Captivated by Karst: what to do without electricity in the tropics


If the treasure map leading you tell El Nido came with instructions, it would say: Go to Roxas. Take the dirt road north. Keep going. Your first stunning vista will confirm your arrival in the archipelago. Continue until the road ends at the sea.

Karst limestone cliffs in El Nido – I am in love!

Limestone karst cliffs, blue tropical waters, white sands, palm trees, secret lagoons… if you’ve seen “The Beach”  featuring the endearing Leo DiCaprio, you have an inkling of the impressive presence mother nature commands here.

When I wasn’t busy being dazzled by the skyward-exploding fingers of karst, I went on a diving trip, spent a day lazing in the sand at the beach, swam through tiny entrances into secret lagoons, did my own laundry in the shower, followed the footpath for hours to the last village, and developed a few favorite spots to enjoy life in the town proper.

My favorite view to enjoy while doing “nothing” in town.

If you haven’t been following along, I’ll catch you up here: One of my favorite things to do, no matter where I am in this little adventure, is NOTHING. Because I am not on vacation. This is my life. And what is one of the things you most treasure in your life? Don’t lie. There aren’t very many of us who don’t find ourselves fantasizing – round about ‘Hump Day’ – about laying in our pajamas all weekend long reading a book, spending entirely too much time on the internet, and getting double the recommended dose of sleep.

El Nido had TWICE the electricity hours as Sabang – my previous location. Of course, this helped me nurse my internet addiction. Oh, and do responsible things. Like wrap up more loose NZ ends (will it ever be done?!), research blog logistics, explore options for my future, back up my files, and figure out what to do about the bee stinger lodged in my foot (I stepped on it in my hotel room in the dark. Karma got me again!)

Go ahead. Say the first word that comes to mind…

One evening, the power dropped unexpectedly. I felt like I was in a movie as, literally, the whole town went dark. Imagine a cacophony of sound roaring in the jungle and a sudden black hole of silence. This metaphor reaches a whole new level of accuracy given that the community-wide fiesta going on at the school grounds next door was playing Pinoy pop at full volume (double the beats of any pop song, and you’re in the Philippines). For a second, I didn’t even care that I hadn’t saved my document. But in a town where electricity availability is always dubious, a generator was forthcoming within minutes. So Ms. Katy Perry sang me a lullaby in cut time (my electricity did not return).

Don’t know how this vibrant little creature got it’s name, but Anna’s Magnificent Slug is… magnificent

I had a great diving experience. There were fan corals, golden sea scarts, lion fish, bright blue baby fish, bat fish, a snake sea star, a fat-squishy sea star, giant cabbage coral, a huge trigger fish, an “Anna’s magnificient slug,” a stonefish, a marvel grouper, and a tiger cowrie (cool shell). I even got to hold a huge, soft sea cucumber. It was my first experience with really strong current, which wasn’t super challenging like I thought it would be. It was also my first dive trip after blowing a hole in my ear drum. Needless to say, I was incredibly patient with myself this go-round and succeeded in avoiding damage to my precious hearing.

Shooters – my favorite happy hour hangout. And my friend Mae – returning to the Philippines to travel after moving away as a 12-year-old.

Afterward, staring at a poster for one of the over-priced boats to my next destination, a man with an unmistakable Brooklyn accent approached me. Turns out he owned the boat I was oogling. He was a straight-up sort who convinced me it would be worth my while to wait for his boat to depart. Okay! Saturday it is. Unfortunately, a little tropical phenomenon known as a typhoon had absolutely no respect for this plan, nor the lives of hundreds in Caygan de Oro. While I spent the extra “bad weather” days chatting with my favorite Siomai (show-my) women Anne and Rose, drinking 50 cent San Miguel Pilsens with Lao and Henny and meeting all sorts of travelers, residents of Caygan de Oro watched water levels rise outside their homes. Until the rain stopped. Then they went to bed. And many never woke up as the flash-floods taught the community very hard lessons about watersheds. (Heavy rain is very infrequent in that hard-hit area and warnings from officials were largely ignored.)

You might think to yourself, “I wonder if it’s a good idea to travel by sea right after a typhoon/hurricane.” And I wouldn’t dare begrudge you an answer. It is not. But that’s another story. ♣

For now, you can see siomai, Leo’s awesome 80’s haircut, a puppy, and Brandon the 17-year-old who wouldn’t believe I was 17, too.  Just click here!



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