Sometimes I dream of going to a place that is seemingly detached from the rest of the world. A place that is surrounded by clear waters and lovely light-coloured sand, where there is only you and the water and the breeze that brushes against your skin as you cruise around in a sailboat. Everywhere the beautiful melody of silence fills the air as if orchestrated by the clear blue skies, with only the occasional chirping and squawking of birds a departure from the reverie.
You see, when I think of the word vacation I think of places that are quiet and restful, away from the noise of movement and crowds. It’s a completely different concept from being asked on an adventure. I like going on adventures as much as the next gal, but sometimes a vacation is nice too. Visting Guimaras was, in my opinion, a great vacation.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting an absolutely beautiful beach paradise, and I had not expected to find it in a place I had very little knowledge of. A hidden gem, if you will. It began with a ferry ride from Bacolod to Iloilo, and then another pump-boat ride from Iloilo to the capital of Guimaras called Jordan.
From the port of Jordan we traveled by land for about 30 minutes towards the makeshift dock at Dungcaan, where the smaller-sized pump-boats were waiting to take us to our resort destination: Cabugan Adventure Resort.
They say that during low tide you can walk all the way to the resort for about 30 minutes because the water is so shallow in these parts, and indeed looking over the side of the boat you can see it is, but by boat it took only 5 quick minutes.
Guimaras is a province comprised of one major island plus a few other smaller ones surrounding it, all nestled in the lovely Panay Gulf. Many years ago this gulf fell victim to an oil spill, but looking at it now there is no sign of such a dark time in its calm beautiful waters. The scattered nature of the smaller islands in the province in fact makes it such a good place for island resorts, but because the islands are not placed far part it is also a great place for island hopping.
Our resort is located on its own small island, and no sooner had we entered the main body of the Panay Gulf did we begin to catch sight of the island resort’s structures. We docked at the beach and was greeted by warm white fine sand and one of the bluest skies I ever did see. The weather had really cooperated to make our beach excursion as close to perfect as it could possibly go!
I love that the island had log gates made to serve as the resort’s partition from the beach area, and to give its guests some privacy from any prying eyes. To me it was like a beacon, whispering words like ‘Welcome to paradise!‘, or I don’t know, the lyrics to Owl City’s ‘Good Time‘ song? In any case, I was fully prepared to enjoy the full day we were given to explore this whole area, including the beaches on the neighbouring islands.
What surprised me was the fact that it seemed almost as if we were the only people on this island! All was still and quiet and you could almost hear the whistling of the breeze against the surface of the water.
The first thing I did was take a short tour around the island as we waited for our rooms to be readied. Right from the moment we walked into the resort proper, I immediately spotted the volleyball net. Being a huge volleyball lover who has not played in years, I made a mental note to squeeze in some volleyball time a little later in the afternoon when the sun wasn’t so hot against the skin. Luckily my cousin was game for it so I had at least one person to play with!
And since we weren’t playing volleyball yet he headed over to shoot some hoops instead. You can borrow balls here for free, which is awesome, because all the resorts I’ve been to so far will ask you to pay at least Php 50 for an hour or so of playing. The rest of our tour group took some time out and lounged in the cabanas or the hammocks while the kiddos played around on the swings. 🙂
Round at the back of the island you are treated to this breathtaking view of the Panay Gulf.
There are air-conditioned cement houses that look to be new additions to the resort, but we were “going back to nature” for the one night we were staying here. We were living in this hut! Inside, the space is small with only basic amenities like a double-deck bed and a small bathroom present. There is an electric fan in there but no air-conditioning. No shower head too. And well, I completely understand why it might be difficult to set those things up given that this is after all an island in the middle of a gulf.
I know it sounds a little too back to nature, but if there’s anything I learned from all the traveling I’ve done, it’s that you have to keep an open mind and treat every unfamiliar (or sometimes even undesirable) situation as a new experience. I mean, it certainly would not kill me to have no air-conditioning for one night. It’s not like I’m not used to the hot weather in the tropics. I can certainly bathe using a pail and a water dipper. The only point of complaint I had were the pesky mosquitos that woke me up during the night, but if I had to really look at my stay in this resort as a whole, I find I don’t have a lot of bad things to say.
After setting down our luggage, we all converged in this tiny cabana for some mid-morning snacks and coffee. We had our first taste of the famous Guimaras mangoes. They are smaller and less yellow than other types of Philippine mangoes I am more familiar with, yet surprisingly they are just as sweet and have this lovely firm juicy flesh. This snacking period was one of my favourite parts of my stay here for sure!
A special mention has to be made for these suman (a sticky rice treat), which I do believe are the best I’ve eaten in my life. I scarfed down two with zero guilt and was really sad when I found out we couldn’t take some home with us due to its limited shelf life.
I had started to feel kind of antsy after eating because I was excited to go island hopping. Finally the small pump-boats that were taking us around the different islands arrived, and since only a few of us were going we needed only two.
My favourite part- aside from the swimming on the islands of course- is actually the journey going there. Cruising in these waters was one of the most pleasurable and calming exploits I have had in a while. I even made a really short video just to show you all how lovely it was. 🙂
Can I cruise these waters forever please?
I spent a lot of time trying to capture the loveliness of the view but it’s so hard to fit it within the walls of a photograph, and harder still to express in the thread of words. All I can say is that there were other smart people who had come here to enjoy the solitude too.
There were some lovely rock formations scattered about the gulf, with one that famously resembles a crocodile at rest.
It was near Mr. Crocodile that our first island stop was. Suffice it to say we all jumped right into the water. Now I’m a tall girl so the water wasn’t too deep for me even as I was swimming some distance away from the shore, but if you’re looking to do a bit of snorkelling and fish watching, there isn’t that much fish to see unless you swim over to the much deeper areas.
The waters here aren’t too deep to begin with, perhaps over six feet or nearly seven if I remember correctly. Which is why you can probably jump at any point of the gulf and still find your way back to the surface with ease. There were certainly a lot of people swimming in seemingly random points all over the place. Naturally I will not advise this kind of activity to those who aren’t very good at swimming.
I did not take a photo of the second island we went to since we stayed there only very briefly. I must say I rather enjoyed the first island better because it was shrouded by high rocks so the sun’s rays did not shine down as hard on us as we swam. The water was also cooler.
Soon enough we headed back to Cabugan Resort for a late lunch. Our meals while we were hear were punctuated with many a seafood dish cooked in every possible way I can think of in a pinch: as a soup, curried, grilled, stir-fried, baked, and some even simply fresh with a squirt of lemon.
Literally it was a feast of fresh seafood in every meal, and even during breakfast we were fed smoked fish. I like fish a lot but smoked fish with vinegar is definitely one of my favourite ways to eat it. Filipinos make a mean smoked fish, I tells ya.
And since we are on the subject of food, there is a famous Filipino dish called kinilaw (first photo below) which is basically raw fresh seafood or other meats left to “cook” in a strong vinegar solution for some time. We had that for dinner, and for a moment I had no idea I was eating kinilaw until I put it in my mouth. Some people consider it exotic food but I don’t think it’s something that would shock sushi eaters, though certainly I would also advice people to pace themselves when consuming this dish.
I enjoyed the food a lot, but a word of advise for people who are not used to eating seafood: DO NOT eat them raw or else you will risk having an upset stomach! And no one wants that when one is supposed to be on a relaxing vacation right?
So to continue with my narration of my one day in this tranquil island, majority of my afternoon was spent- can anybody guess?- playing volleyball with my cousin and brothers. I really appreciated their enthusiasm because we had a ton of fun playing even if the ball kept ending up flying over the fence and into the water! I am pretty sure I chased after out-of-bounds balls a lot more than I got to spike them. Some time later, we all took a break from volleyball to enjoy this halo-halo in a coconut.
When you’re in the tropics, skipping on coconut is not a option!
Soon enough the sun had begun to set and we noticed with much fascination that the tide had begun to lower as well. So low was it that all that was left was the earth that had earlier been obscured by the gulf’s waters. When I looked over the side of the boat when we were cruising earlier, I had noticed that it seemed rather shallow, only I thought the water might have just been creating an optical illusion. Turns out it really is not as deep as one might have expected. When the tide drops like this, you can literally walk right across to the other island right across Cabugan.
And then as the sun furrowed itself further below the horizon, the sky began to produce the lovely colours of sunset. First comes the orange, which deepens itself into red with hints of violet and dark blue hues. Sunsets are always such an amazing time to sit outside and appreciate the magic of nature, and especially when you’re out of the city like this the effect seems to stun you tenfold. The world is such a beautiful place. It makes you wonder why there are people so adamant in destroying it.
And do you want to know how we capped off our lovely holiday? By staying up till past midnight around a bonfire playing Charades on an iPod Touch! We had some wine and roasted some birds too because why the heck not?
I wouldn’t mind spending more vacations like this. I wouldn’t mind at all.