Island Hopping with the Locals – Philippines

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I arrived to El Indo, Palawan, Philippines, via Manila, via Chiang Rai, via Chiang Mai, Thailand two days prior. I had a short overnight in Manila to catch an Airswift flight to my next destination, El Indo, Palawan, Philippines. As it so often happens to me, I find myself in a place I never heard of three weeks ago! Having had an excellent experience two years ago in Zijuahtanao, Mexico, with workaway volunteers, ( I was ready to do it again. (Read my e-book, about how to travel more for less.) I had an epiphany that I wanted to start teaching yoga again even though I hadn’t taught in years since I lived in Southern California. Spending most of my time in Bali the last seven years wasn’t a place to pursue teaching, even though it’s a huge yoga inspired community. Immigration doesn’t encourage foreigners to work there as they feel it will take jobs from the locals. I agree with them on that point and working VISAs are pricy. I’ve kept up my own regular practice and decided I wanted to challenge myself, humbly sharing what I had learned over the last couple decades with wonderful teachers I’ve studied with. I had tried searching the website for yoga teaching situations in Thailand where I was at the time but it showed nothing of interest. The next day I met a young woman from Mexico City, who had just returned from the Philippines and raved about it. I started a search on workaway for yoga in the Philippines and the first opportunity that came up was what I was looking for! A fairly new and small yoga studio with a spa was looking for someone to fill in for a teacher going home for Christmas. I updated my profile on workaway and contacted the owner. Her reply the next day, “you are just what I’m looking for,” excited me. “Can you be there soon?” she asked. Really? I had already accepted a volunteer position for two weeks in Northern Chiang Rai at New Life Foundation ( and needed to honor that commitment. I accepted her offer, the usual; free accommodation plus breakfast for two weeks in exchange for teaching a maximum of two classes per day. I committed to being there as soon as I could after my previous commitment.

The owner, Chit, even sweetened the deal by offering me fifty percent revenue of each class I taught. This is extremely generous and not an expected arrangement with workaway. That’s how my life flows, always surprising me with interesting, unexpected opportunities. After New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai, I flew back to Chiang Mai, spent an overnight there to regroup, repack and then a flight to Manila the next day. Sometimes, no time for research works to my benefit as there aren’t many expectations. Within hours of arriving at my destination in El Nido, I was ensconced in what felt like a new family at Namaste Yoga and Spa ( A birthday party for one of the students was taking place upon my arrival.

One morning, Ella, one of the massage therapists, shyly asked me if I wanted to go to the market with the others. She really wanted to ask me if I would join them for an island picnic and contribute to the expenses of an island picnic. Chit, the owner interceded and explained the situation to me. I happily agreed. The Philippine people can be very shy as many of the Asian cultures are and one often has to pull out the deeper meanings in conversations. First, the three of us got on a cyclo (a motorcycle with metal fabricated seats for three people if you really squeeze in and one sits behind the driver on his motorcycle seat). We were off to the market to buy the necessary food ingredients, a five gallon empty can of cooking oil, a gallon of petrol we filled into a plastic water bottle for the boat, and an hour later we waded out to a small fishing boat and loaded it up with our purchases. We paddled out of the bay in crystalline water and the captain, one of the massage therapist’s husbands started the outboard motor. As we motored into the ocean, we were surrounded by rugged limestone croppings jutting out of the water (karsts), tall rocky islands covered in greenery. The blue water and islands colors contrasted to make it truly a paradise that seemed to be undiscovered by hordes of tourists. Within twenty minutes we pulled up to a white sand beach and placed the provisions under the coconut trees. I watched as the captain efficiently cut the five gallon empty can into a stove with his knife, loaded it up with sand, wood and some charcoal, placed a metal grill on top and put his fresh-caught fish from the morning on the barbie. I was instructed to go swimming.

Everything was done while I relaxed, including gathering fresh coconuts from the trees above. The island had only one small bungalow, where their friends live a simple life with their two sons and lots of dogs. The dogs sat patiently, waited for scraps from the feast beautifully presented on banana leafs laid on the sand. It was one of those days when I am so aware that the life I live and the incredible experiences I have are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, but not ever for some! I’m grateful for all and never forget to acknowledge that, always, remembering to thank whoever is in charge of this great cosmic soup we live in. Several hours after the glorious time swimming, sunning and eating, Ella told us we were going to a different beach. “Why leave I thought?” It seemed pretty perfect there. Silently, I helped clean up and carry stuff back into the boat. Within fifteen minutes motoring through scenery that continued to be jaw-dropping, I really did see what I assumed was a mirage. After all, it was hot, the water was splashing my face, I had my shades on, maybe some sunscreen in my eyes. But, what was I seeing? I couldn’t make it out, but as we got closer, there really was a beautiful yellow wicker table and chairs for eight set on a much smaller island with nothing else around. It all felt and looked surreal. The locals, of course, knew where we were: a sandbar used by tour companies to take the few privileged ones to dinner on a deserted island. What an amazing place for a special night to remember; a birthday, anniversary, wedding or just because you could! A day island hopping with the locals is something magical and at the top of my list of places I’ve been.

Fly into Manila, if you’re in Asia, to the outer islands. El Indo, Palawan for secluded beaches, diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding, swimming, zip lining, exploring water caves, and more! Go sooner then later, the travelers are discovering it as you read this.


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