My 7,107 | Apulit Island, Palawan

Welcome to Paradise
(Last in a series)

Previously in this series:

Keeping Paradise – Saving the country’s last frontier

It rained heavily in Lio during our tree-planting activity. Although it stopped when we started making our way to the town of Taytay, it seemed like the gloomy weather tried to catch up with us in Apulit. It was overcast when we arrived. Dark clouds loomed over the horizon.

We were greeted with refreshments and what seemed like some local song and dance by the staff. The feeling of isolation was palpable – away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. Noticeable too was the lush greenery.

The buffet table was all set and ready. And since we were behind schedule, we had our lunch late.

We headed to our assigned cottages afterwards. They are quite unique and interesting in their design, I must say. It fuses contemporary with the local, using thatched roofs, for example, and other native materials and design, as fixture and ornamentation.

Another interesting thing is that these cottages are literally standing above water. They are built on stilts and are connected to land by bridge way. It’s an ingenious way of adding character to the place, don’t you think? It would have been just another cottage if not so designed.

In some cottages, like the one we had the opportunity to stay at, called loft water cottage, the living room area opens to an amazing view of the sea with easy access to the water via the stairs linked to the veranda. These cottages are an attraction unto itself.

Loft water cottage

After we’ve rested a bit and freshened up, we gathered at the conference area to attend a briefing on the environment. It was held in this huge cabana-like structure or hut, in the photo below. This is along the beach near the clubhouse.

It can’t be stressed hard enough how important education and awareness are in dealing with the challenges of climate change. Of course, this has to be coupled with concrete actions. I give props to everyone involved in this endeavor. I would say overall, sustainability and environmental protection are front and center in this resort group’s business culture and is an integral part of its DNA. This is a step towards the right direction and something other businesses should emulate. It’s a plus in my book so, good job!

We had dinner afterwards. As a matter of fact, besides the activities and the picture-perfect surroundings, food in this article has its fair share of the spotlight, maybe even more πŸ˜‹

It was an exhausting day for me since I haven’t slept the night before and was only able to grab some snooze for about an hour during the flight. So, I never planned to do any other (social) activity after dinner and decided to just go back to the room, rest a bit, watch cable and sleep. The sleeping part however, didn’t work quite well as expected. I got preoccupied with curating photos and updating posts on social media. Urgh! (I know, right?) It’s antithesis of the very reason/s people go to (and in great lengths, I might add) such secluded places – to relax, to unwind, to get away from it all. Well, not this night, I didn’t. And I only had myself to blame, of course.

The morning after was breakfast. I always look forward to breakfasts in these occasions because I anticipate bacon to be served. And, bacon there was. Nice!

I would say that this day was the highlight of our trip, the second day. We went to an island called Isla Blanca which has one of the best views of active coral reef systems. In fact, they say El Nido and surrounding areas have the best dive spots, bar none.

We didn’t do professional diving but rather snorkeling. Unfortunately, the camera I’m using does not have the capability of taking underwater shots, so I borrowed some from a colleague of mine, Rose. Below are some of the clips of what she took. The first one was in the waters off the main island of Apulit while the second one, by the looks of it, was probably around Isla Blanca.

I couldn’t have passed this experience up since I haven’t done snorkeling over deep water before, with lively coral reef systems underneath. I thought to myself: “I need to make this work”. This despite my fear of deep water. Fastened tightly to a trusty lifesaver and with the help of a swim buddy, I was able to make it. This is definitely a feat considering the fact that I don’t know how to swim πŸ˜±πŸ’¦. Yeah (shocking). Textbook ‘swimming’, I mean.

Oh, well. Another check box ticked off my bucket list, woot!

It was a fun and memorable experience. We didn’t want to leave just yet but we had to go back to the resort for lunch.

The elevated maruya was a hit! It’s a Filipino dessert made of banana slices dipped in batter and then deep-fried. This one was made extra special with caramel sauce on top dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

There were lots of activities for everyone. In fact, there wasn’t enough time for any one person to experience everything in half a day so the group split and went wherever which way they wanted. For the sports enthusiasts, there’s rock climbing, rappelling, kayaking, paddle boarding; for nature lovers, there’s another snorkeling activity on a different island (or lagoon, I think it was); to those who just want to chill, there’s the infinity pool or the beach.

There’s also a bar where one can get some booze while playing billiards. I was supposed to go rock climbing but there’s a long line waiting so we just went kayaking instead, me and my other colleague. We lounged at the pool afterwards.

The whole group was scheduled to go on a sunset cruise later in the day but it got cancelled due to weather. I just took a picture of the sunset from the veranda although the light was diffused by the clouds. Stylized by Google, the photo was made pretty using AI.

Dinner was special that night. We had it at the beach under moonlight.

…and with all the works

We were supposed to float lanterns on the water but the tide was low at the time which meant sharp rocks at the bottom were exposed to the surface. This did not make for a conducive environment for such activity, so we skipped that part and just proceeded with the videoke sessions. My goodness, there were some crazy talents out there.

In the morning it dawned on me – this is last day in paradise. I would have wished to stay longer. I thought to myself, “I will miss these awesome views”.

Some of my colleagues went cliff diving. Me?… Dang! I was here for breakfast πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‚.

There’s only limited time between check-out and before the arrival of our boat, so we were surprised to have been served still a, what they say is “mini” but really a not-so-‘mini’, lunch πŸ˜….

Thank you El Nido Resorts for the excellent and wonderful service! I was never so full in these two-or-so days of my life πŸ˜…πŸ‘

The boats finally arrived so we scurried to the port.

A few moments out, I looked back again and was treated to this view.

Isn’t she a beauty?

One can only appreciate what nature has given us. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to take care of and be good stewards of this gift.

My 7,107 | Sabang, Palawan – 1st of 2 Parts

Day 2 – Sabang and environs

First order of business: visit Sabang’s rainforest and one of the World’s Newest Natural Wonders – Puerto Princesa Underground River, formerly known as the St. Paul Subterranean River.

From the resort, we walked to the nearest port and took a boat ride going to the island where the underground river is located.

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Going there we passed by some of the interesting geologic rock formations unique to this region – limestone cliffs. They look amazing. It’s like being transported to a different world.

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Before going to the river, you first need to go through a lush jungle where you will meet some of the amazing wildlife like monkeys and monitor lizards. It is advisable not to bring food or show transparent plastic bags with colorful items inside as the monkeys might think they are food. And I’m not sure if it’s true, but we were also advised not to smile with teeth showing as the monkeys might get too comfortable and would get too close.

These monkeys are known for stealing food from tourists, and they can be insistent, we were told.

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I’m not a big fan of monitor lizards, or anything reptilian in nature for that matter, but just to give a little bit of a trivia, these monitor lizards are close relatives of Indonesia’s komodo dragons, only smaller. Still, these creatures, just like any other, should be treated with respect. It is wise to keep a safe distance. These lizards have potent bacteria in their mouths that could prove lethal to humans if bitten.

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The Sabang rainforest is one of the last remaining holdouts of virgin rainforests in the country, and they are under constant threat from illegal loggers and greedy corporations.

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It is a sad state for our rainforests. In fact, I believe statistics show that the Philippines is the only country in SE Asia who has now lost more than 80 to 90% (?) of its rainforests. Such disappointing figures. I wish people and the government would do more to reverse the trend before it’s too late.

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Now we arrive at the UR (Underground River).

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Our guides assisted us to our boats and took some pictures before we headed off inside. I was assigned to be the “light bearer” as I have to put the spot on some of the stone structures (upon instruction from the guide himself) while he describes the form or image of the stones we are seeing. Better prepare yourself with big imagination when you come here.

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Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures because it was dark inside. Photos would only come out as blobs and patches and blurred images. A word of caution though, when gazing at the amazing structures, refrain from opening your mouth as these caves are also home to bats – lots and lots of bats. And you know what that means – lots and lots of “guano” (bat poop). So, you’ve been warned.

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Another exciting part of the itinerary is the Sabang zipline.

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This is a first for me so I couldn’t be more excited. We took a boat ride to go to the other island where the zipline is. We first registered at the foot of the hill known as the Central Park Station, which is also near the beach.

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From here, we trekked up hill following the trail leading up to the station where the zipline starts. The view from this spot is breathtaking.

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All the exhaustion from the trek faded away.Β It was more a fun ride than a scary ride for me. Taking all that scenery in could not have felt more satisfying. And this goes for the scenery at the other end of the line as well, as you can see below.

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My only regret is that I wasn’t able to take a video of me while going down the beach as I thought I turned the video on, but did not. Darn!

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The last leg of this itinerary before we headed back to the resort for lunch was the Sabang River Mangrove Boat Tour.

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This tour is more chill, more relaxed, more classroom setting. And we got mangrove lesson 101, complete with scientific names to boot, which, I, as expected, would have forgotten by now. Family Boceferra something, something…

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Notice how the roots get exposed during low tide.

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If you would notice closely, you will see a yellow-striped snake coiled on one of the branches

More importantly though, is that after this tour, we were able to understand how important the role these mangrove trees play in our ecosystem. Mangrove trees only appear in tropical countries along riverbeds that have the perfect ratio of fresh and saltwater. Too much saltwater can stunt the growth of these trees. But here in Sabang, they thrive and flourish and form extensive jungle networks. These riverbeds are full of nutrients and they act as fish nurseries and as natural barrier from predators. So when mangrove jungles thrive, fish populations thrive as well. Only in the Philippines do mangrove trees grow these tall.

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There is another practical purpose for these mangrove forests. They act as natural barriers from storm surges. Our guide says if Tacloban had kept their mangrove forests intact, it would have helped mitigate the effects of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

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A little bit of trivia: Mangrove trees/forests in the vernacular is called “bakawan”. What do you call a single mangrove tree, then? This is the question posed by our guide and we were all clueless as to the answer. We even thought he was joking, thinking it was some kind of play on words (baka-“one”, “two”,”three”, get it?). Well, the answer is “bakaw”. So, there. Now you know πŸ˜‰

Second half of the day was free time. We started with lunch and then swam at the pool, swam at the beach, did some kayaking, others played volleyball, made sand castles, took pictures (lots of pictures) and then waited till dinner. It was buffet, buffet, buffet, every time. Oh man, it was the good life.Β To top it off and to really dig into the R&R mode, I treated myself to a spa. The hard pressure applied loosens stiff muscles, relieving stress. It was sensual. And I was knocked out.

To be continued…