Hours wrought with anxiety as we, a group of nine, sat agitated in a dark room over the glow of several phone screens. To which resorts would we each be assigned? The question that had been eating at all of our minds for many days was about to be answered.
It was Sunday night, the end of a relaxing weekend. On Monday morning, we were to be deployed in small groups to the four island resorts owned by Ten Knots Development Corporation (Apulit, Miniloc, Lagen, and Pangulasian). We had been tasked with the mission to gain an understanding of resort operations, the eco-tourism experience, and the environmental issues facing each property. But, how to focus on work when the more pressing matter of ‘where will we be living the next few days’ weighed heavily upon us?
Finally, our group director, Han (the sole person responsible for our state of painful anticipation), released the placements : Annie B., Kamar, and Nikki to Apulit; Lin and Annie C. to Miniloc; Giorgi and Ty to Lagen; and Job and myself (Sam) to Pangulasian. The quiet house in which we live erupted into cheering, splitting open the silent jungle to reveal our excitement of finally having peace of mind. Apparently, we were all content enough with the way the cards had fallen. Off to sleep we went to rest for the coming early morning boat ride to our new homes.
5:30AM – After a night of inadequate sleeping hours, we awoke to prepare ourselves for departure. Rummaging through our rooms to stuff packs full of clothing, brushing our teeth at a sink with a line of five waiting their turn, avoiding the large gecko glued to the ceiling above the front door: all a regular morning at our quaint mountain home.
7:30AM – We arrived at Lio Beach to separate in the direction of our respective islands. We could see from the van that the waves were choppy. The last three days had seen the passing of a typhoon. It had cancelled our Sunday plans with a water activity ban and now threatened to cancel the coming days for which we were all excited. Mother Nature operates on her own schedule.
8:00AM – Some bad news was born from an announcement that only a speed boat would suffice for our passage across the bay. The news would not have been so bad had there been a fleet of boats numbering more than three. Alas, some of us were destined to wait in a limbo that foreshadowed the many difficulties to come during our days ahead.
8:15AM – The Apulit group left by car for the opposite side of Palawan. The Miniloc group was also quick to hop off the pier and into a speed boat. But, the Lagen and Pangulasian groups remained at Lio for some time.
12:00PM – Once arrived, the Miniloc team dove right into their pink staff uniforms and began their mission by exploring the resort facilities and operations with the Environmental Officer (EO), Ms. B. The Lagen team met up with Ms. Han, the island EO, and eased their way into labor. The Apulit group joined with their EO, Maxine, but work, they did not do. I saw photos of sunbathing and swimsuits… to this day I wonder what went wrong. Meanwhile, the Pangulasian team, Job and myself, lay stranded in the hot sun because a boat was not yet available for our journey. As I waited, dehydration setting in, hunger scratching at my stomach, I began to hallucinate a speed boat screeching across the horizon. My mind was hopeful, but to no avail. Mother Nature held me in her grasp.
5:00PM – Three of the teams have had half-days of work by this hour. Job and I, however, only just arrived. Finally, we had escaped limbo, but we were not yet free of fate’s pernicious snare. Job’s first steps on the island of Pangulasian sent him hurtling head first into a jagged limestone rock. Luckily, his steel water bottle broke the fall and he was alright. Mother Nature had spared him once.
The first day set the precedent for most of our island stays : a motley crew of old-teens and young-adults attempting to navigate the hiccups of life in the working world of an island territory. Our navigation was less than graceful. To begin with, our youngest, Nikki, so full of adventure, deeply wounded her heel on a rusty pole while cliff diving in Apulit (working?).
Then, whilst snorkeling in Apulit (again, working?), our dearest Kamar found himself sinking beneath the rough surf. Our resident master intern Annie B., a 26 year old 4k swim race finisher, sprung into action. Through a cloud of jellyfish she swam to pull Kamar from the water. What heroism for which we thank her. But, what terror Mother Nature had cursed upon team Apulit.
Miles away on Lagen, ‘Sweet Giorgi’, as she is sometimes referred to, was stung by an insect while hiking through the woods. Twenty minutes later, her hand and face puffed like a marshmallow forcing her to waddle back to the staff housing for a recovery nap. Despite the severity of her allergic reaction, for which she was properly treated by the resort health clinic, Giorgi was in high spirits because she claimed her puffy hand was more than comfortable to rest her head upon while sleeping.
Finally, the greatest tragedy of all, I (Sam) was sitting on a remote beach on the far end of Pangulasian island while Job snorkeled over the reef in front of me. Absorbed in my fear of entering the water with him (I had watched the shark movie, The Shallows, the night before), I did not notice the gang of island monkeys approaching from the forest behind.
All of a sudden, the hair on the nape of my neck stood straight up to alert me of the monkey gang stealing our belongs only ten meters to my right. Horror coursed through my veins when I ran in the direction of the nearly-human beasts only to realize that one had my phone in his grubby little hands. The thief sat smugly on the beach as I sprinted forward to catch him. With one leap he disappeared into wooded area, out of my reach, and with my precious phone. Frantically, I searched for one hour until, with nothing left to do, I knelt down in the sand at the foot of the wild nature and let out a scream so loud that birds rustled in the tree tops. Mother Nature had defeated me.
Despite tragedy, our stays in the island resorts were beyond informative. We learned the ins and outs of running a remote hospitality center by visiting the massive generators, the waste management facilities, the desalination processors, and the Materials Recovery Facilities (trash sorting centers). Never had we imagined the labor necessary to keep afloat an enjoyable experience for resort guests.
Each group was paired with an EO; Team Pangulsian had Estefania. Having moved from Colombia to the Philippines for the job, she was extremely passionate to share with Job and myself the beauty of the island. We went on a sunrise hike to the top of the island mountain. We encountered wildlife, such as monitor lizards and endemic bird species, but never another monkey. And, we went scuba diving to clean up ocean-floor plastics.
We later learned that other groups had had similar experiences that allowed them to appreciate the nature of the islands while also understanding the reasons for which a guest is attracted to El Nido Resorts. Mother Nature can be beautiful aside from harsh.
On a note of stricter business, every group met with the department heads from each island resort. Ranging from Accounting to Engineering to Food & Beverage, there was plenty of perspective to be gained simply in conversation with those knowledgable on the subject of ecotourism and environmental responsibility.
Overall, our separate island experiences seemed relatively comparable. The only major difference we noticed in the tourist profiles of each resort. Those attracted to Pangulasian and Lagen seemed to be looking for rest, relaxation, and/or privacy; whereas, Apulit and Miniloc guest were those inclined toward days filled with adventure and discovery. Either way, we were able to better understand the psychology of the guests more thoroughly in a manner that will allow us to specifically target each demographic in the larger context of our final communication platform that will serve to disseminate information on the environmental conservation of El Nido.
Our final day working with the island resorts brought us all back together to tour the island hot-spots and to conduct interviews amongst the crowds of people. Little did we realize how much we had missed our cohesive single group which had not been separate since arrival four weeks prior. During our day, we spoke with Filipino and Chinese families, European couples, and Australian solo travelers. The conversations all seemed to be the same. Much to our surprise, few were bothered by the great number of tourists crowding the natural spaces and none were aware that El Nido is a Protected Area.
Needless to say, our goal over the next six weeks will be to develop a platform that will effectively communicate to the tourist population the environmental mission of El Nido : one of conservation and responsible tourism alike before the region’s natural beauty is completely decimated by high-traffic and pollution. We would be proud to mold a tourist’s love for natural beauty into the initiative to preserve and protect what they experience.
Our difficult experiences are no indication of the environment’s ability to protect itself from humanity. We have the power to destroy our planet, which means that we should also have the power to sustain it. Despite allergic reactions, near drownings, wounds, and stolen phones, we interns are dedicated to aiding the preservation of beautiful El Nido and hope to plant the seed of responsibility in many others that will harmonize our relationships with Mother Nature once more.