El Nido: my forever place

Have you ever been to a place and fell absolutely, irrevocably in love? How about a place that changed your life forever? A place that no matter where you went to next, you’d end up coming back to over and over again? El Nido in Palawan is my forever place.

01 bacuit bay view from tapiutan_Macy Anonuevo

The view from the top.

El Nido and I had our first date in early 2006, when I visited to see if I truly wanted to commit to living and working there. In hindsight, it wasn’t a fair fight. How was I supposed to make an unbiased decision when confronted with limestone cliffs so high that my neck hurt when I looked up, skies bluer than Paul Walker’s eyes, and water so clear that I could see all the way to the corals at the bottom? Of course I said yes.

06 snorkeling by Raymond Ranit

This is happiness right here.

Our first relationship lasted from most of 2007 to 2008, with me leaving in September 2008 to go to graduate school. El Nido and I didn’t have time to miss each other though, as I visited several times throughout 2010 to 2011 to do fieldwork for my master’s thesis. Like coming back to a boyfriend you just can’t quit, I came back to El Nido full-time from 2011 to 2013, with me leaving (for good? maybe) in September 2013 to focus on my thesis and (finally!) finish my master’s degree. I’ve only been back once since then but El Nido is never far from my thoughts.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that El Nido changed my life. El Nido’s responsible for a lot of firsts.

My first baby sea turtle! This was taken back in 2008 but it’s still one of my favorite photos ever.

02 baby hawksbill

My first whale shark! The photo’s lousy but I promise you that that mass of white spots is a three-meter long whale shark (a baby!) beneath the surface. The pier guard called my office and said “Miss Macy, may butanding sa pantalan! [There’s a whale shark at the pier!]”. I ran to the pier and jumped into the water without changing out of my work uniform and without prepping a proper underwater camera. I regret nothing.

03 whale shark

My first climb up a cliff! We explored Ille Cave and Rockshelter in Dewil Valley, New Ibajay, a cave complex where the first tiger bones (Panthera tigris) in Palawan were found. I’m not good with heights and sharp rocks but I climbed to the top of the cliff anyway. The view was worth it.

04 el nido cliffs

El Nido was also where I found my purpose. I was a BS Biology graduate who didn’t know what to do with herself. I knew I wanted to stay in the sciences but I also knew that I didn’t want to go into academia nor into medicine. El Nido came at the right time and offered me the chance to stay in the sciences but in a more casual setting. I shared El Nido’s wonders with tourists, tour guides and other resorts staff, and members of the local community. I may have ruined quite a few childhoods when I told them that Nemo’s dad Marlin should have changed sex and become his mom Marlene after his mom Crystal was eaten by the barracuda. I also got to combine science with the “fun” aspects of my life, like writing and acting. A clutch of hawksbill sea turtle eggs hatching became the first episode of “Enchanting El Nido”, an environmental education webseries I started. El Nido also inspired me to take photography more seriously, which resulted in one of the biggest non-academic achievements of my career:

RTA 2013 announcement poster

I was invited to attend the awarding ceremony in London during World Travel Mart but alas, they wouldn’t shoulder my expenses and I couldn’t afford to go on my own.

El Nido wasn’t always fun and sunshine. For one thing, it can get quite lonely on a tiny island full of people. I was away from my family and friends for extended periods of time, often running myself ragged during my days off in Manila just so I could spend more time with more people. But despite the hardships, everything that happened in El Nido and the people that I met along the way helped shaped me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t trade my time in El Nido for anything.

Macy with a turtle - Bobbit SuntayOh hai there friend! Screencap from a video by Bobbit Suntay.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

This week’s photo challenge revolves around the theme “Sea”. If ever there were a perfect photo challenge for this blog, this would be it. So what does the sea mean to me?

The sea means meeting things head-on. Yes, even that oncoming wave.

01 waves

The sea means going with the flow. Every day is an adventure.

02 walking

The sea means looking at the bigger picture. When you’re stuck, take a step back and reassess.

03 islands

The sea means having fun!

04 pips

The sea means taking care of the environment that sustains us all.

05 cleanup

And finally, the sea means embracing life. There’s so much to see and so much to do!

06 airport view

What does it mean to win Tourism for Tomorrow?

miniloc team with announcement

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are one of the highest accolades in the travel and tourism industry. The Awards were established to highlight and promote sustainable tourism best practices worldwide. On behalf of the company, my boss received the Tourism for Tomorrow 2013 Award for the Community Benefit category last April 9, 2013 during the WTTC’s 13th Global Summit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The Philippines is ahead of Abu Dhabi by a few time zones so I actually found out that we won at around 12:15 am on April 10. My boss posted the simple status message “We. Won.” and a photo of the trophy. A flurry of internal screaming (my roommate was asleep and would have killed me if I woke her up), furious tweets and retweets, and Facebook shares later, I called Aids and said “We won.” Took me another hour and a few games of Temple Run to slow my brain so that I could sleep. A good couple of hours later, the sun is up and I’m back at work but my brain is still on a high. Luckily, my Facebook and Twitter contacts have been very patient and understanding about my endless posts about our company winning the award. Why is winning Tourism for Tomorrow such a big deal?

TFT 2013 trophy
Of course my boss took a picture of the trophy ๐Ÿ˜€
  • It’s recognition. Sustainable tourism is only now just getting off the ground in the Philippines but our company has been at it since we opened 31 years ago as a dive camp in Miniloc Island. It’s not easy to do – just ask my boss! – so recognition that we’re an industry leader is always welcome. As an industry leader, we hope to become a case study for how to grow a tourism business without sacrificing the foundation of the business – the environment and the local community.
  • It’s validation. We already know that we’re doing the right thing – hiring locally, investing in staff training, protecting the environment, and supporting local businesses – but having an outside party composed of international experts agree with us is still pretty cool.
  • It’s more promotion for us. Hey, we’re a business after all. Increased media exposure for us means (hopefully!) more guests. More guests means more staff, more local purchases, and more funding to continue what we’re doing. We wouldn’t have been able to install mooring buoys around Bacuit Bay in the 1990s if we didn’t have any money. More guests means more students of sustainable tourism. I’m also hoping that as a result of the promotional blitz for our win, we get more guests who chose to spend their holidays with us because of what we’re doing.

The Boss is asking us to plan a victory party. It’s going to take some doing since we have to coordinate with the resorts, ITI, TKP, and our partners in the local community. It’ll be worth it though because we’re going to celebrate a win that was 31 years in the making ๐Ÿ™‚

It's easy to be awesome when you're surrounded by equally awesome people :)
It’s easy to be awesome when you’re surrounded by equally awesome people ๐Ÿ™‚ Rima and Mavs aren’t in the photo. We miss you guys!!!

Fishies and phoneography

First off, a big WHOOHOO!!! for being included in The Daily Post’s phoneography favorites for March! The staff chose my “My Neighborhood” post to include in the roundup of their favorite entries. It always feel good to be recognized ๐Ÿ™‚

Second: one good thing about working in an island resort is that the water is only a couple of meters away ๐Ÿ™‚ Beat the summer heat this afternoon by diving our house reef. I used having to download my water temperature sensor data as an excuse. Heehee. That and I volunteered to take photos of one of our guests doing his Bubblemaker course ๐Ÿ™‚ Aside from taking pictures of a 9-year-old during his first scuba experience, I also got to take some pretty good pictures of our resident bigeye scad (Selar crumenopthalmus). Swimming through a school of fish who totally ignored my presence was a surreal experience. I tried moving away so that I could take better wide-angle photos but nothing doing. The water was just too shallow and the school was just too big!

Fish in the light

Window through the darkness

Just might become one of my all-time favorite photos.

I said on Facebook that I wish I had extra-clear water for that perfect shot. Jayvee said that the water was already pretty clear. It was pretty clear but you could still see some backscatter. He said I should get strobes. I said he should give me the money for them ๐Ÿ˜›

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

Can I just say how much I LOVE this theme? Because seriously. FOOD! I love food! Our family’s life literally revolves around food. I love smelling it, I love watching people cook, and most of all, I love eating it! Confession time: I don’t cook ๐Ÿ˜› This week’s phoneography challenge was to document “lunchtime”. Another confession: I don’t like taking pictures of cooked food. Once food is served on the table, it’s meant to be eaten. I give the Glare of Death whenever my dining companions make me wait while they use their smartphones to take photos of our food. So how do you document “lunchtime” without taking photos of your lunch? By taking photos of what goes in it, of course!

The resort I work for grows its own salad greens! We have around eight greenhouses on the Palawan mainland where we grow Red Rapid lettuce, Curly Green lettuce, and arugula. These are the baby lettuce. Give them 30 days and they’re good to harvest and serve!
03 growing lettuce

We also prefer to buy locally caught fish. Of course, the fish shouldn’t be of the endangered variety and should have been caught using passive gear, like nets and fishing lines. I took this photo while this fish was being delivered to us.
02 fresh fish

And finally, we also have an organic farm! This is where we grow string beans, eggplant, bitter gourd, tomatoes, watermelon, sweet melon, mangoes, and lots and lots of other goodies and yes, pineapples too!
01 growing pineapple

What does your lunch look like? ๐Ÿ™‚

Phoneography challenge: my neighborhood

So this week’s photography challenge is “My Neighborhood”. To make it even more interesting, all the photos should have been taken using a mobile phone. At present, my “neighborhood” for most of the month is Bacuit Bay in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines. It’s got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. They say that the best camera is the one that you have with you, and my iPhone 4S hasn’t left my side since I bought it last year. So behold – Bacuit Bay as seen through a smartphone’s lens ๐Ÿ™‚

The view from up top (Matinloc Island). This was taken using the iPhone’s Panorama option.
[minor tweaks in levels using Photoshop CS6]

The view from up top (Matinloc Island)

Same view, different boat and focus (Matinloc Island, El Nido)
[minor tweaks in levels using Photoshop CS6]

Same view, different boat and focus (Matinloc Island, El Nido)

Miniloc Island Resort’s water cottages (Miniloc Island, El Nido)
[minor tweaks using Snapseed]

Miniloc Island Resort's water cottages (Miniloc Island, El Nido)

Breakfast for two at the Miniloc Island Resort clubhouse (Miniloc Island, El Nido)
[minor tweaks using Snapseed]

Breakfast for two at the Miniloc Island Resort clubhouse (Miniloc Island, El Nido)

Outrigger boat – the only way to travel (Bacuit Bay, El Nido)
[no editing]

Outrigger boat - the only way to travel (Bacuit Bay, El Nido)

Bacuit Bay as seen from the seat of a kayak, taken using the iPhone’s Panorama mode (Bacuit Bay, El Nido)
[no editing]

Bacuit Bay as seen from the seat of a kayak, taken using the iPhone's Panorama mode (Bacuit Bay, El Nido)

What does your neighborhood look like? ๐Ÿ™‚