Walking alongside him, I found that almost everyone we bumped into greeted Guido Sarreal with so much joy and sincerity. His 4 months of stay as a volunteer on the island of Culion got him the chance to really be with the people. Despite the fact that he had been away for quite some time and was just visiting for a project we both have been working on to help local tourism, one would see how attached the community is with him, and him with the community. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to interview him in Culion, Palawan, which he says is a place very close to his heart. There, I was able to see him at his most passionate self.
It was no surprise that he, growing up in a family who really had a heart for the poor, had an inclination to bring whatever he was doing back to the society. With the fire already burning in his heart, he knew there was no time to wait. Unlike most of his fellow graduates, who immediately took management trainee positions at big companies, Guido wanted to join the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines, where volunteers are sent to far-flung areas in the country to serve. However, he opted go to Culion and help in its eco-tourism development and community organization. The invitation to go to the island came from his college professor and mentor Eduardo Calasanz. Today, Guido remains as an advocate and supporter of Kawil Tours, which he built together with Fr. Javy Alpasa and Jun Tibi. Kawil Tours is operated by Culion locals themselves and offers expedition tours in Culion-Coron. Guido has empowered the local team behind it, who also have become his closest friends, and helped them build opportunities to further promote the beauty of Culion.
Indeed, the island was captivating and no doubt that Guido fell in love with it. It wasn’t as commercialized compared to most of the islands in Palawan, so most of the people whom you’ll be bumping into are the locals themselves. The place was as beautiful as the people: Guido toured us around and brought us to the magnificent coral reefs surrounding the island. The place also had historical stops that will allow you to know more about the story of Culion.
Culion Island is located in northern Palawan, with a rich marine life boasting over 200 species of fish, as well as coral and sea grass. During the American Occupation, it was known as the ‘Island of No Return’ because it held the largest leper colony in the world. Today, however, people like Guido have helped transform the island’s image from a leper colony into an emerging tourist spot. From here, Guido is able to carve a path to taking care of the environment and promoting Philippine tourism.
As he is a man of many talents, being a musician and public speaker as well as a leader and mentor, I asked Guido if eco-tourism was really his passion. “Actually, it’s more of eco-social than eco-tourism,” he corrected me. “Because it’s not just about protecting and preserving the environment, but also making it socially relevant. We need to involve the community to take care of the environment.”
After serving in Culion for 4 months, Guido went back to Manila to work for an NGO for a short duration, and then ventured on to start the travel and tours company Trail Adventours with his friends. Together with close college friend Osep Reyes, he also started Culture Shock PH, which is more focused on culture and culinary tourism. “I’m particularly excited about Culture Shock,” Guido shared. “Trail Ad may be more exciting for most people because it gives a sense of adventure through its hiking and trekking events, but Culture Shock shares the country’s history and heritage. You’ll get to experience what the Philippines has but forgotten. The opportunity to experience our country’s heritage will revitalize one’s love for country. It’s not just about ‘what’s out there,’ but, ‘what’s the story that led to this?’”
Guido wants to redefine the way we travel. It’s is not about how far we go, but how deep our experience of a place is. He also told me it wasn’t about going somewhere, just ticking it off on your places-to-go-list, and moving on to your new destination—but going to a place and realizing it’s a place you want to come back to. “The goal is to get people to see how beautiful the country is, that they fall in love with it, and so they feel responsible and end up taking care of what then becomes their country”
People say they are proudly Filipino, but they might still be surprised that they lack awareness of everything that our country has to offer. The whole time we were talking, I was able to picture in my mind all the beautiful sceneries in this country, and the beautiful people as well. Guido spoke about the places, the mountains, the food and the adventures with so much excitement that it made me all the more proud to be a Filipino, and one with so much more meaning.
The thing that amazes me the most about Guido is how he is such a big dreamer for the country, but at the same time shows such deep compassion for the individual. When he talks to me as one of his mentees, or to one of the locals in Culion, he displays so much sincerity and genuine care—something all his friends would attest to. He doesn’t only leave a mark on a beach or an island, but in a person’s heart as well. No wonder everyone in Culion stops driving their motorcycles for a while just to greet him and say hi.
I realized that the peacefulness and beauty of Culion was similar to Guido’s soul. It was always easy to be with him, and though he was crazy and makulit most of the time, it was just one of his ways of showing his love.
Seeing such passion and clarity in his mission, I asked him how people could find their own passion and mission. “It’s all about discernment. Discernment is not about choosing the right decision, but making your decision right. He reminded me that no work is more meaningful than the other. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing, it depends on how we see ourselves contributing to this country.
Our generation is one that has a lot on its plate. While there is nothing wrong with that, we should remember that life is not just about checking everything off our bucket lists. We all dream of going far and doing so many successful things, but what I have learned from Kuya Guido is that it’s really all about depth and impact. He may have been speaking in the language of the environment, but at the end of the day, it was all about the people—and this is how he can travel with such great meaning and deeper purpose.
Written by Roxy Navarro | Calligraphy Art by Inkscribbler.com | Photos by Angelo Sison, others from Guido Sarreal, Osep Reyes
Passion + Purpose Team:
Stef Tran, Editor-in-chief | Valerie Jiongco, Art Director