'El Nido, I'm here at last', I whispered to the evening wind as I was calming my abdominal cramps caused by the seven-hour bumpy ride. Dark, craggy rocks cast a shadow on my tiny presence and they seemed to roar in response. 'Were they scolding me for coming here so late?' I was able to set foot on this far-flung paradise only after three long years of fortune seeking in Dubai.
"Were they scolding me for coming here so late?"
One fine Thursday evening – it was 7th of January 2010, I remember – I set out for an eight-hour flight to Dubai. Exhilarated by the thought of my first plane ride and fuelled by the ambition to escape poverty, I pressed ahead free of drama.
Weeks of daunting job hunting in Dubai paid off. I got an offer to work as a receptionist in a multinational pharmaceutical company. My family and relatives were delighted with the news but I was not as excited as they were. Hard-pressed for time and money, I had no choice but accept the job with quiet dignity and humility. Indeed, I was grateful for the earning opportunity and the coveted employment visa. Yet as a licensed teacher, I could not take pride in the nature of the work.
'Title doesn't matter if you're earning five times more. You can always go home when you have had enough,' I consoled my conflicted soul. This positive self-talk went on for several months, a year, another - and to my surprise, it has been three years.
After Three Years, Should I Go Home or Stay Abroad?
While most OFW's I know expressed ardent longing to come home, many of them opted to stay in Dubai. Stories of those who have made a fortune continued to spread and inspire others to follow suit. But the true tales of misfortunes were rarely heard. Despite these uncertainties, many Filipino expats persistently believed that life would be worse back in the Philippines.
So whenever I mentioned that I yearned to go back home, they would look at me with bewilderment, followed by these comments:
- '.' Mahirap sa Pilipinas, mababa ang sahod (It's tough to live in the Philippines, the salary is too low.)
- "What are you going to do in the Philippines? Work in a call center?"
- "I'm quite sure you will regret that decision."
"I had no idea that the grandeur of El Nido was about to prove me spectacularly wrong."
I know that Dubai provides some high-paying jobs, but do I have to explain what treasures await Filipinos back home? The Philippines abounds with scenic landscapes, skyscapes, and seascapes routinely described as 'unparalleled' and 'otherwordly'. Dubai has cityscapes. Would you trade 7107 islands with a piece of arid land?
Such were my thoughts and questions but I held my peace. I didn't want to start a futile argument or provoke their ridicule because they could not comprehend my point. After all, I had been working in Dubai for the same goal: material gain. No person has the resolve to part with money.
I had no idea that the grandeur of El Nido was about to prove me spectacularly wrong.
The Turning Point
Chirping birds roused me from deep sleep. I would never forget that surreal feeling when I first looked over the deck of our bamboo hut perched on top of a hill. A panorama of trees, towering crags, diverse houses, busy bay, and countless islets dotting the vast sea met my sleepy gaze. My weary body and mind drew strength from this enchanting view and in an instant, I was ready to explore El Nido.
"Gratitude swelled in my heart as I stood face to face with nature's wondrous works."
The first piece of beauty we conquered was the charming Seven Commando beach. After an hour, we were squeezing our bodies into the narrow opening of the Secret Lagoon. Though we still wanted to linger in this mysterious lagoon, our guide reminded us of our itinerary. Our next stop was the mythical Simizu Island, where we had a feast of seafood and tropical fruits for lunch. The last stop was the eerily beautiful Big Lagoon.
Lofty limestone cliffs, powder-white sand, and clear azure sky met my eyes as I looked around. ' Beyond those mountains of karst lie untold adventures and discoveries ', muttered I to myself. As I stared straight ahead, I saw other tourists marvelling at the majesty of their surroundings. My fellow explorers dived into the turquoise-emerald waters seeking multifarious and magnificent sea creatures.
Meanwhile, I caught sight of enthralling islets spread out at sea so I strove to capture them in a single frame. In spite of keen pursuit, either my camera's capacity or my limited skill failed to render the splendour of El Nido. I refrained from shooting the exquisite sights. Instead, I allowed my senses to be wholly absorbed with the awe-inspiring spectacle before me.
Gratitude swelled in my heart as I stood face to face with nature's wondrous works. What did I do to deserve this reward?
Nature has showered the best gifts to El Nido, Palawan - and perhaps to the rest of the Philippines - which I am about to see. This train of thought went on until an epiphany put a sudden halt to it.
What am I trying to pursue by working abroad? Wealth? What is real treasure? Is it not this priceless pleasure and freedom to enjoy and discover nature? Its hidden stories, unspeakable depths, and unimaginable wonders?
As I approached the end of my El Nido trip and envisioned more island trotting around the country, the weight of indecision had been slowly lifted. Three precious years were enough- it's time to stay home. I let go of the chain that has weighed me down for years.