During my two week vacation in the Philippines, I spent three full days in El Nido. I didn’t book anything for my first day because I was so tired from traveling the previous day that I needed a day to just rest.

For the next two days every island-hopping tour was canceled by the coast guard to due extreme weather conditions. So what did I do?

After the first cancelation, I signed up for an inland tour, which cost 300 pesos. One of the tour guides at my resort took me to two beaches and a waterfall on his motorbike. The first beach was Duri Beach. It was very secluded. There were less than five people. It was beautiful, but boring if you’re by yourself like I was.

The next beach was Nacpan, which was very crowded. You also have to pay a fee of fifty pesos to enter the beach, which is only one US dollar.

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I waited in line to order food for lunch. By the time I reached the front of the line, they had completely run out of food. You could only order beer.

I had another tour guide take me to Nagkalit-Kalit Waterfall on foot through the jungle, which took about an hour. I had to borrow a stranger’s flip-flops because I only had my good shoes, which would have been ruined. We walked up and down muddy hills and across rivers with knee-high water.

My tour guide could point out any plant, tree, insect, or animal, and tell you everything about it. As if he didn’t sound smart enough already, he told me that he started learning English at the age of sixteen. His English was good, I had assumed that he started learning it in elementary school. This of course prompted me to ask how old he is now. He said, “Eighteen, sir.”

I was shocked and beyond impressed. I’ve studied Korean for two years, and I’m not even close to being conversational. I studied Spanish for four years, and I’m not conversational in that either.

The waterfall, I hate to admit, was not impressive. After resting my sore feet in the ice cold water for a few minutes, I was ready to trek back to my bike.

Somewhere along the way, my guide found a one peso coin on the ground and gave it to me, saying, “This is for you to remember me by.”

The next day all island-hopping tours were canceled by the coast guard again, so one of the resort staff members, Vanessa, volunteered to take me on a walking tour around town.

First, she took me to a museum. The museum is a traditional Filipino bamboo hut. Inside are the tools people used to use for catching food, harvesting grain, collecting water, cooking food, cleaning…

It was more interesting than I expected.

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Then I got to go inside the cargo hold of a wooden shipping boat.

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Then Vanessa took me to an elementary school. I took a few pictures of the entrance. Then she asked if I wanted to go inside. I couldn’t believe that we were able to enter a public school unannounced. We walked through the gate and past the principal’s office. The campus of the school was quite small. It was all built on a grassy plot of land. To the far right was a garden. To the far left was an outdoor classroom. There was a floor with desks and one wall with a chalkboard. There was no back or side walls; there was no roof. Class was in progress.

The students quickly took notice of the foreign visitor and waved.

There were two classrooms in the middle. I assumed we were just going to wave hello and be on our way, as to not disrupt their lessons. But I received a warm welcome. They were excited to meet an outsider. I met both teachers. I explained that I teach at an elementary school in South Korea. The put their classes on hold.

The second classroom I visited was first grade. Vanessa said that that teacher was her teacher in the first grade.

The students were so friendly and polite. They all greeted me good morning and asked me my name and where I’m from.

Their joy was infectious. My face hurt from smiling so big for so long.

When the kids heard Vanessa suggest taking a group photo, they were huddled up around me before I knew what was happening.

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I may have missed out on the classic El Nido experience, but the experience I did get cost much less, and was worth much more.