When I took the job in the Philippines, they told me I could hop on a plane after school on a Friday and arrive on an island in time for sunset.
While that has yet to prove true, this trip saw an easy flight out of Manila early Saturday morning. The pinwheeling outer ends of a typhoon had been threatening the region with rain and high winds, but we managed to escape in the predawn hours.
We took off into rain clouds and descended into sunshine.
Riding through the bustling barangays of Tagbiliran, I was reminded of the last time I’d been to Bohol. It had been so easy getting to the island, but was a chore to get off. (Cue broken plane, single runway, ferry to Cebu.)
But never mind that. Andrea and I were en route to a posh resort perched on its very own little white sand beach, 3 miles from touristy Alona Beach. The sun was searing, the breeze was salty, life was good.
I’ll say this for the Bellevue Resort on Diljo Beach (not pronounced dil-joe, as I discovered): the rooms are swank. Two massive beds, a clean and spacious bathroom, a cheeky partial view of the ocean tucked behind some shy palms and a dilapidated, burned building. It did the trick, even if the tantalizingly-deep bath tub didn’t work.
Once downstairs, we realized we’d chosen the best weekend to stay at the Bellevue, as they had apparently brought in photographers and models in an attempt to redesign their website with new and enticing photos. Andrea and I watched over sour lattes as two male models in crisp button downs sat at the bar, enjoying a cocktail.
Soon after, an important-looking woman paraded two dolled-up women over to join them. The story unfolded: one couple made their way to the pool table, where they committed the shocking offense of placing a full beer mug on the actual table. (Somewhere in Cairo, Fred is making fists.) The other couple laughed gaily at the bar. Later, we saw them in the infinity pool balancing a small child on their shoulders.
Life happens fast at the Bellevue.
Andrea and I spent our first day avoiding the cameras. The beach was surprisingly empty, so we snagged two lounge chairs in the shade of an umbrella and watched the waves roll in. It was a day of blissful absence: absence from the real world, absence from hectic Manila, absence from responsibility, stress, grocery shopping.
The hardest decision we made all day: beach or pool?
I napped. I read Tom Robbins. I waded into the transparent, warm sea up to my shins. To my thighs. Back to my shins. My ankles. I could have walked out to the pontoon but opted instead to roll around in the water.
Growing up on the stormy Atlantic where your toes disappear the moment you step into the tide, I never grow tired of water that unabashedly reveals the seafloor. It’s like the Atlantic is hiding some great secret among its horseshoe crabs and the Philippines is some clear, handsome gossip.
I rented a paddle board from the dive shop because it was complimentary to hotel guests. As soon as I stood up and dipped my paddle into the sea, the board spun 180 degrees.
“You’re missing the fin!” Andrea called from the shore.
Always an adventure, isn’t it? I zipped around the water on my cracked, fin-less board for about 15 minutes before returning it. At the dive shop, the two owners in T-shirts stood idly beside five men in full military fatigues, holstering guns nearly as tall as they were. One stood solemnly, a pair of binoculars held up and pointed at the horizon.
I know there was a skirmish of sorts in Bohol back in April, and I had been a little anxious returning on this trip because you never know. So you can imagine my response to a sight like this one.
I tried to play it cool.
“Whatcha looking at out there?” I asked the man with the giant gun.
“We are watching our vicinity,” he replied humorlessly. “You are safe. Don’t worry.”
I wanted to ask if he saw any boats approaching our “vicinity”, or a fleet of kidnappers, but I didn’t want to arouse suspicion, so instead I asked, “Any sharks?”
“There are no sharks in these parts,” answered another soldier. “Maybe in deeper water.”
They had nothing left to say to me, so I gave a goofy wave and plodded back into the sea, doing my best to appear sane.
Near sunset, I realized that I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my shins, which ached tremendously. I would later discover I’d also forgotten to apply zinc to a small patch of skin beneath my bottom lip.
All of this information balked in the notion that a sunset was happening soon, and sunsets in the Philippines are quite possibly the only things you can depend on here. They happen, and they are stunning.
By now, the beach was packed with people jockeying to take selfies. Most of them were taking selfies with the infinity pool wall behind them, but I guess it’s not about the background, is it?
Andrea and I rented a kayak from the dive shop and paddled out away from the people to snap a few shots of sunset with my iPhone. The Philippines may be known for its panoply of blues, but its mango-orange sunsets are powerful, too. (Bellevue, take note. That’s the color your mango smoothie should be.)
For dinner, Andrea and I opted to venture out, and took a jeepney shuttle toward Alona Beach, where we dined at an unassuming restaurant on the main road called Luna Rossa. Ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for food in Panglao, it did not disappoint. Its vegetarian-Italian cuisine was flavorful and filling – though not to the point where your gut is busting and you want to unbutton your pants.
Topped off with two glasses of generously-poured wine, it was a fitting meal to a fabulous day.
Sunday was much of the same. Rinse, repeat. The major difference was that we ate at the breakfast buffet and I spent a careful 5 minutes applying sunscreen. We swam and read on the beach until the thumping, awful karaoke dance music from the place next door got so annoying that we left the resort.
We took a trike to town and had coffee at a local Tarsier Exotica restaurant. From there, we took the Tarsier shuttle to yet another Tarsier resort called Tarsier Botanika, which boasted a quiet restaurant overlooking the sea.
The steps down to the water reminded me of Greece or Cyprus, and the turquoise waves ferried crabs on and off shore.
It was the perfect place to catch the sunset, which painted the water teal and peach. We drank little wine bottles from little ice buckets, dined on fish and roasted chicken, and relished in the silence that comes from heat lightning, breezes in palm leaves, and unrushed pauses in unrushed conversations.
A wild trike ride brought us back to the Bellevue, which had hired a four-piece brass band to perform for dinner guests in the center of the lawn. Andrea and I took a long night swim in the pool before heading down to the beach to explore the tide pools. A family had been out there with flashlights searching for creatures.
We spotted some drifting starfish and strange piles of spaghetti-shaped mud that arose in piles along the sand. The family made their way over to us, digging beneath the mud piles. We finally asked them what they were digging for, and a little girl returned with a tiny hermit crab that she gave to me.
It was nice to see a family out and about, digging in the sand, using their phones solely to provide light.
We made our way back toward the hotel, tired and ready for Game of Thrones in the morning and an easy flight back to Manila in the afternoon.