Helicopter Island and a secluded lagoon in Cadlao Island - the largest island in Bacuit Bay. The water was not calm as we entered the open section between the islands but it wasn't too rough as to impede our progress. It required a lot of muscle work nonetheless.
|Paddling from Helicopter Island....|
|...to this lagoon in Cadlao Island|
The calm lagoon was a welcome relief from the open seas. We skimmed past limestone walls to hear only the sound of our paddles hitting the water. It was a moment of complete tranquility and awe, reminiscent of what I felt while kayaking on a similar lagoon in Coron seven years ago. Our support outrigger boat was waiting just outside the lagoon, ready to whisk us and our kayaks to another part of the bay. In no time, we made it to small Bucal Island where we took time to rest and just admire the view around us.
|Re-charging at Bucal Island|
As we started paddling again, this on the Southeast part of Cadlao Island, the force of the prevailing trade winds (Amihan season) was right in front of us. The waves were forceful and bigger, coming in one after the other that I didn't want to risk taking my DSLR out from the dry bag. Hence no pictures. We were fighting with the current as we paddled parallel to the sheer walls of Cadlao Island and it felt like nature was winning. Our movement was slowed down frustratingly. Justin and Susana, trailing just behind us, soon gave up and had the support banca scoop them up.
|Paradise Beach on Cadlao Island|
Now it was just Matt and me left behind. Despite my arms getting sore and numb all at the same time, I summoned all strength I got, paddling in unison with Matt up front. "One...two...one...two...one...two...". It took like forever but we finally found ourselves down the bend, turning westward where the water was getting calmer. From a short distance we could already see our guide and the two European girls ahead of us (what a shame I know!). As soon as we waded into shore, I laid down on the beach. I was so exhausted.
|Soccer match in a basketball-crazed country|
|On fiesta mood|
Back later in El Nido with sore muscles, I splurged on a 500 PHP massage. It felt so good. Outside was a "feel-good" atmosphere as well, a huge crowd getting ready for the town's fiesta the next day. There was a perya (town fair), flea market, live band, street food, even a soccer tournament. Justin, Susan, Matt and I gobbled up again on grilled squid, enjoying each other's temporal company while talking about travel. We're all going in different directions the next day.