Insta to Reality: Philippines 2020

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Imagine being surrounded by blue water, the warm sun overhead, remote islands in the distance coming into view like a greeting as you pass by - islands with lush green jungle and white sand beaches, some islands with towering limestone, and other islands with shallow clear lagoons. Time is an open concept as your private boat transports you to the next beautiful destination. You can lounge while taking in Mother Nature, sunbathe, nap, connect with your companions who are adventurers; strangers at first but quickly feel like family, or join the random dance parties on the deck below. Food is fresh, caught and prepared right on the boat. You reach your first destination of the day, jump off the boat, snorkel in colorful reefs with fish you’ve never seen, starfish the size of your hand, maybe see a sea turtle, explore caves or a sunken ship or swim to shore and lay out on the beach of the nearest island. You return to the boat and head to your new island home for the night, maybe two nights. You swim to shore, pick a beach hut, and the time is yours till dinner. You can join the afternoon fitness (yoga or a beach workout) as you watch beautiful sunsets. Dinner is fresh and prepared on the beach and it feels like going to a luau with tiki torches. Music breaks out and the fun begins, maybe a little mischief, and some beats from the Sax. You walk to the shore and are awestruck by a clear sky lit up by stars. You eventually head to bed and are awoken by the sunrise. You get ready and head to the beach for your morning workout. The next hour you’re covered in sand, sweat, maybe sea water but you feel fantastic. A delicious breakfast is devoured and you’re on your way to the next island. Now REPEAT every day for a week while taking away your comforts – no to limited cell service, electricity, and running water & allowing yourself to truly live in the moment.



Call me sentimental but I felt like this trip was meant for me. Let’s take it back. July 2019, I met an outgoing lady at a surf event. She was just back from the Surf Yoga Beer Iceland trip and highly recommended the company saying, “I think it’d be your thing”. Fast forward to December after we unsuccessfully tried to hang many times, she tagged me on a SYB Instagram post for a contest to go to Palawan, Philippines in February 2020. It was a long shot, but I entered. On Christmas Eve, I got a message as my sister was driving us to go snowboarding, and I freaked her out by screaming, “I WON”. I got my flight Christmas Day and it’s the best gift I’ve given myself.



February 2020, weeks before leaving, my pack list had things I’ve never thought of getting such as a head lamp, a wet bag, a travel yoga mat, and water sneakers. I also took out “real” travel insurance. For reference, I’ve only lived in big cities, never went to summer camp, and I’ve gone car camping maybe 3 times. My head space had fears of needing to rough it, wondering about sleeping in a beach hut, wishing I had trained for the workouts, and worrying about the cultural perception people would have of me. I’m first-generation Filipino-American. I was born and raised in California and despite my parents purposefully not teaching me the language, I can understand 2 Filipino dialects (funny how resilient kids are) but can barely speak either dialect. Also, my last visit to Philippines was 15 years ago but I was so excited.




17 hours then a smaller flight over to El Nido, part of the group met up and we took tricycles (a motorcycle with an attached carriage for 2 passengers) to our hostel. Riding in the tricycle through the small town, I was taken aback by how unchanged it felt. I’ve never been to Palawan but the feel of the small town was exactly how I remembered other small towns in Philippines. The group hung out on the picturesque rooftop overlooking the beach as people began to arrive. Introductions quickly lead to camaraderie over a boat orientation requiring all 26 of us to show our best dance move to the group, followed by a multi-course meal, our saxophonist (Shout out to Chris!) giving us a taste of the beats we would be dancing to, and the sky had a full display of stars (a common theme for the trip). The next morning was day 1 for beach workouts and although I was a little hungover I was adamant to push myself (also a common theme). We explored the town of El Nido then got on our private boat. 




The rest of the trip was a sweet blur of my earlier description with island hopping, delicious food, gorgeous landscapes, beach fitness, and having a talented photographer (Love you Ken!) to capture it all. A mixture of fitness, natural beauty, and bonding. I’ll always cherish that week. “Piece of Your Heart” by Meduza and “Intentions” by Justin Bieber became the trip theme songs and by the end we had a choreographed dance. Some fond memories include an appearance by a costumed pirate, Lost Boys and their boat dogs, lots of twerking, jumping off the boat, photoshoots, carrying people into the ocean, drinking from a saxophone, night swimming, stargazing, trust falls, hair braiding, swimming in a majestic lagoon, Macarena, a scavenger hunt leading to nicknames, THE BEST island birthday party, salsa dancing, challenges ranging from pull ups and handstands to swimming between islands, massages, island karaoke, a fire dancer, a friendly brontosaurus; and still YET moments of listening to the ocean while doing yoga (Lots of love Nikki!), watching halo-halo colored sunsets, reflecting, sharing, and genuinely connecting and eye-gazing with like-minded people. 




My fears before the trip became an afterthought. I was pulled out of my comfort zone and allowed to reconnect to myself, to check in, be present, and to be reminded of my priorities. I felt myself growing stronger (the beach workouts were kickass, TY Mantas & Adam!) and I felt more in my skin than I have in years. From the beginning, our boat crew (The Lost Boys) called me “Ate” (meaning big sister in Filipino) and they patiently encouraged me to try to speak with them in Filipino which was filled with lots of embarrassment and laughter. By the end of the trip I found myself thinking and speaking simple sentences in Filipino. I’ve never felt so proud of my heritage and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to share it with 26 amazing individuals who I know are lasting friends. Thank you SYB!



In times of fear, discomfort and uncertainty, I’m reminded that being open, showing up, and surrounding myself with community are values important to me as I strive to live a life of growth, passion, and adventure. I’m happy to have the Surf Yoga Beer community, and to think it all started with an Instagram contest. 



LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NEXT PHILIPPINES TRIP HERE!




-Michelle

Find her on Instagram!


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