A Change of Tack?

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My step mother once asked me how I plan my travels, whether it is from A to B or what, and I explained that I prefer to float like a leaf and let the opportunities present themselves. Synchronicity has greater freedom that way, while the variety of opportunities ends up so much greater.

And thus it may be the same with my overall resort dreams. What started out as simple shock when watching how a hotel owner in Borneo completely blunders her operations, eventually metamorphosed into a major community-involved development project – that is if events continue to unfold as they are. [Just so you know, “a change of tack” is a sailing term when you change directions, whereby often the sail can swing from one side of the boat to another in a rather dangerous fashion (make sure you duck!)]

The end of the previous chapter envisioned a kitesurfing haven on the open ocean-facing side of Putoyo, on a small plot of land with a surrounding community of about 10 people. But since then I was fortunate to meet a traveler who has for many years been actively involved in various NGOs and community development projects. She explained that I might technically be shooting myself in the foot with my approach, since, while I will be busy building bamboo huts from the surrounding jungle material, bringing in tourists and developing a kitesurfing haven, the locals will feel left out, probably envious, and start mimicking the same. Soon enough competition will sprout all over, but since I will be dependent on locals to hire their boats or buy their groceries, they could easily raise their prices for me to give their brethren a distinct advantage.

A better approach, she explained, is to approach one NGO which has been active in the region for some time and then the tourist department of the local school (just across the street from my hotel), explaining my concept to the professor and eventually the students, to get them on board for a community-wide (hundreds of square miles of unspoiled archipelago) project to develop this pristine section of the world in a tasteful and thoughtful way.

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Stilt housing during low tide.

She also mentions that one of the greatest fears among the older population here is that their children will complete their education but run off to Manila or some other urban complex, because there are no jobs to be found locally. Not only will they become slaves to the multinationals, but the region will be depleted of its young blood, leaving only the old folks to wilt away in their dying traditions.

But if the forces of this community can be combined, not only will this youthful and educated vigour remain, but the elders could keep their traditions alive and even earn a living from it, teaching respectful and inquisitive tourists the tricks of how they survive traditionally (catching fish with bamboo and what not), or by selling local crafts such hats and bags made from hand-woven coconut leaves.

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Casually peeling locally grown cashews for eventual export.

We brainstorm for a solid hour, her mostly correcting me where my ideas are wrong, when chance would have it that the owner of the hotel, ex-mayor of the town, is in a lengthy discussion with someone who I later learn has the same vision. When my friend leaves to go snorkeling, the mayor’s companion calls me over and we discuss his visions and projects, showing me video clips of him being reported on national TV about his various solar projects.

I cut our conversation short, as I have to go back to work, but not before arranging with him to go out to his project and discuss further once he gets back in one week’s time.

As per my daily routine, I pick up a bag of veggies and fruit before starting my serious work shift (the preliminary shift under my belt before breakfast), and as I rummage through the pile in search of the most perfectly ripe mangos, a girl at the grocery store mentions that she thought I had already left. “Oh no, I plan to stay here for at least a couple of years, maybe forever.” Her eyes sparkle, eyebrows raised. She asks what I am doing here and I launch into a five minute intense speech, while the store owner carefully weighs the goods and is busy punching in the sum on his calculator. I basically sum up the last two hours of our brainstorming discussion: that this region is a gold mine, lying between El Nido and Coron, and that if it is developed tastefully while preserving the beautiful nature, coral reefs and what not, it will definitely become the best tourist destination in the world, and people will be willing to pay LOTS of money to enjoy it.

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Her chest expands and eyes light up in proud exhileration. She thanks me gracefully as I rush off to work, but maybe that would not be such a bad shift in my plans. Leave the slaving away of building jungle huts to others while getting more involved in the organisational end of community development. I can have my small piece of the pie, most importantly do something I enjoy, while inspiring locals how to preserve their inherited beauty and work together as a community, as opposed to against one another to the detriment of the natural environment. I can see this envious competition developing if I were to selfishly pursue my own little resort, despite my eco-friendly or charitable intentions.

island-hopping-philippines-leafIn any case, no matter the outcome, this loose leaf is having a great ride.

The below is correspondence with a friend of mine around this time. He is working on a similar project in Mexico and is interested in expanding to Poland, Burma, and perhaps even here in the Philippines.

Hello amigo yah, seems like we’re on similar tracks. I don’t trust ownership much anyway. But even though I don’t got cash to buy, I can develop many places, with the help of volunteers, organise everything, make the web and online marketing, and in this sense almost own to the degree that they will be grateful, and I’m sure, among the various projects I’ll help put together, I’ll always find a home once the shit comes down. Last place I wanna be when that happens is in some city where people will be rioting for food. lots of fish in the surrounding waters here, and I want my projects to be heavily involved in permaculture, teaching tourists about that. I think that the eco-tourist crowd might be willing to pay more to eat organic, locally grown veggies while learning about all this. When I was out there exploring yesterday, got the idea that starting a bee colony would be prudent. Not only as another source of valuable nutrients, but I want to plant flowers and tons of stuff, which the bees will be necessary for. And not to mention to wage my small little war against the likes of Monsanto, whose roundup many suspect is the culprit behind the dangerous decline in bee population. Would be great to team up! Maybe we could even trade seeds, as I heard people are now doing this against Monsanto’s terminator seeds. 

Cool, looks like you’re online right now… That’s actually one of the main goals. It started with watching people lose their land, especially indigenous and those at the “bottom” of the  political/social ladder.  In the US it was working with inner city crime-filled neighborhoods, mostly black or Hispanic, and then watching how gentrification took over quickly.  Here in Mexico it’s the Tzeltal/Mayan, in Thailand it was the Burmese…  The goal is, exactly as you said, to help them develop it themselves. I have no interest in buying or holding possession of anything in my life. But I do have an idea for the process of helping others who want to develop or build. For now, I’ll leave you with the idea that change is always happening (we both know that one for sure), and it’s our goal to help empower communities (disadvantaged or not) to develop with change through conscious-building, sustainable ideas, and eco-tourism. Through this we help change the “tourist” into a professional nomadic super-conscious hippie. This sounds general and vague, but I will give you the specifics soon amigo.

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Most of the food just plucked from nature.

So I’m back on this island of Koh Phangan, Thailand. It’s very quiet and there’s seems to be some changes… I’m here for the reason of networking with a few others about these kinds of ideas. Hopefully work with the Burmese here when they’re ready to go back to Burma and build something there. So the idea comes from sustainability. I’ve been working construction and travelling for most of my life, so I’ve become quiet conscious of observing building practices wherever I go. Mostly I’ve noticed how construction or change in general affects the community around it. All sorts of things effect the neighboring areas when it comes to building: the impact on the environment caused by demand (import, export), waste water and trash disposal, the aspects of the physical structure itself – from foundation to finish, and the presence created afterwards. I realized that the process of building or remodeling something has a greater function toward change, and that it has a greater responsibility of incorporating the surrounding community. Otherwise we have things like gentrification & rapid growth/overdevelopment (usually when a local sells quickly, the land is quickly developed by those who don’t really have the knowledge of the local environment, which leads to competition and over-development). Part of the idea is to “plant a seed” with anyone who is developing a plot of land, business practice, or product. It’s like an idea that can work towards other ideas, or even your personal philosophy in general. Instead of creating something sustainable, we want to focus on being more than sustainable – creating room in business practices for community development, conscious tourism, worker’s rights, eco-conscious behavior, etc… I’m focused on targeting those of disadvantaged populations – urban inner city programs, the indigenous, poverty, women’s rights etc… The idea is universal, from small businesses in the ghetto to a yoga resort in the jungle. It’s all connected, so let’s connect it more consciously. While we develop, we can access a huge network of sustainable builders and skilled workers who will help in design and implementation of ideas when and if we need them. We can teach locals how to keep their land and share it with the community as well, all while creating jobs for them and teaching the proper skills to be balanced with technology and nature…  Those are just some quick, vague ideas for now. But the basic thought is that sustainability is cool, but it’s not enough. We all need to be more than sustainable in order to grow with the surrounding area. I’m working on a diagram/graph and hope to have that ready in the next few days. How’s it going out there? I probably won’t be able to get there until the end of Summer…

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So what’s different about the island [I lived on Koh Phangan for 2.5 years before ending up here in the Philippines 6 months later]? Heard that the government decided it wants to stop all the parties, except the fool moon [Full Moon], and turn it into full of super expensive resorts and get rid of all the tatoo nuts [the island has long attracted exceptional characters of all shapes and sizes]. At least this approach might bring more respect to nature, as the island is really beautiful, so maybe its a good plan. But I’m done with Thais, so not something i really want to think about. For here, i have a dream to develop as many islands as possible, all with own veggie garden etc., before the entire region gets trodden over and turned into another tourist trash destination. But I’m beginning to have doubts. I find Asians can be pretty dumb in general, like monkeys waiting for a big handout so that they can sell out and buy their big dream LCD TV and fancy car, but leave nothing for their future generations. Hopefully if i can get one project going, others will be interested and I can develop other plots, hopefully keeping this entire area nice, natural and tasteful, instead of overtrodden with dumbdumb tourists. A small, humble chain of self-sustained jungle hut resorts. So i guess in a way it would be similar to your tasteful eco development concept. Where are you getting funding from? So many islands here, hopefully I’ll find something to start working on by the end of the summer. Actually, I hope to start after my next visa run on May 9, so time is running out for me. Need to spend less time in front of the computer and crank up these aging bones. 🙂

island-hopping-philippines-shack-040420152698Yes, it seems to be heading that way on Koh Phangan. They are trying to push the backpackers/hippies out and cater toward expensive short stay tourists. I feel the same about how they want to sell out and just buy their shit. That’s the same thing I see in the urban areas when the poor people’s property value rises dramatically. Then in two years they spent all they have on nice cars and shit and are back in the cycles of poverty (but with cars with nice rims). So it’s hard, because we want to help out, but, based on past experiences, things seem to stay the same and people choose the easiest path.. I’m hoping our eco-resorts/gardens will set an example, or effect change by leading by example.. Feel it out with the locals there, give it some time to see if you want to invest. I will be building one in Poland for sure. Mexico is already building now. Here’s some pics of when i was there last: pix.phloat.com

Alright brother, talk soon and keep the ideas/dialogues coming.

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6 thoughts on “A Change of Tack?

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your pages (Just finished all the boat stops!) and liek your enthusiasm.

    I have travelled all over the Philippines – from the north to Banaue to Samal in the south, from Legazpi in teh east to Palawan (Port Barton / El Nido / Perto) in the west. Having lived here in the Philippines for a few years, I am now more aware of their culture and the manner in which things are done. Wht Filipinos do easily / naturally and what is difficult with them. And I know that what works in Malapascua need not work in an island in Palawan, and how different the people in Ifugao are from the people in Butuan.

    Having said that, I truly wish you all the best. I loved the idea of solar fans – much needed in El Nido and Apo island, but not found anywhere in msot of the resorts!

    You may wish to see the resort in Cacnipa island – they have develoepd it similar to what you are trying – and I loved it as a guest. And it was economical and great value for money.

    No doubt Palawan is filled with beautiful gems, vastly unexplored.

    2 big issues you will need to address in your resorts are:

    1) The tedious travel in Palawan (it is terrible are far worse than the rest of Phisl which imho is pretty well connected) – no boat services, bad roads, few buses. This makes the costs sky rocketind compared with the rest of Philippines

    3) The resultant high costs. YOu would need to keep this low for you first few years. Have a look at how Liberty (at Apo island) has acheived this.

    Feel free to write to me for any other suggestions, and Wishing you all the best.

    Live well – You Live Only Once

    • Thanks David, always interested in opinions and advice. For me personally, I have been dreaming about this for a year and basically my agreement with the property owner, which I would like to expand for other properties, is that I pay 5,000 pesos a month rent or 50% of profits, whichever is higher. I usually find places to stay for 200p a night, which is 6,000 a month. So I’m actually paying less and living my dream at the same time. I’m inviting volunteers to help me build, so everything is quite on the cheap and I’m not really concerned about turning a profit, because I still have my online job and build the bamboo huts as a side hobby and to stay in shape. Once a hut is built I was thinking of charging around 1,200p a night, or maybe 300p for a tent. This assumes that I have some kitesurfing boards. Based on what others are charging around Coron, was thinking perhaps 3,000p to rent a board for the entire day. Obviously it would be too tiring to surf the whole day, so people can take breaks and continue later, while others do the same. 3,000p for lessons, flat price until the person learns, not by the hour or anything. The big ferry costs 400p to here from El Nido, or 600 from Coron, although it only goes once a week. There are other boats in between and I am coordinating things with local boat owners to offer something reasonable. Do these prices seem okay to you?

  2. Actually the charges sound rather low to me. In Coron, the average cost of a resort room is 2500 pesos (minimum 800 PHP at a pension house).

    However, do also consider doing this near El Nido – the prices here appear to be the biggest scam in the Philippines – They charge 2500 – 4000 pesos for a room without electricity half the day, and with hardly any facilities. And the town is not even pretty (Unlike say Malapascua where the charges are lower, facilities are better, and there actually is a nice beautiful beach, few tourists). I found En to be rather pretentious and a place like yours would be welcome there / closeby to it.

    You may wish to get in touch with Outventure – a new outfit recently set up in EN. I had interacted briefly with the founder, a girl who was brought up in EN, and they do seem to have the right attitude towards sustainable and inclusive tourism.

    I wish you all the best in your venture. Do keep me updated of your progress (just out of interest) and feel free to share your ideas.

    • Thanks for your feedback David, will check out Outventure for sure.

      I don’t even have a toilet yet, thinking of maybe a standing stall dry one or something, and plan to make the jungle huts natural and quite rudimentary. Perhaps a hammock that can be hung over the bed and walls opened up as an option. People are not meant to be staying in their “rooms” watching satellite TV. Want to make a central campfire place where people can hang out. Before I build the huts there will be tents.

      Will try to get a windsurf board and then kitesurf board asap. For now there is volleyball and badminton, and will want to make bamboo monkeybars like a workout gym. So kind of campy for now. Definitely a paradise though, and fantastic snorkeling on the other side of the island, and tons of undeveloped paradise beach islands to explore in the area. Considering all that do you still think I could charge more than 1200 for the huts (assuming by then I’ll have the dry toilet)? In Nido I found a single room with fan for 300p, then one place for 500 and another for 600, heard of a shared dorm hostel for 300. In Princesa found 200p for shared, but I generally have a good nose for the cheap. But I know that most tourists just take whatever. Want to charge a fair price and don’t like going overboard, but do want to make some money, because these boards are expensive and I want to build similar ideas in other places, to hopefully set some template and not let it turn into a tourist trap here.

      If you’d like updates I’m posting them here:
      http://www.islandhoppinginthephilippines.com/palawan/hunt-for-beach-paradise/
      and you can subscribe to new posts by clicking on the box just under the Comment section of any page.

  3. To me, 1000-1200 pesos per night for 2 people in a cottage / house is perfect as long as it has a fan and attached toilet / bath (don’t call it a hut! Only pretentious rich people would like to stay in a “hut” – many tourists, esp. those from Asia – which is the popular breed at the moment – have seen enough people stay in huts to know how tough and unglamorous life in huts is!)

    This would be the average rate for fan rooms in Siquijor.

    I am amazed that you found places for such rock bottom prices in EN – I think you have a pretty good nose for this.

    The cheapest that most of us tourists manage to spot is 1000 pesos per night! And in En, the one I stayed initially in (2500 pesos/night) was absolute rubbish. I peeped into the backpacker accommodations in Buena suerte (EN town proper) and they were terrible! Reminded me of the accommodation on Khaosan road described in the beach!

    One place that you may wish to emulate is Coconut island in Cacnipa (off Port Barton) – it was the best deal and had the nicest appeal in my entire journey in Palawan.

    Also, many tourists do not wish to be away from civilisation (read electricity / running water) when they come on holidays, as many of them do not have it back home! And many cannot afford to stay without a phone / connection to family / work. Hence do give the facility of electricity.

    If there is no TV, then do provide a replacement like some type of entertainment. Many wildlife lodges in India instead have a central place where they screen wildlife films in the evening. Else you could have planned scheduled activities such as star spotting at night, or fish and coral spotting during the day. Or something about the history of Palawan (Tagbanuas?) told with pictures and some theatrics. Or lcoals singing songs (remember the Loboc river cruise?)

    • It will definitely take some time before I have fancyish bungalows with their own attached toilet. For that I would probably want to charge at least 2000. Was hoping for some permaculture outside toilet fertilising the garden. Solar power without annoying generator, so they can charge up their laptops during the day. Will get wind turbine too. Evening entertainment is singing around campfire. Absolutely forget about showers. Washing is pulling up bucket from waterwell. Don’t even want prima donnas here. Patoyo means dry island and get drinking water trickling down from the hillside, out of ground.

      Will start off with tents, with mattresses, will try small 5V fan connected to USB powerpack which they can rent with a deposit. 300p a night and a 1000 per day for the board (while sharing with others). Will focus on camper crowd who wants to kitesurf etc and prefer to save some cash and stay in nontouristy place. Eventually upscale to basic hut. I don’t think this entire island has a toilet but it will definitely be unique. Children running around naked, will call for specific breed of tourist who likes these things like I do.

      Internet is through Smart mobile and dead slow in camp. I have to hike up mountain each day to get the fast stuff, for direct shot at tower on neighbouring island. Don’t have the capacity to share. Next time I’m on visa run will visit Smart if they have some solution, but doubt they do, since the signal has to get through a big chunk of rock (the island), so doubt a receiver exists to get the fast stuff in camp. Could eventually consider satellite internet.

      In the windy season the wind turbine could be enough electricity for everyone. In the beginning will use the many volunteers who are expressing interest to gauge opinion. Build it slowly based on interest. Integrate with community so they can make some money too. Think it will be very unique indeed. More for nature lovers who don’t mind roughing it a bit. Have tons of movies can share.

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