MANILA, April 13, 2004 (STAR) OmNIUM-GATHERUM By Miguel Ramos - At the northeastern tip of Palawan is the town of El Nido, which is surrounded by limestone cliffs and some 45 islands. On these islands are beaches, lagoons, wildlife, caves and marine animals. There are two extraordinary resorts on the islands of Lagen and Miniloc. These islands are part of the El Nido Resort.

It takes a one-and-a-half-hour plane ride to the El Nido airport, a 20-minute jeepney ride to the port of El Nido and a scenic 50-minute bangka ride to your final destination ó whether it be Lagen or Miniloc. Although I heard the place can be daunting for a first timer, it really was not for an anti-sun, anti-beach, and anti-ocean person like me.

We chose to stay at Lagen. Lagen is the the more elegant of the two resorts though each has its own charm. Lagen has better facilities which include a swimming pool and an air-conditioned dining room as well as modern looking cabins. The surrounding areas are paved and are conducive to walking around in either heels or resort wear as opposed to beach wear. Miniloc is the more rustic of the two. There are not as many paved paths. However, if you are there to dive or snorkel, the House Reef is right at the end of the dock of Miniloc. No need for a boat ride, just jump off the edge of the dock. Miniloc also serves up a different personality with its cabanas and bar on the beach and is conducive to hanging out on the beach while drinking the juice of a coconut.

Diving And Snorkeling

Without question, the highlight of the trip for me was the introductory dive and snorkeling. It was the first time I went diving. It was breathtaking. We first went snorkeling and fish feeding in the shallow area of the House Reef of Miniloc. The water must have been four to five feet deep yet there were innumerable fish including a 24-inch jackfish and even clownfish. The water in this area is so shallow you can even bring kids along to snorkel with you. Just practice with a snorkel at home, put a life jacket on them and a full wetsuit as insurance against the occasional jellyfish and they should be good to go with proper supervision.

After snorkeling we took the 20-minute introductory dive lecture and, soon enough, were ready to go down. We only dove 10 to 12 feet but according to our dive instructor Joy Castillo the marine life we saw was what you would see 50 feet down in places like Anilao. Giant clams, lots of coral, schools of fish and some really large jacks were some of the sights served up. The following day we were able to go snorkeling in another part of the island. Just when I thought I had seen everything there was to see I was fortunate enough to see a 12-inch puffer fish (which is supposed to be really big), a blue spotted stingray and three sea turtles! I have friends who have been diving for years and have never seen a sea turtle. I am told thatís not bad for a first timer.

Other activities to do at El Nido include fishing and island hopping to Snake Island, as well as to various lagoons, a bat cave, and what the locals call the Cathedral. Other water activities include skiing, kayaking, windsurfing.

Taking Pictures Underwater

Even amateurs can take pictures underwater. Although there are other point and shoot cameras with optional underwater casings, I used a Fujifilm Finepix F700 with its optional underwater casing.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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