Calatagan, Batangas, the Philippines
April 29 – 30, 2013
This was closer to the water than beachfront. Obviously Maldives-inspired, Stilts Calatagan Beach Resort boasted of eight cottages perched on stilts out in the sea. Why should we bother with a beach when we could just jump out of bed to the crystal waters of the West Philippine Sea?
I had my boss to thank for picking this out-of-the-ordinary place for our company summer outing. It was a rather long drive though. Three or so hours by car south of Manila, Calatagan seemed to always be beyond the end of a long stretch of highway. The van rental driver put it best, “Walang hanggang daan” (endless road). The distance was a relief actually; the farther it was from polluted Manila Bay, the better for us.
The trellised bougainvillea at the entrance promised a colorful summer, not just oppressive heat. A sign, the first among the many scattered all over the resort, entreated us to “live by the sun, love by the moon.” I didn’t know about the latter, but we certainly went by the former, at least for our two-day stay.
We followed a wooden walkway leading to our cottage over a mirage of sparkling crystals. At high noon, sun and sea had melded into a singular splash of light. Once settled, we pushed back the sliding walls of our airy cottage to let in the salty breeze. Away from the shore, the sky was the sea.
The three-room (including the loft) cottage was big enough for a group of 11 and outfitted with air-conditioning and immaculate sheets. Still, creature comforts proved futile to the call of wind and water. We mostly enjoyed the natural ventilation and view at the veranda, a perfect venue for meals, word games (we are all teachers, after all), and a sexy session of Zumba.
This was the closest thing to living in an aquarium. There was always something fishy going on under our noses as schools of small fish did their synchronized swimming. Surprisingly, only one species went on a frenzy for the bread crumbs we had thrown their way.
The infinite sky was an illusion at sea, to which a colleague waxed poetic: “A plate of infinitesimal depth for one’s perusal.” She was right; the nighttime low tide only lapped at our knees. Armed with a flashlight, we combed the shallows for marine finds: a baby octopus, starfish, a soft-shell crab. By mid-morning, the water would rise no more than neck-deep, its emerald ripples coaxing us to take a dip right under our digs, without the inconvenience of getting sand into sensitive body parts. We took to the water, wishing there were no leaking sewage pipes. Ditching the beach and the pool, we kept to ourselves in our little insular haven.
For fear of dermatological damage, we all waited for twilight (vampire much?) to explore the resort. By then, the beach had been abandoned and sea grass exposed by the receding tide. Only the remains of the day’s activities littered the shore: a lonely volleyball net, a moored floating restaurant, scattered Monobloc chairs and a wooden platform for a beach show we never saw.
Alas, summer would soon be a memory, and we would only be sustained by words of wisdom from America’s Sweetheart, posted at the stony pathway to the main pavilion:
I take a vacation every year by myself, as a sort of reset button just to sit and evaluate whatever time has gone by, read a book, collect myself, and maybe get a suntan. It’s important to have a chance to do that… You don’t necessarily have to travel but it’s important to have that moment to yourself where you can exhale.Julia Roberts
Amen, Julia! If only the boss could grant me a paid leave of absence.
She granted this schoolmarmy set the next best thing – a sumptuous Italian lunch at Buon Giorno and Japanese dessert at Mochiko, both in Cliffhouse Tagaytay, on our way home. What better way to squeeze our outing budget dry than on glorious food. The ladies who lunch I was with had the appetite of construction workers, after all.