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Destinations

El Nido, Palawan: Postcard Perfect

The appeal of the province of Palawan may be mainly its being a largely untouched place. But as M.D. dela Cruz Tan discovers, there’s more to this place than meets the eye.

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PHOTO BY O. ROMERO, COURTESY OF JINGJING ROMERO

The first time Australian D.J.M. Winters stepped on the shores of Miniloc Island, in El Nido, north of Palawan, to visit the country’s “Last Environmental Frontier,” as well as “check out what business ventures may be there,” he noted that “it was like stepping on a photograph come to life,” he says. “Everything seemed too good to be true. Palawan is almost surreal for its beauty.”

Winters’ amazement is understandable, what with Palawan long considered a land of clichés, at least as far as the image of a stereotypical tropical paradise is concerned. Sandy white beaches stretching for miles, incessantly kissed by the crystal clear waters that mirror the blue sky, or reflect rolling clouds as they pass, seemingly lovingly blown by the whistling wind, just as they make the tall palm trees by the beaches bend, dancing to a tune only they can hear – all of them are in Palawan. And so much more, actually.

“It most certainly is full of surprises,” Winters says.

RICH HISTORY

Not largely known is the province’s rich history, best exemplified by the antiquities that abound there. Underwater or on the ground, however, Palawan has something to offer everyone.

Named after the nests of swiftlets (the main ingredient in the world-famous Nido Soup), El Nido (Spanish for the nest) is a 50,000 hectare-town of 18 barangays populated by some 27,000 people “very overprotective about their settlement,” notes Winters. “Rightly so, though, what with the place’s ecological treasures – all deserving of superlatives, but all fragile, and seemingly always in threat.”

Among Winters’ “favorite occurrences that are bound to be reminisced time and again” include kayaking from island to island, “my concentration broken only by the flapping wings of sea hawks, sighting unseen preys as they circle limestone cliffs formed millions of years ago;” bird watching, especially since El Nido’s forests are home to over 100 species of birds, many of them endemic to Palawan; stargazing, “realizing how small we are in the scheme of things;” island hopping to “see that here, seeing beauty never stops;” and simply admiring nature, such as “observing the peculiar looking pitcher plants that, to better their chances of survival, evolved to hang ever so low, almost touching the waters as they dangle from the rocky cliffs, waiting for whatever it is that will get trapped in their cavernous carafes to sustain them,” Winters says. “Nature 101.”

Amazement is, indeed, everywhere in Palawan.

In Miniloc Island, right off the pier is a rich marine world teeming with life, so that those snorkeling are literally inundated by swimming groupers, fusiliers, parrot fish, and other fish species that are normally only seen in, say, Animal Planet. In Lagen Island, mangrove tours, especially before at the break of dawn, right before the sun starts bathing with golden color everything under it, wild birds, many of them migratory, fly from their nests, their graceful motions mirrored by the waters under them.

In Matinloc Island, there’s the not-so-secret Secret Beach, worth visiting for a “glimpse of the sense of total seclusion,” Winters says, even if it is only accessible by snorkeling through a small crack in the limestone walls that envelope it.

And then there are the Big and Small Lagoons, both welcome retreats, with their pristine waters seemingly contradicting the roughness of their source, the “unruly sea” right outside their confines. There, it’s a different world altogether, filled with rock formations that resemble elephant tusks, a praying Virgin Mary, the caped crusader Batman hiding behind some rocks, phallic idols – “whatever,” Winters says. “It’s more like a cloud, actually, wherein you see them as what you want them to be. Like a fantasy, you can tailor-fit it to suit what you want. El Nido’s cliffs are like that, too. A hark back to the times when nature was magical.”

LAND OF BOUNTY

No wonder, thus, that “I’m looking at staying here for good,” Winters says with a laugh. The same appeal has actually already made ”regular inhabitants out of many who visited Palawan,” says Mickey Castaño of Belcas Realty Corp., which “recognizes the place’s great potential.”

Enterprise Magazine earlier reported (Paradise Found, March 2006) that there are opportunities to buy beachfront properties, or even entire islands, in the various towns of Palawan – and all at very affordable prices. In El Nido, for example, lots sell for about P1,500 per square meter, while small islands can be bought for as low as P200 to P300 per square meter. Adds the online publication Offshore and Real Estate Quarterly (escapeartist.com), beachfront properties with a frontage of approximately 300 feet (90 meters), and a total area of under two hectares cost less than P175 per square foot – roughly equal to 20 US cents, or less than $2.25 per square meter.

“This makes it an ideal time to invest,” says Castaño, who stressed that there is, however, “an urgency in investing since local officials (recognize) that in order to preserve Palawan’s beauty, over-development should be avoided, (and so) only a limited number of developments are allowed.”

Again in El Nido, only 32 resort developments are allowed, “making it good for those who invest in the place, what with less competition, but, more importantly, preserving the place’s appeal, which is its largely untouched beauty,” Castaño says.

On the bangka (dinghy) that carried him from Miniloc Island to the pier right by the local airport, where some brightly-clad locals were singing farewell songs in the local Cuyunin language, Winters was already “in a nostalgic mood,” he says. “You just want the experience to last.”

As if catching himself from turning mawkish, he laughs. Palawan, Winters says with a hearty laugh, is cliché personified. “It’s almost poetic, I tell you. And even that (claim) is admittedly cliché, too. Just as I tell you you’ll keep coming back here once you’ve already been here.”

*First published in Outrage Magazine in January 2009; reprinted with permission.

M.D. dela Cruz Tan is the founder of Zest Magazine. And no, the initials (i.e. M.D.) do not make him a "medical doctor" (as many have erroneously thought in the past); he is actually a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales Australia (just don't ask when, he says). He can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (of course), shoot flicks, community-organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Destinations

Loggers become river tour guides in Samar

Revenge Tourism is a social phenomenon where people who have been stuck at home, often for months at a time, rush to tourist sites to appease their lockdown fatigue. With easing lockdown and flight restrictions, more and more tourist destinations are experiencing waves of visitors out to re-experience paradise – but what about the people who guide them? The people who themselves work in paradise?

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We’re shooting through a wild, wild washing machine: paddling, cursing, laughing and getting absolutely drenched inside a torpedo-shaped canoe.

We’re in the Ulot River, a 92-kilometer waterway which snakes east to west across Samar. The third largest island in the Philippines, Samar is rough country, hewn from limestone which over millennia formed some of the most dramatic rock formations and cave systems in the Philippines, such as the Langun-Gobingob Complex.

Revenge Tourism is a social phenomenon where people who have been stuck at home, often for months at a time, rush to tourist sites to appease their lockdown fatigue. With easing lockdown and flight restrictions, more and more tourist destinations are experiencing waves of visitors out to re-experience paradise – but what about the people who guide them? The people who themselves work in paradise? 

“I used to help cut and transport logs illegally,” reveals Epifanio ‘Panying’ Obidos, our boat guide. “For generations, we used traditional torpedo shaped canoes called balugo to transport timber. We would get orders to cut down hardwood trees like banuyonarra or kamagong. One balugo can transport over 100 board feet of wood.”

Samar is among the poorest provinces in the country. In 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that 45% or nearly half of all families in Samar lived below the poverty line. “The hardest part was that even when we’d risk run-ins with the law by transporting illegally-cut timber, we’d still have barely enough cash to survive. Often we’d borrow money from financiers to buy gas and other provisions to transport the logs they ordered. Even after getting paid, we’d still be in debt,” recalls Panying. 

Things have steadily improved. Samar’s poverty incidence dropped to 30% by 2018, mostly because of small businesses, one of which is the Ulot River Torpedo Extreme Boat Adventure, where boats go bow-to-bow with raging rapids.

“In 2008, to veer away from illegal activities, we started using our torpedo-shaped balugo for tourism to showcase the natural beauty of Samar. We mostly employed locals who formerly worked as illegal loggers or log haulers,” explains Panying. “Back then we only had 12 people and a few old boats – but traversing rivers was a way of life for us, since we’ve been using it for transportation long before Samar’s road network was developed.” 

Each torpedo boat has a three-man crew, comprised of a boat operator, tour guide and a point man, who sits at the bow or front of a boat, deftly using a paddle or pole to keep rocks at bay.

“Now our once-small operation has over 20 boats and employs 70 local people,” beams Panying. In 2018, their group, Tour Guides and Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), was recognized by the Department of Tourism for its responsible, community-based operations.

The Ulot River is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), the country’s largest land-based Protected Area (PA). “The Philippines hosts 247 PAs and practically all of them give locals employment,” explains Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) director Natividad Bernardino. The stories of many of these PAs are similar to Panying’s – of loggers turned into tour guides, hunters turned into rangers, blast fishers transformed into dive guides.

“For all this to continue, there must be a steady stream of clients,” notes SINP superintendent Eires Mate. “The COVID-19 lockdowns hit the world’s PAs hard, generating all-time visitor revenue lows. Many people were laid off and operations were drastically scaled-down. With our parks again open for business, we invite adventurers to visit the Ulot River and our country’s other beautiful PAs.”

Launched in May of 2022, the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA aims not just to educate people on the need to conserve PAs, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves. YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure continued management for areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

Declaring natural sites as PAs is among the best ways to protect natural capital. “The jobs generated by sustainable and ethical tourism activities act as economic and social safety nets for locals who might otherwise turn to illegal means to support their families,” says United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Selva Ramachandran.

* * *

Back in the Ulot River, the going is wet and wild. Our balugo, which traveled easily downstream, is now battling against the current in what locals jokingly call the ‘Salmon Run’ – akin to the epic upriver journeys undertaken by salmon in colder climes. Chilly geysers of water splash into the boat as our engines go full-throttle.

Just as soon as we’re sopping wet, the river calms down, the ride turning tranquil. Like the turbulent COVID-19 era, raging waters and rough times too, shall pass.

I glance ahead and notice what’s written on one of the guides’ shirts: #MAYFORRIVER, a play on #MayForever, the hope that some things really can endure the test of time.

With illegal activities, nothing is certain – but with legal, safe and sustainable tourism, then there truly might be forever.

“You know, if not for ecotourism, I would most probably be dead,” reflects Panying as we quietly glide back to shore. “The authorities would have definitely caught me, like they caught others. I might have starved to death, been shot by the cops or been hauled off to jail.”

He looks up, just a bit teary-eyed.

“In a very real way, ecotourism saved my life.”

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Travel

5 Road ready tips to ride motorcycles safely and comfortably

As a rider, you are part of a global community and a steward of the open road. To keep your ride safe and comfortable, consider these additional tips.

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A warm day on the open road is a dream opportunity for riders, whether it’s a longer trip or a quick jaunt through town. Regardless of the adventure, and no matter what you ride, a thrilling ride is a safe ride.

Whether you’re new to the open road or a seasoned veteran, remember to follow best practices for safe riding like those outlined in the Responsible Rider program from BRP, makers of Can-Am 3-wheel vehicles. The program prioritizes being an attentive rider and always considering safety, the environment and riding etiquette from highways to city streets and everywhere in-between.

As a rider, you are part of a global community and a steward of the open road. To keep your ride safe and comfortable, consider these additional tips:

Wear the Right Gear

While your fashion statement is largely a matter of personal preference, there are some safety items designed to protect your health and well-being that should be worn. Protective riding gear helps keep you safe while enjoying the open road.

Full-hand gloves, riding boots that cover ankles, pants and jackets help protect against wind, sun, cold, heat and flying objects such as bugs or rocks. Drivers and passengers should also wear an approved helmet and eye protection to prevent injuries to the head, brain and eyes.

Choose a Proper Helmet

Every rider should wear a helmet, and the abundance of options available can make it tough to decide what’s best. Start by looking for a DOT Certification sticker, which means the helmet meets the strict safety standards of the Department of Transportation.

  • Full Face: This style of helmet provides protection for the head and neck with a fixed chin that helps absorb impact. Simply slip it on and adjust the visor.
  • Open Face: Helmets like the Can-Am N21 are usually worn with goggles or a small integrated shield. This option provides ultimate freedom on the road.
  • Crossover: These helmets are easy to personalize based on ride intensity and weather conditions. Crossover helmets can be configured in numerous ways by transforming from full face to jet, which keep it breezy with a full field of view.

Maintain Your Hairdo

Keep hair out of your face. If you have longer hair, choose a hairstyle that’s high and away from your eyes like a low bun, simple braid or ponytail. Secure hair at the nape of your neck and, when possible, wear a neck gaiter around the back of your head and across your nose to keep loose hairs secured. Bonus tip: Keep a compact brush on your ride so you can brush your hair upon arrival at your destination.

Prepare Appropriately for Riding Conditions

Weather is unpredictable, and you should be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Regardless of the forecast, always make a plan for unforeseen conditions like wind and rain. An easy way to stay prepared is to keep a small packable jacket on your ride so you’re never left without an extra layer.

Cooler conditions call for warm yet lightweight gear such as a base layer with additional light layers over the top like a jacket or thin vest. Hotter days require vented clothing that allows airflow to keep you cool and dry.

Consider Your Passenger’s Safety

The most important rule for packing a passenger is ensuring your bike has a specific seat intended for a second rider. Be aware of how the added weight can affect the handling and behavior of the vehicle.

Generally, riding with a passenger requires more gradual riding from acceleration and braking to steering. Instruct your passenger how you prefer him or her to ride with you to ensure the most enjoyment possible.

Find more responsible riding tips at can-am.brp.com.

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Destinations

5 Reasons to visit Mykonos this summer

Summer is here, and there’s no better place to stay than Kenshō Ornos on Greece’s iconic island of Mykonos.

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Photo by Jeet Dhanoa from Unsplash.com

Undoubtedly one of the most famous Greek islands, Mykonos is known for its stunning beaches, cosmopolitan vibe, and vibrant dining scene. Holidaymakers flock from all corners of the globe to soak up the Grecian sunshine and local gastronomy.

No trip to Mykonos is complete however, without a visit to Kenshō Ornos – the A-list favourite, award-winning boutique hotel, set on the beautiful Ornos Bay. Here are our five top reasons to visit the hotel:

1. Resident DJ and Weekly Music Events

Popular for its glamorous nightlife, superstar DJs and beautiful crowds, Mykonos is a true holiday destination. The fun starts at Kenshō Ornos, with a calendar of regular events sure to keep guests entertained. Throughout the season, different musicians and performances will be taking place at Kenshō Ornos, ranging from singers to DJ’s, dancers and more. Recent events include our resident DJ, DJ Angelosi playing Ethnic Electronic and Afro House music and Mediterranean ethnic music performances by Ghenwa Nemnom.

2. The Star-Lit Swimming Pool

One of the best places to take a dip in Mykonos, the Kenshō Ornos pool was designed to complement the hotel’s surrounding Ornos Bay. With majestic views of the Aegean Sea, lounging by the pool has never been more relaxing. The pool is the perfect Instagram spot, guaranteed to give everyone at home FOMO. At night, the turquoise swimming pool is illuminated with ‘starlights’ that light up the turquoise water for inviting evening swims. Guests can enjoy fresh towels, delicious cocktails and snackable lite bites whilst listening to chilled beats throughout the day.

3. Kenshō Ornos Restaurant, Home To Exquisite Fine Dining

Dining in Greece is an experience like no other. Think long leisurely meals with stunning views of the Aegean Sea and evenings filled with Greek mezze favourites and glasses of local wine. This summer, an exquisite dining experience awaits at Kenshō Ornos Restaurant. Award-winning Executive Chef Ippokratis Anagnostelis, has created a menu that takes traditional Cycladic cuisine and transforms it into modern gastronomy.

This season, the restaurant is launching the ‘Gastro Comfort Project,’ a special degustation menu of small individual plates with intense flavour. Highlights include Aegean red mullet, with bouillabaise espuma, Ossetra caviar and basil oil; Cycladic Cacio E Pepe, bavette cooked with lamb broth and dried anthotiro cheese and Orzo Langoustine, orzo with Aegean langoustines and lobster broth. The menu is available daily between 7-11PM, reservations can be made through the website here: here.

4. The One-of-a-Kind Cave Spa

This is the Mykonos for grown-ups. The ones who come to Mykonos to experience ultimate luxury and relaxation. This is the only Cave Spa on the island, transporting guests to a magical place to enjoy moments of rejuvenation.  The boutique hotel has won numerous awards for its spa, which includes two treatment rooms, a hammam bath, an indoor pool with hydromassage, a tropical rain bed, a hair salon, beauty centre and a gym. Visitors can choose between various treatments with packages on offer like The Sleep Therapy and The Lovers Spa Experience. Don’t forget to try the hi-tech sun beds with colour, sound and heat therapy!

5. The Unique Architecture and Design

Under the bright sun of Mykonos, Kenshō Ornos is a haven of beautiful design and architecture. The colour palette uses shades of white, natural wood and stone, respecting the values of Myconian architecture. Combining state-of-the-art technology and traditional design elements to create an impression of serenity and beauty. The hotel features iconic design pieces by well-known figures including Dedon, Mogg, Gessi and Kenneth Cobonpue. Guest rooms and suites are airy, light, individually styled and design with seclusion and privacy in mind.

6The Idyllic Location Above Ornos Bay

The hotel overlooks Ornos Bay, a beautiful part of the coast where the land curves inwards and traditional whitewashed Myconian architecture is dotted around the hillside. The Bay is paradise, with clear turquoise waters and white fine sands, yet only 2km drive away from the iconic town of Mykonos. Kenshō Ornos offers guests the best of both worlds; the accessibility to  popular cultural, nightlife and entertainment spots teamed with the serenity and tranquillity of the island’s quieter side of Ornos.

About Kenshō Mykonos

From the Zen tradition, Ken means “seeing” and Shō means “nature, essence”. Kenshō is often interpreted as “seeing one’s (true) nature”. Kenshō offers its guests a unique journey, creating memorable experiences of stay, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Inspired by the endless blue colours of the sky and the sea, Kenshō combines the high-quality services and goes beyond the standards, to provide a truly luxurious experience for each and every visitor. Kenshō Ornos is home to every luxury a guest could need including 35 individually styled rooms & suites, the only cave spa in Mykonos, the finest hospitality, state-of-the-art facilities and the ultimate Myconian experience.

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