A PHILIPPINE RIVIERA: PLEASURES OF PICO SANDS

 

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I forgot to ask for an eagle.

 

But the spirits of Pico de Loro obliged me with a mated pair, anyway.

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One circled the peaks girdling my balcony at Pico Sands Hotel, riding the thermals languidly on motionless wings. The second floated over the saddle, maybe counting on the rain to flush out prey.

 

My fondest memory as a child was standing in the garden with my father pointing out a pair of majestic eagles winging side by side above us, headed for the mountains, gilded in the sunlight.

 

I don’t know why, but I associate eagles with angels. Whenever I go into the wilderness, I request the spirits of the place to send down an eagle as a sign of their blessings.

 

Now, squinting at the circling raptors, trying to identify them, I made out the broad white bars on their wings. Crested serpent eagles! But they won’t raise their distinctive crests – unless they’re irritated or frightened.

 

Before, I’ve cared for a rescued serpent eagle with a broken wing, kept him alive on raw chicken lungs and hearts. Mercifully, he didn’t demand that I serve up his usual fare of snakes and lizards. In no time, he’d call out to me as soon as he hears me approach his cage, like an impatient giant nestling.

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A flurry of small wings beating so close made me swing around to the direction of the sound. A couple of glistening black forms swept down from the eaves, followed by another and another. Asian glossy starlings! The boldest hopped on my railing and cocked an eye on me. When I failed to produce a tidbit, he scolded me loudly.

 

Winged gems abound here – about half a hundred species, from white-collared kingfishers, Brahminy Kites, Grey-faced Buzzards, White-eared Brown Doves, Colasisi, Red-crested Malkohas to Fairy Bluebirds and  Blackish Cuckoo-shrike… Too bad, I failed to bring my binoculars. I’d love to see a Philippine Trogon – the mythical phoenix – “Ibong Adarna” – of folklore. They’ve been sighted in this area, I’ve been told.

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Pico Sands Hotel, where I chose to retreat for the weekend, is part of Pico de Loro Cove, the first residential community of Hamilo Coast, along with nine mid-rise condos plus a beach and country club.

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Hamilo, the SM Group’s premier seaside development in Nasugbu, Batangas, also happens to be the closest world-class private beach resort community to Manila, just 90 minutes away by car.

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Most importantly, it’s a seaside sanctuary, bounded by the South China Sea to the West and mountain ranges to the East. Nestling thirteen coves, it’s a gateway to the Verde Island Passage, part of the Coral Triangle, home to 500 coral species and one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth.

 

From here, I could easily jump-off to Apo Reef, Mindoro, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol and Boracay.

 

But as soon as I checked in its 7-storey hotel beside a tranquil lagoon ringed with mountains, the only thing that obsessed me was rest.

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I don’t have staycations often. When I do, I follow the same routine – soak in the pool, have a great spa, get enough sleep, walk on the beach, commune with the sea, sample the gym – if I still have energy left, enjoy the food, catch up on all the movies and TV documentaries I’ve missed.

If I’m totally exhausted, like now, I simply take off my watch, turn off my cellphones and lock them away with my laptop.  I just luxuriate in bed and get up when I please.

Needless to say, it’s a horrible waste to book five-star accommodations like this if you can’t enjoy your room to the fullest.

 

In fact, if I’m on an adventure trip, diving or trekking, with little use for a room except to shower, change and sleep, I’d rather book a hostel or pitch my own tent.

 

Anyway, my mind’s still fuzzy from lack of sleep.  Before daybreak, I packed two changes of clothes in a jiffy and took a DLTD bus from Pasay City to Nasugbu via Tagaytay (114 kilometers one way, P320 for the round trip).

 

Two and a half hours later, I arrived at Nasugbu town proper and took a private shuttle to Pico Sands Hotel, 22 kms away  (P1,500 round trip). Locals say tricycles could take me for over P600 (round trip) then I have to take another shuttle at the gate of Pico de Loro Cove for P400 or so, but I want to spare myself from the hassle.

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On the way to Hamilo Coast, I passed fields of whispering corn and cane, waiting to be harvested, endless stretches of brown, gold and green peppered white with flocks of egrets, wallowing water buffaloes, cattle chewing their cuds and grazing horses. Then out of the blue, a flock of rare, wild, Philippine ducks rose to the air as one –  a welcome surprise.

 

A few minutes from the gate, I beheld the famous Parrot’s Beak  –  Pico De Loro, its top half wreathed in clouds.

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It was drizzling by then. The driver shook his head when he caught me staring at the mountain with longing. It’s two hours walking from this point before one can even reach the base, he warned. But in this weather, assaulting the peak will be futile. I’ll be slogging through mud and fog all day. Better luck next time.

 

When I reached the hotel, everyone received me warmly, from the manager to the receptionists and chambermaids. They gave me the color-coded bracelet for the day – they have different color and access for members – and showed me to my corner room overlooking the lagoon, three peaks out front plus wooded hills behind. It seems they’ve brought the great outdoors inside the room, which felt incredibly open and airy.

On the bar, they’ve set a little welcome feast – bottle of wine alongside my fruit platter. I got extra bottled water – the tap water is not potable. The bathroom has no tub but comes with five-star amenities.

 

 

On second thought, I should have brought at least some pastels or acrylic to paint the landscape and perhaps the birds. But there’s always a next time.

They gave me access to the member areas. The Beach & Country Club offers recreational facilities on both land and sea – basketball, squash and tennis courts steps away from a white sand beach. Guests can opt for biking, bowling and billiards or sailing and scuba diving, among so many things.

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The cove boasts of spectacular sunsets as well – the best view being from the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Chapel up the hill. A shuttle service comes every fifteen minute interval and guests can ask the drivers to take them up there.

Yet I never got around much. I was reluctant to leave my room except to eat. The rest of the time, I alternately dozed off and watched the birds.

I came here for the pleasure of doing nothing for three days. And I made good on my promise.

 

In the end, I came back to Manila, back to my deadlines, feeling fully recharged and refreshed.

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