Have you ever been to a place and fell absolutely, irrevocably in love? How about a place that changed your life forever? A place that no matter where you went to next, you’d end up coming back to over and over again? El Nido in Palawan is my forever place.
The view from the top.
El Nido and I had our first date in early 2006, when I visited to see if I truly wanted to commit to living and working there. In hindsight, it wasn’t a fair fight. How was I supposed to make an unbiased decision when confronted with limestone cliffs so high that my neck hurt when I looked up, skies bluer than Paul Walker’s eyes, and water so clear that I could see all the way to the corals at the bottom? Of course I said yes.
This is happiness right here.
Our first relationship lasted from most of 2007 to 2008, with me leaving in September 2008 to go to graduate school. El Nido and I didn’t have time to miss each other though, as I visited several times throughout 2010 to 2011 to do fieldwork for my master’s thesis. Like coming back to a boyfriend you just can’t quit, I came back to El Nido full-time from 2011 to 2013, with me leaving (for good? maybe) in September 2013 to focus on my thesis and (finally!) finish my master’s degree. I’ve only been back once since then but El Nido is never far from my thoughts.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that El Nido changed my life. El Nido’s responsible for a lot of firsts.
My first baby sea turtle! This was taken back in 2008 but it’s still one of my favorite photos ever.
My first whale shark! The photo’s lousy but I promise you that that mass of white spots is a three-meter long whale shark (a baby!) beneath the surface. The pier guard called my office and said “Miss Macy, may butanding sa pantalan! [There’s a whale shark at the pier!]”. I ran to the pier and jumped into the water without changing out of my work uniform and without prepping a proper underwater camera. I regret nothing.
My first climb up a cliff! We explored Ille Cave and Rockshelter in Dewil Valley, New Ibajay, a cave complex where the first tiger bones (Panthera tigris) in Palawan were found. I’m not good with heights and sharp rocks but I climbed to the top of the cliff anyway. The view was worth it.
El Nido was also where I found my purpose. I was a BS Biology graduate who didn’t know what to do with herself. I knew I wanted to stay in the sciences but I also knew that I didn’t want to go into academia nor into medicine. El Nido came at the right time and offered me the chance to stay in the sciences but in a more casual setting. I shared El Nido’s wonders with tourists, tour guides and other resorts staff, and members of the local community. I may have ruined quite a few childhoods when I told them that Nemo’s dad Marlin should have changed sex and become his mom Marlene after his mom Crystal was eaten by the barracuda. I also got to combine science with the “fun” aspects of my life, like writing and acting. A clutch of hawksbill sea turtle eggs hatching became the first episode of “Enchanting El Nido”, an environmental education webseries I started. El Nido also inspired me to take photography more seriously, which resulted in one of the biggest non-academic achievements of my career:
I was invited to attend the awarding ceremony in London during World Travel Mart but alas, they wouldn’t shoulder my expenses and I couldn’t afford to go on my own.
El Nido wasn’t always fun and sunshine. For one thing, it can get quite lonely on a tiny island full of people. I was away from my family and friends for extended periods of time, often running myself ragged during my days off in Manila just so I could spend more time with more people. But despite the hardships, everything that happened in El Nido and the people that I met along the way helped shaped me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t trade my time in El Nido for anything.
Oh hai there friend! Screencap from a video by Bobbit Suntay.