Just under three years of living in the Philippines and we have done our share of its popular destinations. There sure isn’t any shortage of natural resources in this beautiful country however there is almost always something to disappoint: pristine and beautiful but requires tremendous effort to reach; over-developed and crowded to the point natural beauty is sadly compromised; or perfect in every way but comes with a billionaire’s price tag. We had been stranded at the airport for 5 hours for an hour’s domestic flight, we had suffered severe food poisoning from a internationally renowned hotel chain, we had arrived at our longed destination only to find the famous soft white sand and clear turquoise water thickly carpeted with slimy green algae that it unpleasant to even dip our toes in, twice. We have spent 6 hours covering (or not covering) 12km distance to the airport because the one road to the airport was shut down for APEC conference. The list goes on. And don’t even get me started with the food.
So for our farewell trip I didn’t dare to have my hopes up. After surfing for weeks we chose a slightly off the beaten track location: Sabang, Puerto Princesa. A short hour’s flight out of Manila’s budget domestic terminal (and yes, delayed) and two hours up and down some windy but beautiful country roads and here we are.
And what a little slice of heaven.
Imagine Boracay 20 years go before the chaos and pollution, the same soft white sand and crystal clear water; throw in a back drop of lush and untouched hills almost like the limestone cliffs in Krabi Thailand (but gentler); add a little bit of sea life.
This is the beach where people come to tour the underground river. We took a swim around some rocks and found a mangrove river to the east that looked fun to kayak into and then a picture perfect deserted beach where turtles come to nest, and a zip line. Day after day we sat in the shallow gentle waves watching the ocassional banca boat glaze past in the distance, our children digging around in the sand for hermit crabs as their skin take on a golden hue and their hair puffing up into an airy straw texture; satisfying smiles on their soft cheeks.
Snorkeling for schools of baby fish; rosy sunsets; digging our feet into the soft sand as far as we can curling up our toes; watching locals cutting young coconuts (bukos) and being gifted a couple all because of a friendly smile; baby dog named Jay-B at the next door beach restaurant wearing bells; throwing left over breakfast bread into the hotel pond for the fish and visiting monitor lizards (Bayawak).
If we had found this place on our first trip after arriving in the country I can only guess how many times we would’ve come back. And how sad I would’ve been to leave for the last time.
And now the food.
We did manage to pack 17 bottles of wine into our suitcases, plus a bottle of Patron and Triple Sec, a small box of premium flaked seat salt from Maldon. Local calamansi is everywhere and makes a lovely substitute for lime with a twist. A quarter wheel of Brie, a quarter wheel of 24 month Mimolette – kids’ favourite and named “The Orange”, a solid slice of Manchego and a log of ashed goat cheese. 3 types of salami and a cut of Jamon Iberico. Some olives and preserved mushrooms, a jar of trout caviar. Some Swedish oat crackers and mini toast. We can be anywhere in the world.
But the restaurant at the hotel we chose to stay in is surprisingly good for where we are. Western food is acceptable, anything deep-fried is exceptionally good, as long as trans fat and a slather of sickly sweet sauce is not an issue. A dollop of our trout caviar and a pinch of flaky salt and the well cooked but greasy eggs almost makes a 5star breakfast. The local grill is amazing, nothing can go wrong with a bit of char-grilled smokiness and a soy-calamansi dip, a touch of chilly on request makes it perfect.
But the highlight is that little next door beach restaurant with the cute puppy with bells. Fresh catch of the day slabed on the barbecue, seafood goes naked with the same soy-calamansi dip with chopped chilies on request, a drop of cooking oil because I like it. A whole chicken with homemade barbecue sauce consist of garlic, soy, catchup, sugar and Annetto – almost like an Inasal.
Some days we took the 15 minutes walk to the port after breakfast to the local fish stall to buy whatever is freshest of the day and bring back to our little beach restaurant for them to cook for a small charge, on the side they serve us some smokey grilled eggplants topped with chopped onions and tomatoes, soy-calamansi with chopped chilly on the side.
Island life in a tropical beach heaven? I could take it from here.