Modern Living

Noni & Nemo at Club Noah

CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren -
2007 was off to a great but harried start for me. Pressures from editorial deadlines were now competing with pressures from my design consultancy work and my teaching load at the UP College of Architecture. I needed a break, so I flew to paradise in Palawan with the wife and a bunch of similarly harassed urbanites for a fantastic weekend. The destination: Club Noah Isabelle.

I was enchanted by an earlier visit to Puerto Princesa and had wanted to see more of Palawan. I had heard of Club Noah and knew of its lineage links with the original El Nido Resort on Miniloc Island (designed by the dashing environmental planner Nestor David, assisted by a whole bunch of batchmates from UP). That resort was started by an adventurous Japanese diver and a local Spanish-Filipino group and was extremely successful. The resort has since changed hands but the same intrepid fellows set up a new complex on an equally enchanting site on another island in Northeastern Palawan.

We were told to pack light. Tropical beach destinations have thankfully little requirements for clothing. I packed two shorts, three sports shirts, a few changes of underwear, shades, a cap, one good book (The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenberg) and a camera. Now, usually my camera equipment weighs a ton, but I recently got a hold of the Sony Ericsson 800i Cybershot camera phone that blew me away with its 3.2 megapixels. The device can hold hundreds of high-definition images and in fact lasted me the whole weekend without recharging! (There was Smart and Globe cellphone service in the area.)

The flight was short and picturesque. I always enjoy flying Seair and am a great fan of Dornier aircraft with its large windows and robust design (I had met Iren Dornier, the company’s driving force, who is based in the Philippines, and featured his fantastic restored tri-motor amphibian plane DO24ATT in BluPrint before he took it on a world tour). We landed on the larger island of Taytay and after a quick briefing took a languid cruise down the mangrove river and out to nearby Apulit Island.

Apulit is 40 hectares of paradise and looks like those Hollywood tropical-island settings where damsels get distressed and are eventually rescued by dashing, debonair dandies. Well, I already was with my damsel of choice and we were on this trip to de-stress, not to get distressed. The staff of the 50-cabana resort made sure of that. They welcomed us with a cultural concoction of music, dance and welcome drinks and continued to be at our beck and call throughout our stay, even performing for us at night with a full repertoire of Filipino, Asian, African and international numbers. Philippine Idol should hold auditions here and get a number of finalists.

The cabanas were on either side of the main beach and pavilions (designed by the audaciously talented architect Jorge Yulo). The beach rises quickly up to heavily vegetated rock outcrops. The whole slope is planted with colorful hibiscus, which provides color for table and room settings in the resort. A view deck and a "Rock Bar" provide guests with picture-postcard views of the cove and seascape beyond. Our cabana was a short walk from the main pavilions. Comfortable and breezy, it had its own balcony cantilevered over the crystal-clear, fish-filled waters of the island’s cove. The cabana was air-conditioned but we decided to enjoy the fresh air of Palawan – enough reason to get away from Manila.

All meals are included in the package and the venues change between the three main pavilions. The food was wonderful – fresh seafood, of course, along with Filipino and Japanese favorites. Fruits and veggies were fresh and all these were washed down with fresh juice and the fantastic new invigorating Noni drinks (which the same company now grows and processes for the international and local market). Try the spring rolls, curry dishes and all the ihaw for lunch and dinner, and for breakfast, paradise pancakes a la Bali! The al fresco experience can be made more romantic with candlelight dinners for two that can be arranged in various nooks and crannies on the island or even on a floating pavilion in the middle of the cove!

We spent our three days snorkeling and day-tripping to neighboring islands. Dive sites also abound and those interested can take an introductory dive just meters away from their cabanas. You can feed the fish as we did here, too. This is a wonderful learning experience for our overly urbanized kids whose concept of fish is limited to the canned variety or Nemo of the movies.

One of the amenities that drew us into taking the trip was the massages. We had them every day in our cabana and at the massage cabana by the beach. We took our first one just after lunch the first day and promptly fell asleep till five in the afternoon.

Island hopping was a blast. There are caves and cave pools to explore. We went snorkeling in neighboring Isla Blanca and guests can also opt to go look for Irrawady dolphins at Malampaya Sound not far away. The resort’s sister company, the Santa Isabelle Corporation, will soon sponsor a program to conserve and protect dugongs, too. Many get trapped in fisherfolks’ nets. Some of our group saw sea turtles, reef sharks, and barracuda out on the deeper dives. I was also fascinated by the terrestrial fauna and saw all manner of birds and even a kingfisher close up.

I did manage to get some reading done but general rest and relaxation got in the way. The company we kept was great, too. Bonding quickly happens when together on an island. Taking in the view and feeling satiated with this entire idyll made me wonder why many Filipinos have not discovered the great destinations immediately around them. Overseas trips are usually too packaged. Palawan’s islands hold much more for those willing to be adventurous. Club Noah has recently tied up with Seair to make the destination more accessible to Filipinos. A discounted package is now available for local residents that covers a two-night stay. You can bring one child between 3 to 12 years for free with additional kids at half price! The airfare has also been discounted to celebrate Seair’s 12th anniversary.

The weekend resort package is an affordable P12,000 only and includes land and boat transfers, accommodations, breakfast, lunch and dinner, water activities like snorkeling, eco-tours, kayaking, bottom fishing, cultural shows and a free intro dive for beginners (licensed divers get a free 30-minute acclimatization dive). Water sports equipment use is free. Traveling with kids is easy as a nanny service is available. Activity officers are always around as well to help you schedule activities for the family. Finally there is a free Thai massage thrown in along with daily cocktail drinks and finger foods. It’s a great deal. I’ve come back refreshed, with a tan, hundreds of cool digital pictures, was totally massaged-out and wondering when I can escape again with the missus.

Hmmm, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com. For more information on Club Noah, visit their website at www.clubnoah.com.ph or visit SEAIR at flyseair.com.
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