Embedded in Panglao

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez -
We worship the spots on this big amphitheater we call earth where we have a full view of such magical performances as a graceful sunrise and a glowing sunset.

But what do we do when we find ourselves settled in a spot where we are able to view both? A spot where we are bathed by the sun’s gentle rays in the morning, and showered with its golden beams at dusk?

From the balcony of bungalows 105 and 107 at the Panglao Island Nature Resort in Bohol, the sky is a 180-degree wide screen where the nature’s fiery diva makes an entrance to the east in the morning, rises toward center stage at noon, and then exits to the west in a blaze of color before the curtain of darkness falls.

Now, I have watched the sunrise and worshipped the sunset before – but never from one place, in one day.
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"We are fortunate our resort is facing north, and has a clear unobstructed view of the horizon," explains Frederick Ong, the owner of Panglao Island Nature Resort, over breakfast at an airy dining pavilion which overlooks the aquamarine Bohol sea.

The resort boasts of bungalows perched on coral cliffs. Since the bungalows are tucked into the cliff’s "loge" portion, they are high enough not to be reached by the waters at high tide, yet low enough to have a good view and an easy access to the beach. At night, when viewed from the sea, the resort looks like a gem-studded cliff, its lighted thatched bungalows looking like gems from afar.

Each bungalow has a deck that seemingly juts out to the sea, and ceiling-to-floor picture windows allow one to worship the outdoors even from under the bedcovers. During the three days I spent at the resort, I welcomed each morning as yet another chance to watch the golden diva make a grand entrance. Oh God, what a wake-up call!
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Panglao Island is ringed by pristine white sands that set off the rich colors of the sea – aquamarine near the shore, sapphire blue farther down. The white sand is the result of centuries of wave traffic (the only traffic in Bohol!) beating down on the corals that lace the island.

The Ongs were offered the property where the Panglao Island Nature Resort now stands in the mid- ’90s. Fred, who says, he usually "dilly-dallies" found himself checking out the property immediately with his wife Barbara ("Babs"), who "immediately fell in love" with the place.

The property turned out to be God-sent, for it was the only property there with its own source of fresh water. Unknown to the Ongs, the property also had its own underground cave – a cave that looks like it was constructed by the set designers of Universal Studios for the movie Indiana Jones.

But the cave is as natural as the freshwater brook that bubbles inside it. The cave, according to Fred, is in fact "living" as stalactites and stalagmites continue to grow in it.

For the convenience of tourists, the Ongs have installed lighting and an exhaust system inside the cave, which looks like a cathedral with a jagged ceiling. The cave is just a five-minute walk away from the resort’s main lobby.

I recommend a dip in the cave’s 12-ft. deep bubbling brook (just to be on the safe side, wear a life jacket), and experience how it is like to be in an underground jacuzzi. In the walls of the cave and underwater are entrances to more chambers, some of which have been reached by scuba divers from Japan and Germany. According to Babs Ong, one diver told her that one of the underwater caves he reached was as big as a cathedral!
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You can immerse yourself in the jacuzzi on your deck, in the brook inside the cave, in an infinity pool that overlooks the sea, or in the sea itself. Seaweeds actually grow from the sand in some areas of the beach – a sign that the waters there are clean and unpolluted.

Divers and whale-watchers love Panglao Island, too, and may arrange with the Front Desk for special expeditions to nearby Pamilacan Island (for whale watching) and Balicasag Island (for diving).

At night, troubadours serenade guests as the sea’s freshest catch are served for dinner. If you are not a honeymooner and/or a party animal (there are bars in the capital Tagbilaran 20 minutes away and in nearby Alona beach), you can retreat to your room for one of the most therapeutic massages of your life. Ask the Front Desk for "Mary" whose nimble fingers are able to untie all the knots of a city dweller’s tense form.

The resort’s officer-in-charge Neo Corales says Panglao is experiencing a boom these days. It is a favorite of Korean tourists (mostly honeymooners), who have been flocking to it from the day the resort opened in November 1997. This summer, the "locals" (Filipinos) are also making a beeline for Panglao and other beaches in the Philippines, finding out what they been missing all these years when their idea of a great holiday was a weekend in Hong Kong.

Philippine Airlines vice president for Corporate Communications Rollie Estabillo confirms that passenger load to the Visayas’ resort cities has "significantly" increased in the past weeks, with Filipinos and expats preferring to explore this relatively SARS-free country – and enjoying it, too.
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Sunrise, sunset. An underground spa and a jacuzzi overlooking the deep blue sea. Life has several magnificent shows and most of them are playing on Panglao Island Nature Resort. Catch them while you can!

(For inquiries, call tel. no. (63-38) 411-2599; fax (63-38) 411-5866; or e-mail [email protected])

(You may e-mail me at [email protected])

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