LA  ISLA  BONITA

MANILA, February 28, 2005 (STAR) By Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber  -  When Europeans on vacation look for adventure in a rural and natural environment, they will likely decide to go camping either with a tent or with a caravan, which provides a certain level of comfort.

Here in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to experience "real life" in seclusion, away from civilization: a three-day vacation on Isla Naburot in the province of Guimaras.

Taking the boat from Iloilo to Isla, which is probably the easiest way to reach the island, I first caught sight of the bizarre black volcanic rocks sticking out of the blue-greenish, sparkling water.

The Isla Resort, the only resort on the 5.5-hectare small island, has rustic wooden cottages well-embedded in the environment. The family who owns the place and who has been running it for 28 years tries to preserve the natural, genuine atmosphere. With its white sandy beach, shallow bay and tall palm trees, the peaceful place looks like pictures we Europeans know only from travel catalogues and guides. Itís what we wish for on cold, rainy, cloudy days. Here, the guest makes do without any amenities from "civilization" such as electricity, air conditioning or cable TV. Consumerism is out of reach.

Isla is not a place for tourists who look for distractions through extreme sports or TV programs. Instead, Isla offers its guests different riches. There is only space for 24 people at a time. A friendly atmosphere among the guests is likely to be established and even children can enjoy themselves by taking a boat ride or splashing in the shallow water, having almost no restrictions and boundaries. These are reasons why most of the guests return repeatedly to Isla for their vacations. There are also no permanent inhabitants on the island other than the five employees of the resort.

A great experience for a foreigner like me is to explore the sea through snorkeling. The area is rich with colorful fish and coral, which up to then I had only encountered in public aquariums. The unusually intense rays of the sun just encourage you to take a swim in the cool sea from time to time. Other than that, there are several hammocks which invite dreamy idleness and reading.

The tropical environment is rounded out by the food offered to the guests, which is rich and plentiful. Fruits like mangos and pineapples, which in Europe can only be bought in supermarkets and are usually watery, are so juicy here that you canít stop eating them. Proof of that is the fruit-eating record here set by a German. According to the owner, he consumed 25 mangos in one sitting. Other than the fruit, there is plenty of seafood. No foreigner will leave Isla without knowing the right way to peel and eat a prawn or a crab. Iíve seen Europeans claiming to dislike seafood leave the Isla Resort raving about their favorite seafood meals.

Europeans commonly believe that there are poisonous snakes, scorpions and big spiders in countries like the Philippines and tend to stay away from places that are not in reach of rescue and life-guard services. I can say to them that there is no need to worry about these species on Isla. The only animal they should learn to like is the gecko, whose call is heard everywhere at night when you are lying in bed under the mosquito net in one of the neat cottages.

All 11 cottages are close to the beach, situated on high wooden pillars in the rocky landscape. They are simply furnished and also have hammocks or small balconies to rest on. I did not miss my bathtub and hot running water since it is already so hot and the sea is right outside my door.

In the evening one should not miss the magnificent sunset, when the glowing red globe seems to be sinking in the water and the sky turns red and purple. Afterwards, the only light on Isla are small kerosene lamps placed around and inside the cottages, which didnít keep me from using a flashlight Ė probably the only rule I broke among the "unspoken laws" of this environment. A fresh breeze coming into the open cottage at night functions as a substitute for air-conditioning. Then, far from any traffic, it is absolutely quiet except for the call of a gecko from time to time or the rustling of the wind through the palm-leaf-covered cottage roofs. If you were on a typical European campground instead, by now you would be hearing your neighborís party music and the tinkling of their beer bottles.

Isla, with its timeless flair, is still a hidden place, rarely mentioned in travel guides and run by publicity-shy owners. It is like a small piece of paradise, hardly to be found anywhere else in the world and should therefore be preserved in its original state.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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