Legal Aliens

This last week has been jam-packed with activities for the GUI fellows. We’ve participated in several resort events, traveled through Palawan, applied for legal residency, and have eaten so much delicious Filipino food. Since my last blog, I’ve learned so much about what it takes to be an ethical business in a developing country and how to implement sustainability on a large scale. El Nido will always be to me a place of joy because of the learning, the conservation, and the kindness of the community.

The community has been particularly instrumental in one of our fellow’s summer projects this week. Shine partnered with members of local schools, resort employees (shout out to Doc Jerika!), and the frisbee team Discartes to put on a frisbee tournament. The tournament is a weekly event that takes place on Lio Beach, a part of the Ayalaland tourism estate, in conjunction with the Lio version of a farmer’s market, the Taboan. The Taboan is an initiative of the Ayala Foundation Incorporated (AFI) which allows women from local communities to come to the estate to sell food, clothing, and other goods. AFI provides the tables and transportation to and from the venue free of charge. Shine was interested in promoting the Taboan with another event designed to engage the community and the guests who visit the estate. Because of the strong network of frisbee players in the community, he pinpointed frisbee tournaments as a way to get people involved. On Saturday, after weeks of work, the first event took place. The fellows were all given tasks for the event, from signing kids in to assistant coaching. Around 45 people signed up for the inaugural event and watching how excited everyone was to be playing was a highlight of the week!

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Above: One of the kids from the community enjoys frisbee on the beach!

On Sunday, we spent the day at Family Fun Day, an annual event for the employees and their families to come together for employee awards, music, and most importantly, food. The fellows were also part of the entertainment: we danced with one of the Environmental Officers Estefania to Mas Macarena, a Zumba song that involves some of your traditional Macarena moves and some Zumba add-ons. If there is one thing I’m both terrified of and terrible at, it’s choreographed dances. I bumbled my way through it, though, and then had a blast celebrating with the families! The resort management brought in a Jollibee mascot to dance with the kids and it was honestly one of the most hilarious moments of my trip! The kids went crazy for Jollibee, taking pictures, dancing, and eating fried chicken. Bayley, one of the fellows, also joined the very talented musicians that work at the resort for a concert for us all. All in all, we were excited to spend the day as a part of the ENR family in Lio!

Family Fun Day

The team post-dancing

Monday was our day off, and was extremely rainy, so we didn’t really do too much, especially because we were leaving for Puerto Princesa at 3 the next morning. When our alarms went off at 2:45 AM, we hopped out of bed and into a pretty rocky van ride that morning. It was worth the bumps, though, because Puerto Princesa was so interesting. The morning was spent at the Yamang Bukid farm, an enterprise dedicated to retraining barangay members who worked as illegal loggers through the transition to farming. In addition to the retraining, they also incorporate philanthropy initiatives to provide educational assistance and equipment for people with disabilities. We had one of my top breakfasts in the Philippines from food produced on the farm after the tour! After hoping back in our van after breakfast, we headed to Puerto Princesa proper to go to the mall and secure a visa extension. Although we missed the cutoff for the visa extension the first day (the system stopped processing payments earlier in the day), we stocked up on things that we’d been needing at the mall before heading to dinner, where we ate enough to feed a small barangay.

On Wednesday, Han arranged a meeting with the Tubbataha staff. The Tubbataha Reef is a protected marine site off of Puerto Princesa with some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs and rarest marine species. The reefs and atolls are a UNESCO world heritage site and can only be visited by dive boat. There is one small ranger station with two rangers on site with the rest of the staff concentrated in the Tubbataha Reefs management office. The superintendent, Angelique Songco, or Mama Ranger to her staff, has worked to conserve Tubbataha for the last 17 years, creating a network of people committed to preserving the area along the way. It’s inspiring to see someone who has committed so much to a project, and to see activism in conjunction with implementation. In the afternoon, Han toured us around Puerto, where we got to see not only the tourist sites, but also where she grew up!

Thursday’s activity was one of the things I was most looking forward to: the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR)! It’s one of the longest underground rivers that is accessible to the public. We canoed into the cave, and along the 30-minute ride, saw some of the most magnificent caves in the world. The Cathedral Chamber of the cave contained rock formations rock formations that resembled the Last Supper, the virgin Mary, and so much more. PPUR also contains a large contingent of swiftlets and bats, which were swooping around as we toured the cave. Because the bats used echolocation to find their way around the caves, you are instructed to ride in the cave silently, while an audio device and headphones are provided to give you the cave tour. After our incredible tour, we headed back to El Nido, grateful that we’d been able to see this UNESCO site.

Puerto

Shine, Bayley, and I at the Plaza Cuartel in Puerto Princesa

Today, we’re back to our standard working schedule. It’s nice to return to our routines, and we’ll be headed back to the resorts tomorrow to do more project work. The final projects are starting to wrap up, and it’s slowly dawning on all of us that we’re leaving in two short weeks. However, there’s still so much to be done, so we’re excited to continue to get to work!

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