camping trek day 1: culion island's sea stars and night stars / by mmkeyes

When I was planning this trip, I was having a really hard time deciding if we should spend our time in Coron OR in El Nido. They both have amazing sites, and I really wanted us to be able to see both, but the only option for transportation between them is a 10-hour boat ride on some less-than-stellar sea vessels. Traveler reports of said trip were scary, for the most part, including some tales of sinking bankas (or boats). As I did my research, I found out about a couple of companies who offer camping expeditions between the two destinations that last from 3 to 5 days. In Filipino terms, they are pretty pricey. The same thing in Hawaii would easily cost ten times the price, but we chose the Philippines for a reason, and we needed to be budget-conscious. I researched other day-tour companies in the area and emailed many many, asking if they would do a private camping expedition between Coron and El Nido. Most of these were failures, with only a couple of companies offering to do it, and not at a price that matched our budget.

Until I found Pastor Ildefonso Dalumpines, who owns an El Nido company called Midnight Sun. He offered us a 4 day/3 night private expedition at a really awesome price, and his company is rated #1 on Trip Advisor. He was great to work with, and such an amazing person when we had the opportunity to meet him later on. His son Jayson was our captain, and his nephews came along to help and to learn the trade better. They were all so great and are really Jacks of all trades! This camping expedition was easily the best decision we made in the Philippines. Not only did we get to see both Coron and El Nido, we saw remote, breathtaking islands that remain unknown to nearly all tourists. We camped on the beach for 3 nights, sleeping and waking with the sun and exploring the clearest water in the entire Philippines, and some of the clearest in the entire world. Since some people pay $715 per person per night to stay on these islands, I feel immensely grateful that we had the opportunity to experience it--au naturel.

Before heading out, we got breakfast at a place called Food Trip. We pretty much bought mango and banana smoothies at every opportunity. This place made us French toast, too. Don't judge us too hard. We were about to get four days of some food seriously natural food. We picked up some snacks, and Brandon bought the sunglasses off our tour guide from the day before. Those shades were sweet.

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Before reaching the clearest water in the Philippines, though, we had to wade out to our boat. Oh, friends. This water was, I hope, the dirtiest I will ever encounter in my life. It was like wading through diarrhea. We've all repressed the memory.

So I'm gonna move on. Our first day of the beach expeditions entailed an hour-long boat ride to this spot where we snorkeled.

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The beach is actually private, so we stayed in the water the entire time. Fine by me! Especially when there were periwinkle-colored sea stars everywhere

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We loved finding these large coral spots because it was like discovering a fish city. So many types of fish, coral, urchins, and plants, it was unbelievable. And so fascinating to watch the workings of all the creatures! Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystem on the planet, so there is a lot to admire and watch.

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Our next stop was for lunch and snorkeling on this treasure of a beach.

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That's the boat we spent four days on. And also our camera backpack which an obliging stray dog decided to pee on. I looked like a maniac running after that dog.

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We found the most beautiful seashells on the beaches we visited. I've always loved seashells, so seeing these blew my mind a bit.

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Our last stop of the day was our campsite--a beach on a bit of a slope, not far from a fishing village. We walked over to meet some villagers who spoke an impressive amount of English. They had all sorts of livestock--small turkeys, pigs, roosters. We chased crabs and snorkeled to our hearts' content in the pristine waters of Culion Island.

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Where we were snorkeling, the ocean floor was sometimes over 20 feet deep, but the visibility was 100%. You can also see the deep blue in the back of this picture where the drop off is. Is was so incredible!

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The sun went down around 6:15, so we hung out by the campfire before whipping out the camera to admire the incredible star-studded skies. Since there is no electricity anywhere near here, the universe showed us some amazing glimpses of space life, which my camera does not even begin to do justice.

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Ironically, though, we had 5 bars of service and 3G on these islands. I get 2 bars at our apartment.

Since it got dark at 7, and we were still somewhat jetlagged, we were for bed at 9. I woke up in the middle of the night (Mother Nature loves waking me mid-sleep), and when I looked out of the mesh tent door, I almost gasped for how many stars I saw. I woke up Brandon so that we could do some more shooting. At 3 am.

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