Discovering and loving our islands
I must admit I did feel like a truant officer when I questioned these three boys on the beach early this week. It was a Monday and I knew classes had begun for the public schools, but there they were on the beach, blissfully engrossed in sand play. I asked whether they had classes, and one of them sheepishly said that just for today, they had decided to spend the morning on the beach, rather than in school. And that maybe, just maybe, they may attend classes the next day. I was afraid they would throw the question back at me: And what are you doing here yourself on a workday?
I almost told them what a great choice they had made, because on this early morning walk with only the sound of the waves disturbing the quiet, I thought of the many ways, the many places in our surroundings where alternative learning can take place—and love and appreciation of local culture and country engendered, besides.
My daughter Aina and I were on a final holiday break before the start of the workweek, and we could not have picked a more suitable getaway venue—the Lio Tourism Estate in El Nido, Palawan. We had been to the better-known islands of El Nido, and we were intrigued that, to get to this beach, one needed no boat ride or any land travel, as it is just a few minutes away from the airport. When one enters the estate, one is welcomed by a sign that proclaims that the developers (Ten Knots and Ayala Land) have obtained the proper environmental clearance.
One is impressed at how they have adhered to protecting the environment. The original forests have been preserved with their age-old trees. On the way to the hotel, these trees keep you shaded company and allow you to hear birdsongs and the buzzing of insects—a welcome balm for the weary of mind and spirit. The beach is not Boracay caliber, but with the same playful waters that lure and tempt. There are the same mysterious and fascinating rock structures (limestone cliffs?) in the waters that Palawan is blessed with. One’s commitment to preserve what nature has to offer compels one to pick up used toothpaste tubes and similar trash that visitors have carelessly left behind. The much-awaited daily offering is the sunset, best viewed from a bridge, convincing the unbelievers that, indeed, no two sunsets are alike.
Another feature of the estate is the haven for artists, Kalye Artisano, which showcases local arts and crafts. What an excellent way to promote this, with art manifested on the tree barks, the trash cans and even the automated teller machine.
Close to the estate entrance is a housing complex similar in look to the hotel structure; I was happy to be told that this was housing for the hotel employees.
From the airport, which the estate built—the best and most comfortable, tastefully designed provincial airport I have visited, even offering complimentary merienda—to the welcome drink one is offered as guests alight from the airport transfer vehicle, one felt pampered and impressed about the quality of service. There is an efficient shuttle service with comfortable waiting sheds, obviously with the convenience of the hotel guests in mind, so that when our tricycle came too close to the waiting shed, the driver had to be reminded that he could only go as far as the corner.
El Nido has a quaint little town with charming restaurants like the popular Happiness hummus place, run by an Israeli who has settled in the town, and the local El Nido Bakery, now on its successful 27th year. And the Tambok restaurant is a mandatory stop.
It was a near-perfect holiday, marred only by our difficulty in getting the seafood meals we wanted. The reasons were difficult to accept in our country of islands—not enough supply in the public market, since the weather has been less than favorable for fishing, limiting the catch for the day.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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