Rupert Andres lives in Manila, and is a pack leader for Flash Pack’s Philippines adventure.
I live in the southern part of metro Manila, the capital, with my wife and baby daughter. But as a pack leader, I also spend a lot of time in the mountains and the islands of the Philippines.
One thing that’s difficult to describe without seeing it in person is just how beautiful the Philippines is. Manila is a gorgeous city, but then we also have over 7000 islands, and the mountain region as well. And the cultural differences are pretty diverse here in the Philippines, too.
We have a varied landscape, and people are a little shyer out on the islands compared to the cities, for example. But once you mingle with them over a couple of drinks, they’ll be the happiest people you’ll meet. The beach life is also incredible and El Nido has the best lagoons – if you want to go snorkelling, it’s amazing.
As a pack leader, I love meeting new people. I am always so eager to talk to Flashpackers, and learn their native way of doing things. Equally, I can’t wait to share the Filipino way of life; our warmth and our diverse history and culture.
Private island paradise
I joined Flash Pack in 2018. Bryan [the company director] told me he was creating this tailor-made programme that is totally unique to Flashpackers. He conceptualised the idea of a two-night private island escape – an expedition boat that brings solo travellers to a deserted beach in Palawan, one of the world’s most spectacular island regions.
When Flashpackers first glimpse our private island, most of them are speechless
The place we head to is called Ginto Island in Palawan. Ginto means “gold” in Filipino and that’s exactly what you get with the golden sands, a private stay and personalised service. We sleep in mesh tents by the ocean and we like to call it “million star accommodation” because it’s not just five-star; Flashpackers get to sleep beneath a glimmering night sky of hundreds of thousands of stars.
One of my favourite moments on our Philippines adventure is when Flashpackers have their first glimpse of Ginto Island as we approach by boat. I’d say 90% of them are speechless, and they all have the expression of, “this is amazing”. It’s so beautiful, and completely secluded and private to Flashpackers.
We’ve already opened the beers and champagne on the boat (our crew will serve you drinks while you’re sunbathing on the roof). And then you can throw your sandals off and swim the last part to the beach, for this incredible barefoot experience.
There’s hardly any reception on Ginto, so you can forget all about work and emails. Instead, we bring along massage therapists, along with a team of caretakers and a private chef especially for Flashpackers. So you can just kick back, enjoy kayaking in the beautiful shallows, have a massage or be treated to beachside fine dining, or a sunset BBQ. The sunrises and sunsets in this area of the world will take your breath away, and Flashpackers get a front-row view. We even have gin and tonics here, ice-cold and ready to serve. And our massage therapy involves local island-grown ingredients like aloe vera and coconut milk, which we also use to treat sunburn.
The island stay is a highlight of the Flash Pack trip for me, but quad biking in the Chocolate Hills is also an amazing experience. We always hope for some rain when riding the quads, as it’s a huge adrenaline rush to race each other, and power through the muddy terrain.
One thing people aren’t always aware of about the Philippines is that we’re way ahead in the Asia region when it comes to ecological practices and sustainable tourism. Even on the approach to El Nido, the flight steward reminds all passengers that this region has one of the strictest policies when it comes to natural environmental protection.
We use specially made water canisters and we’re very careful to remove all our waste during our stay on the islands, and take it back to the mainland. We also have lots of rules in place when it comes to ecological and natural protection, for example in relation to fishing. Particularly in the island region of the Philippines, we’re making a big effort to do everything in a sustainable way.
Food ‘n’ friendly vibes
When it comes to Filipino cuisine, our seafood is the best. It’s all local and easy to catch. Even on our way to the private island, some of our crew will be on the lookout to catch some mackerel or octopus, for a barbeque later on the beach. Lobsters, crabs; everything about fresh ocean seafood is so delicious, and we do a lot of barbecuing when we’re island-hopping. It’s amazing to have a grill on the beach at sunset.
Filipinos are very warm; we treat visitors as family
Because we have a private chef, being a vegan or vegetarian traveller is no problem, either. With a personalised service, we can do all kinds of fine dining dishes on the beach, along with grilled veggies including corn and eggplants. And for meat eaters, we might do something special like a whole roasted pig.
As for the people, Filipinos are very warm; we’re always smiling and we treat visitors here as family. It’s a pretty amazing vibe. We don’t care where visitors come from – it might be France, the UK or the USA – we just love talking to visitors, and finding out about their culture. A lot of people here speak English, too.
The Flash Pack connection
One of the things I love most about Flashpackers is that they are so like-minded; they’re very connected to each other. It goes beyond meeting a friend; by the end of the adventure, our groups feel more like family members.
Flashpackers communicate and stay in touch long after their trips have ended.I am on so many WhatsApp groups all over the world that are still very active, with Flashpackers sharing reunion photos, or throwback photos of an island sunset. Or they talk about visiting Filipino restaurants in the UK or Europe. And this happened even more over lockdown, so we could share that feeling of attachment.
In fact, I’m really lucky – at least three couples have got together on the Flash Pack adventures I’ve led here. One of them had a baby and another got married – I was even invited to the wedding!
I love that moment when Flashpackers are experiencing their best adventure, and they’re telling me, “I’m so happy!” Everyone’s getting along and having fun, and it makes my heart really full to see.
We are all so happy and excited to have tourists return after the past two years of Covid. The pandemic has been hard for local guides in the Philippines; a lot of people have gone back to fishing, or they’ve joined the Philippines army. We’ve tried to support them financially, too, as much as possible. And then last December, the islands were hit by a big typhoon, as well.
So, everyone is so happy now that Flash Pack is returning to our country. At the moment we have mostly domestic visitors on the islands; but we’re expecting to see Europeans and tourists from other parts of the world return in the months to come.
Flashpackers stay in touch long after a trip has ended
Since the beginning, the Philippines has been a hugely popular trip for Flash Pack and we’ve just kept working to put the benchmark higher and make sure it stays in hot demand. For example, the new version of the adventure now comes with a glamping experience in the island town of El Nido. Flashpackers have the entire site to themselves, with these beautiful pods set between the palm trees just moments from the beach.
Our aim is to make it effortless for Flashpackers to travel to the Philippines, because that is the essence of our company motto. We just wanted to make sure that when you come here, you travel carefree and easy: everything is taken care of for you.
Find out more about Flash Pack’s adventure to the Philippines, featuring quad biking, paddle boarding and private island glamping, right here.
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