It's been on the calendar for a long time: 10 days in paradise over New Years with 9 of our great friends... and I'm here to tell you it did NOT disappoint! This post could easily go on for miles, so in the interest of brevity we're going to change the format and so we hereby present you with: The El Nido Top 10.
1) The Crew: we had am amazing group assembled who made El Nido's magic really shine.
Georgie (soon to be Whyte-) Ling
Rachel Paeper- Jones
2)The Place: not only is El Nido an amazing and very special corner of the world, but Matty Whyte came through yet again and found the best accommodation we could have ever wanted. The Island Front Cottages are not only awesome in the beauty of their location but they are run by about the sweetest family you'll ever meet. The beach was stunning and proved to be the best fricket court we've ever seen and provided a great place to hang for many a late night sessions. Paradise, indeed.
3) Sunsets: did I mention that the Island Front Cottages face due west and therefore provide great views of some of the most stunning sunsets we've encountered. The entire horizon is covered with offshore islands except for one small gap which is exactly where the sun set each night allowing us to watch as it slipped silently below the ocean. In addition, the weather gods played nice and provided great warm, sunny weather during the days with just enough light cloud cover to allow the sunset to get really psychedelic. There is a scientific term for this phenomenon- Matt knows it, but I forgot.
4) NYE in Beirut: We bought tickets to the Philippines, but at about 7pm on December 31 we were magically transported from the tranquil SE Asian island country directly into a Middle Eastern war zone as every man, woman and child in town indulged their inner pyro and got DOWN with a seemingly endless arsenal of fireworks, fire crackers, light explosives and, every once in a while, full fledged bombs. It was chaos. Explosions happening at regular, but random intervals and too often alarmingly close to us. Of course, not wanting to miss out on the fun we bought and discharged a few of our own including what turned out to be a stick of dynamite which exploded and sent out a blast force that rattled our fillings and literally pounded our chest. Hehe...cool.
5) Flip Cup Tournament: After fleeing the war zone to the sanctuary of the Island Front Cottage compound we rallied together an incredible NYE International flip cup tournament. Several of the locals got involved and were LOVING it. One dude kept hugging me and picking me up which was awesome except his B.O. was hellish. In the end Lizzy Ryan proved too strong and took the crown of Flip Cup Champ. (For the record: Becky Reining came in 2nd which I'm sure she's still pissed about)
6) Play It By Ear- El Nido: Perhaps the greatest play it by ear day of all time. Highlights include: Becky sprinting and then taking a header into the ocean, Liam and Georgie swapping clothes in the middle of the busiest intersection in the whole town, Kyle going for the Filipino Tricycle Driver High 5 world record, Matt explaining the finer points of "the Dougie" to the local children, awesome Angry Birds merchandise purchases and, of course, Gina nailing the Filipino Rum Blind Taste Test Challenge.
7) Snorkel Tours: we took two 1-day excursions (tour A and C, to be precise) out to the islands off the coast of El Nido. We saw hidden lagoons, hidden beaches, ate BBQ lunches on white sand beaches and snorkeled in some of the clearest and most beautifully turquoise water ever.
8) Cowboy SCUBA diving: we went diving and it was awesome. We saw a frickin' sea turtle afterall. The thing is that the dive operators were...how shall I say it...slightly reckless. The first dive we went to 31 meters which is well deeper then Lizzy and Gina are certified to dive. In addition, I sucked down my air and ended up running out with 10 minutes to go and therefore ended up on the instructor's secondary regulator-a first for me! The second dive we stayed down for over 59 minutes; which is a long dive especially on the back of a 40 minute, 31 meter dive. The third dive was short, but sweet and was when we saw the turtle. By this point, however, Lizzy and I were feeling the effects of the long, tough day and not stoked that the guys didn't bring even close to enough water for us to stay hydrated. Awesome day, but it was a rough one.
9) Urine as a home remedy: we had 2 run ins with unfriendly sea creatures. First, Liam stepped on a sea urchin and ended up with a few pieces of the quills lodged in his foot. Second, Becky managed to find the only jelly fish in the sea and rub her leg and foot on it. In both instances the idea that the best cure was peeing on the wound came up. Liam wisely selected his lovely wife to do the honors and they took care of business in the privacy of their bathroom. Becky's situation was a bit more urgent as she was in severe agony. So, being the good friend I am, first I loaned her my bladder-full and when that was gone Gina followed where I left off...right there on the beach in front of everyone, much to their entertainment, I might add. It was quite a scene. Turns out that for both wounds lime is a much more effective remedy...effective, maybe, but not nearly as funny!
10) Getting the Party Live: On 3 instances our crew was responsible for getting an otherwise timid crowd on their feet and dancing. First was on New Year's Eve: we initiated a flash mob in an intersection that must have ended up being 35-40 people deep. Next was when we entered Asylum, the local disco, to find the music bumping but all the locals sitting eyeing each other shyly and awkwardly like at a 7th grade dance. Within seconds of our crew hitting the dance floor the whole club was up and at 'em and getting their freak on. Third was in the sweet live music venue where everyone was chilling out listening to Seal and Maná covers until we requested Sublime which got the whole place jumping. Awesome!
Yeah, it was a hell of week and a half. Thanks to Onie, Ling-Ling and the rest of the gang at the Island Front Cottages for being such gracious hosts and making us feel so welcome. And, bigger thanks to each and every one of the crew for helping make our 10 days in El Nido some of the best of the trip!