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Could I make it to El Nido?

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It was one of those days. A day when nothing goes as planned and everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. A day when I felt like it was destiny itself that was trying to keep me away from El Nido.

The day had started in Sabang at six in the morning. Waking up at that ridiculous hour was a bad start for the day already, but I really had no choice if I was to make it to El Nido in a day.

I had already spent longer in Sabang than I had planned; without a good reason really. So I didn’t have that much time left in Palawan anymore.

I had got sick a few days ago and there really wasn’t a pharmacy that I could get supplies from. There was a small clinic, but the nurse wasn’t around. Thankfully one of the locals helped me raid the medicine cabinet for some good old fashioned self-medication, too bad there really wasn’t anything too exciting there.

I was worried if I would get any sicker, I would have to head off to Puerto Princesa to see a doctor or at least visit a proper pharmacy. I had visited the Puerto Princesa Underground River yesterday so I was finally ready to leave Sabang behind.

As I woke, I was thankfully feeling at least a little better. I could leave.

The other challenge I was facing, was that I was running critically short of money. I hadn’t realized that there really weren’t any ATMs in Sabang and neither was there one in El Nido. I still had some 1 300 pesos, which should cover my transport there and the first night. I could then use Western Union or get a credit card advance, sure the fees were 10%, but I didn’t really need that much. It would still be cheaper to do it like that than head off to Puerto Princesa first.

So I paid off my tab at the Blue Bamboo where I had been staying and headed off for the jeepney that was leaving at 7am. I got my bag to the roof and went to buy some breakfast, at which point I realized I had forgotten the key and the lock for my bungalow in my pocket.

Oh shit.

I made a run for it back to the bungalow to return my key. I got back with five minutes to spare, so I hastily purchased a coke and some random pastries for breakfast. Drenched in sweat I squeezed into the jeepney. The day was off to a great start.

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The idea was that I would get off in Sebastion that was halfway on the way to Puerto Princesa where the Jeepney was headed. Then I would board a bus coming from Puerto Princesa heading to El Nido. A complicated plan I admit, one which did depend on the Jeepney not being too badly late.

And anybody who has been on board a long distance jeepney knows that they go at their own pace and wherever the driver wants. So at some point we took a detour from the main road down some dirt track. I didn’t really have that much extra time, but thankfully the detour was pretty quick just to pick up some more cargo.

Then as we were approaching Sebastion, I made a horrible discovery, I couldn’t find my money.

Oh, f**k.

I must have left them in the place I bought the breakfast from. I had a faint recollection placing them on the counter as I was trying to find the right money quickly.

Shit, this wasn’t good. I had maybe 50 pesos, and a 10 dollar note. I talked with the driver, but he wouldn’t accept dollars for the ride. And I still wasn’t sure if I had left my money to the breakfast place. I didn’t have the money to pay for my jeepney right now, as you pay when you get off, not before. So I couldn’t get off and head back to Sabang and I couldn’t get off at Sebastion to head to El Nido for the same reason.


This really wasn’t going as planned.

So I really had no choice; I stayed on the jeepney as we passed Sebastian. I would have to go all the way to Puerto Princesa. I would then have to go get money from somewhere. There were no foreigners on the jeepney either that I could borrow money from. I really had no option.

Damned. I wasn’t happy about this. I would have to waste the whole day on various jeepneys and buses; and there was no certainty about the money.

Two hours later we arrived to the jeepney terminal, where I told the driver about my problem and he agreed to hold my luggage for ransom until I found some pesos.

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I quickly found the money exchanger, but he wouldn’t exchange my 10 dollar bill, because I had folded it. What? Of course I have folded it, that’s what you do with bills!

I know you need crisp notes for Burma, but in Philippines this was stupid, it was an official money exchanger after all. Well, it was a pawn shop that also did exchanging money, but lets not split hairs here!

I asked around a bit and found out that there was an ATM in the shop across the street.


This solved my problems. Excited I ran across the street and found the ATM.

“Not operational”.


My mood plummeted, I had the sinking feeling that this was the only ATM around; few inquiries with the locals confirmed my fears. There were no other ATMs nearby; I would have to go to central of Puerto Princesa which would take at least half an hour in total.

I went back to the jeepney terminal and talked with the locals, I found one guy who would give me 300 pesos for the 10 dollar note, it was a rip off, but I couldn’t help it. 400 would be the correct amount, but I needed to pay the jeepney driver, who was still holding my bag as ransom. So I exchanged my 10 dollars and ransomed my bag.

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Alright, this clearly wasn’t working.

I walked over to the bus terminal. I had to figure out what time the last bus was. Turns out it was leaving in five minutes.

Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.

I couldn’t hop on the bus. I had no money to pay the bus driver. And it would take me almost half an hour to go get the money in El Nido.

Another inquiry confirmed that the last van also was at 10am. It was 9:55am.


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I couldn’t help it, I would first have to get some money, and then I could revalue my options. As it without money, the options didn’t really matter. So I got myself on a tricycle and headed out to town. We found an ATM which I was sure would decline my card, but no. It happily spat out the money I so desperately needed.

Money, it felt good to have money again.

I could buy things.

It was already 10:30 when we got back to the bus station. The bus had gone. The van had gone.

I walked over to the biggest van company. Who confirmed that the last one was at 10am, and it had been fully booked anyway.

Maybe it was meant that I couldn’t go to El Nido. I only had a few days left, I could go tomorrow, but then I could only stay for one full day before heading back on the morning. Not worth it.

“I have a van going to El Nido”

“Huh,” I turned around.

“People flew in today, and I had organized a special van for them”


“Be here in maybe half an hour”

“And they don’t mind an extra passenger?”

“No problem”

This was the first good news I had got all day. If I wanted to get to El Nido, it would be on that van or never (well, never as in not on this trip, but maybe at some point in the future).


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Half an hour later I was aboard a very tightly packed van with a group of Japanese people. I was still half expecting the van to break down, but it didn’t.

I actually arrived to El Nido; tired, having spend a lot more money than planned and  a lot later than planned, but I had arrived.

I felt like something had been trying to keep me away from here, but towards what end?

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Have you had a lot of things go wrong trying to get somewhere?


  1. What a pickle! At least El Nido is worth it.

    I think anyone who’s ever been on the road has had one shit day (or two, or three) Mine was a 7-hour flight delay + airport switch due to zero visibility + work that same evening.

    Oh and I love how the Puerto Princesa jeep says Poker Pace. hehe
    yols @ soloviaje recently posted..It’s just around the corner.I hope everyone gets to enjoy…My Profile

    • Yep, El Nido still was worth it, post coming up about it! :)

      And you’re right, anyone who has traveled a bit more will get the occasional shitty day for sure, but it’s still worth it!

  2. Sounds like a looong day, to say the least. I like that vintage sepia look of your photos, especially the first and the last one!
    Sophie recently posted..Where in the WorldMy Profile

    • Thanks, glad you like the photos. I wanted to try something different with the photos as I only had a few and half of them taken with the iPhone. I was quite happy with how they turned out.

      An yes, I was exhausted by the time I got to El Nido.

  3. Ugh, I hate days like that. Sometimes you just have to not worry about the extra money you spent and just be happy it all sorted itself out. Looking forward to hearing about El Nido.

    • Yeah, I was a bit annoyed about the money I lost, but it was still worth it, and it really wasn’t that much money :)

  4. I’ve just come across your blog, and what an adventure you’re on here! I can’t think of things going really that wrong for me over the years, although I do remember being stuck in Singapore at Chinese new year some decades back. Everything closed, and nowhere to go!
    All the best from Santiago de Chile…
    Andrew Graeme Gould recently posted..Coquimbo, Chile: Fishing for machasMy Profile

    • Hehe, at least it was Singapore, it’s not a bad place to be stuck in, thou when everything is closed, it definitely is no fun!

  5. What a long day. Traveling becomes more fun and exciting when misadventures like this happens. But glad you made it to El Nido. I know it’s worth it. :)
    Gabz @ Pinoy Travel Freak recently posted..Travel Photo Friday: St. Anne Parish Church in Molo, Iloilo CityMy Profile

    • It was worth it indeed. And yeah, it does at least make life an adventure when things go wrong. Always good fun to remember even if it doesn’t feel like such fun when it’s going wrong!


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