El Nido hugots in Mantle Magazine

El Nido’s one of my favorite things to write about because it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. So when I was approached by the wonderful editors of Mantle Magazine (oh hai friends Rej and Dante) to write about the El Nido experience, I quickly accepted. The catch? I had to write about El Nido’s development as a tourism destination.

El Nido town’s waterfront in 2018

The full article is available on Mantle’s website. Yes, I kept the title from my previous blog post because I really liked it.

Writing this was both easy and heartbreaking. Easy because it’s a topic I know well and once I got the outline and supporting statistics figured out, I hammered out the thing in two days. Heartbreaking because I had to put my experience to paper (err, keyboard?) and describe both the good and the bad that comes from increased tourism to a place that isn’t ready for it.

Tourism is often trotted out as the solution for funding protected areas, but that’s a simplistic answer. A destination can go after fewer but higher spending tourists, but that means only the rich get to experience the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from traveling and learning. But lower the price too much and you overwhelm the destination with an unsustainable number of visitors. How do we ensure that the local community benefits from increased tourism? How do we ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place? In short, how do we ensure visitor satisfaction and safety while protecting the environment that they came here to see?

There are no easy answers, but answering it needs the cooperation of the local government, community, businesses, and the tourists themselves.

El Nido, after all this time

I finally returned to El Nido, Palawan last June 2018 after three years away. The last time I was there was back in 2015 when I helped train DENR personnel in coral reef monitoring methods. At least this time, I was back for a vacation with the husband and some of our friends โค๏ธ

I’d like to credit AirSwift’s New Year’s Day sale as the reason we were able to afford to fly directly into El Nido. Yes, the sale started at 12:00 midnight on January 1, 2018. Thank you also to our hosts, Patrick and Cindy, for understanding why I brought a laptop to their NYE party.

In all honesty, it’s taken this long to write about the El Nido trip because I wasn’t sure what to write. Coming back after practically living there for six years then being MIA since 2015 meant that I watched El Nido change through a screen, with my Facebook feed filled with posts from friends who had grown up there and friends who decided to move there. I watched El Nido turn into a crowded tourist destination, with all the good and ilk that comes with it. It was conflicting to see friends proudly start their own businesses alongside seeing the trash and pollution piling up in an unprepared town. I wasn’t sure how I felt then, and I’m not sure how I feel now. Continue reading “El Nido, after all this time”

Three nights in Manhattan

“The City That Never Sleeps” certainly showcased why it got its nickname in the scant few days that I was in New York City for work. For three nights (I don’t count the first one because I arrived at my hostel at 9pm, dead-tired from a trans-Pacific flight), I returned to my hostel past 9pm because there was always something to see, even at the late hour.

First night: outside Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral

We started walking from Instituto Cervantes on E 40th St towards Times Square (where a co-delegate was meeting his aunt) on W 46th St, but with a slight detour to pass by Grand Central Station on E 42nd St. It sounded near enough in my head, forgetting to take into account the width of NYC’s blocks.

We didn’t have the time to enter Grand Central Terminal (I did that the next day) but even seeing just the outside was enough. Continue reading “Three nights in Manhattan”

Touring Manhattan in 12 hours

Before I start, please note that allocating only one day to see Manhattan is absolutely ridiculous. There’s just so much to see and do that you can easily spend three days or more just in Manhattan, not to mention the rest of New York City.ย However, I was in NYC for work and had only one free day between meetings and had no way to extend my stay, so making the most of that one full day was imperative.

Part of what made this itinerary work was basing out of Manhattan already. I stayed in the Vanderbilt YMCA and had a mostly good experience, except for a major grievance that resulted from Front Desk not talking to Security. I started this itinerary at 9 am, but I would have had to start it much earlier if I weren’t in Manhattan already.

Stop 1: St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I passed St. Patrick’s at night on my 2nd day and took photos (of course), but it’s still something else to see it in the daytime. The architecture just amazed me. It felt weird to take photos inside the church but the staff said it was okay. Still only took a few though. Also managed to squeeze in some quiet time.

Continue reading “Touring Manhattan in 12 hours”

WWF-Philippines’ Green Wanderer travel fair: the good and the areas for improvement

Tourism is the biggest industry in the world, providing 10% of global GDP and 1 out of 10 jobs in 2016. It’s also big on GHG emissions, producing 5% of global GHG. Considering that tourism contributed 8.6% of the Philippines’ GDP in 2016 AND the Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate change, WWF-Philippines’ Green Wanderer travel fair held last August 11-13, 2017 at Bonifacio High Street Central Square Mall couldn’t have come at a better time. And yes, this also means that this blog post is very, very late.

I attended the second day specifically for the Sustainability Forum (yes, I woke up at 7am on a Saturday) and the talk by Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort . The panelists for the Sustainability Forum were Joel Palma (WWF-Philippines President and CEO), Josephine Alcantara-Cruz (mayor of Donsol, Sorsogon), Anton Diaz (founder of the travel blog Our Awesome Planet), Deanne Bibat (Executive Producer of the travel show Biyahe ni Drew), and Alexa Cancio and Nikki Huang (WWF-Philippines National Youth Council members).

My favorite part of the forum was Mayor Jo sharing Donsol’s keys to success. During his presentation, Joel Palma said that for sustainable tourism to succeed, it needs visitor satisfaction (no one’s going to come back or recommend it to their friends if they aren’t happy with it), environmental protection (no protection means you’ll lose what tourists come to see in the first place), and benefits to the community. This was seen in Donsol, as Mayor Jo credits their success to their whale shark ecotourism being Community-Based, Legislation, Environmental-friendliness, the Adaptability of the community, and iNnovation (CLEAN). In Donsol, the community receives 85% of the tourism revenue. The definition of “ecotourism stakeholders” was also expanded to include transportation companies and businesses, not just the boat operators, tour guides, and hotels. Legislation means that everything is controlled and institutionalized. In the worlds of Mayor Jo, the LGU is the “taga-puna” (the critic) and “taga-puno” (the one who fills [needs]). Any new tours or activities in Donsol are screened to ensure that they don’t harm the environment. The community was also able to adapt to tourism as an alternative livelihood, with assistance from WW-Philippines. And lastly, innovation means that they never stop learning.

As for the challenges that Donsol faces, Mayor Jo mentioned three: nature, politics, and culture. Whale sharks are migratory so they’re only in Donsol for six months of the year [me: that means they need to develop another product for the off-season]. Politics also factors in because projects implemented by the current administration aren’t always continued by the succeeding administration. As for culture, Donsol is fighting hard to maintain its culture despite the influx of foreign visitors. An example of this is the increasing demand for nightlife spots, but the LGU has consistently shot down those requests in order to keep the town quiet at night.

Anton Diaz shared some tips on how to be a sustainable traveler. Did you know that Oslob, Cebu (where whale sharks are fed) has 10x the tourism income as Donsol? THAT SUCKS. As for why that sucks, let me enumerate everything that’s wrong with Oslob’s model:

  1. Fed whale sharks stay in Oslob longer than non-fed sharks. One whale shark was seen for 572 days! This is bad because whale sharks are migratory. Staying in one place shrinks the gene pool and hello, inbreeding!
  2. The whale sharks stay at the surface for longer periods of time when they’re not supposed to. This means they get overheated so they dive very deep to cool off then go back to the surface.
  3. Because they stay at the surface for longer periods, the whale sharks are more exposed to boats and they get HURT.

In the same study, scientists observed propeller scars in 47% of the whale sharks they saw.

During the Q&A, Mayor Jo was asked what she would change about Oslob should she become mayor there. Her response? She’d change how tourists interact with the whale sharks. Bravo Ma’am!

Anton Diaz shared his tips on how to become a sustainable traveler. They were:

  1. Fight apathy.
  2. Support social enterprises.
  3. Book sustainable accommodations.
  4. Patronize products from the community.
  5. Experience sustainable adventures.
  6. Choose stand-up paddle tours.
  7. Use electric tricycles.
  8. Eat in local places.
  9. Explore cultural heritage sites.
  10. Fight against animal abuse.

While this list is a good starting point, I feel like it lacks context in some parts. Things are not black and white.

  1. Small businesses and social enterprises are not necessarily sustainable in the same way that big businesses are not inherently unsustainable. A large resort with its own sewage treatment plant is more environmentally responsible than a dozen mom-and-pop inns that discharge their sewage straight into the ocean. A restaurant chain with a firm and fully implemented “no sharks’ fin” policy is more sustainable than a social enterprise that makes sharks fin dumplings.
  2. While vehicles are the largest source of air pollution in the Philippines, using electric tricycles would only contribute towards decreasing pollution if they were charged using renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal. If they’re powered using coal, you’re just moving the pollutants from the road to the power plant. Burning coal to produce electricity also produces more CO2 compared to just burning gasoline directly.

As with all things sustainability, one should look at the whole picture and not just one angle.

I was supposed to stay until the afternoon for the talk by Daluyon Resort but since I was lucky enough to get a mini one-on-one interview with Kim, the Marketing Head of Daluyon at their booth, I decided to skip it.

I haven’t been to Daluyon but what Kim showed me was impressive. They’ve invested in an MRF, solar power (not all of their rooms have them, though), an organic vegetable farm, and bicycles available for guests to use. They also offer a bike loan program to the staff, where staffers can avail of an interest-free loan for one year to buy a bike for commuting to work. They’ve also made an effort to promote eco-friendly tours, such as a mangrove tours and nature hikes. Though since I haven’t been there, I don’t know how good their guides are.

Out of all the things that Kim said and promoted about Daluyon, what stood out for me was what she didn’t say: education. Daluyon doesn’t seem to have an environmental education program in place for their guests or staff, which is both a shame and a tremendous opportunity for improvement.

Spent the next two hours looking around the exhibitor booths. I really liked the exhibitor mix, which were mostly homegrown companies offering organic vegetables and sustainable seafood. Of special interest to me was Balangay’s Best.

Balangay’s Best sources their seafood from fishers that participate in Fish Forever – a project by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) , Rare, and the Sustainable Fisheries Group at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) that addresses “overfishing in countries across the globe by empowering thousands of the worldโ€™s poorest, most marginalized coastal communities to steward their own sustainable and productive fisheries.”

My biggest disappointment and chief complaint is about the severe lack of actual sustainable travel companies advertising at the fair. The only companies there were El Nido Resorts, Daluyon, and Circle Hostel – places that are already known to practice sustainable tourism.

The travel fair was supposed to introduce me to sustainable tourism companies that I didn’t know of yet. If there were no others to be had in the Philippines, I expected the travel agencies there (who banded together under the Philippine Tour Operators Association, Inc. (PHILTOA)) to suggest options abroad.

No sustainable tourism options here ๐Ÿ™

Unfortunately, the agents there were unable to recommend anything. They couldn’t assure me that any of the hotels or tours they were offering were handled by responsible companies. If they couldn’t do that, then what was the point of them being there? A travel agency is supposed to cater to what the event is about. If it’s a country-specific event, then you offer tours to that country. If it’s a sustainable tourism event, then you should be offering sustainable accommodations and activities! This fiasco just underscored how much work there is left to do.

Another thing I noticed: all of those who attended Green Wanderer looked well-off. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of the venue (a high-end mall like Central Square) or a reflection of the demographic interested in sustainable travel. If it’s the latter, then we have even MORE work left to do. Sustainable travel should be accessible to everybody, not just those with big bank accounts.

All in all, Green Wanderer was a decent event. My favorite really was the talk by the mayor of Donsol. Still sad I missed the talk by former boss Mariglo Laririt about El Nido Resorts (why was it on Friday?! huhu). Selection of exhibitors could have been better. Since it was supposed to promote sustainable travel, I expected exhibitors to sell items that make sustainable travel possible, like Patagonia and their jackets made from recycled PET bottles and Nalgene and their tough refillable water bottles (no to disposable plastic bottles!). I’m hoping that Green Wanderer will become a regular event with more success stories from the front lines.

The Five-0 Dream comes true, Part 6: getting to Mauna Kea

(YES this is a super late post. WHOOO. My Hawaii trip actually happened in June 2016! If you missed my previous posts, I talked about presenting my research at the International Coral Reef Symposium, exploring Diamond Head, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, exploring the Bishop Museum and eating my way around Honolulu, and exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.)

We woke up slightly early so we could hike down to the the Kฤซlauea Iki Crater lava lake before we left for Mauna Kea but it turned out to be a drizzly, windy, AND foggy morning so that plan was canceled real quick.

Nope, no hiking to be done in the Kฤซlauea Iki Crater lava lake.

We did manage to take a few photos of the endangered nene (pronounced “nay-nay”, YES like the song and YES my friends made a ton of corny jokes )ย  that was hanging out in front of Volcano House.

After that, we went back to Holoholo In to pack our bags and head to Mauna Kea via the long way AKA a scenic drive along the coast. We wanted to get to Mauna Kea just before sunset so the long way, with the postcard-perfect views and casual driving, was perfect.

Continue reading “The Five-0 Dream comes true, Part 6: getting to Mauna Kea”

Explore Philippines Magazine is turning 2!

Explore Philippines, the official inflight magazine of SkyJet Airlines, is turning two years old! To celebrate, Explore Philippines is hosting the fantastic Travel Spread: Traveling the Philippines One Page at a Time – a super fun free event for travelers interested in learning more about travel and food writing, promoting conservation through art, and bringing local communities and travelers together. It will be on November 25-26, 2016 at the Century City Mall Events Center, 4th floor, Century City Mall, Makati City ๐Ÿ˜€

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I was lucky enough to be part of the media launch at The Mango Treeย in BGC, where we got to meet the editorial team (EIC France Pinzon and Managing Editor Alyssa Lapid), and publishing team (publisher Christina Po), as well as some of the speakers for Travel Spread.

According to France, Explore Philippines differentiates itself from other magazines by being the “premiere lifestyle and travel magazine that’s pro-Philippines”. France also credits part of the magazine’s success to featuring celebrities (as guest Explorers) who really do travel and have their own travel personalities. They match celebrities with their locations, like surfer gal Rhian Ramos with Siargao (the 2nd anniversary issue cover girl!) and adventurers Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez with rugged Albay. Christina also takes pride in featuring sustainable tourism in the magazine, as she sees it as a “great way to break barriers”. “How and why we travel has a great impact”, says Christina.

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The editorial sections of the revamped Explore Philippines include Main Course (OMG food), Now Boarding (what’s happening now), Checklist (the best and the brighest in local tourism), Pulse (all about travel trends), Disruptor (focuses on life on the move), Jetsetter (Pinoy tourist share their secrets), Pilot (movers and shakers in the tourism industry), Roots (a new section dedicated to “the faces and places that helped build a community’s identity”), Recreation (sports and the outdoors!), and Detour (traveling with a purpose). I get the feeling that Detour and Main Course are going to be my favorite sections.

The speaker lineup for Travel Spread also got me hyped up to attend (yes, you can be hyped about attending talks. It’s a thing.). I’m definitely looking forward to hearing from these people:

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Raffy Dionisio of Circle Hostelย is going to talk about Tribes and Treks,ย a new activity offered by in their Zambales hostel where guests can interact and live with the local Aeta community. They launched the activity a few months ago to help their guests connect with the Aetas and for the Aetas to further benefit from tourism. Tribes and Treks is also featured in Explore Philippines’ 2nd anniversary issue ๐Ÿ˜€

April Cuenca of Tripkada will be talking about tripkada.com, an Airbnb-style app where travelers looking to save money can join trips put together by independent trip organizers. While Tripkada is officially registered as a travel agency, April considers Tripkada to be more of a “travel tech” company than a traditional travel agency. The trip organizers benefit by reaching out to a wider client base and organizing their own schedules, while travelers benefit by not having to organize everything themselves and getting lower prices. My friends and I have been talking about organizing our own environmental education tours for the longest time and Tripkada sounds like the perfect platform for it.

Paul Catiang of Puzzled Owlย (YASSSSS!!! WHOOOO!!!) will be talking about some of my favorite things: food, travel, traveling through food, and writing about food and travel. Paul is a regular contributor to Explore Philippines and yes, he gets paid to eat lots and lots and lots of food ๐Ÿ˜› Yoga keeps him trim though. Part of his talk will involve his eight-week trip to India to meet his father for the first time. In his words, eating Indian cuisine is like “having a Bollywood dance number on your tongue”.

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on


Travel Spread’s sponsors also got to talk about what they’re bringing to the event: Merrell will help you find the right trekking shoes, Oculus Academy will teach you how to throw shuriken (whaatt???), Chill Out Cooks will feed you fried carbonara, fried pizza, and fried Oreos (sign me up!), and Ozamiz City‘s tourism department will feed you dragonfruit ice cream and laya fish

The Mango Tree kept this writer from starving by feeding us authentic Thai dishes: vegetarian spring rolls, fish cakes, pad thai, chicken skewers, and mango cake. I think I visited the buffet three times *ducks*

 

I’d like to thank Explore Philippines for the opportunity to be part of the media launch and the Mango Tree group for the GCs to Cocina Peruvia that I won in the raffle draw ๐Ÿ™‚

Remember: Travel Spread happens on November 25-26, 2016 at the Century City Mall Events Center, 4th floor Century City Mall, Makati. See you there!