Saturday, May 28, 2011

Want A Final Summer Splash? Fly To Pescador Island, Cebu!

Most of us, particularly Catholics, weren’t able to make our beach trips to beat the summer heat due to the 40-day lent preparation. To us, summer fun is just beginning these Easter weeks and opening of schools is still a month away. The hot air invites us to look around for a chilling venue. So, why not fly to Cebu in the southern part of the Philippines and join the tourists who enjoy swimming at Moalboal Beach for free? You can stay overnight or more (board and lodging) in one of the cottages there for a minimal fee. Get a 2-hour motorboat ride to Pescador Island and enjoy diving and snorkeling there. A haven of nature’s marine beauty awaits you! I had been there! 

November is probably an unheard of month for a splash in a beach. The weather grows colder and so is the seawater. But when my eldest, Pot, invited me and her sis Kit, to join her friends Benny and Haydee with their mothers Nilda and Linda, respectively, to fly to Cebu for few days of R & R (rest and relaxation), I thought it would be good to add another R (retreat) because the date fell on Thanksgiving Day. And besides, brisk walking on a beach and soaking in the salty seawater are good for my diabetic peripheral neuropathy. At first, I doubted if I could stand the stress of moving around on foot if we were to see and get the feel of the majesty Cebu City is famous of. But I agreed and today, I have no regrets. If I have another chance, I’ll take another flight to Cebu anytime. 

Since the day I adopted ‘empowerment” as a way to manage my diabetes, or simply meant to help myself by rediscovering what I’m still capable of doing, despite my diabetic pains, I took the risk, a  challenge I was overly excited about. I prepared for the big day- for my first plane flight ever! Haha! As a former teacher, I now realize I had no social life, no serious travels made in my life. But I can still catch up!

Day 1- November, 27, 2010(Saturday)

The all-ladies team of 7- Benny and Mom Nilda, Haydee and Mom Linda, Pot, Kit, and I, met at the NAIA. The first time I saw the elderly ladies, I felt I did a right decision. Nilda was to be our very energetic pro-active companion who made us happy all throughout and Linda was like her daughter Haydee, prim and proper. We boarded our plane and took off at around 5:15 in the morning. Pot, who was seated with me, was overly solicitous about how I felt. I’m too naïve if I don’t say, I was too nervous and anxious. It was my first time to ride a plane! Once up there, I was dismayed to see total darkness. Because I was sleepless waiting for the big day, I fell asleep for a while. But when I came to, I caught the glorious sight of day breaking. It was awesome! We were on top of the ice creamy white clouds, we raced with the clouds! Pot took pictures of the beautiful and serene view outside our window. After almost an hour, we reached our point of entry to Cebu, the Mactan Airport. I saw that there was a slight drizzle. Well, rain or shine, it wouldn’t damp my spirit. I wished the ride took us longer on air. Did I enjoy it? Very much!

Nilda and Linda have their relatives in Cebu.  It was an opportune time for them to pay their kins a visit after long years of not seeing each other in person. We ended in a cozy cottage owned by Nilda’s nephew. The beach in front of it was inviting and a fishpond full of fish like bangus (milkfish), among others, the fingerlings of which according to the nephew, just flow in through a catch-basin-like concrete canal when the seawater overflows during high tide. We were served a sumptuous meal- a brunch, actually because it was a little late for a breakfast at 10 am. I’ll never forget the maya-maya(fish) sinigang, the big shrimps in creamy sauce, and the big alimasag (crabs) in creamy sauce, too! We learned that the good couple owns an eat-all-you-can restaurant. We had our enjoyable taste of their delicacies! Even feeling full, we didn’t pass on the fresh young coconuts they served. Thank you so much, dear friends!

After quite sometime of pleasurable exchange of notes with the host family, we were driven to their music-video bar where we were served ladies drinks. From there, a Ceres bus commandeered by the nephew after hours of waiting by the roadside near their bar, took us to Moalboal town. It was a relaxing 2-hour ride. Somehow we fell asleep because we were full and satisfied. At Moalboal town, we were met by Elvie, the owner of the cottage we were to spend the night in. A long ride on a 10-sitter tricycle took us to the majestic Moalboal Beach.

It was around 3 pm and if we took that inviting splash right away, we might miss our late lunch and so, we looked around for a place along the beachfront to cook for us. Again, we enjoyed our fresh fish sinigang and the big lapu-lapu grill! After lunch, we bought t-shirts for “pasalubong” that were sold by itinerant vendors along the beach shores. We enjoyed our painful walk on bare feet back to the cottage in the coarse white sand, and cold water. We wondered about the siltation of white hard rocks that lined part of the beach where sand and water met. 

After proper arrangements with Elvie on what food we wanted for dinner and the following day’s breakfast, all except me, took their fist dip in the beach which is a stone’s throw away. I spent time savoring the salty wind around the beach and posed for as many times as I could for Pot to handle. The setting sun gave that majestic aura of the silent beach that teemed with young people at play in wholesome abandon ‘til the wee hours of the night inside their tents and with bonfire for their light. Meanwhile, we took our dinner outside under a shed in our pajamas. The grilled big tuna went along well with the green mango salad and rice. Still, we had bread, pancit and mango shake.  The night went peaceful, in an air-conditioned room, a home away from home!

Day 2- November 28, 2010 (Sunday)
I woke up early refreshed, contemplating over where to find a church, but it was a place away from the town, so I just prayed. I remember that I was there for a Thanksgiving retreat. God listens whenever you call and the place seemed inviting.  I would suggest later to find one when we get to the city proper in the late afternoon, I just said to myself. Benny, our reliable team leader/coordinator, knows best.

Breakfast was served in front of the cottage. Fried dried fish “daing”, egg omelet, hotdogs, fried rice and white rice downed with hot coffee and yes, another round of mango shake, made our day light and happy. We were charged for what I thought were 2 give-away meals for only ph500. The ladies decided to make it double and Elvie was grateful. She is a seasoned host, who knows how to get the good vibes of her customers. Thank you, Elvie, for the super accommodation!

During breakfast, some vendors enthused us to buy their “kilawin”- sea cucumber, fresh sea gelatin marinated in vinegar with salt, garlic, onion, and ginger. It was my first time to taste a sea urchin- that delicious exotic seafood! Elvie gave us boiled camote (sweet potaoes) for “baon”. We were to go to Pescador Island, the highlight to our beach splash. We had 2 boatmen with us who handed us our snorkeling gears, diver’s vests, and instructed us on what to do once there in the island. It took us about 2 hours on motorboat to go there.  What I thought was a dreary boat ride, us, alone in that open sea, no other boats of tourists in sight, turned out to be a most exciting ride when one of the crews announced that halfway to our destination, dolphins might be in sight. And there they were, racing with our boat, breaking waves, teasing us to shout some more with joy! It was my first hand face-to-face experience with these intelligent mammals. What a lovely sight! And on a measly boat ride fee of Ph1,500  for half of the day!

The island was a small dot in the middle of the ocean by far. When we got there, it seemed like it was a very large rock floating on water grown all-over with small plants and trees with big orange starfish clinging on its sides. It looked well as a sanctuary of marine life, pristine in its beauty, virgin in looks. We found company, and it gave me confidence, some foreigners diving, swimming around and probably some learning to dive. When I looked down the boat, I saw seaweeds dancing and some fish swimming around. The younger girls put on their gears, helped us in ours and they went on a splash with bread in their hands.  Haydee, with a water-proof camera on hand, took underwater pictures. They were feeding the fish! Nilda, a swimmer, dared to swim to a smaller rock minus diving gears, and posed there, and I called her “serena” (mermaid). Linda and I, no swimmers, were reluctant to go down the hanging stairs. But we were overruled. Once down in the cold water, it took us sometime to take our face-down floating positions so we could have a view of life under our feet. It was an awesome sight of fish swimming around us and the seaweeds and corrals dancing in crystal-clear waters. I thought I could kick off the corrals and might hurt my feet if I moved carelessly because I was trying to balance my body but it was very deep, Pot said, so I just let my feet hang in there as I didn’t know how to balance a steady float even in a diver’s vest.  So that was Pescador Island that you must see because no word can ever describe the beauty it exudes! 

The girls were oblivious of the time. Almost an hour passed unnoticed when a swarm of jelly fish  made them swim as fast as they could and scrambled up the boat, obviously shaken, complaining of the painful stings they got on their arms, neck, legs. I remembered our ‘kilawin” and so we used the vinegar to ease the irritation on their skin. It worked! But the girls weren’t contented. They asked the crew to move to another area where we had company. It was deeper, and the waves rolled up and down by meters, but Benny, Haydee, Pot, and Kit, dived down and continued snorkeling. They were like little frogs in all fours (arms and limbs) spread out going up and down with the waves. Before I could sound out my apprehensions, they climbed up the boat, very much satisfied, but tired and hungry. The “kilawin” and the boiled camote (sweet potatoes) saved our lunch. 

The trip back to the cottage was again made wholesome by the dolphins. The zooming boat broke the big waves that bathed us with salty water and our throats suffered from our joyful shouts. Upon reaching few feet away from the shores, we noticed that we were on top of seaweeds, corrals, and sea urchins down under the shallow waters. The girls put on their snorkeling gears again, it was just thigh-deep and they took pictures of the beauty we almost missed. Later, they discovered their cuts around their legs from the corrals in the reef when they took their shower in the cottage.

But time was up, we were to see this time, the relatives of Linda and Haydee who expected us for lunch. We said our grateful goodbye to Elvie and her kitchen crew after we settled our accounts with her. We anticipated the long bus ride back to the city and so we stuffed ourselves with snacks at Moalboal town. We ate and then slept on our way. We arrived late in our next destination, who complained about us, possibly forgetting that they were waiting for us. It was almost 4 pm.  After having said our reasons, again, we ate a sumptuous meal, now with meat- pork dinuguan, fried chicken, and lots of food! That was another taste we had of hospitality of the Cebuanos. It was getting dark and we had to go.

We checked in at Cebu Midtown Hotel, a modest place to stay in the city proper, with amenities just right for someone with a choosy taste. There was the big bath and the air condition system was superior. We just got in time to catch the magnificent view of the night beginning to envelop the city. But we weren’t finished yet. we went to The Walk where we had our dinner at 7pm. I couldn’t resist the sizzling pork pata grill. It was a busy day and back to the hotel, the large beds were inviting. We had a good night's sleep.

Day 3- November 29, 2010(Monday)
The following day, we had breakfast, eat-all-you-can, as part of the hotel accommodation. Benny was so dismayed when bacon, believed to be the hotel’s top of the line, was missing. She was not one to take this sitting down and so she talked with the personnel in charge. The bacon was out of stock. Otherwise, we also enjoyed the food, which was in fairness, good enough.

Then we headed to the Sto. Nino Shrine.  I was thankful for that. Silently, I said my prayers of thanks for the many blessings we’d been receiving as a family. I prayed, most particularly, for Pot’s friends, Benny and Haydee, the organizers of this trip, and Nilda and Linda, too. I prayed for all the new friends we met in this trip, for their hospitality and warm welcome to strangers like Pot, Kit, and I. I was thankful, in particular, for having agreed to go on this trip despite my apprehensions due to my health condition, that brought me to the shrine. I asked for continued blessings of good health and good company for the team, there in front of the wishing fountain, in the churchyard. I found myself in awe having seen myself, the historical Sto. Nino image that opened Christianity in our country, the first Christian country in the Far East. I saw Magellan’s Cross in its shelter near the shrine, too. To me, it was indeed a timely thanksgiving day I would never forget.

We had lunch at The Waterfront with Benny's cousins, the owners/proprietors of the Cebu delicacies- Chillen Pork Chicharon and Tuna Skin Chicharon. It was again an eat-all-you-can restaurant where baked oyster was top of the line- and Benny’s favorite! Dad’s Saisaki or YakiMix in Manila, would pale in comparison to this Cebu restaurant. We have proofs of the food we ate in pictures. I remember, I couldn’t stop coming back for the fresh fruits there. I had more than enough servings to my credit!(or discredit?) After lunch, we stayed for a while walking around The Waterfront, taking pictures. The girls found the Duty Free store, Nilda and I found the lobby, and we dozed off there, undisturbed. Haha! When we woke up, Nilda had a new bag, I got a new wristwatch- from our daughters. Linda went along with Haydee and seemed to have a bagful of purchases, too. Gracias, hijas! We parted with Benny’s cousins, not without orders from them for their chicharon which they would drop at the hotel for our picking up.

We really painted the city red and found this 4D theater! It was my first time to experience an almost real involvement in a movie supposed only to be watched. I forgot the title of the movie, but I still feel how my body trembled when rocks were rolling my way! The seats felt crumbling and we really had showers of the rain that fell in that movie. The historic animals looked real- dinosaurs, fighting each other; the pterodactyls flying with wings about to smash me on the face; the large ugly bugs opening their wide sharp-teethed mouths right in my face. The plants, flowers and trees were awesome! I held my hands out to touch the big big butterflies, the birds, and other gentle wild life. I could still hear our wild shouts inside the movie house.  It was fun!

The next day, Tuesday, would be our trip back to Manila, and so, Benny suggested that if we were to shop for “pasalubong” the department and grocery stores down the hotel will offer us what we need to buy. She set up the time since we were to have dinner with her cousins at their residence in the city, again! So shopping we went! Dried mangoes and candies were cheaper there. We didn’t forget to buy a kilo of the famous Cebu lechon, and the popular utap, too.

Benny’s relatives belong to the affluent in the city, that, we found out when we reached their place. They were gentle people, very entertaining, and very accommodating, too. We were received with the signature warmth of the Cebuanos. Food was aplenty and the Cebu lechon was very appetizing, among others. We could have stayed longer but Linda and I couldn’t help our heads dropped on sides because we were full and sleepy. We were driven back to the hotel by Benny’s lady cousin. Thank  you, thank you, and more thank yous!

Day 4- December 1, 2010(Tuesday)
Our flight back to Manila was at 5 am, so we retired to bed at once because it was already late when we returned to the hotel. We woke up early the next day, calling up each other by the phone, (we occupied 2 rooms) to be sure we were up and ready. Breakfast was handed to us in paper bags when we checked out at the counter. We couldn’t possibly take another breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant because it opened at 7 - 10 o’clock am. Naughtily, I peeped in my bag to see if bacon was there. There was none!

My Cebu experience is far from ended. Given another chance, I would fly  to Cebu and be lost again in its majestic embrace- the good people, the food, the hotel, the restaurants, Moalboal Beach, and Pescador Island this time for another splash- summer or not! Why don’t you take that flight now?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Refreshing Easter Splash at Montemar Beach Resort, Bataan

Montemar is a by-word of affluence and a haven resort getaway for a privileged few.  It is a secluded place in Bataan, of Northern Philippines, that nests among verdant hills and mountains, punctuated by crystal-clear blue waters on its outskirts.

I couldn’t have been there, had it not been for my daughter Kit’s Big Boss, Sir Jun. Sir Jun bundled up his family- wife, Ma’am Nelia, children, Minnie, Simon, Edward, Sir Jun’s brother Sir Pat with wife Ma’am Erna- and few of his law office employees who were available at the time-  Dexter, Jinky with hubby Dennis and baby boy Atom, Cherry with hubby Joel and baby boy Jigo, Sheila, Daisy with daughter Tricia, Kit and I,  and Elias and Rex, for a refreshing splash at said beach resort from April 30- May 1. Since it was the second week of Easter, I called this trip, an Easter Splash.   

Easter Reflections
The past 40 days of lent instilled in my awareness an added wisdom about stewardship, of God’s stewards, of which we all are. So when I heard of Montemar, a haven of nature’s bounty, I wondered how its appointed stewards are able to put it on the map, as a place to savor God’s  gifts. I wanted to see that for myself, feel it myself, that God is a loving God. And so, to Montemar- I gladly agreed to go!

Day One- April 30, 2011(Saturday)- Getting to Know You

Kit and I met with Minnie at around 7 o’clock in the morning. She was to drive the family van where we  are appointed to board with Sheila.  We were to join the rest of the group at Total gas station in Bulacan. We formed a caravan of 4 vehicles. When we arrived there, an informal “getting to know you” ensued. It was my first time to see them all. We had our breakfast at Chowking Restaurant. Kit  turned down my OSCA ID, Sir Jun was to foot the bill for the entire trip, board and lodging! Gee, that was nice of him! Before we finally proceeded to our destination, we had picture-taking.  As I looked around, acclimatizing myself with the group, I couldn’t help but smile. My fresh outlook about stewards and stewardship qualities began to take form. And I remembered Archbishop Socrates “Soc” B. Villegas’s Lenten message which runs, “I believe that the time to share is now, not tomorrow, for tomorrow is an excise of the greedy”.

Archbishop “Soc” is with the Dagupan-Lingayen Dioceses, and I so loved his Lenten message about stewardship during the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday at St. John Cathedral, Dagupan City, attended by all ministries of the dioceses where I belong as  a lector, that I often find myself looking back to his words of wisdom in his homily. He distributed cards about his belief in stewardship. And I’ve singularly underscored these lines-“I believe that in freely giving my time, in humbly sharing my talent, and in generously sacrificing my treasures, the Lord will always provide. He will take care of all my needs and bless me with infinite reward on earth and in heaven”.
Isn’t that beautiful to be our daily life’s focus?

As we traveled the whole stretch of the NLEX, then the SCTEX, I prayed the rosary and petitioned our Lady of the Rosary, because it was Saturday, to bless all of us, especially, Minnie and the other 3  drivers in our convoy. Along the way, I wondered who the stewards are of the hills and mountains, the plants and trees that align the long winding road. I formed a personal opinion that there are good stewards and bad stewards. Based on my observation, a well-kept property yielded a good steward. On the other hand, a barren and unkempt property, showed a careless steward. It was a guessing game I enjoyed, anyway!

Montemar, Here We Come!
Our road map proved insufficient as we haggled to follow every bend and turns But with Minnie’s prowess as a driver, we arrived with glee at the gate of Montemar Beach Resort. Kudos to you, Minnie! Daisy and company arrived ahead of us, she being our coordinator in all our activities during our stay there.

We reported directly to the front office for instructions. Elegance met us everywhere- in every structure we saw, the buildings, the pavilion, swimming pool, the landscape, the trees, the plants- are all beautiful and well-cared for. So, this haven is managed by good stewards! Even the room boys who carried our luggage and led us to our suites, the uniformed servicemen we met- were all polite and smiling!

We were given our key to each room and a card which we would present to the La Marea Restaurant every mealtime, without having to wait on the others.  I learned that we occupied 6 suites in all. Kit and I shared room with Jinky and family.  At lunchtime, the group dined together in a very long table, we were 21 in all! The service was superb just as the food was, mostly served in steaming “palayoks”(earthen pots). I loved most the beef kare-kare, but lessened my guilt when I indulged myself with gusto over the fish sinigang and the fresh veggies. I even ventured on diet coke! We enjoyed mealtimes, most especially with babies Atom and Jigo on their high chairs entertaining us with their baby talks and tantrums- as Sheila, Minnie, Simon, Edward, Daisy, Tricia, Cherry, Dexter,  Joel, Dennis and Kit,  took pictures with their cameras. 

Our itineraries and activities as we moved around were on our own choice. Anyhow, we would bump into each other as we moved about the entire area of the resort. Sheila, with her passion for photography, found us everywhere we went. We did photo shoots of the buildings, the trees, the plants the landscape; swam in the beach; played in the beach and the swimming pool; sat and enjoyed the cold breeze by the beach shores; felt the cold sand and green grass under our feet. Sheila, Minnie, Simon and Edward had their arms henna tattooed. They showed us their new-found treasure when they found us- Daisy, Tricia, Dexter, Kit and I in the swimming pool. The 4 swam with us until dinner was announced. I loved the pork adobo I downed with diet coke. Tired but happy, I said my prayer of thanks knowing that my daughter is in the good hands of humble people who are at the same time generous stewards of God until sleep caught me  in a deep and undisturbed slumber.

Day 2- May 1, 2011(Sunday)- Feast of the Divine Mercy and Beatification of John Paul, II in Rome
The following morning, Jinky, Dennis and son baby Atom, went to the beach very early to  take advantage of the healing ocean breeze as Atom wasn’t actually feeling fine. We learned later that they were to leave ahead after breakfast.  Kit and I donned our swimming suits again for the early morning splash. We saw Rex and Elias sitting by the beach afraid to take a plunge. Finally, they, too, joined us. The crystal-clear waters cold to the touch, was really inviting!

It was suggested earlier that we were to have a late breakfast. We were leaving Montemar at 12 o’clock noon and lunch at Everybody’s Café in Pampanga, probably by 2pm. There was Mass at 10:30 am so that after coming from the beach, Kit and I packed our things and proceeded to the restaurant. The inviting aroma of the brewed coffee prompted me to order, not just one cup, I downed another fill, to Kit’s wild reprimand! Daisy knew how to make her silent- she ordered bacon for her! And that was that! Everybody enjoyed the breakfast.

While waiting for the Mass, Kit and I went around and bumped into Sheila, with Minnie, Simon and Edward by the beach, taking pictures. As I watched the 3 happy siblings, I knew that their parents are proud of them, privileged children as they are, they are friendly and polite, literally with feet on the ground.  Sheila seemed ever happy to try her camera on almost everyone, which the siblings enjoyed. We left them, but later, Sheila caught up with us again while we were up the tree house. Next, we found ourselves riding the swing like little children. 

The mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr. Milvir Cruz.  I learned from his homily that it was the feast of the Divine Mercy. The second Sunday of Easter also marks the beatification of the late Pope John Paul, II, in Rome. He invited the people gathered in the mass to join him in the celebration in Morong in the afternoon to coincide with the beatification.  I learned, too, that the good Pope visited Morong to see the Vietnamese who took refuge in Philippine soil in those days of their woes in their own land.  Sir Pat, Ma-am Erna, and Kit were privileged to bring the chalice to the altar during the offertory.
After mass, we learned that Sir Jun and company enjoyed their jet skiing at the beach. Wonderful!   We were all caught in a maze of nature’s beauty and bounty which we enjoyed to the last minute of our stay at Montemar. It happened because Sir Jun is God’s good shepherd and steward. Thank you so much, Sir!
Goodbye, Montemar!
The caravan of 3 left happy and satisfied with our experience available to the privileged few. Minnie, was again behind the wheels. She proved her prowess in driving once more when she sensed that somehow we drifted away from our track back to SCTEX .  Dexter who joined us in the van used his GPS, and told us, that we were headed to Subic. We had real fun trying to track down possible exit to turn back, especially when someone called us up to report our position.  After quite sometime we were on the right track again. Poor Minnie, I knew she was tired but she never complained. That was when we felt we were hungry. Dexter’s chicharon baboy and some snacks were a blessing!
Everybody’s Café, Here We are!
We were the last to arrive, but we were just in time. The advanced party was already enjoying the food. The long dining table was simply overloaded! It was my first time to taste the delicious exotic  camaru (crickets). Minnie’s weakness, the sisig, was served in a sizzling  platter. Sheila got her fried frog and buko juice in a whole buko. The goat caldereta was very tempting! The fresh lumpia in big rolls was Kit’s preoccupation. I had my fill with the beef bulalo. I even tried the fried carabeef. The buko pandan made Kit place an order for her Ate’s pasalubong. Everything, just everything (I couldn’t name the other dishes) laid on the table was tempting to the palate!  Dexter and I couldn’t help it so we took pictures of the food in the counter.

We Are Stewards of God
Our Easter Splash was a grand success. Before we parted, I thanked Sir Jun and Ma’am Nelia for generously sharing their bounty to us. For my part, I believe that I won’t let this opportunity pass without due recognition. I’m God’s steward in my own humble way- a blogger, so I write. Let others take heed, of Archbishop Soc’s message – be God’s steward-share the gifts God gave you- your 3 T’s.  Share your Time freely, share your Talent humbly, and share your Treasures generously. God bless us all!


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