DOS PALMAS REVISITED
HONDA BAY, August 11, 2003 (STAR) By Dandi Galvez - We all want to be anywhere but here. Who are you kidding? The city is great but full of its own crap. Wouldnít you want to get away from the stressful life Ė away from the conglomerate mayhem of an eight-hour job that goes nowhere? If you are that person who thinks the world revolves around Manila, get ready for a shock. Lifeís a beach and a lot of us intend to stay there. Nothing beats emerald green seas, pure white sand, a gentle breeze under a warm sun and blue skies I can breathe for as long as I live.
It was Plato who said perception is but a mere illusion. Then again, he hasnít been to where I have. We dream a lot about the perfect weekend getaway and seldom have our expectations been met. How do we know perfection? When we see the dream and rub our eyes unbelieving the reality of it all.
"Dos Palmas," said the passenger beside me as I looked over his shoulder through the plane window. I could see the blue green waters of Honda Bay and wondered if Manila could ever match the seas of Puerto Princesa. I only had a quick look as the plane swerved to the right for landing. In that brief moment I saw a swath of white which I assumed to be the roofs of the bay cottages that Dos Palmas is known for. "Maganda diyan," said my seatmate with a wide smile. He should know, he used to work there. As he rattled away the different activities, packages and features of the resort to fellow passengers wide-eyed at the brief beauty that slipped by, I sensed the energy in his voice Ė almost as if talking about Dos Palmas had a different, animated beat to it.
From the airport it was a few minutes ride to the Sta. Lourdes wharf; from there, the Dos Palmas Arreceffi motorized boat took us on a 50-minute ride across Honda Bay to the resort. "Honda," I was told, means "wave," after the large waves that crash along the coast of the bay. The waters were calm and almost as smooth as pavement. Many times it seemed we could walk on the water until flying fish broke through the glassy surface on occasion.
It was easy to remember the islands we passed through on the way to Dos Palmas. Mostly, the names represented a major feature. Bat Island is said to be populated by bats; Pandan Island benefited from an abundance of, well, pandan; and Snake Island is shaped like a snake. Not exactly as we had guessed but it was a welcome thought. Arreceffi Island, also known as Dos Palmas, was pretty unique. It was the only land mass around that had two prominently tall palm trees sticking out from its natural forest growth, hence the name.
Even from a distance you could see the resort, not just the two palm trees, but also the famous bay cottages that shone like ivory across the distance. As we came near the islandís reception area we were greeted by the fervent beating of a bronze kulintang. A passenger danced to the music as we disembarked on the resortís small wharf welcomed by smiles from the guest relations staff and cool glasses of buko juice.
It was like passing through a dream as we made our way past the 10 bay cottages and across the walkway toward the white sandy beach and lobby, with schools of fish, large and small, scuttling about underneath us in clear and calm waters. A small part of me couldnít believe I was here in this beautiful place, and that it was actually real. We headed straight for the Kara-enan restaurant where buffet lunch was being served. Off to the sides is a small garden landscape and a swimming pool with jacuzzi open to all guests. As we settled down a guest officer gave us a small presentation of the islandsí various features and facilities.
Resident manager Lyba Godio told me more about the resort, "Basically we have the marine sports center which is one of our major features." A lot of the activities included in their package involve water sports such as kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and island-hopping. "And, of course, the spa," she added with a smile. It can be said that Dos Palmas is very much self-sufficient when it comes to activities and facilities. Diving and snorkeling spots are a mere five minutes away by boat compared to other resorts which have to transfer you to great distances for different activities.
The P15,999 per person package includes three-days, two nightsí accommodation, round-trip air tickets, full board meals, coffee or tea throughout the day, a choice of an introductory course in diving with a professional dive master or service in the tropical spa and full use of the facilities.
Lyba is proud of the fact that only a year after they re-opened, her staffers are among the finest in any resort. "What makes us different is the staff," she beams. "I will not say we have good service. We have excellent service," Lyba added with a sparkle in her eyes and a tone of a mother very much proud of her childrenís accomplishments. The mostly young staffers make up a very tightly run ship when it comes to running the resort, extremely friendly and accommodating for even the most inconceivable instances. An unusual instance that comes to mind is of a guest requesting a bouquet of flowers made for his wife to be given as she finished her diving. A guest officer quickly gathered enough flowers within minutes to accomplish the request. "Thatís the service that we want to give to people. More than the usual," said Lyba.
Bay cottages are one-room affairs, air-conditioned, spacious and perfect for honeymooners. A small balcony either opens up to the sea or affords a view of the beautiful island. It is a treat to just lie down and sleep one afternoon with the sound of water lapping outside of the cottage with fish making their movements felt with occasional splashes. At night, a spotlight from beneath the bay cottages lights up to illuminate the water where fish congregate. Thirty-eight air-conditioned garden cottages provide spectacular sunset views and are more suited for families, having two floors and spacious bed space.
One of the unique things about Dos Palmas is the absence of television in both bay and garden cottages. All the better, I say. I spent the time wallowing in the pool, trying out the jacuzzi and walking around the beautifully landscaped island. I got my feet wet on the beach where a group was setting up a volleyball game. A conference room good for 150 people is great for seminars and with over 20 hectares, Dos Palmas is the right playground for corporate types to unwind from the hectic city life.
Thereís a bar at the restaurant where friends can gather. I opted to spend the night in my cottage reading a book. Without television (and fortunately, a cellphone that kept conking out because of an old battery) it was refreshingly quiet and relaxing. Itís not the same quiet anywhere else Iíve been to. Everything here just stops. Literally. At Dos Palmas, you can dream in peace.
We had breakfast at the cabaŮas that lined the beach. There were reports of rare dugong sightings throughout the day and true enough, in the afternoon, a family was spotted near Isla Puting Bato, an island where we had spent our lunch. A mother, father and calf were slowly munching on the seagrass that surround Dos Palmas. It was a rare and welcome surprise that lets you know there is more to this island than just a resort.
I highly recommend a kayaking field trip in the mangroves behind Arreceffi where rare birds and fish congregate for food. A skilled professional led our way as we paddled almost the whole circumference of the island.
After everything, I still felt it was a dream. Even after I had cleared my eyes and pinched myself a couple of times. Dos Palmas is a dream made real where the perfect getaway is achieved Ė through its harmony with nature and understanding of the needs of people, pure and simple. * * *
For more information, contact the Dos Palmas Arreceffi Manila office at Unit 1005, Antel Global Corporate Center, Julia Vargas Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, at (632) 637-4226, 637-4236 or fax at (632) 637-4230. Or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.dospalmas.com.ph
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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