The limestone karst dominating El Nido and the islands around Bacuit Bay is what many visitors usually remember. They're simply stunning. Island-hopping gives us that view but something else was pushing me beyond merely seeing them. I wanted to climb one. The town itself has one such limestone cliff called Taraw. And it was calling my name.
On the island-hopping tour the previous day, I met this Canadian-Chinese guy who was traveling solo around Southeast Asia. He was also eyeing the same summit I was looking at. "Why don't we just go together so we can get the same guide for the same price?", he asked me. I agreed and so we booked ourselves a guide for 300 PHP the next day (and a separate kayaking tour in the afternoon with new-found friends from the US). Our climb was scheduled at 7:30 AM.
|Before "asong kalye" gets terminated...|
|...they try to multiply (seen while waiting for our guide at Art's Cafe)|
At 6:30 AM, I got out from my room at the Stunning Vistas Resorts and decided to walk along the highway all the way to town. El Nido was just waking up. After about 20 minutes, I reached the Public Market (where Roro buses bound for Puerto Princesa await) and decided to have a quick meal of "goto" at a roadside eatery. I didn't want to walk anymore for fear of being late so I hailed a tricycle which brought me straight to Art Cafe where we were meeting our guide.
|Guide leading us through a neighborhood towards the base of the cliff|
Matt, my new Chinese-Canadian friend, came shortly but our guide was late. He was almost half an hour late that we even thought it might have been better if we just went on our own. (On the climb, we realized how a guide is so important). He was apologetic and soon the three of us were on our way. He led us first through a neighborhood full of kids greeting us "hellos". At the very end of this village - on someone's backyard at that - marks the beginning of the climb. Anyone without a guide will most likely miss this.
What adds the risk factor while climbing Taraw is the fact that we're dealing with razor-sharp rocks and pinnacles. While handholds and footholds were abundant, the rocks could easily graze any uncovered skin. Our guide even recommended bringing gloves but that's too late for now. There are sections also that are steep, really steep it was almost akin to bouldering. We clambered up on all four extremities one by one on the steepest sections. At one point, we negotiated a nerve-wracking section with sharp pinnacles waiting to skewer us down below.
"Oh, one Chinese tourist fell to her death here", our guide enthusiastically informed us. That wasn't comforting to hear but it surely made us all the more aware of our potentially deadly surroundings. Without a guide, the way to the top would be a complete maze with no path in sight. There are no trail blazes and no ropes.
|One misstep here could lead to more than "ouch!"|
For locals, the allure of Taraw and other similar nearby cliffs lie on the wealth brought forth by its feathered friends - the swiftlets. These little birds build nests high up on the cliffs where instead of twigs and vines, they built nests made from their own saliva. These nests are harvested by agile climbers, sold for a really tidy sum and turn up in Chinese kitchens to become "bird's nest soup". Indeed, a very expensive soup that I have no plans of splurging on.
|The summit view|
|No flat spot at the top|
Climbing up and down Taraw is usually a 3-hour business. We made it to the top in an hour, sweating buckets as the mid-morning sun bore down on us while we got rewarded with splendid views of the town directly beneath us and the Bacuit bay just beyond. It's more than 200 meters to the bottom should anyone fall. We lingered only for a bit as there was no flat surface at the top. There's only one route up and that meant we had to go down the same way - down the same steep face of the cliff.
|What goes up must come down|
Back safely on flat ground later, Matt and I breathed a sigh of