Sunday, February 14, 2010

A taste of Island Life

‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ or rather when in the Philippines, holiday like the Filipinos do. This was our mission statement as my husband and I drove down some of the best roads in the country to one of the tips of the western coast of the Philippines. Our destination was the renowned virgin beaches of Bolinao that boasted of powdery white sand, lucid waters and a stunning coral reef. Though we had visited many beaches in the Philippines that claimed the same, this would be different. We planned to experience it, just as the locals do. As we parked our car in the beach facing resort we were to stay in, we realized that this was the perfect setting to do just that. Wooden huts with thatched roofs perched on reinforced stilts, overlooking the beach. And a jolly air about it that promised fun in the days to come.

We started off by sinking our teeth into the grilled island style chicken that was made on order, in the absence of a fixed menu. “We don’t believe in menus. You don’t have menus at home do you?” the resort owner Carol told us, already having taken us under her maternal wing. We nodded our agreement as we tucked in the sumptuous fare. Next on the agenda, was working it off with a walk on the beach. In Bolinao, this means trekking to where the waves are. The waves break around a kilometre away from the shore, because of the coral reef formation in the area. We walked through thick patches of sea grass, picking our way through sharp corals, taking care not to step on hermit crabs and the poisonous sea snakes that were slinking through the waters. Sidestepping the sea urchins that were lurking around limestone rocks, we finally faced the majesty of the waves of the South China Sea. As the salty sea water sprayed all around us, refreshing us beyond any spa treatment it became quite clear why beaches are an integral part of any Filipino holiday.

As we walked back to the shore, the sun was dissolving in shades of orange into the sky and we caught the first strains of high notes drifting from the resort. A bunch of holidayers were indulging in what was affectionately referred to as a national obsession – ‘Karaoke’. We watched as families sat under cabanas, a microphone in hand singing along to tunes made familiar through the ages. They sang sometimes high-pitched and sometimes out of tune. And though the singing was rarely of the highest quality, what was touching was the passion that came through song after song. It was that, which got us hooked, first with a slow tapping of our feet and later on by joining in. We then understood why travellers say that it is impossible to find a sulky looking Filipino, for after all, anyone who sings with his family, will surely always be smiling.

Being a nation of more than 7’100 islands, ‘Bangkas’ or native canoes are an integral part of the islander’s life here. Almost all families on the coast own boats. And our next step was to head to the vibrantly blue ‘Jo-Anne’ the resort owner’s motorized Bangka, to explore what was known as one of the cleanest rivers in the Philippines, the Balingasay River. The sun beating down on us, we crouched under a weather beaten umbrella for a bit as the boatmen insisted that, that was what the locals do. But we put it aside to brave the harsh rays, to take in the sights that the river offered us. Broad with sparkling clear waters, it was lined by mangroves and bamboo and coconut trees that swept the surface. With only the gentle put putting of the Bangka’s motor as background, we watched the locals’ row their way through their daily business. With kingfishers dotting the tree branches and the occasional glimpse of translucent fishes swimming alongside the boat, it was easy to see why many people gave up the city life in favour of this. As we had ventured out at noon, the river was at low tide and the boatman had to turn the Bangka back. Yet the shore was not what he had in mind for us. Onward he steered the Bangka, till our little boat hit the rippling waters of the sea. Zigzagging amidst fishing dinghies he anchored a few metres away from a sparsely populated beach. He jumped out and waded into the clear waters only to show us a pool with a sandy bottom in the middle of the reef. “Natural swimming pool Ma’am Sir,” he said beaming, indicating that we too should join the boisterous and bronze tanned native children in the waters. We dived into the sea to the accompaniment of peals of laughter from the children at seeing the foreigners join them in their watery playground. A happy hour of splashing about and the discovery of a starfish later, we were on our way back waving at our newfound friends till the waves hid them from view.

Once on shore, we found ourselves with twenty minutes to head to the local sunset viewing deck. We raced our car up and down the part concrete and part dust roads to the Cape Bolinao lighthouse. Perched on a cliff overlooking the coast, this is the second tallest lighthouse in the country. Watching the sun, a huge sphere of glowing red and orange as it slowly descended into the sea, I was reminded of the sunset drawings I attempted as a child. The sight left me speechless.

And suddenly it was time for the last dinner. We decided on Chicken adobo, a simple dish that is all Filipino, with a vinegar and soya sauce base and a dash of seasoning that plays to your senses. Uncomplicated but delicious! In a sense, the dish summed up the holiday for me, living the unfussy island lifestyle that was spiced up by finding joy in the simple daily things that you do.

New Indian Express, February 14, 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment