Small Lagoon (El Nido, Palawan)

The Small Lagoon

The Small Lagoon

From Secret Lagoon, we again boarded our motorized outrigger boat for the continuation of our Island Tour A, this time to the Small Lagoon.  Along the way, we passed by, but didn’t stop, at the entrance of the Big Lagoon. On arrival, our outrigger boat parked , alongside other boats, just outside the entrance of the Small Lagoon as it could not access the interior as its entrance is narrow and its waters are shallow.

The entrance of the Small Lagoon

The entrance of the Small Lagoon

Boats parked at the entrance

Boats parked at the entrance

To view the wonders of the lagoon, we would have to either swim the 150-300 odd meters into the lagoon from our boat, if you’re a good swimmer, or kayak. Those who opt to swim usually get really tired going to the end of the lagoon, since the waters are deep inside.  We all chose the latter.

Jandy, Melissa and Osang get on their way ......

Jandy, Melissa and Osang get on their way ……

Our boatman, Luchie and I follow suit ......

Our boatman, Luchie and I follow suit ……

Kayaks here are rented for PhP300. Though made for two people, a third person was allowed to seat between the two sitting compartments.  Jandy joined Melissa and Osang in one kayak while I was joined by Luchie and another boatman.  Tess, Venus, Sandy, Pam, Melai, York, Lydia and Weng also rented kayaks.

Melai and Pam with their boatman

Melai and Pam with their boatman

Sandy, Venus and Tess

Sandy, Venus and Tess

York, Lydia

York, Lydia

Donning our orange-colored life jackets, we made our way to the narrow archway between the rock face.  Once through, we were ushered into eerily quiet and serene waters of a beautiful, turquoise lagoon enclosed by towering limestone cliffs. The giant limestone walls towering over us bounced around our echoes of wows.

The massive limestone cliffs enclosing the lagoon

The massive limestone cliffs enclosing the lagoon

The small cave at one end of the lagoon

The small cave at one end of the lagoon

We were always on the lookout as we kayaked as there were also a number of swimmers inside the lagoon. This place is also great for snorkeling and there were also some snorkelers checking out the underwater creatures beneath.

The author paddling away

The author paddling away

There was a rocky area where people could climb up and dive off or use it as a stage where they can do their selfies. We also checked out a small cave and pool at the end of the lagoon.

The Resort Bayview Hotel El Nido: Sitio Marimegmeg, Brgy. Corong-Corong, El Nido, 5313, Palawan.  Tel: + 66(0) 76 281 406. Fax: + 66(0) 76 384 369. Mobile numbers: (0915) 250-7368 (Globe) and (0920) 975-8690. E-mail: theresortelnido@gmail.com. Website: www.elnidobayview.com.

Kayaking the Tibiao River (Antique)

Upon our return to the barangay hall of Tuno, we again boarded our van and were brought to the banks of the Tibiao River where the river kayaks and the staff of Tribal Adventure Tours were waiting for us.  This was to be the last stage of our day-long Tibiao Eco-Adventure Tour – actual kayaking at the Tibiao River.

The Tibiao River

The Tibiao River

The swirling Tibiao River, rising on the slopes of Mt. Madja-as, plunges with over 1,000 m. on its short run to the ocean. With 23 kms. of rocky, narrow but navigable, grade 3-4 rapids, it is being promoted by the Department of Tourism as a whitewater kayaking destination.

All ready to go

All ready to go

The usual is a pleasant 8-km. (one-day) excursion as access to the upper section is difficult.  Put-in is at Igpitoy and ends at a spot called Tigbaboy.  The river has many chutes, playable holes, eddies and waves, a number of small drops with substantial and nearly continuous, grade 3 rapids and no really dangerous spots except in very high, grade 4 water.

Jandy's kayaking run

Jandy’s kayaking run

There weren’t enough kayaks for all of us so it was just Jandy, Arjay, Arthele, Clelia, Jonathan, Laurie, Leah, Marcos and Regine on the kayaks, all wearing the required life vests and helmets.  After being instructed on the basic kayaking skills, it was off to the waters for them on their short, maneuverable kayaks.

Jandy back on land after kayaking run

Jandy back on dry land after kayaking run

We observed their kayaking run from the vantage point of the 80-m. long hanging bridge suspended above the Tibiao River. This usually serves as a finishing line in kayaking-slalom competitions.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).

Eco-Friendly Kayaking at Lake Bulusan (Sorsogon)

From Bayugin Falls, we continued on our way until we finally reached Lake Bulusan, in Brgy. San Roque, Bulusan, by mid afternoon. At this time, the broad daylight provided a mystical shadow effect of the greenery to the emerald green water. This small, round crater lake, known as the “Switzerland of the Orient” (minus the pine trees, alpine forests or ice caps) due to its lovely, spectacular scenery, is located at an elevation of 635 m. on the southeast flank of Mt. Bulusan volcano.       

Tranquil Lake Bulusan

The Department of Tourism has declared Bulusan as a Tourist Zone due to the fact that it has the biggest share of Bulusan Volcano National Park (BVNP) in terms of land area, 43% or 1,580.20 out of 3,673.30 hectares.  Six of the town’s barangays are located within the national park and all are ingress and egress points to this protected area.  The lake, currently manged by volunteers of AGAP-Bulusan, is surrounded by lush, awesome and breathtaking forests containing endemic species of plants such as Forestia philippensis, Pinanga insignis and the newly discovered Schefflina bulusanicum and Pronephrium bulusanicum; jade vine (Stronglylodon macrobothrys); ground orchids (Phojus tankervillea); tall, centuries-old tindalo (Afzeliarrhomboidea) trees and mountain agoho (Casuarina rumphiana).

The newly-acquired aqua cycles
A carefully designed concrete pathway rims the lake, affording the visitor a pleasant, serene and leisurely nature walk.  However, Bernard and I weren’t here for the walk.  We were here to do some kayaking, a refreshing, non-polluting outdoor activity in the lake.  Aside from tandem kayaks (rented for PhP100 for 30 mins.), canoes and rowboats, there are also 6 colorful aqua cycles (or water trikes) just recently turned over, early this year, by the provincial government to the municipality.
 
Bernard and I kayaking Lake Bulusan
Bernard and I donned life jackets and were each assigned our paddle and tandem kayak.  Once on our kayaks, we started paddling along the lake’s 2,006 m. long perimeter, admiring the lake’s calm, emerald green waters and the park’s impressive and lush old growth forest of dipterocarp trees and endemic species of plants.  Overhead, a soaring eagle kept us company.  Truly a postcard-pretty sight.  It was already dusk when we returned to shore and, after a merienda of maruya, brewed coffee and soft drinks at the BVNP Visitor’s Center, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, returned to our vehicle and continued on our way to Sorsogon City.
The BVNP Visitor’s Center

AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.: Bulusan Social Development Center (BSDC) Bldg., 262 Sesbreno St., Brgy. Dapdap, Sorsogon City, Sorsogon.  Mobile numbers: (0918) 457-8767 and (0908) 896-8826 (Mr. Philip Bartilet).  Email: agapbulusan@yahoo.com.ph.

The Siete Pecados of Mercedes

The Siete Pecados

I again got an invitation from Daet Mayor Tito S. Sarion to attend Daet’s Pinyasan Festival together with events organizer Mr. Bernard Supetran.  Two days before the big event, I hopped on the 1 PM Philtranco bus bound for Daet.  Normally, the trip took just 8 hours but traffic due to road widening and repair projects extended my trip another 2 hours.  It was just about 10 PM when I arrived at the town, checking in at the Prime Suite Hotel along Vinzons Ave.  After a late dinner at a nearby Jollibee outlet, I met up with Atty. Debbee Francisco, of the Camarines NorteTourism Office, at the Miss Daet/Miss Pinyasan 2012 pageant held at the Daet Agro Sports Center.   Debbie scheduled an island hopping treat for us the next day.

Mercedes Fish Port

The next day, after breakfast, Debbee and Mr. Aldrin Sarion, a member of her staff, picked us up at our hotel and brought us to the municipal port of the nearby (7 kms.) town of Mercedes.  One of the most important and prosperous fishing ports in Luzon, this town, the fish bowl of the Bicol Region, is home to the third largest fishing ground in the country.   Mercedes’ large fishing fleet of 20-m. long basnigs supplies a large bulk of the catch of fish and shrimps to Manila.  We arrived in time for the lively early morning fish market (open from 6-8am).  At the port, we were welcomed by Mr. Victor John Orendain IV, a staff member of the Mercedes Municipal Tourism Development Operation Center.

Mercedes Municipal Tourism
Development Operation Center

Here, a boat (aptly named Dona Mercedes) was chartered for our morning tour of Mercedes’ picturesque Siete Pecados (“Seven Sins”) group of islands which comprises Apuao Grande, Apuao Pequeña, Canimog, Canton, Caringo, Malasugui and Quinapaguian Islands. Victor and Aldrin accompanied us on this trip and we brought along snacks and a tandem kayak.  Debbee stayed behind as she had to attend to their float for the festival.  On several occasions, while we were cruising along, we espied hundreds of flying fish doing their aerial acrobatics around our boat.  About 15 mins. into our trip, we passed (but did not land) by the by the crocodile-shaped Canimog Island, the largest of the 7 islands.  The island has a dramatic lighthouse where one can camp, a grayish sand beach and lush foliage which is home to thousands of huge bats.  Its  lighthouse, erected June 26, 1927, is one of the oldest in the Bicol Region.

Rocky Canimog Island and its lighthouse

About 30 mins. out of town, we arrived off the coast of rocky Canton Island. We also didn’t make landfall here as the island has no beach and has minimal vegetation.  However, the island is noted for its underwater Canton Cave. The cave is visible only at low tide and we were hoping that was the case as we planned to do some kayaking all the way to its entrance.  Disappointment was written in our faces as we neared the cave, still at its high tide mark.  Somewhat strong waves here would also have dashed our kayak to the rocks.  Oh well, maybe next time.   We proceeded on our way

Canton Cave

About 15 mins. later, we arrived at small Quinapaguian Island, this time making landfall at its nice stretch of white sand beach. The island offers a good view of the other islands and has a fish sanctuary where one can go snorkeling.  However, we weren’t there for the latter as offloaded the kayak from our boat, donned life vests, boarded the kayak and started paddling its calm, clear, blue waters towards the other side of the island.  This more than made up for our missed opportunity at Canton Island.

Quinapaguian Island
Bernard and I on our kayaking run

Mercedes Municipal Tourism Development Operation Center: Mercedes Fish Port, Mercedes, Camarines Norte.  Tel: (056) 444-1261.  E-mail: discovermercedes@yahoo.com. Website: www.discovermercedes.gov.ph.

The Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride (Paranas, Western Samar)

One article in 8 Magazine (a travel mag dedicated to Region 8 tourism) that interested me was the unique, 21-km. Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride along the Ulot River (Samar Island’s longest River) in Paranas in Western Samar, the newest signature eco-tourism adventure in Samar.  A joint project of the Department of Tourism and the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) and part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop, it was launched on November 30, 2010 but the operation was stopped in January the next year after floods hit the area.  It reopened in the third week of March after the quality of the water in the river improved.

The rapids of the Ulot River

The 455,700 hectare SINP, the biggest natural park in the country, was declared a protected area on April 13, 2003 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 442.  It covers 333,330 hectares of land and a buffer zone of 125,400 hectares of primary forest and a large, contiguous tract of secondary forest in good ecological condition.  It boasts of many caves, various wildlife species and river systems such as the navigable, 9-km. long Ulot (a Waray term meaning “monkey”) River, which is within the Ulot Watershed Area, one of Samar’s 8 watershed areas.

Buray Junction

The Ulot River starts from the mountainous town of San Jose de Buan (Western Samar) in the north, flowing downstream to Paranas and finally draining at Can-Avid (Eastern Samar) in the east.  Including its tributaries, the river’s length could reach 520 kms..  For years, it has been used as a nautical highway  for transporting goods and people, linking Western Samar with Eastern Samar until the 1940s when a gravel road from the west to the east was opened.

The SINP Headquarters

It just so happened that me and my son Jandy were in Tacloban City during the Holy Week break and I reserved a whole day for this one-of-a-kind adventure. To get there, my brother-in-law Manny and his Taclobanon wife Paula generously offered us the use their Mitsubishi Lancer and their family driver Cherwine B. Avis.  We left the city by 8:30 AM, a Black Saturday, and traversed the Maharlika Highway going to Catbalogan City. Upon entering Paranas, we inquired at a nearby police station for directions going to Buray Junction.  It seems we just passed it, the junction readily identified by a Petron gas station (the only gas station we espied throughout the trip) at the corner.

We missed seeing this sign on the road to SINP

From the junction, the SINP headquarters was a further 16 kms. away, along the Wright-Taft Rd..  The road was concreted, with occasional potholes and cracks.  Along the way we passed the upscale Villa Escober Spring Resort.  Just before reaching SINP, a huge boulder from a rock slide was blocking the road but we just drove around it.  Upon reaching the SINP headquarters (around 10 AM). We parked the car along the road, as the park gate was closed, and I entered via an open pedestrian gate.  The offices were also closed, it being a holiday, but, luckily for us, I met the watchman Mr. Raffy Manrique who offered to personally  bring us to the Torpedo Boat jump-off point, a riverbank just 150 m. away from the SINP headquarters, at Sitio Campo Uno in Brgy. Tenani.

L-R: Raffy, the author, Cherwine and Jandy

Upon arrival, we registered our names at a logbook and met up with Mr. Gilberto P. Eneran, the current head of the Tenani Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), who would man, together with the father and son team of Oscar and Nicky Obleno, our 4 m. long torpedo boat. Gilbert, as boatman, operated the engine while Nicky, at the front of the boat, acted as timoner (pointman), the one who navigates and pushes the torpedo boat away from the rocks.

All aboard and ready to go

All experienced boatmen trained on safe river travel, they had been operating boats before, transporting illegally cut trees in the area, but now helping protects and conserve the SINP.  The TORPEDO now has 57 members and 23 boats.  They are part of the Ulot Watershed Model Forest Stakeholder Federation, an umbrella of 9 people’s organizations involved in the SINP (tour guiding, boat services, catering, food production, etc.).

Beautiful curtain waterfalls along the way

The wooden boat, without outriggers, is powered by a 16 HP engine.  It has elevated sides to prevent water from getting in and the boat from tipping.  Aside from the crew, our boat could seat 5 passengers but it was just me, Jandy and Cherwine.  We sat on seats with backrests and, on the sides, were inner rails for us to hold on as well as protect our hands from boulders the boat may hit along the way. For our added protection, we wore life jackets and helmets. 

A quiet rural scene along the river

The first leg of our challenging but not nerve wracking, wet and wild adventure ride was a 10.5-km. journey downstream.  One thing that made this boat ride truly remarkable was the natural scenery the route provided, with tick forests, the habitat of exotic flora and fauna, all around us. We started in calm waters, with some beautiful curtain waterfalls to be seen along the riverbank.  Soon enough, ripples began to appear, followed by white water rapids encountered in shallow and narrow areas called sinisikuhan (“bent elbows”).  Here, the waters move fast at the river bend and, as the boat speeds away, water splashes hits our faces or drenches us.  As our boat had no outriggers, we really got to feel the swaying of the boat.

The fun begins here …..

Our boatman, with their knowledge of river maneuvers and keen eyes to spot obstacles such as rocks or boulders that block our way, skillfully and safely run the fast moving rapids.  Occasionally, passenger boats coming from or going to Brgy. Tula would pass us by.  After 45 mins. our boat stopped at Deni’s Point, a picnic area a few meters from a 10-ft. fall that drops into the river.  Boats that have to continue beyond this point would have to unload their cargo and passengers, drag the boat to an area where the grade is gradual, pull or lower the boat down with a rope, reload the cargo and passengers then continue on with their trip.

Passenger boat coming  back from Brgy. Tula

Deni’s Point is a tranquil, secluded and scenic jungle spot where one can commune with nature. Surrounded by tall trees, its riverbanks are lined with big stones and huge boulders. Across is a small curtain waterfall.  Here, Jandy and I swam its clear waters while Cherwine dove from a huge boulder into the fast flowing river.  A lifeline was thrown across the river to catch should we be swept by the fast moving waters.

The swirling rapids of Deni’s Point

After our 45-min. sojourn in this beautiful spot, we returned to our boat for the second half of our extreme ride, this time an exhilarating 10.5-km. and much longer upstream ride (called the “Salmon Run Experience”), back to the takeoff point in Sitio Campo Uno.  This time our boat trip, now going against the Ulot River currents, would meet and feel the onrushing waters and we were to experience even bigger splashes as our boat plunge through the waves.  Everyone heaved a sigh of relief every time we pulled out of a challenging rapid.

The waterfall at Deni’s Point

At a particular area called the “Salmon Run”(referring to a time when salmon swam up the river to spawn at their place of birth), the drop is around 3 to 4 ft.  Here, tourists normally would have to get off the boat so that the boatmen could pull the boat up the rapids.  However, since we were only three, we were allowed to stay on board the boat.  Back at Campo Uno, we had some snacks and soft drinks at a nearby sari-sari store (there are no eateries here) before indulging in another favorite river activity – kayaking.

Nicky manhandling the torpedo boat at Salmon Run

We each had a crack at this on a single yellow-colored kayak, me being the last to try.  I wondered why Cherwine and Jandy gave up after just one short round but I soon found out. Going with the flow of the water was easy, going against it wasn’t.  It was a struggle just getting back to the takeoff point.  After this very tiring activity, we decided to just loll around in the quiet river waters, still with our life vests on.  Thus sated, we left the place by 3:30 PM and we were back in Tacloban City by 5:30 PM.  Truly an experience of a lifetime.

Jandy tries his hand at kayaking

Samar island Natural Park: Sitio Campo Uno, Brgy. Tenani, Paranas, Western Samar 6703.  Mobile number: (0917) 702-7467.  E-mail: sinp.tenani@yahoo.com.  Website: www.samarislandnaturalpark.com.  The Torpedo Boat package costs PhP1,800 (maximum of 5 tourists per boat), inclusive of the SINP entrance fee, boat rental, tour guiding fee, safety gear rental and community development fee.  A single kayak rents for PhP50 while a tandem kayak rents for PhP75.  Tubing (PhP20 rental fee) is also offered along the Ulot River.  

Our torpedo boat team – L-R: Gilbert, Nicky and Oscar

The SINP headquarters also has accommodations for visitors wishing to stay overnight.  It has 3 airconditioned rooms.  One room has dorm-type double deckers good for 15 people (PhP100/pax/day) while 2 other rooms can accommodate 4 people each (PhP150/pax/day).

Water Fun in Subic (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

The popular and entertaining banana boat ride. 
That’s me up front


Aside from our relaxing overnight stay at Lighthouse Marina Resort at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, members of our Lakbay Norte 2 media group were treated to a round of watersports activities courtesy of Networx Jetsports along the Subic beachfront.  While the others opted to just watch or swim, a number of us, me included, dabbed on a lot of sunblock lotion and donned  life vests to try out what was on offer.  While others eagerly jumped into the jetskis, a number of us (Nina Fuentes, Melissa Dizon, Karlo de Leon, Ivan Mandy and yours truly) hopped on the popular and entertaining banana boat ride.  The boats, pulled by a powerful jetski, could accommodate a maximum of 10 persons.

Returning to shore after our dunking


Once on board, we all held on to the bar in front of us and tried to balance ourselves as the jetski  slowly pulled the banana boat. We all bent down to maintain our balance and when the boat turned left, we leaned to the left, when it turned to the right, we leaned to the right.  The jetski tried to catch the us off guard (and off the boat) by going fast and slow and succeeded on two occasions. It was fun for me but distressing for Karlo and Mel as they both irretrievably lost their expensive shades to the sea (luckily mine was hooked to my ears).  Getting back on board the boat was also difficult for some (including me).  I’ve tried banana boating before in Boracay but that ride was tame and uneventful compared to this one.  Rates for the banana boat ride are PhP250 er person, minimum of 4 and maximum of 10.


Jetskiing is addicting


Next on my itinerary was the addicting jetskiing, a first for me.  It is said by many that by riding the waves, it quenches the need for speed and gives one a feeling of power.  Upon climbing the jetski, a safety strap was attached to my wrist to ensure an automatic stop in case I should fall off, thus avoiding possible injury.  After basic instruction on how to operate the jetski, I was off and on my way, riding the waves standing up but making sure to get back on my seat as I made a slow turn.  I avoided places where people were swimming. Jetskiing was truly what it is hyped up to be.  Too bad there was no one to record my moment, either on film or video.  Jetski (Yamaha VX 110, 4-stroke engine) are  rented for PhP1,900 for 30 mins. and PhP3,000 for 1 hour. 

A Hobie Kayak Tandem

Karlo and I also tried out the Hobie Kayak Tandem.  The clear, calm waters surrounding Subic make it an ideal kayaking site for novice and experienced paddlers.  Our kayak was different from the kayaks I’ve tried before as this one had a kick-up rudder system and a hand-controlled steering system at the rear (where I was seated).  The Hobie Kayak Tandem rents for PhP500 for 30 mins. and PhP800 for 1 hour while the single rents for PhP300 for 30 mins. and PhP500 for 1 hour.. Networx Jetsports also offers parasailing (PhP1,500 per person, 10 mins. airtime), speedboat cruises (XR 1800-2001 models, maximum of 5 riders, PhP10,000 for 1 hour) and Pelican pedal boats (PhP400 for 30 mins. and PhP700 for 1 hour).  Networx Jetsports was established in 1997 by Emmanuel “Dong” B. Arcilla, an avid jet ski racer.  

Networx Jetsports: Waterfront Road, Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales (beside Gerry’s Grill).  Tel.: (047) 252-3469 .  Mobile number: (0922) 812-9832.  Email: jetsportssubic@yahoo.com.  Website: www.networxjetsports.com.ph

Pearl Farm Resort (Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte)

My first visit to Pearl Farm Resort in Davao, during the the November 2007 Flavors of Spain, so enamored me with the place so much so that I decided to return, this time with my whole family in tow.  

The Parola at Pearl Farm Resort

This 11-hectare, Class “AAA” resort, located on a secluded cove at the Island Garden City of Samal’s Kaputian District, was formerly the home, since 1958, of the Aguinaldo Pearl Farm which produced cultured pink, white and gold pearls from white-lipped oysters brought from Jolo.   It ceased operations in 1980 but was developed into a world-class beach resort, opened in 1992.  It started out with 10 hillside cottages and 2 Samal cottages on stilts.  

The resort’s white sand beach and backdrop of greenery

Today, the main resort has expanded into 70 guestrooms (17 standard Hilltop rooms, 21 superior Samal Houses, 6 executive, 2-storey Samal suites and 19 de luxe Mandaya Houses and 7 Malipano Villas) made mainly with bamboo and wood and harmonizing with the clear, blue sea, the white sand and its backdrop of impressive greenery.

Davao International Airport

We book flights with Philippine Airlines and left Manila for Davao City, the gatway to the resort, on the very early 4:30 AM flight.  We arrived at Davao International Airport by 6:30 AM and were whisked, via a resort van together with other guests, to the Pearl Farm Marina in Lanang.  From its developed wharf, we were to be transported to the resort via a large motorized outrigger boat.  Our boat left by 8:30 AM and the ride took all of 45 mins.

Waiting for our boat at Pearl Farm Marina

We arrived at the resort by 9:15 AM and we were checked in at a luxurious, 2-storey, Muslim-inspired Samal Suite, specifically Suite 1.  This was convenient for my octogenarian in-laws as this particular suite was the nearest to the Maranao Restaurant, allowing for shorter walks.  Noted architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa designed the cottages and villas as close as possible, in both materials and form, to the different Mindanao tribes they were named for: the Bagobo, B’laan, Maguindanao, Tausug, T’boli and Yakan.  Ours was the Tausug.  For its depiction of regional traits, the resort received the Kalakbay Award for Best Resort for two consecutive years (1994 and 1995) and was one of the venues of the 1994 Miss Universe pageant.  

The Samal Suites

The Samal suites (as well as the cottages) were patterned after the stilt houses of seafaring Samal tribes of the Sulu archipelago. My wife Grace, my kids Jandy and Cheska and I occupied the master bedroom, with its king-size bed, on the second floor while my in-laws occupied the living room on the first floor which was converted to another bedroom with a sofa bed with trundle bed being provided.  Both floors have their own private bathroom with the masters’ provided with a bathtub.

The master bedroom

Both rooms are airconditioned and provided with cable TV, a well-stocked mini-bar, coffee and tea making facilities, safety deposit box and hair dryer. Our veranda,  overlooking the serene blue water, had a private staircase leading down to our very own small yet private beach. A jar of water and a coconut shell dipper are placed near the entrance to our suite so that we may wash away the sand after a day of barefoot walking on the beach. In local custom, this gesture is also symbolic of a cleansing of the spirit.

The converted living room

After checking in at our suite, we all proceeded to the Maranao Restaurant for brunch.  This cavernous dining pavilion, replete with tribal motifs, has a menu with an assortment of international culinary influences, all wonderfully prepared by Filipino chef Edgar Chavez.  The buffet features Spanish paella and calamares,  Madras seafood curry, Italian pasta, Japanese tempura and even Thai tom yum soup plus sweet pomelo, mangoes and other tropical fruits.

Maranao Restaurant

Cocktails, plus inspiring views of the sea and nearby De la Paz and  Malipano  Islands, can be enjoyed at the Parola Bar.  Both restaurant and bar offer free Wi-Fi internet access.  The resort also has two swimming pools, one of which was built right on the shore, giving the illusion that the pool water meets the sea, while the other has a jacuzzi.

Infinity pool
The resort’s second swimming pool

The Ylang-Ylang Spa, located beside a waterfall and beneath swaying coconut palms, offers several indulgent body and beauty treatments based on natural products.  They include a relaxing Papaya Body Scrub, a revitalizing Honey and Cucumber Facial Cleansing and the refreshing Floral Foot Soak. Massage therapies, embracing the most effective European and Asian techniques and using the stress-busting and soul-soothing power of coconut oil, includes the healthy aromatherapy massage.

Ylang-Ylang Spa
Getting around the resort was easy as there are two shuttles, one of them electric-powered. The Mandaya weaving house has a couple of tribal women making colorful tribal dresses, costumes and jewelries.  Pearls, hats, T-shirts and other accessories can be bought at the nearby boutique. There are also 2 function rooms, 2 tennis courts, game room (billiards, chess, mahjong, etc.), children’s playground and a mini-aviary. 

The Game Room
Aqua Sports Center
Function Room
Mandaya Weaving Center

An aqua sports center offers windsurfing, fishing, jet skiing, sea kayaking, island hopping, banana boat rides, Hobie cats, wave runners, snorkeling and scuba diving.   Here, we tried our hand at sea kayaking, Grace and Cheska on a tandem kayak while Jandy and I took single kayaks.  Donning life jackets, we paddled all the way to Malipano Island.  On our way back, it started to rain, some swells started to appear and my kayak capsized.  I floated around for some time, not knowing how to get back on my kayak.  Luckily, the staff at the Aqua Center noticed my predicament and rescued me, using their speedboat.

Cheska and Grace on their tandem kayak
Jandy on his single sit-on kayak
That’s me bringing up the rear


Pearl Farm Resort: Kaputian District, Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte. Tel: (082) 221-9970 to 73.  Fax: (082) 221-9979.  E-mail: pearlfarmresort@fuegohotels.com.  Website: www.pearlfarmresort.com Davao Citysales office: G/F, Anflocar Corporate Center, Damosa Bldg., Lanang.  Tel: (082) 235-0876 and 234-0601.  Fax: (082) 235-0873.  E-mail: dvosm@pearlfarmresort.com.  Manila sales office: 15/F, 1504 Corporate Center, 139 Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 750-1896 and 98.  Fax. (632) 750-1894. E-mail: mlasm@pearlfarmresort.com.

Marabut Marine Park (Marabut, Western Samar)

The resort’s beach and catamaran

On April 20, Holy Thursday, I decided to visit to Marabut Marine Park and Beach Resort in Marabut with my brother-in-law Manny and my son Jandy.  Marabut is the last town before the border with Eastern Samar, off the southern coast of Samar.  However, Manny’s car was trapped in the garage due street diggings along the street.  Mr. Victor Macasera, my Astra medical representative guide to Sohoton Caves, came to our rescue by offering to bring us there.  After our usual early morning breakfast and loaded with our usual picnic basket prepared by Paula, manny’s wife, we departed Tacloban City around 9 AM, crossed the San Juanico Bridge to Samar, turned right at the fork to Basey and proceeded, down a well-maintained road, to Marabut town.

Burial cave

Soon, we espied the beautiful stack of small limestone islands of the marine park just off the horizon.  Near the resort, we made a stopover at a small cave along the highway.  Inside, we saw a cross, an image of the Blessed Virgin and a net-covered concrete vault containing the mixed up bones of victims killed by the Japanese during World War II.  About a kilometer past the cave, we came upon the road sign and an  700-800 m. long access road leading to the resort.  Past an old, wooden loggers’ lodge was the entrance to the resort.  We parked our car and rented a picnic shed for our use.

The islands of the marine park

This 1-hectare resort, opened in 1997, sits on a 90-hectare land planted with rice and coconut trees.  It also has a reforestation area planted with mahogany and gmelina trees. The resort is owned by the Unimaster Conglomeration, Inc. of Mr. Wilson Chan, the same corporation that owns the Leyte Park Hotel in Tacloban City.  It has 5 nipa, bamboo and wood duplex cottages with bath, an open-air restaurant and a bar.  Being a holiday, the resort was full of Filipino-Chinese guests brought over from Leyte Park Hotel via a huge double-hulled catamaran moored along the beige sand beach.  Beyond that were the 15 dramatic limestone islands that constitute the marine park, all leased from the local government for the exclusive use of the resort.  Although filled with guests, the beach was surprisingly empty of swimmers.

All geared up and ready to go

As we were going around the resort, we came across a group of tourists milling around a dazed man pockmarked with red sores from head to foot.  He was just bitten by a jellyfish while swimming along the beach and was being administered with antibiotics.  It was jellyfish season. No wonder the beach was empty.  So much for the swimming.   Still the limestone islands beckoned.  As we were preparing the table and ourselves for lunch, I espied a number of brave sea kayakers heading towards the islands.  I immediately made a reservation for a 2-pax, sit-on sea kayak.  If I can’t swim along the beach, I could at least kayak.  The resort has 8 plastic kayaks – 3 single and 5 double; plus one outboard motor boat.   Kayak rental is PhP75 per hour, inclusive of life vests but with no helmets.

However, I was placed on a waiting list.  There was nothing to do at the moment except eat, and eat we did.  With food enough for double our party, we feasted on tipay (scallops baked in garlic), kilawinpansit canton, grilled tilapia and steamed rice, all washed down with bottled water or canned soft drinks.  We were too full to even touch the ripe mangoes for dessert. Pretty soon, the previous kayakers returned and as soon as the kayaks were parked, I immediately laid my claim to a kayak. Jandy and I quickly applied sun block lotion, packed our snorkels and camera in a dry plastic bag, donned our shades, rubber slippers and life jackets and were soon on our kayak.

Sea kayaking wasn’t a breeze as I first thought it would be.  Jandy was seated up front and it took some time for us novices to coordinate our paddling and maneuvering efforts.  For a time we seemed to be going nowhere, but soon we got the hang of our double oars and were soon on our way in a leisurely, exploratory pace.  Still wary of going very far, I decided first to visit some of the mainland’s inaccessible and scenic hidden coves just around the beach.  Going there only seemed to bring the islands closer to me and, with a little guts and a prayer, were soon paddling full speed ahead.

The nearest was a magnificent 3-peak island with a white sand beach tucked in between them.  Shooting straight up from the sea like natural skyscrapers, the islands’ towering limestone cliffs’ base were heavily undercut by wave action and were topped by dense jungle.  This scenery reminded me of similar islands (although more compact and much nearer) seen as I toured the equally beautiful Dimakya Island (Club Paradise, Coron in Palawan) and Gigantes Islands of Iloilo.

Pretty soon, after about 20 mins. of paddling, its white sand beach hove into view as the surrounding waters became clearer.  We had to maneuver around to avoid some large rocks visible under the water and soon hit dry land.  We were the only visitors there and we both felt like Robinson Crusoe (or is it Swiss Family Robinson?).  We donned our snorkels and explored its clear waters and coral garden of staghorn and brain coral.  No jellyfish in sight. Thank God.  This condition was soon broken by the arrival of 3 other kayaks from the resort, all paddled by Filipino-Chinese guests of the resort.  We gladly lent our snorkels (and rubber slippers) to the group.

I had my eye on visiting the next island’s white sand beach, and seeing a golden opportunity, suggested a joint kayaking safari with our new friends to the island.   Our next destination was similar to the first except that its peaks were not as rounded.  We reached it after 15 mins., but we were not the first arrivals as a large outrigger pumpboat loaded with tourists was already there even before we left the first island.  Snorkeling here was quite a disappointment and the only floating creature I espied was a jellyfish!  We quickly made a dash for the shore.  Instead, I tried to go around the islands’ heavily undercut girt but soon gave it up upon reaching waist-deep water.

From the island we could espy the third island’s white sand beach (only 3 of the 15 islands have white sand beaches).  In the distant horizon was the all too familiar Tooth Island, a bizarre, hourglass-shaped limestone outcrop (no beach) featured in a colored postcard.  My spirit was willing but I was already tired.  I decided to abandon the idea and instead started paddling, together with the others, back towards the mainland.  Although tired, our strokes were more fluid, just like professional kayakers.  After about 30 mins. we were back at the resort, having been gone for 2 hrs., dead tired and with aching muscles.

Jandy and I turned over our kayaks and life vests to Manny and Victor and they were soon kayaking to the nearest island.  While they were away, I decided to interview Mr. Angel Quiminales, the resort manager.  Angel gave me an overview of the resort’s beginnings, facilities and future plans including a future saltwater swimming pool and additional cottages. My heart sank when Angel told me of a hidden lagoon located just 400 m. from, and to the right, of the mainland beach.  It sank even deeper when he told me that the second island I visited had a beautiful cave with beautiful stalactites just around the beach.  It was a frequent destination for foreigners.  If only I knew.  After this 45-min. interview, we decided to call it a day, thanked Angel and paid our bills (picnic shed and kayak use).  We left Marabut by 4 PM and were back in Tacloban by 5 PM.  The next day, being Good Friday, I decided to rest.