We had to get out of the city fast. We needed a place in the middle of nowhere to relax, forget about dirty city life and remind ourselves that there are still untouched beautiful places on this earth.
We found that place in Polillo, an under-visited island off Quezon. In the whole island, there is only one “legit” beach-front resort, and a run-down one at that. Hardly anyone but the locals from abroad or from the city come to visit Polillo. Even buses to its port in Real are hard to come by. No airconditioned buses leave regularly from Manila.
In my experience, the harder a place is to get to, the more untouched it is. No beauty without a little blood. And we spilled some. We took a car all the four-hour way to Real, Quezon. It got bloody in Rizal when the streets started blurring together. Some were flooded due to the recent storm and so were impassable. We had to ask directions every five minutes. Also, many of the roads were unpaved, which slowed us down even more.
But we got there in time for the boat that leaves for Polillo island. We let a man to lead us to an open lot where we could park the car and paid him to take care of it for the next three days that we would we be in Polillo.
We got on the boat and set off for the island with a couple of kids, a white man and his young Filipina wife and a family of Polillo natives.
The people of Polillo are naturally friendly and out-going. They are quick to offer help, guidance or their opinion. We depended on a quite a few of them to show us where we could grab some lunch. There are very few restaurants there and most would fall under the carinderia category.
It was also through the recommendation of some talkative wet market vendors that we decided to check in the Isla Polillo Resort, the only beach-front resort in the island.
We got there via a 250-pesos tricycle ride through lush countryside: expansive fields of green dotted by “islands” of coconut forests. That’s when it hit me that, at last, I was on vacation.
Isla Polillo Resort
…is not the most well-maintained resort in the planet. In fact, it’s more like a big estate that used to be a resort but is now the large home of the hotel manager’s family and dogs. But they are a very friendly bunch and made our stay there pleasant.
We were the only guests which meant we had the resort all to ourselves! Our budget limited us to a fan-only hut but we didn’t mind. To save money (and anticipating the lack of eating establishments), we brought our own stove and food from the market.
The fan rooms are the least maintained rooms in the resort. Anay tunnels traced the wooden beams above our beds, leaving bits of wood and dust on our beds everytime we came back from somewhere.
I almost screamed when I lifted the cover of the toilet because the bowl was tinged a harsh reddish-brown, looking too much like blood for comfort. The hut, which was entirely made of woven sheets of wood and dried leaves had some bamboo slats missing in its floors. When we first came in, they hadn’t even checked if all the lights were working (they weren’t), or if the beds smelled fresh (they didn’t).
But the room was comfortable enough, well-ventilated and well-situated being right beside the mangrove forest alongside the beach. It had its own bathroom and a wide porch where we could cook and hang-out. We were happy.
We were extremely lucky that the hotel manager’s relatives, residents of the island, had arranged to go on a trip to Anilon, a smaller island off Polillo. His sister asked us if we wanted to come. Because we would be a big group, the price for the tour package would be cheaper.
For 700 pesos per person, we were able to reach a virgin beach of refined, cream-colored sand, surrounded by light-turquoise waters. We made use of our snorkelinggear and found some reefs near the shore where we spotted a tiger fish and boxer fish.
After swimming and beach-bumming, our guides/boatmen grilled us fish for lunch, accompanied by rice and adobo chicken.
If it were not for the rough waves that began to assert themselves after lunch, we would have been able to explore other islands, these with caves and more reefs. But those will have to be reserved for another trip.
Again, no pain, no gain. Anilon is tough to get to with a two-hour truck-ride from the bayan to the Sabang port and a boat-ride of the same length of time to Anilon itself.
Because we had the resort to ourselves, Dru and I decided to sing the night away with the karaoke machine. We must’ve sung close to 20 songs that night. The machine, like the rest of the resort, wasn’t very well-maintained, so every time we put our heads together while singing a duet, we would get grounded. But we still had lots of fun making a fool of ourselves with only the resort dogs to chuckle at our folly.
Night Safari Ride
The boat back to the Real port leaves 5 AM every day so we had to wake up extra early on our last day. Ceus, the same guy who brought us via trike to the resort, brought us back out with one motorcycle and a recently shaved head.
I was nervous at first because we had three bags with us and the darkness would make it even more dangerous, but I had underestimated Ceus’ expertise with dirt roads.
We sailed through the countryside transformed by night into a mysterious safari. The stars above our heads were numerous, the air cool and pleasant. It’s one ride I will never forget.
Back in Real, we bought seafood for our family. Crabs for mine and prawns for his. All the way back to Manila, via the beautiful but trying Infanta-Marikina highway, the crabs were restless in their white plastic bag, perhaps sensing their fate at the end of the journey.