As many of you know, we run the majority of our courses on a few of the 7,107 (at high tide) islands of the Philippines. SE Asia is home to many beautiful countries and diverse cultures, but this archipelago holds a special place in the hearts of the Zoox team.
In 2010, Zoox Directors Chloe and JJ found themselves working in the Philippines trying to kick start activities for our partner project, Green Fins. During the process, they were doing supplementary marine monitoring work with some of the Universities here, and having taken steps to start Zoox as a company, began designing the Zoox modules. In 2011 we ran our first Zoox Experience Programme (ZEP) out of Puerto Galera, and ten ZEPs later, we’re still here!
We’re definintely excited by future opportunities to expand the ZEP to different countries, but for now, here’s some of the reasons we love this beautiful, frustrating, diverse and joyful country.
Forming a large part of the coral triangle, the biodiversity found in the Philippines is astounding, particularly underwater. We could quote you the numbers of fish or coral species, but you can (and should) look that up yourself. On a personal level, each dive is like a treasure hunt to see how many Green or Hawksbill turtles you can see, or the weirdest looking nudibranch, or the most insane fish behaviour.
This hotpot of life provides vital ecosystem services to both the local communities through food security and coastal protection, and to the wider world in terms of climate change mitigation and biodiversity. It makes the work we do with our volunteers here incredibly rewarding.
We could go on and on about thresher shark tails, or schools of sardines, or mimic octopuses, but we’d rather you saw it!
Anyone that has been to the Philippines will tell you that it’s home to some of the friendliest people in the world. They may sing karaoke at 7am, but at least you’ll get a genuine smile and host of ‘good mornings’ as you walk down the street.
People go out of their way to help you find your way, and defend you against those who would try their luck taking advantage of your tourist-naievity. No one is saying that you won’t get ripped off, but with manners and a smile, there’s probably going to be someone nearby to help you.
Each of us in the team have made unexpected friends. Chloe and JJ were pretty much adopted by a family in Puerto Galera, and Alan knows the life story of many a tricycle driver. Sam’s apparently ‘cute’ attempts to speak the local language has earned many a laugh, and a helpful nudge in the right direction.
With over 7000 islands, the variety of land, and seascapes keeps both landlubber and diving life all the more interesting. We can tell you that if you volunteer in Malapascua, you’ll get to see blood red and vibrant orange sunsets right off the beach, and dive on the unique sescape of an underwater seamount. If you head to Puerto Galera, you might find yourself spending your day off up the mountains enjoying the brisk waters of a waterfall, or drift diving over gorgeous soft coral gardens.
Volunteering on the ZEP gives you unique insight into the behind-the-scenes of tourism hot spots. You’ll notice the trash problem, the anchoring, the prolific use of single-use plastic – you better – we train you to see issues and find solutions – that’s the job; but you’ll also get to spend seven weeks on location enjoying that scenary on a daily basis. It’s a definite perk of the job.
Ok, so this one is simultaneously a source of contention and joy; but this just means you’ve got to hone your skills in fare negotiation – a definitely transferable skill! The Filipinos are reknown for their ingenuity and this is applied as strongly to their transport options as it is to any other aspect of life.
The banca/ banka/ bancka (we’ve not found a standard spelling), is your standard mode of ocean travel. It comes in all sizes, from single person, to passenger ferry and has two outriggers that stablise the boat. You enter via removable ladder/walkway/gangplank and may or may not get your feet wet in the process – let’s hope you’re not wearing socks!
The jeepney comes from the adaptation of the abandoned US military jeeps into passenger vehicles. You’ll have to find out the price of the fare from a local beforehand, and standard practice is to sit as close to the entry as possible, ensuring future passengers must climb over your knees to get to an empty spot. You may or may not find yourself sitting next to a bucket of squid, or a fighting cockrel.
The tricycle is a motorbike and side car which varies in size and layout between towns, let alone islands. The smallest we’ve found are in Moalboal, and the largest in Dumaguete (joy for your non-Filipino sized hips).
The tricycad is the bicycle version of the tricycle, cheaper and slower but will get you from A to B nonetheless (as long as they’re relatively close!). Best not to put more than two non-Pinoy sized people on one, lest the driver collapse from exertion.
The Department of Tourism’s latest campaign ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ is spot on. The friendly people, the relaxed atmosphere, and the casual aquaintence with logic make this country beautifully and frustratingly enjoyable. Working here you have to get used to certain stakeholders being on ‘Filipino time’, but for sure they will be smiling when they finally show up. Every photo needs to actually be two shots, one ‘normal’ one and one ‘wacky’ one, complete with gangster signs. This is status quo. A local government official may break into song to demonstrate a point. This is… not uncommon. And a tricycle driver might attempt to charge you an insane ‘tourist price’ fare, but burst out laughing when you call them on it.
The trick to life here is patience and lots of smiling. It’s beautiful and completely worthy of protecting and we take great pleasure in introducing our volunteers to conservation in the fabulously fun Philippines.
Want to know more about the placements we run in the Philippines? Check out the Zoox Experience Programme here.