Its devotees say it is the most beautiful part of the Philippines. Eighteen islands set in a sparkling jade and
turquoise universe: limestone cliffs like giant mushrooms, underground streams and caverns, coral reefs, and fine
white sand beaches. This is the El Nido Marine Reserve, home to many endangered marine species: dugongs, green
turtles, and giant clams.
Beyond the bow of "Gizmo," our 31 foot trimaran, we can see Malapacau Island shrouded in cloud. It is a small
island, only 50 hectares in area, and from seawards it looks like a lopsided dog bone. Palm trees line the beach,
and between them we glimpse thatched huts amid a blaze of red and orange flowers.
We are preparing to anchor off the beach when a blond woman in a two piece swim suit comes from one of the
cottages. "Tie up to the buoy," she calls, and walks down the beach to where it has been cleared of weed. We row
ashore and she introduces herself. She is Lee Ann Cruz, owner of the Malapacau Island Retreat. Probably in her
mid-40's, she is well built and has a confident manner. Blond hair straggles down to her shoulders.
She offers us lunch. It is midday and we are hungry - supplies in El Nido have been scarce since the ice factory in
Liminangcong burnt down last October. "Take a look around," she calls from the open air kitchen.
The three hectares that make up the resort are sandwiched between two limestone cliffs that rise vertically from
the sea. These are the ends of the "dog bone" we saw from seawards. Behind the row of coconut trees lining the
beach we find neatly trimmed paths that lead through jackfruit and jacaranda trees, past beds of hibiscus, beneath
cane arches, and around circular huts that belong in an African kraal.