Tag Archives: photography

A Philippine Paradise – El Nido

Guys, I do believe that I have just experienced my top holiday of all time – the island paradise of El Nido, Palawan, Philippines.

I find myself on a never-ending backpacker search for the ultimate island-style destination and each time I’m convinced that ‘this is the one’. Thailand’s Haad Yuan on Koh Phangan and Kantiang Bay in Koh Lanta, Cambodia’s Sihanoukville islands, Egypt’s Dahab, Australia’s Byron Bay and now the Philippines’ best kept Palawan secret:

El Nido Sign

Basic simplicity in tropical paradise of still relatively raw and untouched beauty.

My holidays tend to be simple and carefree: make-up, and pants for that matter, are long forgotten and soaking up the coastal vibes takes priority. This is what life is about.

I’ve travelled with friends, boyfriends and on my own and people often ask me about how to do it, where to go, what to do, what to book and what to just wing.

So here is my account of my trip with all the info that you need to do it yourself and know what you’re in for. If you can’t cope with all the writing, there are pretty pictures too.

The Journey

Be prepared for a long haul – likely the longest that you’ve ever experienced. I sit here in Dubai airport, writing away a few hours of the 10 I have here to wait between flights. I’m feeling a little like Viktor Navorski in The Terminal. You’re looking at around 3 flights, at least, and some road time to get to this little island paradise. I kind of like that it’s a little more difficult to get to than other places – it makes it a little more exciting knowing that you’re going off the beaten track and the likelihood of bumping into someone you know is slim to none.

My journey was on Emirates from Johannesburg to Dubai and from Dubai to Manila, Philippine Airlines from Manila to Puerto Princesa, then a private van drive from Puerto Princesa (arranged by the hotel in Puerto) to El Nido. Don’t bother to spend any time in Manila – it’s a hole (I am not a fan of Asian cities at all, so nothing appealed to me here). The airport is a hole too, so try not to have too much of a layover there. In and out – that’s the key.

There is also a private charter airline ITI which flies direct between Manila and El Nido. It’s priority is the El Nido Resorts guests in the fancy Schmancy resorts on the Bacuit Archipelago, but you can get yourself onto a flight by booking directly with them or through the Art Cafe in El Nido.

ITI

The Town

After three days or so (lost count) of solid travel, arriving in El Nido is a quite a feeling to remember. There’s not much in life that is as sweet as the first glimpse of palm trees, white sand and bright turquoise sea through the gaps between the village huts. I’d later learn that Palawan was showing off its’Las Cabanas beach on the way into El Nido town.

Las Cabanas

The town itself is bustling. Through the haze of humidity, the streets are alive – street stores spilling their goods out onto the road, tricycles maneuvering through people and obstacles,  motorbikes flying around corners. Hooting. Smiling. Hooting. Tricycle!

El Nido at night

Electricity in El Nido only runs from 2pm until 6am, so be prepared to sweat it out for most of the day without fans if you stay in town during the day. The beach itself in Bacuit Bay is not fantastic, so you’ll be out each day to spend spend some time in paradise – it’s part of the adventure and SO worth it. Every day out holds something to top the day before.

El Nido town itself seems like merely a place to start your island hopping through the Bacuit Archipelago, but spend some time there and you’ll see how its’ own personality comes to the surface.

The Roof Over Your Head

El Nido town itself has plenty of basic accommodation available, but I would recommend staying a little out of the city, along Caalan Beach, where you wake up to a quieter, cleaner, breathtaking island home.

This is the view from the Main House at Makulay Lodge – a self-catering cottage with the BEST view in El Nido, I swear:

Makulay Lodge

Copious amounts of gin and tonic were consumed while sitting on the deck and looking at this view – so much so that the town literally ran out of tonic water during our stay! Granted, there are 103 steps up to this hilltop paradise (which is also incredibly affordable), but you need them anyway to work off all the fresh seafood that you consume every day.

There are quite a few resorts along the coastal path of Caalan Beach as well as some incredibly cheap bungalows right on the beach, which require no prior booking – just rock up and make yourself at home.

The Stuff To Do

Spend your time in El Nido – there is so much to do and everything runs on island time so take it e-a-s-y…

Here’s some suggestions:

  • Island hopping

This is a must on your to-do list. There are four standard island hopping tours offered by everyone in El Nido and is a great start to your adventures, without you having to anything much at all. Try and find someone who will source a smaller local operation – if you get shoved onto a boat with ten other tourists and forced to wear a dorky orange life jacket, you’re likely to be less than impressed. Makulay seems to have their own little local operation that they use and even only two people on a boat is the norm.

You’ll be boated off to five isalnds/lagoons throughout the day, dropped off on the small and breathtakingly beautiful beaches, be served the freshest seafood and fresh produce lunch and snorkel/laze away to your heart’s content. It doesn’t matter that you’re sharing it with a bunch of other dork tourists, it’s so unbelievably gorgeous that you just block them out.

Island Hopping in El Nido

Another option for some island time is to pack your own food and drinks and organise a private boat drop-off and pick-up on an island for the day.

Se kayak rentals are in abundance. Rent one of these for the day and choose your own islands to kayak to (if you’re feeling particularly energetic).

  • Diving

I’m a diving person, when I’m in some sort of tropical paradise and craving some boat time. There are loads of dive shops in El Nido to choose from and plenty of good dive sites. A day out on a dive boat always soothes a stressed soul.

I chose El Dive, a very new dive shop run by Yoshi Ohtshuka, who has 20 years of diving experience under his (weight) belt already. All his equipment is brand new and good quality, clean and comfortable.

You can also book in on one of the dive days as a snorkeller and enjoy the best snorkel spots with the best snorkel gear in town.

Diving in El Nido

  • Nacpan Beach

Rent a scooter/motorbike and take a scenic drive up to Nacpan Beach. When I say ‘scenic drive’ I mean ‘motor cross adventure’. If it’s been raining, you’re in for some extra mud fun 😉

Motorbike trip El Nido

Nacpan beach is beautiful and quiet. There are one or two little restaurants on the beach that you can grab some fresh seafood (seeing the pattern here?) or a coconut. There are also some incredibly cheap bungalows on the beach that you could stay at for some SERIOUS time-out. No pre-booking is required, or even possible, just rock up and chill out.

Nacpan

  • Las Cabanas

Las Cabanas is a GORGEOUS beach just a short tricycle/motorbike ride from El Nido. Hang out there all day, swim in the perfect sea and sip on cocktails while you wait for the sunset that happiness is made of. You should definitely NOT fill your coconut up with rum and take cheesy silhouette sunset photos. Just kidding. You should definitely do that.

Las Cabanas Sunset

  • Quiet beach time

If you walk along the beach/coastal path on the Caalan beach side of El Nido, there are two rather secluded and beautiful beaches for lazy days of nothingness and the occasional dip in the sea. You’ll catch a pretty mean sunset from there too.

  • Massages

Massages are on offer on almost every corner. My recommendation is most definitely the spa bungalow at Cadlao Resort – it’s outside in the shade by the resort poolside. Book your massage just before sunset and catch the pink skies as you fall into a relaxation coma. Then slip on up to the deck for cocktails and dinner. Epic.

Cadlao Resort Sunset

  • The Other Stuff

There’s loads more – treks, mountain biking, rock climbing, overnight island camping, hikes to waterfalls… I couldn’t do it all – I became too relaxed and ‘island made’ prevented me from doing much more than walking to a beach or climbing on a boat. Life sucked!

The Food Stuff

You’ll find some lovely eating spots in El Nido. Fresh, grilled seafood is easiest to find and some speciality spots in between.

My favourites:

La Bodega – This stylish French spot is a few weeks old and offers some beautiful French and Western meals. The decor and ambience is by far the best in town. If you have some cash to splash, they have champagne and some good wines!

La Bodega

Lonesome Carabou Lounge – This Mexican spot serves decent tacos, burritos, quesadillas and fajitas. They also have speciality wiskey! Do it.

Altrove – These guys have a wood-fired pizza oven. Enough said. The only place worth eating pizza. They have a queue every night of people waiting to get in. They also do take-aways.

GK Restaurant – A tiny little local kitchen on Caalan beach makes the most delicious sandwiches, with a view to die for.

GK Restaurant

El Nido Corner – They have great Arabic coffee and homemade bread.

Advice and Tips

  • You will spend copious amounts of time in the water and on the water, so have a waterproof bag
  • Bring waterproof shoes/booties. Getting in and out of boats if often rocky and you will cut your feet.

Exhibit A:

Island injury

That being said, pack bandages, antibacterial cream and antibacterial tablets. If you cut yourself, it will not heal in the wet and humidity and is almost certain to get infected, no matter how well you look after your wounds.

  • If you need an automatic scooter, book the night before to ensure that you get what you want
  • It can rain a lot in tropical paradise, be flexible enough to cater for this
  • There are no ATMs in El Nido, you need to take cash with you
  • Wearing a bikini in the town is illegal – I kid you not
  • If you’ve booked an ITI flight out of El Nido, be aware that the luggage restriction is 10kg, including hand luggage (you can pay 100PHP per extra kg of luggage). Your bags will be thoroughly searched. Your flight time is also not actually your flight time. It is really the time that the priority passengers (El Nido resorts guests) arrive at the airport to check in and eat their cucumber sandwiches.
  • Be prepared for humidity and heat! Temp: 30’C, real feel: 74’C. Don’t bother packing any creams or make-up. Or anything with a sleeve or a leg.

The Round Up

So there it is, folks, all you need to have an epic island holiday. Get in there before it becomes another commercialised Thailand. And don’t be a douche – leave nothing but memories in the wake of your travels – respect the untouched beauty that you explore.

Palm Trees

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“Pier” in the dark and stormy sky

Here it is, folks… “Pier”, in the dark and post-stormy sky. It was taken on a morning beach walk in Umhlanga, Durban and formed part of the #iPhoneographySA exhibition in Johannesburg on 11 October.

It’s for sale for R400 – I would love for it to go to a good home. Obviously, this only makes sense for South Africans, as international followers will pay more to get it to them than the price it is selling for!

If you would like to purchase this canvas, or the digital image, leave a comment on this post and I’ll get in touch with you.


Through the filter

If you have been following me on Twitter for a while, you will remember my 365 project, where I took a photo a day for 365 days.

Well, that ended quite a while ago and I hadn’t picked up another project in this time.

Here is “Through the filter” – Life through the filter of my iPhone

Have a look and follow me on Tumblr if it interests you!


The afterglow after the Afterglow

Saturday marked the long awaited post AfrikaBurn celebration in the form of Afterglow. In short, a massive party where you leave the world behind and become part of a community dedicated to ‘wicked tunes, celebration, wild abandon, creativity, participation, radical self expression and whole lot of love’ for a night.

Sounds very hippie. It kind of is. And completely crazy. Every person was dressed up in a costume of sorts – pixies, fairies, hippies, suits and a good few tutus, to name a few, and for that one night, nobody had a care in the world.

The best part of it all was the focus on charity. All proceeds from the tickets went to art grants and participation for the Highveld collective, as well as Burners without Borders. Every person also brought blankets and clothes for those that need them this winter.

The party was organised and run by volunteers. No fighting. No idiots going crazy with drugs and alcohol and causing havoc. It was just really lovely.

It is so refreshing to see people come together without hidden agendas and actually do something good for society, not just themselves.

If you haven’t checked out AfrikaBurn, or not heard of it before, go have a look. It’s a festival of this kind in the Tankwa Karoo where they create a temporary city of art, theme camps, costume, music and performance. The gallery on their site is just breathtaking – the pictures alone have tempted me and I can see how any  person with some creativity in their blood would make the journey to AfrikaBurn.

I, however, need way more convincing to rough it for a few days in the desert of craziness!

Give me your thoughts…


A year of memories – what’s next? Help!

I started my photo-a-day project today a year ago where I committed to posting a photo a day for a year. Before I knew it, it was over and I’m feeling a little like I’m going though a break-up.

My Tumblog has been part of my life every day for the past year and now it’s over!

*Big crocodile tears*

But wow, what a lot of memories in one year – it’s been quite a ride…amazing what we experience every day of our lives…

Go have a look at my blog and reminisce with me – I’m sure some of you will be part of the memories captured in my photos and you can take a little walk down memory lane with me!

And  most importantly, now that my little project is over, I need some ideas on what to do for my next one please. I know you guys are creative so please send some ideas my way. I’d like to do something similar, as I’m not ready to let go of capturing my everyday memories on the run, but with something a bit different this time.

I eagerly await your comments!


Soweto aint so scary

A friend and I decided to head into Soweto over the weekend to be tourists. We both enjoy seeing and experiencing new things under the guise of taking photographs, so Soweto seemed a fit enough setting for some cultural shots.

No, Soweto is not scary. It’s not a dirty, filthy cesspool of crime. It has its’ issues which are clearly displayed by the number of abortion clinics and HIV signage everywhere. I also wouldn’t have any surgery done there, but it’s a deeply cultural part of Joburg, which most Joburgers will never experience.

As I write that I feel like a hypocrite, in that although I’ve been there a few times, it doesn’t mean I know enough about other South African cultures to preach…at least I get out a bit, though!

People tend to get stuck in their own little bubbles and don’t make the effort to see bubbles of a different culture. I think you’ll find them quite vibrant.

So here’s my advice. Get your ass off the couch, into your car and drive to Soweto, not the local shopping mall.

Visit the Orlando Towers – two disused cooling towers in Orlando West which are now being used by adrenalin junkies for bungee jumping, rap jumping, power swings and the like. A decent little bar, complete with a DJ on the decks, sets a great tone for some drinks in the Winter sun, under the screams of the bungee jumpers. One day I’ll do the bungee jump I think…hmm..still thinking…

Head off down the road to Vilakazi Street and feel like a proper tourist. More hype than an experience, but still worth the visit. There are some decent places in the street to have some lunch as well.

I'm not sure either...

Sydney ,the sculpture artist outside the Mandela House, is a great guy to have a conversation with. He makes sculptures from rubbish. He posed with his main character, Sydney, for us:

By far the best Soweto experience I’ve had so far is the Soweto Bicycle tour, which I’ve blogged about before. Although completely touristy (you’ll likely be the only South Africans in the group), it’s a fantastic way to be out in the mild Jozi climate and venture down Orlando West’s most famous streets and landmarks.

Go on…you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Paintballing?

So my super-awesome friend Neil had his birthday party over the weekend and decided to go paintballing.

Needless to say, I did not have any inclination to run around in overalls shooting people with paint. I’m going with the whole “I don’t agree with war” reasoning for this. The guy in charge also looked pretty mean…and he shouted…I’m not into that 😉

They all had an absolute ball, though – big smiles came off of that paintball course, that’s for sure!

If you’re into paintballing, it’s not actually a bad course and a really nice drive out to Muldersdrift: Point Blank Paintball

I did, however, have a fabulous time wandering around taking photos and there was also a wedding venue just across the way that had some gorgeous gardens for some lavender shots. Call me a nerd, I don’t care. Here are some photies of the day: