BY Lisa Lindblad
January 16, 2015
I have been traveling through the Philippines on the first of what I hope will be other reconnaissance trips or “recces”. For Americans, it is a long way, but the carriers are good (I flew Cathay via Hong Kong) and the world into which you drop is strangely familiar though, perhaps, not so strangely when considering our mutual histories. There are a number of first impressions: the sense of a scattered geography so that distances are much farther than expected; the sense of a huge population and a young one at that – there are 16 million living in Manila alone; the sense of welcome flashed in wide smiles, in proficient English (the second language at school), and in the extreme courtesy offered without any tinge of obsequiousness.
My trip has been exhausting, fast and superficial. My objectives have necessarily cancelled out certain experiences and explorations I might have preferred to have made. This has been a trip of island hopping – something that is very much on the tourist menu – which started in Bohol, carried on to Cebu, then moved to Busuanga, and here – Pangulasian Island at El Nido on the northern tip of Palawan. This does not seem like a crowded itinerary until you realize one major fact..every time you hop to another island you either “hop” on a very expensive private charter or you “triangulate” back through Manila, a process that takes, inevitably, a full day. And so it goes.
Back to Pangulasian Island and its 42-villa resort, as this is my present. The area is stunningly beautiful, akin to Busuanga and Coron to the north and, I am told, akin to Rajah Ampat without all the trash found there on beaches and in the water. Here we are in the early years of tourism and the feeling is one of a fairly pristine environment. The waters are super clear and aquamarine; the beaches range from pearl white slightly granular to pearl white superfine. It is really pretty amazing. The landscape is one of finely sculpted, verdant, limestone islands and islets strewn across the sea. The look like gray sandcastles floating precariously on water. There is always a cove in sight, always a flash of white (are even the islands smiling?), and a sense of safe haven, or protection. Thank God for that. The other thing one realizes immediately upon arrival here is that this island people has not just endured the lashes of nature but has prevailed. Hence the comforting sense of abri.
Pangulasian is owned by one of the foremost families of the Philippines – the Ayalas – and thus the infrastructure is well maintained and well designed. The villas front the beach with a wonderfully large terrace that mirrors the wonderfully large bathroom at the back of the villa. Fans whirr, mosquito nets waft, massages await, and a phenomenal, well organized library draws you in after a day in the sun. One of the most impressive aspects of the resort is the greenness of it. Before you have even registered you are offered three bags: a chic, woven fiber bag to carry the following: a plastic bag which you are asked to carry with you on all of your excursions so that you can collect any trash you see; a cotton bag in which to place any empty imported recyclable bottles or containers so that you can export them with you on departure; and finally metal water bottles to carry with you while you are here, bottles that can be filled in three stations on the island. So, finally, it is not just the resort that actions green..it is the guest as well. Very cool.
Pamalican Island floats serenely in the Sulu Sea, one hour's flight south of Manila. Virtually embraced by a reef and overlooked from afar by a handful of muscular, verdant islands, you cannot help but think of it as blessed. This island nation, after all, is extraordinarily vulnerable to the forces of nature and, yet, here she sits, basking in paradisical turquoise waters. It is no wonder, then, that AmanResorts should have chosen to have its second largest (by bed standards) and most beautiful beach resort here.
Pamalican is 5 km by 500 meters at its widest. The approximately 80 accommodations - villas and casitas - are spread across the island, and yet you feel virtually alone, so thick is the vegetation and so well sited are the buildings. Tennis courts, beach club, restaurants and spa are all strategically placed and barely visible from the golf cart tracks. The activities are surprisingly diverse for an island resort and yet, should you wish quiet and complete privacy, there is hardly a need to venture away from your room or villa; BBQ dinners and massages will come to you; bicycles are parked alongside your personal golf cart at your entrance; long, blissful, solitary walks along an empty beach beckon.
Descriptions of the sand and water in the Philippines are almost banal...sugar, powder, turquoise, aquamarine, crystal... yet they are all true. So densely packed does the sand become that hardly the trace of a footprint is left behind. What I have seen during these last days in the Philippine is a remarkably pristine marine environment. This island, however, is absolutely sublime and AmanResorts, a company that sets the gold standard for hotels, is the perfect inhabitant for it.