Itty-bitty El Nido

Location: El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

The van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is hectic. The roads wind through the mountains and cut short in most areas, the cement suddenly giving way to dirt or gravel. During my bumpy, sharp-stopping trip, one Australian passenger up front asked the driver if he could slow down because she'd "rather show up to El Nido late than dead." But he just laughed and continued swerving around corners blind, twisting the steering wheel with an accuracy similar to Ricky Bobby's in Talladega Nights when he drunkenly crashes his car. Halfway to our destination, we were stopped by gun-toting police and told very seriously that it was illegal to bring any mangoes into the area. Apparently, El Nido and the surrounding villages grow the best mangoes in the world and you aren't allowed to carry foreign mangoes with you for fear that they have pesticides that will ruin the local fruit. 

I tried out these famous mangoes, by the way, and they're pretty damn good. Sweet, juicy, and soft, the golden meat practically melts in your mouth. 

The actual town of El Nido is about five blocks wide, tightly packed between the beach and the edge of the mountains. The main street, which stretches from one end to the other, is walkable in about twenty minutes. It's incredible (and awesome) how undeveloped this area is, especially since it's such a hub for island hopping. Dorms are cheap, there's plenty of $0.50 adobo (sweet marinated chicken), street lechon, and fresh fruit to fill you up, and everyone in town hangs out at the local reggae bar at night, drinking $1 beers and dancing to Bob Marley's greatest hits. 

There are some downsides to a town this small, though. The hostel I stayed at only had salt water showers (which are just as unrefreshing as they sound) and the Internet, well, it practically doesn't exist. I actually hadn't bought my next plane ticket (I wanted to be in Manila within a couple of days) and spent an especially frustrating morning on hold with Cebu Pacific Air when the wifi connection wouldn't load any web pages.