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”

Surf, sand, and saving the sea with Reef and WWF

Last week, I had the great opportunity to attend the Free the Sea Movement sponsored by Reef Philippines in partnership with WWF Philippines. Reef and WWF put together a great event that featured some of my favorite things in one place: a coastal cleaup, surfing, and good music.

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To join the event, I needed to purchase anything from Reef (whether at a Reef of G-Force store) and text my name and receipt number to the Reef coordinator. In return, Reef would take care of everything else related to the event: transportation, accommodations at Little Surfmaid Resort, meals, and the surf clinic. Needless to say, it was a fantastic deal. Plus, coastal cleanup! There were only 50 slots so as soon as my friends confirmed that they were game to go, I went over to Trinoma to buy some Reef goodies. In fairness, their flip-flops are super comfy and soft. Much easier on the feet than Havaianas.

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Traversing Tawi-tawi

Doing research on the field isn’t easy, but one of the things that make up for it is being able to travel all over the Philippines. There’s something about being able to peek inside the nooks and crannies that most Filipinos don’t get to see that sometimes makes all the effort and exhaustion worth it. I got to tick a major milestone off my travel bucket list when we surveyed the islands of Tawi-tawi last October.

06 Panglima Sugala

The houses of Panglima Sugala

10 SHINE 3 in Simunul

The seagrass and mangrove team in Simunul

This wasn’t my first trip to the southernmost province of the Philippines (that happened last year) but it was my first time to go beyond the main municipality of Bongao and visit the outer municipalities: Simunul, Sibutu, Panglima Sugala, and Sapa-sapa.

tawi-tawi map regular See the map? That’s how close Tawi-tawi is to Sabah.

It was also my first time to do a research cruise. Since the islands are pretty far from the mainland, the only practical way to move four research teams around was to base out of a liveaboard ship, the Sea Glory. It was also my first time working with such a big team! The NACRE program is composed of five projects, and four out of the five were present in Tawi-tawi: the corals and seagrass and mangroves teams from DLSU and the fish and physical oceanography teams from UP MSI. All in all, there were about 50 people onboard, including the lantsa crew. It was a tight fit but we managed to make it work.

00 our home outside

Our home for a week

11 the team

The research teams that managed to fit in it

01 SHINE 3

Off to do some research!

A research cruise was definitely something to remember. First, I had to share a small boat with 50 other people. I’m not the most sociable person so having to share my space (or the lack of “my” space) for days on end weird but workable. Most of us shared the top deck area but over the next few days, we realized that it was breezier outside. Some of my labmates brought their sleeping bags outside and slept under the stars.

00 our home inside

Then there’s the issue of water. Small boat = small water tanks (around 400 gallons for everything: bathing, cooking, washing plates, washing equipment, etc.) but 50 people = lots of water. We’d initially hoped to stretch the 400 gallons for the whole trip but it just wasn’t possible. We emptied the tanks after only 3 days then refilled them when we went back to Bongao to pick up the oceanography team. We also relied on the generosity of the island barangays, who let us take a bath using water from their common wells.

It was also a bit strange to have Marines and the Maritime Police escorting us. I felt a bit awkward having them around because I thought that they were making us even more conspicuous but with such a small community, we were going to stand out no matter what. So yes, better to have the extra layer of security. And they were really nice too ๐Ÿ™‚

05 leaving for Panglima Sugala

This is PO1 Ali of the Philippine Maritime Police. He was our escort when we went diving around Bongao. Absentminded me had forgotten my booties at the inn *facepalm*. I was fully prepared to stick my bare feet and slippers into my open heel fins but he so generously offered to lend me the socks off his feet so that my feet wouldn’t get scratched up by the fins’ rubber straps. Call it a small gesture, but it really mattered to me.

15 diving without booties Bongao

We also got a closeup look at seaweed farming. The Kappaphycus seaweed is tied to rope lines using plastic straw, with Styrofoam or empty plastic bottles as floaters, and grown in very shallow water. The Philippines exported Php 4.7 billion worth of seaweed in 2009, with Mindanao accounting for 64% of the production, with Tawi-tawi as the main producer. Unfortunately, the seaweed farmers – majority of whom are small-scale – receive only a tiny portion of the profits. There’s no seaweed processing plant in Tawi-tawi, so the farmers have to sell their product to local buyers, who then send the seaweed to Zamboanga and Cebu.

04 lines and floaters Sibutu

02 seaweed in sibutu

Spending an extended amount of time in Tawi-tawi was definitely an eye-opening experience. All of the members of the local community that we met said that Tawi-tawi was safe and that it was a source of frustration that Jolo’s reputation affected Tawi-tawi as well.

Musings in Masbate

This past weekend marked my first visit to Masbate province. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about the province aside from the rodeos it hosts.

Masbate province is composed of three major islands: Masbate, Burias, and Ticao. The provincial capital is Masbate City, located in Masbate island. Our assessment site is Cawayan (the blue marker), about an hour and a half south of Masbate City.

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How you get to Masbate province depends on your time, budget, and which island you want to land on.

The easiest and fastest way to get to Masbate island is by taking the only Manila-Masbate City flight, operated by Philippine Airlines. Of course, since it’s the only flight and the plane is small (a Bombardier turbo prop with 81 passengers capacity), a last-minute one-way ticket can cost upwards of Php 7,000. Other options include taking a Roro (roll on, roll off) ferry from Cebu City (more on that later) or a Roro or regular boat ferry from Pilar, Sorsogon.

How you get to Burias also depends on where in Burias you want to go. If you want to go to San Pascual (the northern municipality), then you fly to Naga City (Camarines Sur), travel to Pasacao, then ride a boat to San Pascual.ย If you want to go to Claveria (the southern municipality), then you fly to Legazpi City (Albay), travel to Ligao City, then Pio Duran, then ride a boat to Claveria.

Ticao Island is accessible by flying to Legazpi City, taking a bus to either Pilar or Bulan (in Sorsogon), then taking a ferry to Monreal (if from Pilar) or San Jacinto (if from Bulan) municipalities.

As I mentioned earlier, our assessment site is in Cawayan in Masbate island. What little tourism there is in Masbate is concentrated in Burias, Ticao, and Masbate City. Also, we needed to find a route via Cebu because we’d be bringing in dive tanks and vans and our supplier is in Cebu.ย As such, majority of the information I got from scouring travel blogs was inapplicable. Add that to the outdated Roro barge information I found online and you’ve got a recipe for a logistics headache.

My main source of frustration was the conflicting details on the existence of the Roro route between Bogo City, Cebu and Cawayan. All the websites I found said that Asian Marine Transport plied the route, but their office said that they stopped that route two years ago. Okay, the websites are outdated then. However, Mr. Butchoy Presado of Masbate provincial tourism said that the route was still running. Fine, I’ll take the provincial tourism officer’s word for it. As it turns out, the route still exists but is run by a different company. Argh. Thanks Sir Butchoy for the information!

Pro tip #1: List of functional Roro barges operating between Masbate and Cebu (schedule as of September 13, 2015):

ROUTESCHEDULEDEPARTURE TIMEDURATIONCOMPANY
Bogo City, Cebu to Cawayan, Masbatedaily12 midnight5.5 hoursD. Olmilla Shipping Corp. (used to be run by Asian Marine)
Cawayan, Masbate to Bogo City, Cebudaily12 noon5.5 hoursD. Olmilla Shipping Corp. (used to be run by Asian Marine)
Bogo City, Cebu to Cataingan, Masbatedaily12 midnight4 hoursMontenegro Lines
Cataingan, Masbate to Bogo City, Cebudaily12 noon4 hoursMontenegro Lines
Cebu City, Cebu to Masbate City, MasbateSunday only12 noon10 hoursAsian Marine Transport Corp
Masbate City, Masbate to Cebu City, CebuWednesday only12 noon10 hoursAsian Marine Transport Corp

After meeting with the Mayor and the Municipal Agriculturist, we went around to our target barangays to introduce ourselves and the PEARRL project. The ride to and from Naro Island was on the rough side. I wasn’t afraid – I’d dealt with similar waves in El Nido – but fieldwork veteran me was cursing myself for not bringing a waterproof bag. What kind of noob marine biologist goes to fieldwork knowing that she’s going to visit island barangays and doesn’t bring a waterproof bag? @_@ Luckily, our boatman said that the waves will be calmer when we return in November because it will be amihan season (northwest monsoon) by then.

01 boat from Naro

We exited Cawayan via Roro at 12nn and landed in Polambato, Bogo City at 5:30 pm. Pro tip #2: if you want to rest, the ticket for the airconditioned cabin is worth it. At least you get a semi-comfortable bunk and you can sleep. Unfortunately for me, I spent extra for the bunk because I needed to work and I didn’t want salt spray on my laptop. Special mention for the aircon cabin having a working outlet so I could charge my laptop! I finally stopped working when we neared Bogo.

02 roro to Bogo

Polambatoย is three hours away from Cebu City via bus. We were told that the trip takes two hours. Lies! ๐Ÿ˜› We grabbed snacks from the terminal stores and settled in. Both ordinary and aircon buses make the trip so you can choose.

We left Polambato at 6pm and arrived in Cebu City at 9pm. Add travel time to Mactan so we’d be nearer to the airport so we finally settled in at around 10pm. And our Cebu-Manila flight was the next day at 5:05 am. Cheers!

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2014 in review

The year 2014 was a particularly big year for me – even bigger than 2013 and so big that I barely got to write about it! The irony pains me because I absolutely love writing but writing for fun (AKA this blog) takes up time and effort that I could be using to write for my job. Anyway, this just means that I need better time management skills.

What went down in 2014:

I learned how to surf! Well, maybe learned is too strong a word. Maybe tried out is more appropriate. Haha. My friends and I went to San Juan, La Union and I climbed onto a surfboard for the first time. I finally caught my first wave by the morning of the second day and limited my falls by the morning of the third. Thank you so much Lea and team for your energy and patience! This 2015 means more regular trips to legitimately learn how to surf.

04 April 03_small

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2013 in photos

With certain notable exceptions, 2013 was a personal banner year. I’m not sure how 2014 will top it, but hopefully it will *graduation!!!*

February: I got to meet Costas Christ when he visited El Nido Resorts as a judge for the World Travel & Tourism Council’s 2013 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. It was an honor to be able to pick his brain about sustainable tourism.
02 Feb Costas Christ

March: Bloc Party in Manila! HOMG Bloc Party in Manila!!! I’d dreamed of this moment since I got hooked by Weekend in the City. To see and hear them in the flesh… WOW.
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Diving Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte

Last October 24-26, 2013 marked the Philippine Association of Marine Science 12th Nationalย Symposium on Marine Science in Tacloban City, Leyte and the first time I’d presented (part of) the results of my graduate thesis. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. After the conference, I marked another milestone with my first visit to Southern Leyte. I spent four days (well, really three days) in the quiet and no-stress Padre Burgos, about 3.5 hours from Tacloban City.

I decided to stay in Sogod Bay Scuba Resort because a friend recommended it and because they offered a slightly lower van hire cost to and from Tacloban (P7,000 instead P8,000 from Peter’s Dive Resort). The van hire was the most expensive part of the trip so hopefully you’re in a big group and can split the cost. Another friend who traveled to Padre Burgos the day before was able to get a round-trip van for P6000. Despite the cost, I think it was worth it because the commuting alternative sounded daunting: jeep from Tacloban airport to the terminal, shared van ride to Maasin City (the capital of Southern Leyte), a jeepney ride to Padre Burgos, then a tricycle ride to the resort in Brgy Lungsodaan.

Brgy Lungsodaan is pretty small. There are only two dive resorts (Sogod Bay Scuba Resort and Peter’s Dive Resort) and three restaurants (the resorts’ restaurants plus Moose and Squirrel). We only spotted one sari-sari store and the bakery was a tricycle ride away. TIP: if you’re eating at Moose and Squirrel (and you should!), better to order beforehand then come back later. E.g if you’re eating lunch there, place your order before you go diving to cut down on the waiting time.

padre burgos map

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