Island Life Begins

Brian here. It was transition week. It began halfway across the Pacific Ocean in Anchorage, Alaska where I boarded a plane that would spend the next twenty hours flying me to Manila.

We spent the few days that we had the city touring Manila’s offerings. We taxied through the endless traffic turmoil to tour Ten Knots Group’s head office, explored Manila’s historical district on foot, and sampled the local cuisine.

The trans-Pacific flight was only the first leg of many more miles we would travel over the coming days. On May 28, we boarded an early-morning AirSwift flight to El Nido. We took off as the sun rose over Manila. I napped peacefully in my aisle seat, sleeping through the scenery.

Your 2019 GUIxENR cohort


I woke up in a different world. Striking, gray cliffs divided the blue water from the treetops that covered the ground. Islands dotted the ocean into the distance. The morning air was pure. The rising sun cast a golden hue on the concrete runway as we stepped off of the plane.

We took a golf cart on a winding dirt road through the jungle towards Lio Tourism Estate, a developing pseudocity surrounded by forest and our home for the next twenty-four hours. We settled in and spent the rest of the day touring the property and the El Nido town, and meeting resort staff.

Ziyue, smiling


I woke up early the next day in Hotel Covo Room 118 next to Ziyue. Today, we would transition to our assigned resorts, located on smaller, more remote islands. I walked around the waterfront with a cup of coffee to pass the time and, when everyone was awake, ate a breakfast of sausage, white rice, and red and yellow watermelon. Work began at 9:00 AM. We met with Han to clarify our project directions and identify areas for improvement.

I’ll be developing partnerships for community-based ecobusinesses. I’ll spend the next eight weeks involving the El Nido community in the enterprises of El Nido Resorts, creating activities for guests or marketing goods in resort boutiques that promote ecologically sustainable practices within the local community and bring guests closer to the cultural and environmental offerings of El Nido. My goal is to create business opportunities for locals, business opportunities that are profitable for the El Nido community and profitable for the resorts, opportunities that are profitable through their sustainability while simultaneously enhancing the guest experience.

There is work to be done in sustainable business enterprises here in El Nido. I have no doubt our tasks will challenge us all. Part of that challenge, I have come to realize, is understanding the confusing confluence of government corruption, environmental wealth, and business’s place between the two. There is a unique cultural and regulatory environment to the ecotourism sector of El Nido that requires a level of understanding to operate effectively within it. The lines between the public and the private sector are blurred. El Nido Resorts has, in many areas, taken over the service provision the government should, but has failed to, provide.

After lunch, Ziyue, Hanniel, and I boarded a large, dual-outrigger bound for Lagen Island. The cliffs, soaring even from a distance, rose up in front of us as we approached. Lagen Resort appeared as we made our final approach, nestled into a sandy, narrow cove guarded by a freestanding spire of rock and a thick atmosphere of serenity.

We arrive at Lagen Island


We checked in to the staff house, our quarters for the remainder of our time in the Philippines. It’s a multi-level concrete complex hidden discretely in the forest seventy-five steps above the north-wing guest water cottages. I’m sharing a room with two head cooks on the second floor.

Settled in, we played a fierce game of basketball against other staff. We won, barely. Rematches will be in store.

Lagen’s stillness is nearly unbreakable. Ziyue and I arrived in Lagen on the back end of high season, so many of the rooms are unoccupied. As a result, guest sightings are few and far between. For the most part, it’s just the staff and us, surrounded by the extraordinary island geography and piercing blue water of Bacuit Bay. Bird calls and forest sounds dominate the airwaves.

The people are, of course, exceedingly welcoming. We’ve been on Lagen but two days and already we feel at home. Our time so far has been filled with department meetings, project work, and tours of the island’s onshore and offshore offerings with Chad and Lover, Lagen guides. Hanniel, Ms. Marigs, and the Lagen staff have done an extraordinary job of making us feel like family here. Their kindness is another reminder I have of how lucky we are to be here.

This is only the beginning of the long journey we have ahead. We’ve already come so far and seen so much, but I’m looking forward to the things to be learned, the questions to be asked and answered, the friendship to be forged, the people to meet, the places to see, the problems to solve, and the ice cream to eat.



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