Memories of a paradise

RENDEZVOUs - Christine S. Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2015 - 9:00am

Like a recurrent dream, Club Paradise is always etched in my mind. The melodious sound of the breeze in this Palawan island resort is a lilting, calming voice in my head. Every memory of it is as tactile as the blissful feel of the powdery white sand that makes love to my feet. Many times I’ve wanted to surrender to its allure anew but many times, too, I’ve been remiss in my promise.   

Very recently, however, I was reconnected to this paradise. My joy was uncontainable. As we arrived in Dimakya Island, off the northern coast of Busuanga Island, I was glad to see that the island I first set foot upon 20 odd years ago has remained the same — cyan blue waters lapping at a creamy white beach, the green canopy of trees was refreshing to our city-tired eyes as were the cucumber-calamansi welcome drinks to our parched throats.

The resort was purchased in 2013 by the same group that owns the Discovery franchise. I was curious to see what the new Club Paradise had to offer repeat visitors of this private island resort. Physically, the only recognizable change was in the renovations of the 20 rooms in the Garden Suites. Amenities like TV sets and iPod docks have been added to complement the new, modern look.

The hillside and beachfront rooms have retained their more ethnic design outside but the interiors and beddings have been upgraded to follow the Discovery group standards.

The welcome footwash as well as the vaunted beachside butler service — pioneered at Discovery Shores Boracay — is now part of the Club Paradise experience. No surprise since the affable and boyish looking manager Joegil M. Escobar trained at Shores prior to his arrival at Club Paradise.

With more and more island resorts opening, I asked him what sets Club Paradise apart and his answer was: “It’s all about ‘Service That’s All Heart.’ Our guests are our reason for being and giving our guests our heartfelt service truly makes a mark whenever they leave the island. At Club Paradise Palawan, we stand by our promise of making the island their home. We like to pamper our guests with personalized services and ensure attention to details to make their stay truly memorable.”

The resort’s new culinary team is headed by chef Bruce Subia, who prepares daily themed buffet spreads (Filipino, Chinese, Polynesian, Spanish, Mexican and more) at Ocean Restaurant. A selection of popular international à la carte dishes such as burgers and pastas is available as well.

Weather permitting, beachfront and poolside dinner set-ups provide an additional treat for the guests. Having your feet in the cool sand while the moon throws a silvery swath across the sea just a few meters away from your table is a surreal experience.

For a more intimate and romantic evening, a moonlight dinner setup can be arranged upon request, with a minimal charge.

As for the activities in the resort, the management has added new water sports activities such as paraw sailing, glass-bottom kayaking and banana boat rides at nearby Diatoy Island. The area still chooses to keep the surrounding reefs and waters of Dimakya free from motorized vessels aside from those needed to transport guests.

My good friend Yvette Lee has always called me the Professional Discovery Diver as I have more than 40 Discovery dives under my belt. The Dive Center is now also being operated by the same team behind Discovery Fleet Corp. “The new owners are a pleasure to work for because they are much more into conservation than I am,” Yvette said.

As a result, the aqua-sports personnel as well as the dive pros have been propagating coral seedlings and replanting them around the reefs. Snorkelers can also visit clam gardens. The clams are of the giant variety and were sourced from the Semirara hatchery. More than a hundred clams of five different species were picked up by the Discovery Palawan Ship in June after the Tubbataha season. These were dispersed around the reefs across from the pool and bar area by the divers on board. It is hoped that these clams will reach spawning age and will help repopulate the nearby reefs on the outer islands.

The dive center is staffed by licensed instructors and dive masters and can provide training for Open Water to Dive Master Certifications. Certified divers have a full array of dive sites to explore.

The Club Paradise house reef was once on the list as one of the best house reefs in the world and it is easy to see why. An easy beach entry from the dive center brings you face to face with not one but two schools of fish. Do a dive in the early morning or late afternoon and the schools change shapes as trevallies zoom into scads or jacks for a quick meal. Nearby, resident turtles lounge on the sea grass, nibbling its fronds as the day goes by. The sandy area is a classic muck dive site, with attractive seahorses living among the Halameda coral. Panda or saddleback clown fishes and their host anemones and commensal shrimp are also available for macro shooters. Be sure to look for the piece of coconut shell or shard of pottery covered with eggs in the area around the anemone. It’s great fun to observe the mom aerating the eggs.

With the purchase of a new speedboat, the nearby Apo Reef, which is the second contiguous coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef, has become accessible from the resort. Clear waters, vertiginous walls, and the promise of the bigger pelagics such as tuna, manta rays, sharks and bumpheads are what draw the divers to this marine park.

On the other hand, Tara Islands dive sites contain a series of rocky outcrops and remote reefs rising from the middle of the straits. It has better — outstanding, in fact — visibility than most due to its remote location. In good weather, guests can set out for Bahura Cinco or Reef No. 5. This is a blue water descent to the bottom lying between 15 to 20 meters of water. Here you’ll find intact fields of table coral, barrel sponges and sea whips and the drop-offs sport gorgeous sea fans. And then there are the sharks. Yvette and other friend divers had three sharks accompanying them on a morning dive.

For land lubbers, there are tours to Calauit Island as well as the other attractions on the southern side of Busuanga, such as Kayangan Lake, Twin lagoons, Banol beach — all on the big Island of Coron. Kayangan lake has been twice voted the cleanest lake in the Philippines, and deservedly so. A short 15-minute climb on well-maintained stairs brought us to a picture-perfect lake, one of seven sacred lakes on Coron. I snorkeled along the sides and noticed that the underwater topography was an extension of the limestone walls and peaks above water — dark gray on top with sandy brown underwater.

It was fun to kayak the lagoons and go past the jagged pinnacles that jutted out of the water. Later on we enjoyed our packed lunch amidst glorious scenery.

Back at the resort, the hour before sunset wrapped a golden glow around the waters and the beach. I stayed near the pool area for a last dip before the sun disappeared and noticed that the bats that resided in the trees directly across from me were getting restless. It wasn’t long before they untangled themselves from their perches and started flying around in noisy circles. I watched, mesmerized at this natural wonder unfolding before me, and in a few minutes, the colony of bats started their flight towards the mainland, in search of insects and fruit, leaving the island quiet and dark.

It was then that I realized how much I have missed this place. It took me 20 years to return to this resort. I will not make the same mistake of missing this paradise for so long again.

* * *

Club Paradise has ongoing special deals. Please point your browser to http://www.clubparadisepalawan.com/special-offers/.

Email me at miladay.star@gmail.com.


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