“Obviously it’s a well-known tourism destination, but the uniqueness of its nature, its oceans and the warmth of its people, that’s what makes it stand out.”

That’s what Greek-born entrepreneur Demi Markogiannaki had to say about the Philippines, recounting her recent trip to the South East Asian nation in an interview with Neos Kosmos.

The co-founder of online workshop and classes marketplace WeTeachMe and former Neos Kosmos journalist came away from the journey with an earnest appreciation for the resilience and kind-heartedness of the people she met along the way.

“Being among these communities, spending time with them and getting to know them, it was amazing.”

Demi Markogiannaki came face to face with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. Photo: Supplied

Mixing holidays and work, Markogiannaki passed her time in the regions of Bohol, Cebu and Palawan alongside colleagues from her latest venture with the Executive Assistant (EA) Institute.

“It’s really exciting! It’s just been a few months with the business but we already have a backlog of clients that we’re working through.”

“So, we spent time in the Philippines with our current team, we have a head of staff there and a few executive assistants who we had dinner with in Manila the night before we left,” she explains.

She says that working day in and day out with the Philippines based team allowed her to gain a better understanding of the country’s communities, and the lives of the people she met.

Demi says an up close and personal look at the region’s breathtaking aquatic life left her with a greater understanding for the impact pollution can have on our environment. Photo: Supplied

“As a less developed country, money goes a very long way there. Even still the people are so, so generous, sincere and always willing to help; everybody has a smile on their face.”

The hospitality of her hosts elicited a familiar feeling, the concept of ‘filoxenia‘.

But aside from work, it was the call of the sea which brought Demi to the land renowned for its almost countless, picturesque and breathtakingly beautiful islands.

“The whale sharks!” she recalls “you these massive amazing beasts swimming around you and you just feel like… so small, they left me with a real sense of gratitude.”

Demi also says the experience was eye opening in terms of the impact pollution can have on our oceans.

Demi says many Filipinos are deeply religious people. Photo: Supplied

“To see all these majestic creatures, turtles and dazzling fish, schools of sardines moving in unison in their natural environment; it really makes you think about the way we treat the world around us.”

She pointed out that many of the Philippines’ municipalities have banned disposable plastics in an effort to alleviate the stresses pollution puts on ecosystems.

A combination of SCUBA and freediving gave her the opportunity to appreciate the curious sea creatures up close, a hobby she’d only taken up in the last year.

“I first learned SCUBA diving about a year ago on a trip to Belize, now I can’t get enough of it!”

But she notes that freediving is another beast entirely.

Fishing is one of the major sources of livelihood in the country where there were about 2 million professional anglers as of 2019. Photo: Supplied

“It’s one thing to have an air supply, it’s another to hold your breath for minutes on end while you’re underwater.”

Though she says that given some time, practice and instruction by professionals and a healthy appreciation for the risks associated with the activity she was able to hold her breath for over three minutes in a practice pool.

“It was almost like a sort of meditation, the way the course we did guided us through the process, as well as instilling in us respect for best practice, safety, and always having a dive partner so you can keep each other safe.”

“I don’t think I’d ever dived deeper than a metre and a half before, let alone 10!”

Street food abounds in the cities and towns of the Philippines, often served with a smile. Photo: Supplied

By all accounts it was an experience that left Demi with a lasting impression, one that was literally glowing.

“One night when it was pitch black we went out on these canoes, and our guide pointed to the tree line… there were fireflies everywhere, they lit up the trees like Christmas!”

Comparing it to a scene from the blockbuster sci-fi Avatar, Demi says she wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s director James Cameron took a little inspiration from such a sight.

“Our guide plucked one of them out of the air and gently placed it on my hand, I was watching it glow, awestruck, in that moment I felt like a 38-year-old kid.”

She says the Philippines waters were so clear a camera just can’t do it justice. Photo: Supplied