While I was completing the final stage of my Pacific row, my mother told me one day during our satphone call, “A very nice man in the Philippines has invited you to spend some time at his eco-resort…” And having been invited, it seemed rude not to accept. Plans quickly evolved, and now I find myself in the province of Palawan, about 270 miles southwest of Manila.
El Nido is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to – and the fact that it is an award-winning eco-resort just makes it even better. Visitors are provided with a biodegradable bag into which to place any non-biodegradable rubbish, and are strongly encouraged to pick up any trash that they see while kayaking or snorkelling. On checking in we were provided with a checklist of local birds and marine creatures to look out for and record our observations. Resort staff have to attend a course to obtain their certification of G.R.E.E.N. (Guard, Respect, Educate El Nido). For every passenger being flown to the resort, 6 trees are planted to offset their carbon emissions.
All this is hardly surprising given that the owner, Vince Perez, is CEO of Alternergy Partners, a renewable power company for emerging Asian countries, and is chairman of Merritt Partners, an energy advisory firm to companies doing business in Asia. He is also chairman of WWF-Philippines and member of the WWF-International board. In the same way that David Lambourne (Solicitor General) was my guardian angel in Kiribati , and Sir Peter Barter (former Governor of Madang Province and owner of the Madang Resort) filled a similar role in Papua New Guinea, Vince is fast becoming a good friend and excellent conversation partner.
This morning he and I went out in sea kayaks to explore the Big Lagoon, a short paddle from the resort. It was like stepping back in time, to a primordial peace and quiet. A shallow lagoon, with corals clearly visible beneath the calm, clear waters. Steep limestone cliffs on every side. Tropical trees and shrubs clinging onto roots in unfeasibly tiny nooks and crannies. I closed my eyes for a few minutes and felt the slight rocking of the kayak beneath me, and listened to birdsong echoing around the acoustic chamber of the cliffs. With no significant stretch of the imagination I could feel myself in a dugout canoe, several thousand years ago.
It turned out to be a very special morning. We saw a baby shark, no more than 18 inches long, swimming swiftly just a few feet from our kayaks. A couple of turtles appeared as large shadows under the water. Then Vince and I returned to the resort for a late breakfast and a hugely productive caffeine-fuelled brainstorming session, the results of which will become apparent in due course.
As so often in my life these days, business and pleasure are inextricably linked…..