Remember my post about our tree-planting activity in Lio, in Palawan? It’s been more than a year since then and I’m curious to see the progress made of that effort.
I am happy to learn that the management of El Nido Resorts has dedicated a rest stop in the Lio Eco Trail to IASA (International Aviation Services Asia, Inc.), or IAS, my employer.
Aside from the actual growth of the forest itself, this recognition is another tangible proof of the effort put forth by the staff and management of IASA to give back to nature and to do our share in creating a more sustainable world. Efforts like this prove indispensible especially in this time of climate crisis – an effort which ought to be emulated and replicated everywhere.
The job is far from over but this is indeed a step towards the right direction. This recognition only bolsters our determination to press on and create impact. Kudos to IAS!
It rained heavily in Lioduring 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.
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 😋
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 😱💦. 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.
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 😋😂.
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 😅.
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 😅👍
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.
Saving the country’s last frontier
(1st in a series)
This isn’t my first time to Palawan but I still get excited every time. Who wouldn’t? It’s a special place.
This time around it’s Apulit, which, according to our guide means castaway. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind being one if it means waking up to this view every day.
It’s actually a back-to-back weekend getaway for me. Fresh from our Liwliwa escapade the week before, this seemed to be the icing on top of the cake.
Part of the El Nido Resorts group, Apulit is just one of the other resorts in the area being maintained by the Ayala‘s – one of the Philippines‘ richest and most influential families. The others being Pangulasian, Lagen and Miniloc. It’s formerly known as Club Noah Isabelle, a little trivia I learned from Monique, the company’s environment representative while on a chit-chat with her on our boat ride to the town of Taytay on the way back.
The latest resort the Ayala’s are developing is Lio. It even has its own airport – an effort to make the resorts more accessible to the people by creating a vital corridor linking the properties. Our first breakfast in Palawan is in Lio, at Casa Kalaw.
With the development however, is the focus on sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, the very first time I was in El Nido was probably about 5 or 6 years back, in Pangulasian, and the resort was already on it doing the sustainability thing. However, because of the seeming apathy from governments and big businesses about the worsening climate crisis, this mantra has gotten louder and has become a more pressing issue now more than ever.
It only makes sense that stakeholders ensure a healthy and vibrant ecosystem, and that any development have the least or zero impact to the environment. With pristine, paradise-like environment as its main draw, one can say that the industry’s survival hinges on nature itself. It is, therefore, to the best interest of everyone – businesses, tourists, local communities – to take care of the environment. It’s a huge challenge, for sure, but I admire the effort to really commit to the advocacy.
Climate change is a hot topic nowadays and yet, still, maybe not hot enough to make huge strides on a policy level. It is up to ordinary people and especially those who have money and influence to spearhead these movements. Everyone can do something in his or her own little way but especially if there is a concerted effort from all sectors can we only make a deep and lasting impact.
Hence, I applaud the effort being done to engage everyone in this. Part of our activity is to plant trees in certain areas of the mountain where we also hiked to the top of and where there’s a newly-built viewing deck.
I love the fact that this tree-planting activity is not just ‘planting for planting’s sake’ but that there is a lot of research that went into as well. It considers the types of plants or trees to be planted which are basically those that are endemic to the area. This activity would have been a defeated purpose if otherwise. In fact, I probably would have opted out had it been any different.
It was a quick breakfast in Lio as we had to prepare for the long drive to the dock in Taytay, our jump off point to Apulit.
We were learning a lot from our guide. Taytay is an old town, he says. It even has an old Spanish fort built near the docks, it being Queen Isabelle‘s favorite pit stop back in the day in her visits to this area en route to Puerto Princesa. The fort was built through forced labor (polo y servicio) by Filipinos.
We also passed by cliffs where, according to our guide, eggs from a certain specie of bird are harvested to make nido soup. Have not tasted one myself but I assume it’s good. Probably expensive because of its rarity and the difficulty of sourcing the main ingredient.
Upon arrival, we had some small snacks and refreshments. This, while waiting for the boat ride.
So, are you ready to see paradise? Details in the next article coming soon.
I maybe wrong but depending on who you talk to or which online reference you are checking, liwliwa in Ilocano could mean delight, inspiration or recreational fun. Ilocano refers to both the dialect and the people of this particular region where Zambales province is located.
Whatever the case, any of those adjectives mentioned at the outset would perfectly fit Liwliwa. It is all of that.
If you think yesterday’s spectacle of the sunset is bomb enough, think again. I, myself, did not expect this view. I mean, look at this.
A part of me is saying, ‘don’t spread the word just yet’,
fearing this piece of paradise would not last long enough once people get wind.
But part of me is also saying, ‘how could you not share such beauty?’ Urgh! I’m
One has to be in awe and deep appreciation knowing this beauty in front of us is a product of a tragic event from decades ago. This part of the country was almost erased from the map by a powerful volcanic eruption of a mountain called Pinatubo who laid dormant for hundreds of years, the effects of which were felt worldwide and for years later.
Global temperature dropped and a more-than-the-usual clear glow of sunsets and sunrises were observed in different places. So powerful, in fact, it wiped out two of America’s largest bases this side of the Pacific (the SubicNaval Base in Zambales and Clark Air Base in Pampanga), prompting their eventual turnover to the Philippine government.
I wish for this place to have good management and care so as not to go the way of Boracay – the now poster child for anything that could go wrong to a perfect island by overcrowding and lack of strong, effective regulation.
It was almost lunch time so we went back to the resort to prepare for check-out, the Kapitan’s Liwa.
I wouldn’t let this article pass without having to mention one of our newfound friends – this cute labrador called Whiskey.
Being part of the owners’ family, he is a mainstay at the resort. He does a good job entertaining guests 😊👍💯🐶
Isn’t he the sweetest thing? Aaawww…
After check-out we transferred to Riverside Liwa again for lunch. I couldn’t be more excited, actually. We are having a boodlefight! 😀
There’s nothing more fulfilling and satisfying to me than using my own bare hands for eating, especially if served with Filipino food. Oh, delicious. We had ginataang sitaw at kalabasa, pinaupong manok and lumpiang shanghai.
So, are you drooling yet? 😀
It’s amusing to see our Dutch friends try their hands on… well, literally hands on the food (no pun intended) 😁👍
Afterwards, we were toured around the premises.
The owners planted coconuts and other types of plants which provide different kinds of practical uses – as source of food, shade, even aesthetics. This tree stump, for example, as simple as it looks, add interesting character to the place especially with mushrooms growing around its trunk.
I love how this place is so in touch with nature. There is never a more pressing time for us to go sustainable given the climate crisis we are facing. It is my fervent hope that places like this remain for future generations to enjoy.
Everybody knows how unpredictable the weather can be – one moment it’s all bright and sunny, and then rainy and gloomy the next. All the weather forecasts I checked online painted a not-so-good weather condition for the weekend which did not bode well for our planned getaway to the beach.
Our friends from the Netherlands couldn’t wait to experience the tropics – the sun, the beach and, well, everything in between. You can understand how relieved we were that this trip went on smoothly, let alone materialize at all, the bad weather forecast notwithstanding. The conditions were surprisingly cooperative. We did encounter some challenges but nothing we weren’t able to overcome nor anything that could have dampened our spirits.
We made sure it was a fun experience.
We arrived at the Riverside Liwa. One need not guess why it’s called that, yes? For obvious reason. A river runs through the property. It couldn’t be more straightforward. We even had to cross a bridge made of bamboo to reach the other side.
If there’s anything these inventive signposts below tell us, is that the owner(s) of this property are passionate about one thing, for sure – surfing.
It felt like entering some chill, peaceful village – the kind of atmosphere often associated with surfer/hippie culture. One would notice how indigenous and natural elements were incorporated in the design of the accommodations, giving it a traditional Filipino vibe. These huts you see with thatched roofs are called bahay kubo in the vernacular. Aren’t they nice to look at? These huts do a good job sheltering people from the tropical heat.
Noticeably too, are the people’s love for pets. All around you will see cats, dogs….
… and goats! 😀
You just find them everywhere here.
Another noticeable part of the landscape are the trees. Pine-like trees called agoho or agoo are abundant here. Not sure if these were planted here on purpose or have grown naturally after the place was covered by volcanic ash brought about by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo decades ago, some time in the early 90’s. This beach in fact did not exist back then. It was naturally created by the enormous volume of ash dumped by the volcano, as well as sediments washed by the river from upstream.
We arrived in time for lunch. We decided to eat at Tadhana, which means destiny. Food was good. The fruit shakes especially, were a hit. You can even play sungka while waiting for your food to be served. Sungka is a traditional Filipino tabletop game.
Off to the beach we headed afterwards. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. We went around late noon so that the sun’s heat wouldn’t be too harsh. We weren’t minding how time flies, so I guess we were having fun, yes? 😀
Nature though, has a way of ending the day quite nicely for us. We were treated to a spectacular view of the sunset, as if bidding us farewell till the next day.
What an awesome sight!
We capped the night off with booze, card games (any kind of game we could think of, actually), some silliness and then more … at one point beside a bonfire by the river.
All in all, it was fun. The long drive was worth it. We all retired to bed feeling beat ready to be recharged for the next day 😊
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now we arrive at the UR (Underground River).
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.
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.
Another exciting part of the itinerary is the Sabang zipline.
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.
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.
All the exhaustion from the trek faded away. 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.
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!
The last leg of this itinerary before we headed back to the resort for lunch was the Sabang River Mangrove Boat Tour.
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…
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.
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).
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 😉
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. 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.
Although it is not immune to the trappings of the modern world, its relative isolation helped it to somehow fend off excessive commercialization and environmental degradation. True, economic progress and conservation usually do not meet eye to eye, and surely the province has been a battle ground for many a war fought in this field. There are victors and losers, with tables probably turned every now and then. But as I have observed, Palaweños are generally the nature-lover bunch, for practical reasons. With travel and tourism as the province’s main draw, the people stand to benefit from caring for the environment and its natural wonders.
And so I came back to Palawan, the country’s last frontier, to enjoy and bask in its wonders and its beautiful, uncluttered beaches. The heat in the Metro is at an all-time high and there is no better time to go swimming. Destination: Sabang!
We took an AirAsia flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital. First stop on our itinerary is the crocodile farm. Upon entering the PWRCC (Philippine Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center) main lobby, we were greeted with a skeleton of a huge crocodile.
Its skin was laid flat and hung on the wall. The guide says the skin of older crocodiles tend to be tougher and so are not ideal for creating wallets, bags, etc. That belongs to younger crocs who have softer skin. So this oldie’s skin might have to stay here for a little longer.
There’s another one hanging on the other side painted with different colors of what seemed like tribal markings, maybe for aesthetic or art purposes.
The guide also says this particular croc (the one whose skeleton is on display) and the biggest and longest one on record found in the Agusan marsh -“Lolong”, both died of the same reason – stress. This elicited lots of laughs because as humans, we only know too well how to feel stressed. And if these fearsome, magnificent creatures can only be downed by something as mundane as stress, then who are we humans to feel superior against it. We’ve all heard it said over and over: “Nakamamatay ang stress” (stress kills). Even the mighty crocodiles are no match to it.
Next we visited the hatchery where we see baby crocs, of course. The house smelled of croc pee.
Then we moved on to where the full grown monsters are. When you scroll down farther below, you will see how this group of crocs form what seemed like crocodile pinwheel.
After this, you get to have a chance to have photo op with or have your picture taken with a baby croc and get a souvenir picture. This leg of the tour gives you chance to relax and buy some refreshments like buko (coconut) juice and ice cream.
Next we went to Palawan’s Millionaire’s Row, where the Mitra estate/ranch (of the former House Speaker of the Philippine Congress) is located. This is also called the Sta. Monica Ranch. The property overlooks Honda Bay, another famous tourist destination. It’s an ideal spot for picnics.
Just a few minutes’ drive away is Baker’s Hill where you find different breads and pastries like hopia, butterscotch, pianono, etc., and the famous local product – kasuy (cashew).
Afterwards we went to another local market where you can buy more native produce like dried or sweet & spicy pusit, dilis, dried danggit and more nuts. Also you can buy local handicrafts and souvenir items. Everything is at a more affordable price here.
It was a fun yet exhausting first half of the itinerary. Before we proceeded to the resort where we will be staying, we first had lunch at KaLui. It’s a traditionally-themed restaurant with an artistic vibe, and has lots of organic and native artworks everywhere. We were even asked to remove our shoes and slippers as is commonly practiced in traditional Filipino homes.
The food is also good. I particularly liked the fish fillet with mango tartare and the “lato” (seaweed). After having our tummies filled, it’s time for us to go to the resort. It was a long drive – about an hour and a half to 2 hours, depending on how fast the drive is. I think all of us dozed off because of exhaustion. We couldn’t have been more excited to reach the destination as we all feel like freshening up and retire to our rooms.
We had dinner at 6 – buffet dinner. Felt bloated afterwards. Swam at the pool. Had a few drinks. Wasted, at the end of the day 😛