Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The soothing solemnity of Virgin Beach Resort

Aside from the usual "beat the heat" summer mantra, why do families really go to the beach? To have fun, of course! But there is one other reason you might have missed: hitting the beach is not all about swimming. It's to relax and unwind. However, most popular beach resorts today are crowded and humming with all sorts of fun activity. This is especially true during the summer season. Not that we're complaining, but various families, especially the moms and dads of the world, have various tastes when it comes to beach resorts. Many parents going to summer excursions are, more often than not, dead-tired and sore due to their humdrum routine in the city. We can't blame them to look for some quiet time in beaches.

We were very fortunate to have experienced this rare kind of solemnity in Virgin Beach Resort in Barrio Hugom, San Juan, Batangas.

Little Juanito welcomes you all to Virgin Beach Resort!

Virgin Beach Resort overlooking clean and serene Sigayan Bay.

Towards the northeast.

Towards the southwest.

Located in San Juan, Batangas, Virgin Beach Resort is one of the most well-known self-contained beach establishments in the province. Actually, San Juan became a popular tourist destination in Batangas mainly because of its top-rate white-sand beach located in five contiguous barrios: Hugom, Laíya Aplaya, Laíya Ibabao, Baluarte, and Imelda. Together, these five barrios share what is probably one of the country's longest, white-sand beaches which extend all the way to the Municipality of Lobô to the southwest. And despite the fact that this long coastline is shared by the above-mentioned five barrios, people still call it Laíya Beach probably because a large chunk of it belongs to both Laíya Aplaya and Laíya Ibabao. But Virgin Beach Resort is located in Hugom.

We visited the resort during Mómay's recently concluded 11th birthday last May 13. We left Pacita Commercial Complex in San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna at half past midday via van (only ₱100 per person) and reached Lipâ, Batangas in only an hour because we used the Southern Tagálog Arterial Road. From Lipá City's old town proper, we rode a jeepney going to San Juan (fare: 58.00). Travel time from Lipá to San Juan was about an hour and a half. We had a brief lunch at a local Jollibee outlet before taking another jeepney near the public market which took vacationers to the municipality's famed beach resorts (fare: ₱50.00). The traffic-free trip from the town proper to Laíya Beach is more or less half an hour. The journey to the beach features a relaxing view of San Juan's pastoral scenes.

Upon checking in, we chose a bamboo cabana, a thatched-roof hut made of bamboo. It had two queen-sized beds, en suite private washroom, and a spacious veranda with a bamboo sofa overlooking the sea. A wind chime hanging above the sofa produces sweet timbres whenever sea breeze blows.

The place where we stayed overnight...
...fronts the sea. Thesmaller parasols are in front of us.

We were so thankful that this time around, the resort wasn't fully booked. You see, it's my family's second time in San Juan (personally, it was my fourth). Six summers ago, we went to Laíya Beach for an overnight fun (Juanito was then a month and a half old). The jeepney driver helped us in choosing a beach. He recommended Virgin Beach to us. Yeyette went inside the resort to inquire. Unfortunately, but they couldn't accommodate us anymore because all the cottages/rooms were already filled up (they call their cottages cabana, casita, and parasol). So we ended up at a "Class B" beach.

We still had fun nonetheless. However, Virgin Beach Resort lingered in our minds, especially to Yeyette's because she caught a glimpse of the place. Other than that, we heard from a friend who had been there how classy the beach looked, and that privacy was of utmost importance. And then we saw the witty flick "Here Comes The Bride(not my idea) a year later wherein a significant part of the movie took place at the resort. We were mesmerized by the beauty. The movie was indeed the last straw. We promised ourselves to go back Virgin Beach one day.

And so came May 13, Mómay's birthday. It was a long overdue visit. Still worth all the wait! Here are some of our Day 1 photos (click here for more):

Crystal clear takes on a new meaning here!

This is Junífera Clarita's second time to swim in the beach!

It was a wavy Wednesday afternoon!

Our sumptuous dinner is served at the Pavilion.

The Pavilion at night. All meals here, both international and local cuisine, are served buffet style. But when the number of guests fall below 40 (like during our visit), plated full course meals are served instead. Such meals consist of an appetizer salad, soup, choice of main course with pasta or rice, dessert, and free flowing coffee during meal hours.

And here's Day 2 (click here for more):

"¡Despertaos!", Junífera Clarita seems to call out to her mamá, ate, and cuyas.

Batangueño sunrise.

Early morning swim, taken just a few minutes past six.

Yeyette enjoying the serenity of the sunrise.

Stolen shot, enjoying the summer heat!

Beach addict! =)

The beach and its surroundings are filled with several varieties of fruit-bearing trees and flowering plants, many of which are older than the resort itself. The "virgin" tag to this place is indeed apt.

The Pavilion's scenic view of the beach reminds me and Yeyette of our three-day vacation at Willy's Beach Club Hotel in Borácay five years ago. 

Breakfast time!

What we had for lunch.

Virgin Beach Resort truly exceeded our expectations! We had a virginal experience, so to speak. The waters are clean and clear as a mirror, the air all around is fresh because of forest mountains nearby. The staff is proactive and so courteous to the point of shyness. The food at the Pavilion is of hotel quality. And the best part of our two-day stay there? We had the beach all to ourselves! Because May 13 and 14 were weekdays (Wednesday and Thursday). That's probably one reason why the only souls we saw there were ours! Our kids had so much fun frolicking in the white sands of Laíya Beach!

Last but not the least, me and my wife experienced the peace and serenity that we were looking for in a beach. Virgin Beach Resort values not just fun but solemnity, to soothe the tired soul as one gazes to the pacific sky and sea. This place has since become my wife's favorite beach getaway. And our kids are raring to return. So don't be surprised to find us here again one day. ¡Hasta la vista!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Happy 11th birthday, Momay!

Before we hit the beach to celebrate Mómay's 11th birthday, we passed by the nearest church to our place that is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. It's because Mómay's birthday falls on the day when the Virgin Mary first appeared in Fatima, Portugal exactly 98 years ago.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Fátima, San Pedro Tunasán. Mómay below an image of Our Lady of Fátima.

Happy 11th birthday, Mómay! May you grow up to be a good Christian and a son that we would all be very proud of! ¡Te amamos mucho!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Malatandang Beach: Unisan's hidden paradise

Chances are, you have never heard of Malatandang, that lovely beach of my childhood years.

¡Bienvenido a la playa de Malatandang!

Visitors will be rewarded with a relaxing view of the countryside while traveling the paved narrow road that leads to the beach.

Malatandang Beach is admittedly a least-known beach located in the outskirts of Unisan in Tayabas (or Quezon) Province. Unisan itself is not that well-known in the province compared to Lucena, Lucbán, and Sariaya. But Malatandang's obscurity, not to mention its distance from Metro Manila, may work well to its advantage. For one, it doesn't get crowded here compared to popular beaches in Batangas and Cavite. Secondly, its calm view of Tayabas Bay adds up to its allure. I couldn't even remember a time when Malatandang was attacked by huge waves. And then there's the clarity of its waters gently lapping the coconut-lined beach sand which turns peach white when struck by sunlight. Simply put, it's a modest tropical paradise thiside of the province.

North side of the beach. On the other side of that land mass is Agdañgán.

On the south side of the beach can be seen faintly the island of Marinduque.

Junífera Clarita's first beach escapade, and she hasn't even turned nine months yet!

The shoreline of Malatandang extends for more than a kilometer of golden brown to peach white sand, separating the sea from coconut groves that are now lined with nipa hut cottages and a few private vacation homes/resorts. Most people who swim here are locals who bring along their friends and relatives from the metro and elsewhere.

Having seen old photos of Borácay, the internationally famous island seemed, at least to me, to look like Malatandang many years ago... sans the exceptional quality of the former's sand of course (despite Borácay's worsening algae bloom, it'sands are still incomparable). And like Borácay, one can wade far out into the sea from the shoreline since most parts of Malatandang are shallow.

The only danger I see here are jellyfishes, locally known a"salabay". But don't let these sea creatures deter you from visiting Malatandang. You see, I've lost count on homany times I have swam in Malatandang Beach, but not once have I been stung (I even remember a time when I was surrounded by several, but I was left unharmed). However, Krystal wasn't that lucky when we visited the beach two Saturdays ago (it was her third time there). While wading in the waters of the northern side of the beach away from the throng of vacationers at the south side, I suddenly saw her running ashore, crying out in pain while rubbing her skin profusely as if it was burning — she got stung by a salabay! I immediately rubbed beach sand on the partwhere she wastung but the pain didn't subside that fastA friendly Caucasian sawhat happened and he suggested that I apply fresh calamansî on the affected areas. The pain subsided in a matter of minutes, but not the scars which she now have on her right wrist and ankles (thankfully, they're miniscule).

But hey, don't let the jellyfishes scare you. Perhaps the secret here is to practice constant care whenever you dip into Malatandang's crystal clear waters. And don't forget to bring a bag full of calamansî coz you'll never know. Other than that, don't followhat Krystal and I did; you have to  swim in areas where there are lots of people because it somehow frightens jellyfishes away. Furthermore, the presence of jellyfisheshouldn't be considered a menace because it only shows how healthy Tayabas Bay's marine life is. Aside from jellyfishes, you will also encounter schools of small fishes (smaller than one's finger) and a variety of hermit crabs, starfishes, and snails.

Just keep both eyes open because Malatandang is abundant with jellyfishes. But so far, I haven't been stung, not even once. Well, during this visit, Krystal was stung near her right wrist and legs. In case this happens to you, simply apply calamansi on the affected area. It's what I did to Krystal, and the pain disappeared in a matter of minutes.

Check out the fine beach sand!

Malatandang Beach is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Lucena City, the capital of Tayabas Province. There are vans going to Unisan from SM Lucena and Grand Central Terminal for ₱120.00. It's only ₱60.00 by bus from Grand Central Terminal, but these buses are small, old, rickety, and not airconditioned. They might take you there even longer since they run slower and have to make a couple of stops for incoming and outgoing passengers. The best thing about these buses, however, is that you will be able to breathe in fresh mountain and sea air on the way to Unisan.

Just tell the driver that you need to drop off on the road going to Malatandang (it will be to your right). But from the drop off point, the beach is about another kilometer and a half away, and public utility vehicles there are rareSo the best way to go to Malatandang is from Unisan'población or town proper. Tricyclethere are everywhere and they charge around ₱60.00 going to Malatandang. Thatched-roof cottages at the beach cost only ₱100.00. But we didn't avail of any of it. We just looked for a shaded spot on the beach and laid out a huge sarong, picnic style. There are a couple of sari-sari stores there, too. And if you wish to spend the night in Malatandang, just ask for the Évora residence which is owned by an auntie of mine. I'm really not sure how much they charge. Just ask the caretaker there. I'm pretty sure it's cheap since Malatandang is not really a top-rate beach. At least, not just yet.

I have so many childhood stories that I can share about Malatandang Beach. But my dad's cousin, Uncle Paul Évora, can share his Malatandang story much better, in a brief but succinct way:
As a kid, I used to spend part of my summer months in Unisan, Quezon, my father’s hometown. It is a coastal municipality about 180 kilometers from Manila, located in the Bondoc Peninsula. We used to go there by train, hopping in at the Pacò terminal in the wee hours of the morning. After numerous stops, we would finally reach the station in Barrio Panáon where we took a bus to Unisan's town proper, arriving by late afternoon or early evening. Today it can be reached in only four hours by car on well-paved roads. 
One of our summer treats was riding the waves with a motorized banca to nearby Malatandang. There we would spend early mornings or late afternoons when the sun was friendliest, enjoying its unspoiled and pristine waters, notwithstanding constant warnings about encountering “salabay” or jellyfish. Maybe we were so distracted that I don’t recall seeing a single house or hut at the beach. It was all ours to enjoy!
My father always loved the sea. So when he retired from banking in 1989, he left Manila in favor of the peace and quiet of Malatandang, acquiring a small property right by the beach. Somehow he got possession of two bancas, I think, and spent a good time fishing. He stayed in Malatandang for many years. But circumstances made him return to the ancestral home in Unisan and, not very soon after, he decided to put his Malatandang property on the block. By then, the house was almost abandoned and left to the elements. I am very happy that an older cousin living in the States, Ate Thelma Isaac, now owns the place. A new resort house, available for rent to visitors (but free for kamag-anaks), was built on the property. 
Last May 15, 2011, we celebrated my dad’s 83rd birthday at Malatandang Beach. It was nice to be back. I saw myself in the younger ones as they ran around and frolicked under the sun. They never grow tired, these kids. In fact, even before we had finished packing up for home, they were already looking forward to our next visit. Such is the allure —and mystery— of Malatandang.

Click here for more photos of our Malatandang day tour! And don't forget to LIKE US on Facebook! ¡Hasta la vista!