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A Memoir of Nacpan Beach

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Nacpan beach on Palawan in the Philippines is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my entire life. I don’t make this statement based on visual aspect alone. Of course, the visual aspect left me speechless, jaw to the floor and eyes glazed. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful because shitty land developers and foreign investors haven’t managed to snatch it with their greedy paws.

Crescent shaped and sprawling, Nacpan beach stretches; long tendrils of thick blonde sand. I can’t believe it, but there are no resorts, skyscrapers, shoddy bars, or flashy mansions. The only man made structures are the simple square huts constructed from palm fronds where the locals and their farm animals don’t have much in terms of money or material items, but they live on oceanfront paradise and are creatures of the sea. They understand it, they respect it, and together they live in harmony.

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We camped in the village on a property overrun by chickens. The local caretaker, Chris, greeted my boyfriend Joram and I in his cute little briefs, fingernails painted with cracked purple polish. This man loves his chickens. The funny little biddies were everywhere. Rebellious juvenile roosters chased panicked hens, hoping for a chance to get a little sexual healing, but the alpha cock, a huge fucker, was always on guard when it came to his women. I watched a juvie chase a plump wheat brown banty, clasp her tail feathers in his beak and hop onto her back, only to be bull rushed by the alpha and viciously bowled over.

I even chased some of the chickens…but only because I really, really wanted a little chickie cuddle. They hated me and rushed to their father, Chris, who cradled them lovingly and frowned at me. “They don’t like you.”

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Travelers rent bikes in El Nido town and drive the quick hour to Nacpan for the day. The water is clear and deep enough for wading. The waves are powerful enough to pick you up for some body surfing, but gentle enough to bob without worry. The beach is wide and the sand soft. Manny Pacquiao’s private island is just offshore. The beach is nice during the day, and to climb the nearby hill to observe the creamy tangerine sunset over the sea is a must, but to leave Nacpan before nightfall is a sin.

The moon hangs low over Nacpan Beach and I hold my hand in front of my face, but cannot see it. I can only hear the lazy lapping of the waves. The islands and hills are gone, replaced by black nothingness.

I think about the sea. I think about the night.

Humans misunderstand the night because they fear it. At night, the monsters abound, and if you are curious of what lurks in the dark, then you will be gobbled up by a ferocious beast. You must stay indoors, close your eyes, and sleep, sleep and sleep until the darkness has passed. We build lamps, and raging fires to battle the blackness, but the night remains peaceful and passive. By fearing it, you only deprive yourself of the moon’s open arms, and the beaming of a million glowing smiles. When you banish the light bulbs and darkness is left, stars cascade in torrents from every nook and cranny of the universe. The milky way is unraveled silk that glows and spreads in soft curls across the sky. You cannot see the sand beneath your feet, because now you are floating.

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photo credit: ‘Bioluminescent Waves & Aurora’ – Anglesey via photopin (license)

A shooting star only unveils itself to whom it belongs to. Even if it is but a flash of whispered white in your peripheral, catch it and never let it go, because you were there to accept a soft kiss from the seemingly dangerous night.

The ocean adores the night. It is one with the dark, washing up millions of sparkling stars that have fallen to the sea. Shrouded in darkness, they dance in love. Electric blue bio-luminescence shimmer with accomplished brilliance all along Nacpan beach, where the sea has finally reached its destination, announcing its arrival with a burst of cosmic color.

Oh, the almighty sea. Humans can build walls thick and tall, but they will never be able to control it. She can lure and hypnotize, she is mysterious and graceful, but she is also temperamental and unpredictable. She can crash and scream, level cities and steal lives and we cannot stop her. But, the earth can. Angry waves fed by relentless gales travel lifetimes to clash with the earth, striking with harsh blows upon the slick sand. But the earth is a patient and steadfast mother, and the ocean slips with tired, foamy gasps back into the depths of itself.

 

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How I Backpacked the Maldives on a Budget

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The small motorboat rocked gently on the morning waves. No time for breakfast or coffee, my 19-year-old Maldivian guide had ushered me out of bed, to the boat, where his teenage companion was waiting. He saw us, and immediately began to coax the salty engine to life.

“We must beat the tourist dive boats,” my guide explained. All I had was my mask and GoPro camera. All he had was a never-ending cigarette, hash oil eyes and an impressive pinky fingernail.

“Why is your pinky nail so long?”

I had been staring, wondering, and had finally worked up the courage to ask.

“My buddy and I are in a contest. Whoever cuts it first, loses. Then, they must get the other a treat.”

“How long has this contest been going on for?” I asked.

“Since 10-years-old.”

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It was my second day on Maafushi Island in the Maldives and the three of us were off on an oceanic adventure to free dive the surrounding coral reefs. Since I was way far off from being able to afford the luxurious dive trips most other Maldives visitors book, I had discovered a much cheaper and one-of-a-kind option: hanging with the young locals.

Maafushi slowly disappeared and we became engulfed by turquoise and sapphire. Now, I’ve grown up on the Atlantic Ocean, lived on a beach my entire life- but there’s something different about the Indian Ocean. Something wild and savage, yet too beautiful to be frightened of it. A true siren luring salt lovers into the abyss.

And then, I spotted them- there had to be around a hundred. Wild dolphins splicing through the gentle chop, one twisting gracefully in the morning air, another spluttering a stream of foamy liquid from its blowhole. I had seen wild dolphins before, but never like this. Never this many.

The boat engine died and we came to an abrupt stop. Waves pulled and pushed the briny hull in a hypnotizing tug-of-war. And the pod surrounded us, passing us, fins rising and falling smoothly with the moving currents.

Before I knew what I was doing, my mask was on and I felt my body slipping into the open sea. I held my breath and dove and the Indian Ocean swallowed me whole.

The world underneath the waves was intoxicating, a subliminal trip. Plummeting depths with no sand in sight, I floated deep, suspended in hazy green and blue. Streams of sunlight shot here and there, illuminating plankton, and the underwater world was filled with the loud clicks and clacks of dolphin echolocation. For a brief moment, I became a part of the pod.The dolphins swam about me, at a distance, flipping easily onto their sides for a curious glance of this alien creature. They were cautious, but not afraid, toothy, playful grins as they took me in, laughed at me, then continued on their journey.

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Welcome to the Maldives

A magical, mystical tropical paradise exists. It is called: The Maldives.

This clustered island nation dotting the Indian Ocean like a string of jewels are a well known honeymoon destination, sprinkled with a myriad of luxury resorts. It most certainly doesn’t hold the budget backpacker reputation, but that is beginning to change.

Despite the illusion that traveling to this tropical playground is only for the flashy,  it is possible to travel on a budget. Yes, you heard correctly- IT IS POSSIBLE.  Read my tips on backpacking the Maldives on a budget, and get ready to book your ticket and dive right into a melting pot of culture, untouched salty bliss and unique island living that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Deciding where to go

The Maldives isn’t as budget friendly as other countries in Southeast Asia, but if you have the chance to go- take it. Cut down on costs by limiting your time here, and brainstorm what exactly you would like to do. The Maldives offer excellent diving and snorkel opportunities. If you just want to veg out on a peaceful,  powder white beach, you can find it anywhere. Research the islands, as each is unique in its own way, some more deserted than others. Also, get a geographic idea of how far each island is from the capital, Male. This is important because the main ferry port is located here- the heart of your Maldives transportation.

My recommendation….

For location and money, I would recommend checking out Maafushi as a strategic home base. It is the second largest island in the Maldives, has more guesthouse options than the other islands and is a short ferry ride from Male. Maafushi is an easy island to get lost on, and when you stay in a guesthouse, you get to experience the day to day life of the Maldivian people, an experience that gets shut out by staying at a resort.

From Maafushi, it’s easy to book dive trips to nearby coral reefs or hang out at the pristine beaches. Though Maafushi is the second largest island, there are no paved roads or cars here, just pure white sand, palm trees and warm crystal water.

Maafushi Tip:

Because the Maldives are strictly Muslim, be considerate about bathing in the sea. On Maafushi, there are two beaches: a local beach and a foreigner beach. It is expected that ladies do not romp around the island or hang at the local beach in a bikini. At the foreigner beach, this is ok.

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Ditch Resort Life

Hidden in the shadows of those wealthy beach resorts are guesthouses that are much cheaper and offer a one-on-one cultural experience. As budget travelers take the leap and head to the Maldives, more and more guesthouses are springing up out of the sand like coconut palms. Check out Airbnb for various guesthouses in the Maldives, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the numerous options- way cheaper than those pocket draining resorts.

My recommendation:

I stayed at the Silver Sea Inn on Maafushi in Nov. 2014, with low rates starting around $20. Prices can vary depending on when/where you go. It was quiet, clean and the staff were incredibly hospitable. The owner invited me to enjoy a traditional Maldivian dinner of savory fish stew and rice with him and his wife on my final night. It was the perfect end to my Maldivian journey, plopping chunks of thick fish caught just offshore into my mouth using my hands.

Transportation

To keep spending to a minimum, embrace the public ferry and walking about the islands. Male, though busy and filled with cabs, is small enough to navigate by foot, and you get to experience much more of the bustling city life. If you plan on staying in the capital for a day or two, it’s easy to find cheap lodging- but don’t expect 5 Star accommodations or beach paradise.

All travelers are brought to Male from the airport, because that is where the main ferry port is located. The ferry is the cheapest mode of transport to the islands. You travel with the local people, so the experience is not one to be missed. Speed boats are also available, but are expensive- easily over $100 for a ride. If you have a group, then the price can be split and you can maximize your time with a quick trip, but you won’t get the same cultural experience as riding the ferry.

Island transport is by foot or bike. Once the ferry unloads, you will be surprised to look clear across to the other side of the island, no paved roads to be seen. Get lost and explore on your own two feet! This is the best way to observe the unique Islamic island life mixed with cultures from the Middle East, India and Sri Lanka.

Tip:

Check out the ferry schedule to get an idea of routes and prices. Keep in mind that the ferry does not operate on Friday for prayers.