A Unique Dining Experience

Isla Walang Lang-aw

Upon our return to the resort, from Calauit Island, late in the afternoon, we, as well as all the other resort guests, were again sent off on another boat ride, this time to back to nearby Isla Walang Lang-aw.    This small island, with its limestone cliff (ideal for rock climbing) and white sand bar, was to be the scene of our final dinner.  Our food was brought along in food warmers.  No chairs were provided, but we didn’t mind as we sat on mats on the sand and dined by torchlight.  What a romantic setting!  The night was cool and windy, the sky was clear and the stars were out.

Posing with resort staff

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  The next day, after a very early breakfast, we, together with other guests, left the island via the 7:30 AM boat after being given a warm send-off by the gracious resort staff.  It saddened me as I saw the waving staff, as well as the island, grow smaller as we sped away.  We left on the 10 A.M. Pacific Air flight back to smog-laden, traffic-clogged, garbage-infested and overpopulated Manila.

Calauit Island Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary (Busuanga, Palawan)

Calauit Island

After my trial dive,  we booked ourselves on an optional half-day tour of Calauit Island Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, located just off Busuanga Island’s northwestern coast and opened to tourists since 1985.  Cost, including permit and boat ride,  was to set us back US$30 per person.  We left right after lunch at the resort.

An eland

This 3,700-hectare, DENR-administered Strict Nature Reserve was, in response to an appeal made by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), was established as a repository for 108 African animals endangered by the 1977 drought and Kenya’s civil war on August 1976 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1578 issued by the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos.  Its original 250 island families were relocated, 40 kms. away, to Halsey Island and compensated with land titles.  Since 1994, it was managed by the Office of Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, a  government body dealing with environmental issues in Palawan.

On our way to Calauit

We, together with other resort guests, left the resort by 1 PM on the resort’s motorized outrigger boat.  The trip took about 45 mins.  Upon arrival, we first logged in at the sanctuary’s office.  Then, accompanied by a guide, we ushered to the back of the sanctuary’s only “safari” vehicle, a converted 6 x 6 truck which resembled a huge open cage.  From our slow-moving and somewhat dilapidated truck, we got up close and personal with these herbivores as some fed near the road we were traveling while zebras grazed under shading trees.  Bushbucks (Tragelaphus sylvaticus), Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx), Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela), Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii),  Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) and Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) can be seen, in pairs or in groups, as they feed or gracefully gallop at the sign of our presence.

A short necked giraffe

Graceful giraffes, with their somewhat shorter necks (maybe because trees here are shorter), were unmindful of our presence as they continued  feasting on the branches of their favorite acacia trees.  Our vehicle halted when these tall “jaywalkers” crossed the road.  Others stayed put for a short while as if purposely posing for our cameras.   Too bad we weren’t able to bond or interact with the giraffes by feeding them (it is discouraged), truly a highlight of any trip to the sanctuary.  Such an experience would probably  come second to swimming beside a whale shark or butanding off Donsol (Sorsogon).

Zebras in the wild

From the original 108 African animals brought here in 1977, 3 or 4 generations of offspring have increased the animal population to 570  heads comprising 8 species, all herbivorous.  At the time of our visit, there were now 43 giraffes, 155 impalas, two Thompson gazelles, 122 water bucks, 78 zebras, 50 elands, 14 topis and 16 bushbucks. Together with indigenous animals, they range freely around the island in an environment that loosely approximates their original environment.

The Palawan bearcat

The guided tour includes stops at pens holding many of Palawan’s indigenous species.  The sanctuary has saved from extinction, by  successfully breeding in captivity, the foot-high The Philippine mouse-deer (Tragulus nigricans) or pilanduk, the smallest hoofed animal found in Asia; the largely nocturnal and endangered Calamian Deer (Hyelaphus calamianensis)  and the Philippine reshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) which now lives along the mangrove swamps.  Also bred in captivity are the Palawan bearcat or Binturong (Arctictis binturong), Palawan bearded pig (Sus ahoenobarbus), tarsier or mago (Tarsius philippensis), scaly anteater or balintong (Manis javanica), leopard cat or maral (Felis bengalensis), Philippine porcupine (Hystrix pumila) or landak/duryan  and monitor lizard (Varanus salvator).  I had a very close encounter with a forever hungry binturong.  Too close, in fact, that he snarled when I tried to feed him a banana.

An encounter with a snarling bearcat

There are also over 120 species of birds, endemic and transient and, as a boon to birdwatching enthusiasts, the personnel here are quite capable of identifying these birds.  There are also protected rearing and egg-laying areas for giant sea turtles or pawikan (Chelonia mydas). The project also includes a 7-km. marine sanctuary which protects the highly endangered 16-20 dugongs or sea cows (Dugong dugon) that feed along the offshore sea grass beds, and  7 species of clams including what is believed to be the largest live giant clam shell (Tridacna gigas) in the world which weighs as much as 300 kgs..  As fishing is prohibited, commercial fishes, crabs and lobsters now breed here in undisturbed .  The coral reefs around the island have shown a 75% recovery rate.

Scuba Diving Palawan

Trial dive with Mike Olondriz

The next day was the anniversary of the EDSA Revolution.  I woke up by 5:30 AM for my morning stroll with my videocam.  It turned out to be an educational tour as I had my first close encounter with the endangered Calamian hog-deer (Axis porsinus calamianensis).  Introduced in the early 1990s, it is now said to number more than a dozen.  The sounds of colorful exotic bird life is also evident among the trees as the island is home to orioles, kingfishers, turtle doves and imperial pigeons.  It also has a resident baruray or Rufous Night Heron.  Although I didn’t see any, there are also monitor lizards (Varanus salvator) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Attending pre-dive lecture

After breakfast, it was off to my first trial dive.  It comes free with the travel package.  Tellie and my mom (for obvious reasons) begged off.  Our divemaster was Mike Olondriz.  At first I mistook him for a foreigner, but any notions I had were dispelled after he spoke Tagalog.  Later late-evening conversations with him revealed him to be a resident of Magallanes Village in Makati City.  His brother was a barkada of my friend (and SPED teacher of my son Jandy), Inaki Martinez.  Small world.  

Getting into the water

Before the actual dive, I had to undergo a lecture on the use of the scuba gear as well as breathing techniques.  Then it was off to the beach with Mike.  I looked silly as I walked backwards to the beach wearing my fins, but once in the water, I was fitted with my tank, weight belt and mask.   The 15-min. dive was easy at first, but when we got to the 15-ft. depth, my ears began to hurt as they felt like popping.  We ascended to the 10-ft. depth where Mike handed me bread crumbs to feed the fish.  I was soon surrounded by them, large and small, and some of the large fish (probably a Napoleon wrasse) took nips at my bare legs.

Suiting up in the water


“Is it ethical?”  Books that I have read later have revealed that this fish feeding craze which brings the fish closer for underwater photography also makes them tamer and ideal spear gun targets.  Also feeding leftovers could also be fatal as these fish sometimes die of indigestion.

Exploring Dimakya Island and its Environs

View of Isla Walang Lang-aw from Eagle’s Nest

The next day, I made an early morning, lung-busting hike, with many rest stops, along a trekking trail to the island’s highest point called Eagle’s Nest.  Along the way, I was on the lookout for wild boar (baboy damo) and wild chickens which, the resort staff said, hid in the woods. 

The resort as seen from my vantage point at Eagle’s Nest

Upon reaching the top, I got a panoramic eagle’s view of the surrounding islands including nearby Isla Walang Lang-aw (Island Without Trees).  A treehouse and a viewdeck is located here.  For a brief moment I felt like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.  After about an hour, I retraced my way back down to again be part of Swiss Family Robinson. 

After lunch, we, together with other guests, booked ourselves on an island-hopping tour (US$20 per person).  Our boat ride took us past numerous islands with thickly-vegetated, sea-and-wind-sculpted limestone cliffs and white sand beaches.   We stopped over on 3 of these islands (Tapadyan Island, Liatui Island and Isla Walang Lang-aw) were Tellie and I went swimming and snorkeling and did some trick photography.

Trick photography at Isla Walang Lang-aw

Back at the resort, we, as well as the other guests, were treated to another boat ride, this time a sunset cruise on board the resort’s 55-ft. long trimaran (with its all-convenient toilet).  We sat at the spacious front area, sipping drinks as we awaited the sun’s setting .  We weren’t disappointed as the sun set on the horizon, amidst a clear, cloudless night sky.

On board the trimaran
Sunset at paradise

Upon our return from our sunset cruise, we returned to our cottage to freshen up and were served dinner by candlelight, albeit in a different setting: by the beach.  The restaurant’s tables and food were set up along the beach and, while dining, we could hear the sound of the waves hitting the shore.

Dinner along the beach

Club Paradise (Coron, Palawan)

Club Paradise Resort

Upon our arrival on the island, we were offered welcome drinks and  billeted in one of the resort’s rustic non-airconditioned, beachfront cottages.  Made of rattan, bamboo and nipa, it had double beds (plus an extra one for me), a marble bath and a veranda with a bamboo sala set and an enticing  hammock for relaxing.  Our luggage, though, didn’t arrive with our flight as it was bumped off to make way for the bulky dive equipment of some foreign tourists.  We thus had to take a late lunch with just the clothes on our back.  No swimming or snorkeling the rest of the day.  Our luggage arrived late in the afternoon.  My irritation was somewhat diminished by dinnertime.   Crispy lechon (roasted pig) was served at the clubhouse and we didn’t seem to have many rivals as the seemingly health-conscious foreign guests avoided it like the plague (they preferred the seafood). And to cap it all, dessert consisted of some of the sweetest mangoes I have ever tasted.

Our cottage

The exclusive, Class “AAA” Club Paradise Resort, opened in 1986, was expanded in 1990 and now has 26 non-airconditioned  cottages with bath (9 de luxe, 17 standard), 14 airconditioned family cottages and 20 airconditioned apartment-type rooms.  It has a shimmering 700-m. long, powdery white sand beach, a magnificent and colorful coral reef (including large colorful giant clams) and crystal-clear, turquoise water.  It also has a saltwater swimming pool and a spacious clubhouse with a 120-pax, al fresco restaurant (Kanog), 2 bars (Dugong and Jungle Bar), lounge with indoor sport area (pingpong, billiards, darts and board games), video/videoke room, cable TV room, boutique shop, beauty parlor, 24-hour clinic and mini-library.  

Tellie relaxing at our hammock

There is also a jacuzzi, children’s playground, tennis court and a well-equipped dive center.  The resort also offers dive and dive courses,  waterskis, sit-in kayaks, wakeboards, ringo tubes, windsurfing, Hobie Cat sailing, banana boats and snorkeling as well as island hopping, bottom and troll fishing trips, Coron town and island trips and Calauit Island Wildlife Sanctuary “Safari” tours.  It can accommodate about 150 guests at one time.

Lounging along the island’s white sand beach

Club Paradise: Dimakya Island, Coron 5316, Palawan.  Mobile number: (0918) 912-7106.

On Our Way to Coron (Palawan)

The DOT-accredited Club Paradise Resort, on the idyllic Dimakya Island, a beautiful 19-hectare rock island paradise on the northwest coast of Busuanga Island in Palawan, offered a low, 4-day vacation package of PhP11,500 per person, inclusive of airfare, accommodations, food and complimentary use of some of its facilities, and I, together with my youngest sister Tellie and my 69-year old mother Carol decided to avail of this.  This would be our first visit to Palawan.  We left Manila early in the morning of February 23, on a 80-min. Pacific Air flight to Busuanga, and arrived a little past 10 AM at Busuanga’s Yulo King Ranch (YKR) Airport.

Landing at Yulo King Ranch Airport

At the airport, we transferred to a passenger jeepney for a 30-min. leisurely drive, along a dirt road, to a mangrove forest.  Here, we made a 15-min. walk, along a 300-m. long wooden boardwalk lined with mangrove trees.  At the end of the boardwalk was a pier where a motorized outrigger boat awaited us to take us to the island.  The boat trip took all of 45 mins. and we reached the resort at just about noon.

Boat ride to the resort