It’s early in the morning and Eduardo ‘Dado’ Gueriba is arriving on the shore of Pabellon with a group of men. The cliffs of the tiny Filipino islands tower a calm, greenish-blue sea and small wooden huts perched on boulders by the shoreline are dwarfed by giant limestone rock formations. After leaving their outrigger boat, the men set out along the beach carrying bundled ropes and bamboo poles. They are the nest gatherers of Pabellon.
Crafted by Aerodramus fuciphagus swiftlets from hardened strands of their gummy saliva, the bird’s nests here are among the world’s most expensive animal produce consumed by humans. They are typically made into ‘bird’s nest soup’, a Chinese delicacy renowned for a multitude of health benefits, such as raising libido and boosting the immune system. On Pabellon, high quality nests are sold for roughly PHP 180,000 ($3,785) per kilo.
Photo by Katherine Jack.
The group of men come from Maytegued Island nearby. Gueriba, their 45-year-old leader, has been climbing the craggy rock faces of Pabellon since he was six. But he’s not the oldest climber here. That title belongs to Gonzalo Ponce de Leon, 67, who gathered his first nest at 14.
“When we used to come here in the 1950s there were only ten or fifteen climbers, now there are more than fifty,” he recalls. “In those days we sold the nests to a Chinese man from Manila, who gave us roughly PHP 0.12 per kilo. The men would make around PHP 35 (79 cents) during each harvest, which was considered a good income at that time.”