“Wow.” It was the first word I ever said as I stepped onto the sandy beachfront of El Nido, the first time I went there in 2010. I looked out at the infamous limestone mountains beyond the sea fronting Poblacion. Everyone who’s been to El Nido has to have a picture with that mountain in its background. And I just had to make sure I had mine. 3 years later, as I walked through the narrow streets of El Nido towards the same view, on my 5th trip to El Nido, I still have the same reaction. “Wow.”
“Wow,” I say as I stepped off the plane. I looked around. It was all trees everywhere except for that small establishment where the aircraft faced. I breathed and it was fresh air, a surprising change from the usual Manila air. I walked down the ramp and smiled at the huge sign that said “Puerto Princesa Airport” I was in Puerto Princesa. Alone. For the first time. 3 years ago, I didn’t know this experience would mold me to who I am today.
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” he says. I frown at him, forcing myself to look at him in the eyes, searching for the familiar “joke” or “game” that I would normally see. I laugh nervously, telling him he was just drunk. He shakes his head. “I’m not drunk,” he drawls in his sexy, Spanish accent. “I meant what I said,” he finishes. And I believe.
“We’re here!” I say, in a rather exasperated, desperate form of words that only comes after 4 hours of rough-road riding in an old, open window beat-down jeep/bus from Puerto Princesa. I skipped a step off the stairs of the bus and landed uneven on the paved road. I patted my curly hair, and even if I had tied it into a bun, it was now a frizzy mess, my baby hair all over my forehead. I sighed, blowing strands off my eyes. We were officially in San Vicente, Palawan.
“Hey Brenna!” a friend called, a few sharp, limestone rocks below me. “Yeah?” I called back. “So…do you regret climbing up?” he says, a smirk in his voice. I turned around, clinging to the sharp rocks, letting its rugged corners sink into my skin as I leaned over to look at my friend. I grin, steadying my footing and wiped my long sleeve over my sweat, literally raining over my forehead. “Ugh,” I pause, in between heavy breaths, “get back to me in a few minutes, okay? When I reach the top.”
“Why are we doing this again?” I huffed as I strained my right knee to make the next steep step. “400.” I heard a guide say to his group before me. Immediately, I felt relieved. I thought I was only at 200+ steps. I breathed in the fresh air, a mixture of the ocean smell and the cool breeze from the trees. I turned from the hundred more steps to take.