MATINLOC ISLAND, EL NIDO
The Enigmatic Heart-Shaped Island
Did I say creepy? It’s a juxtaposition of sorts. Imagine a secret island with nothing but abandoned ruins. Elegant yet enigmatic with a religious shrine greeting you not far from shore. Tourist-filled afternoons are fine but what could be lurking about come nightfall?
Something stings the side of your arms. Then they come at all directions on your legs. Then your poor neck – and finally, your face. Your face itches like the apocalypse. Blood sucking monsters (worse than getting body shots from the sparkling embarrassment that is Edward Cullen) attack you one after another all because… you forgot your insect repellent on the main land.
Jake: You look like you’ve been slapped by a bag of mosquitoes.
Belle: *distraught while ineffectively trying to bat away more of the nasty pests* It’s not fair. How come you’re fine? How come everyone else is fine??
Jake: My skin is made of steel. And your name is IsaBELLA. *makes hissing sounds*
I don’t mean to go all melodramatic but getting itchy red welts everywhere was one of the highlights of our trip to the Island of Matinloc on our last backpacking trip to El Nido, Palawan.
Traveler’s Tip #1: Douse yourself with some good old bug spray before flopping off the boat.
Traveler’s Tip #2: Try not to go on shore with only a measly tankini on.
Matinloc is a stunning island surrounded by gorgeous limestone cliffs, coves, snorkel sites, white sand beaches and flora. It’s an easy getaway as it is included in El Nido’s grandiose Tour C. You may wonder how a place so man-made and seemingly settled-in would come to be devoured by the wild.
There are many versions of the story behind its rise and fall. One version suggests that it was once developed upon the arrival of missionaries (hence the lovely grotto and several statues around the island) and left to be abandoned and ransacked after the locals couldn’t afford its maintenance any longer.
Another version explains that the main large structure used to be the home of nuns and that construction was halted when authorities found several environmental violations upon its development. It was then sanctioned for closure and eventually left to rot.
In a third version, a religious missionary visited by the Mother Mary was instructed to search for this mysterious “heart-shaped island” on which she had to build a holy shrine – Matinloc Shrine?
Another story was that it was a mansion owned by an affluent El Nido resident. By the looks of the place, I should say crazy filthy rich for good measure. However it’s evident desertion was unknown even to locals. It is said that on occasion, the man still visits the place. (That. By far. Is. Totally. Creepy.)
Finally, the version told by our tour guide was this: Matinloc Island was once owned by a prominent family who desired to turn the island into a private resort. A large hotel was constructed to serve as their living quarters as well as sanctuary for their private guests. They even established a grotto there with a small museum as they were religious folk. They couldn’t finish construction due to lack of funds and problems with some government endorsements. Thus, the family left the island and haven’t returned to it since.
Belle: These guys might just be pulling our leg.
Jake: As long as we don’t see a surprise extra person in our tour group all of a sudden, I’m good with whatever.
The concrete gazebo housing an image of our Virgin Mary was the only structure there that didn’t particularly give me the heebie-jeebies.
It was getting chilly in the late afternoon. We decided to explore the island before our guide could usher all of us back to the boat. After a prayer of thanks at the Shrine, we proceeded to go to the back of the structure and found a nice hidden cove (probably one of the many around the island). We imagined it all cleaned up and spending a night there in tents. Then we got goosebumps.
We then climbed the harrowing man-made steps (carved from the stone of the mountain? We’re not sure. We didn’t exactly take a closer look since climbing up was already a distressing experience in itself). Fighting the urge to hurl from acrophobia, we managed to reach the top.
And then we saw THE VIEW – this view that saturated us with desire ever since we laid eyes on it in a travel magazine from a long-forgotten past ago. Until now, just looking at this souvenir photograph isn’t enough to bring out the words to describe what we saw with our own eyes.
Some of our more adventurous companions found an even higher peak to stand on and marvel at the magnificence from. One tour group friend even fancied herself a silhouette shot of a sunset selfie while her father yelled at her to “come the f*ck back down!” We could only turn green and wish we grew wings at that moment.
Traveler’s Tip #3: You may want to consider wearing hiking-appropriate footwear to climb the more sharpened rock at the highest vantage point. Getting barbecued on your way to the top doesn’t exactly make for a good story to bring back home. Unless you have travel insurance, maybe?
Exploring the abandoned hotel/mansion/sanctuary/house thing was formidably eerier than we imagined. The sun was beginning to set in the horizon and the wind grew cold all of a sudden. There was a damp, musty smell in the air and there was rust, peeling paint and broken wood everywhere. A friend and I huddled together as we advanced with Jake trailing behind trying to take more photographs. One of our tour companions, a senior with a knack of flirting (innocently, I hope) with young girls, suddenly jumped out with a reverberating BOO from behind one of the cement posts at the top floor. For a split second there, we thought our souls flew over the ledge. He proceeded to laugh heartily after we gave him the faintest of smiles we could allow ourselves. Our mouths never felt any drier.
Thanks a lot, Mister.
The structure was full of rooms and azoteas. Some areas still had drawers, chairs, and other pieces of broken up furniture inside them. It looked to be a plunder scene from a pirate movie. We finally came across an abandoned bedroom. Nothing could be more disturbing to look at. It gave off solid ASYLUM vibes.
Someone even ushered me inside and jokingly pushed the door shut. My neck hairs stood on end and didn’t come back down to earth until we left that building.
The insects were starting to feed more voraciously when the drowsy sun decided it would slowly pull up its heavenly blanket to retire for the day. It was time to leave the place. Jake wanted to take more portraits but one side of my face resembled a bubbling cauldron of God-knows-what.
It was all very picturesque as a full-on sunset came. You’d really love it there if you like practicing light and shadow skills on a camera.
As the island slowly vanished on our boat ride back to the town proper, we wondered in silence what it would be like to spend the night there. Just one night wrapped in tent on an abandoned island with nothing but blackness overhead and the sound of waves to accompany the ringing in our ears from the absurdity of silence.
Upon our return from Palawan, a traveler friend of ours told us of their own group’s supposed ghost sightings on their trip there.
Belle: Do you think they really did see something?
Jake: You don’t want to know the answer to that.