Puerto Princesa City, the Philippines
March 24 – 26, 2013
Our airport shuttle had traversed the narrow width of Palawan, yet we were still within Puerto Princesa, the Philippines’ second largest city in area. Right smack between the city’s eastern and western coastlines were picturesque limestone mountains, one of which was Cleopatra’s Needle. According to my brother who had previously worked in Palawan, the mountain was originally called Cleopatra’s Nipple – its summit did look like a pointy teat – but local people felt squeamish saying it. I never knew if that was just a joke; at least he got a chuckle out of my mother.
At the end of a two-hour drive through zigzagging highways over Cleopatra’s bosom, we were welcomed by the aquamarine vista of the West Philippine Sea to Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort. The swoosh of foam-crested waves lazily lapping the shore summoned us to make a beeline for the beach.
Save for a few lounge chairs in the shadow of coconut trees, this stretch of Sabang Beach was left to its sandy glory, an unimpeded view of sand and sea. The resort had apparently stuck by the local policy prohibiting any development to encroach within eight meters from the shoreline, one of the fruits of my brother’s work on nature conservation in Palawan some three decades earlier.
It was a breath of fresh air to find Mother Nature stripped of the noise – aural and visual – that drowned her out in other beaches. There lay the difference between Puerto Princesa and Puerto Galera. Without the distraction of blaring music and raucous water sports, you could keep time to the heaving of the sea: an acoustic version of Boracay, as it were.
We mostly owned the beach. Only later in the afternoon would fellow guests, a few families and couples, and a pack of dogs chasing the surf join us. Daluyon’s ambiance was tropical zen rather than beach party. At one point, I was swimming alone as mom retreated to a lounge chair. I figured she had dozed off so I kept an eye on her, making sure she was not leaning enough to fall off the chair. Little did I know she was watching me back, making sure I was not getting swept away to the open sea. We were each other’s keepers!
Over at the cove leading to the Monkey Trail, no coconut trees dotted the entire length of the beach. The seaward edge of the forest had not been cleared and replaced by palm trees more popularly associated with tropical beaches, again thanks to the preservation efforts of the team that my brother headed in the 1980s. What a rare gift it was to see both sea and rain forest under the same sky.
An out-of-place zip-line traversed the cove, but by happy chance it had closed for the day. Earlier that afternoon, a foreign couple had the beach to themselves. By twilight, only a solitary baby egret scoured the shore for small fish deposited there by the waves. The fading light danced its swan song on the water as the full moon crept up the half-moon cove. A burst of sunset colors, partially eclipsed by a column of clouds, silhouetted Mt. Bloomfield. At that moment, Sabang Beach was all mine.
Mining scandals notwithstanding, this was the Palawan I had imagined: the closest place to a pristine paradise in these times of tourism overdevelopment. With more nature and fewer distractions and no crowds, Sabang Beach was truly “a place I can call mine” – a line from Pure Shores, a song that would take me back to my beach in Puerto Princesa.
Never been here before
I’m intrigued, I’m unsure
I’m searching for more
I’ve got something that’s all mine.
Take me somewhere I can breathe
I’ve got so much to see
This is where I want to be
In a place I can call mine.Susannah Melvoin / Shaznay Lewis / William Orbit