Today began on the shores of Sabang Beach, about 20 minutes by boat from the Puerto Princesa Underground River and a two-hour ride from Puerto Princesa City itself. I'd been staying at the newly-opened Sheridan Hotel for the past two nights and three days, and this morning I woke up early to get to Puerto Princesa City for some last-minute appointments before catching my afternoon flight back to Manila.
I simply had to get back to town in time for the birthday party of one of my dearest friends, so for once I made sure I was actually within the 45-minute cut-off for checking in for a domestic flight.
Once in Manila, I just had enough time to put my bags down and change, before heading for my friend's party somewhere in Makati. It had started early and I was pretty late; and when I got to the venue, it was completely full with his friends and associates. And as I was making my way through the restaurant, which was booked for the party, what do you know? I see my friend M talking with some guy across the room.
BREAKING THE ICE
It was a bit strange and unexpected to see him there. The thought that he might be at the party had crossed my mind earlier, but I hadn't bothered to check with him today as we'd talked enough by text yesterday and we were meeting for our project next week. As for him, I don't know what his excuse was, although later he said to me: "I thought you were coming back on Sunday."
So the first thing I said when we actually got close enough to talk was: "I didn't know you'd be here. If I'd known you were here, I would have brought my computer." That was true. We're doing a project together and there was something he really needed to see; so it was pretty vexing that we both have generally impossible schedules but for once we were both in the same place, and the computer I am almost never without was actually not around.
"I have to be here," he said to me. "You forget -- he's my cousin."
And I replied: "Yes. And you forgot that he's one of my oldest friends."
So it was an even score, and we both laughed; and with the ice broken, we sat together for a while to talk shop.
"So how was Palawan?" He asked me.
BEAUTIFUL PUERTO PRINCESA
Palawan had been a very good trip and Puerto Princesa itself had been a revelation. It's usually known as one of the best places to live in the Philippines because of its quiet lifestyle; but I'd come away with so many memories of color and vibrancy, and so many beautifully crafted local souvenirs that I'd never imagined would be available here. Read more about this in the October-November issue of TRAVELIFE Magazine.
Also, the Travelife team had done lots of work so it wasn't exactly a holiday of any kind, but we'd had so many unusual and interesting experiences in such a short span of time.
Last night, for instance, was the formal opening of the Sheridan Hotel, which is now the top resort property in the Greater Puerto Princesa area and the best gateway for a visit to the underground river. It's a very comfortable contemporary resort with a wide beachfront and a relaxing, eco-friendly design. And the underground river is a short boat ride away, making it the most convenient stop to visit the river. The next alternative is to stay at a Puerto Princesa hotel and make the four-hour round-trip to Sabang plus a 20-minute boat ride in a day. And that's pretty hectic, especially as the car ride between Puerto and Sabang can be quite dizzying on winding roads.
CONVERSATIONS WITH JACKIE
Yesterday afternoon, I sat by the beach sipping coconut juice from large shells with Jacqueline Tan, VP of the resort and eldest daughter of the owner. Her family's based in Cebu but they've basically been coming to Palawan and to Sabang since she was a kid, so they know the area as well as any of the locals. It was during this time long ago, too, that her father decided to buy the large property on which Sheridan now stands.
"We tried to make sure that the resort design and maintenance is in keeping with the environment," she explained. "If you notice, none of the buildings have been built higher than the tree line."
It's true. The hotel certainly fits in very unobtrusively with its backdrop of a beach in front and some pretty picturesque hills behind. The buildings are low and everything is spread out nicely, with lots of little nooks and crannies for lounging around.
Onto another subject, I asked: "You've been coming here for years. How was the underground river before?"
She answered: "Exactly the same. Although it's better kept and maintained now, of course. And before, we used to have to drive over very bumpy roads from Puerto Princesa, and that would take a very long time."
BIGGEST PARTY ON THE ISLAND
A few hours later, the biggest party on the island of Palawan this weekend was off to a roaring start with hundreds of guests from Manila, Cebu and Puerto Princesa by the poolside for sunset cocktails. This was followed by a wonderful show which included flame throwers and a very popular cultural group that sang local favorites with a modern twist that made these easy to appreciate.
Jackie had brought in a show director (Sol Eugenio) and a DJ from Cebu (Jack Stone) for the event, so the entire evening's entertainment was fast-paced and seamless, and the music was just great -- everything from new hits to kind of sentimental favorites -- perfect beach music, actually -- like Waiting in Vain originally by Bob Marley.
I sat on a bench by the pool for most of the night, eating Palawan oysters and watching the show, and it was really so enjoyable to watch it al fresco on such a wonderful night.
The most entertaining part of the evening followed afterwards, with a stand-up comedy and song-and-dance performance by Giselle Sanchez. I'd seen Giselle once recently at the Etihad party, and I remember being both amused and surprised by her repertoire of jokes. Well, last night was no different. She opened with a couple of songs from Mamma Mia and then included some well-chosen numbers sure to be hits with her largely older Visayan audience. As for the jokes, well, they were all very clever. But I have to admit that there were several times when I was too shocked to laugh.
However, she's very good at what she does and obviously very professional. At the exactly right timing, she ended her spiel and then a fireworks display worthy of New Year's Eve lit up the southern Philippines sky. It was dramatic, and happy, and romantic all at the same time.
BACK TO WORK -- AND THEN SOME
Everyone drifted around when the program ended, but my team and I took out our computers and worked for a bit by the beach bar. This wasn't as bad as it sounds, however; there was chill music playing loud, a cool breeze flowing, and lots of energy around.
I booked a massage right on the beach at close to midnight, so after work I headed over to the spa hut on the beach with my iPod still playing my favorite song for the week: Land of the Loving as sung by Diane Reeves. Yes, I've been playing it over and over.
by Diane Reeves
Click on the title to here it
The massage was so relaxing after a hard week that I almost fell asleep, and I toyed with the idea of actually just sleeping on the beach -- basically not getting up from my massage. But the idea of spiders and crabs on the beach scared me off, and I went back to my room to get some shut-eye at around 2 AM after doing a bit of stargazing and thinking about my life, while listening to my iPod.
Everyone was in a very good mood because of the splashy opening. I didn't know it then but I found out only this morning that not a few of the members of my team had stayed up till way past 5 am drinking by the pool and then they'd jumped into the jacuzzi. This all happened while I was fast asleep. No wonder everyone was late for our airport transfer this morning.
TRAVELIFE Italy Night
with Margarita Fores
and the Embassy of Italy & Bacchus Epicerie
September 8 at Whitespace
TRAVELIFE Gastronomic Tour of Italy
For reservations and information, please contact:
Bernice or Rachel at TRAVELIFE