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.


The pros and cons of the GCash American Express Virtual Pay

gcash amex

The premise of the Globe GCash American Express virtual card is pretty simple: for a P250 annual subscription fee, GCash gives you a virtual United States-based American Express credit card that’s funded by your GCash Wallet. You can then use the virtual credit card and its accompanying details (credit card number, security code, and expiry date and US-based billing and shipping address and telephone number) to shop at websites that don’t ship to the Philippines. The US address is offered in partnership with My Shopping Box, a company that accepts packages on your behalf and ships them to your Philippine address for an additional fee. Now, the GCash American Express virtual card is NOT new – it was launched last October 2012 – but this was my first time to use it.

How to register and how it works:

Here are the pros and cons based on my experience so far:

The good:
1. It works! I’ve already used it twice and it really does work like a credit card. However, please note that I had the packages sent to my aunt instead of MSB so I can’t comment on MSB just yet. The peso equivalent is deducted real-time from your GCash wallet.

EDIT: I have since used My Shopping Box to deliver several orders. I would only recommend using MSB if you are shipping small, high value items via air. Their rates for sea cargo are okay but they take a very, very long time to deliver. Most sea freight forwarders take 30-40 days to deliver to Metro Manila. In comparison, MSB takes 50++ days. My last sea delivery order left the US on December 15 and I received it on February 8.

The cons:
1. The GCash dollar-peso exchange rate is hideously high. The first time I used it, their exchange rate was $1 = PhP 46 compared to the BPI MasterCard rate of PhP 44. This problem was fixed by my third transaction, when their rate was “only” 50 centavos higher than BPI MasterCard. I hope this remains the case and was not a fluke.

2. The card and your transactions may get flagged as possible fraud and canceled. This happened during my second order with the same website. My first order worth $100 went through just fine. However, my second order worth $440 was flagged and canceled. This was because the card’s US billing address did not match my IP address, which was obviously in the Philippines. I got around this by placing my order via phone (and paying international call rates) instead of ordering online. Now, I’m not sure if the card number is permanently flagged and thus unusable or if they flag on a per-order basis. Sigh.

My tip: keep the order total low. If you can afford to, break it up into several smaller orders.

3. In the event of order cancellation, the credit back to your GCash Wallet is INFURIATINGLY SLOW. MY GAWD. Remember how my $440 order got canceled? I couldn’t fault the website because they were only protecting themselves from fraud. Their customer service agent was very helpful and was the one who suggested that I place my orders via phone in the future. However, I WILL and CAN fault GCash and Globe for their fucked-up system that takes 3 FREAKING MONTHS to credit back MY MONEY. The GCash funds were deducted the second I clicked “Check Out” but Globe is going to take 3 FREAKING MONTHS to credit back the funds after my order was canceled. HOLY HELL.

So yes, take note.

Overall, the GCash American Express virtual card is definitely a nice thing to have for as long as nothing goes wrong. Once something goes south… good luck with that.