El Nido in Palawan is well known for its stunning beaches and spectacular diving, but one underrated activity is paddling along waters enclosed by centuries-old mangrove trees. I recently joined a "Mystical Mangrove Tour" created by Tagalog speaking Frenchman Basile Guilmet, who's been living in El Nido for over two years now. Three of us "Frenchies" jumped on the chance to go on the tour. We all met at 9am at The Bazaar which is the new French quarter of El Nido Town, where Basile also owns and runs a restaurant bar called Kalabar. After a quick briefing, we all got into a tricycle to drive about 30 minutes south of El Nido town to Barangay Manlag where the mangrove tour starts.
After the tricycle drops us off, it's a short walk to the river, where we find breakfast of coffee and doughnuts waiting for us, prepared by a local family that’s been helping Basile with his business by building small bancas or Filipino outrigger boats. At 10am we split our group into two, each group in their own small banca, slicing through the waters lined along the banks of the river by old-growth mangroves (Rhizophora specie).
I was lucky enough to be paired with Basile himself who took care of the paddling, while I mostly enjoyed the tranquility and took photographs. After only a few minutes we finally enter our first mangrove to find a lime yellow and black snake sleeping soundly on its branch.
Mangroves are a natural shelter for a multitude of species such as long-tailed Macaques, monitor lizards, reticulated pythons, crocodiles, crabs and of course different species of fishes and birds such as egrets or even rare hornbills. Most important of all, these trees are the prime habitat of some 75% of the fish caught in the area so it's safe to say that when these mangroves die, so will fish production.
As we explore one mangrove after another —yes, several mangrove rivers are near each other in this barangay— we finally start the traverse towards open sea to reach Malapacao Island, famous for its resident naked woman. We stop for lunch on the island, prepared by the same family who served us breakfast. This time, lunch is chicken, tuna, rice, bananas and pineapple. At 2pm it’s time to head back, and again we had to cross the open sea, but the wind has picked up and our crossing is a bit more complicated than we bargained for, but real fun. At 5pm we're back in town in one piece, all really happy about the experience. It's just fitting we end it with a happy hour cocktail at Basile's Kalabar.
How to get there
Air Swift has daily flights from Manila to El Nido, about P6,500 one way.
Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia has flights from Manila to Puerto-Princesa, from P1,500 to P3,000 one way depending on the season. From Puerto Princesa airport there are vans to El Nido for P700 for a five-hour trip.
To book the “Mystical Mangrove Tour”, call Basile Guilmet at tel+63905 225 1150, +63995 465 7709. The tour costs P1,500, including roundtrip tricycle fare, breakfast, lunch, guided bangka tour, and information about El Nido's mangroves. Pack bottled water, sunscreen, cap or hat for the trip.
Published June 2016