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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

entry arrow6:30 AM | Surf and an Endless Horizon in Antulang

Going to Antulang is a journey of seemingly endless heartaches, especially for those who want their pleasures immediate, like instant coffee. Or perhaps going there is much like one prolonged expectation, like a promise that takes its time to unfold.

Take a jeepney or a hardy car from Dumaguete City to Siaton, near the edge of Zamboanguita down south of Oriental Negros, and the highway takes you to a swift distance to a bend somewhere along the way that takes you further down a gravel road that knows only the meaning of stretches. Some people estimate the distance from the highway to the limestone cliffs that dot the Siaton seacoast to be roughly thirty minutes (or a bit more) of riding through harsh but beautiful countryside—a sunny, almost barren, landscape overgrown with strange thorny bushes, tigpud trees, and the sporadic shock of gumamela (antulanga in old Cebuano). When the journey nears its end, if you are quick enough to notice the unusual from the blur of speed outside, you can also get some glimpses of Tambobo Bay where the yachts, many of them, are bobbing in the blue waters.

The prolonged journey inland is part of the charm of Antulang, because once you are inside its sprawling compound, you are immediately made aware that the protracted journey was worth it: this is where heaven and sea make their love nest. The blueness of sea and sky together becomes unequalled comfort. Tranquility is another name for it.

I have never seen this generosity in the expanse of sea and sky before, not until I came to Antulang. Because the place occupies the rounded bottom of boot-shaped Negros island and is situated right at the very edges of limestone cliffs, Antulang juts out into the Mindanao Sea facing Zamboanga, and from some vantage point, the place seems to float into the blue. “Sometimes,” Annabelle Lee Adriano, the owner of Antulang, told me while we sipped the home-made caiprinha with lychee, “we see the moon rising in the east just as the sun is setting in the west—and all these, of course, occur in the same horizon,” like a beautiful accident of alignment in the heavens.

We were in Antulang—together with Annabelle’s husband Edo and their precocious daughter Suyen whom I liked to call Scout after the energetic character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—because we wanted to get away from the city. While there was rest and relaxation to consider, somehow the place itself begged exploration.

Antulang, the resort, has vastly improved from its start in 2000 when it grew from a ragtag bunch of rooms and a restaurant to something approximating subdued modishness. Today, you see that it now has the trappings of a modern resort—the restaurant has food that may be one of the best in Oriental Negros (their puso or banana heart salad has a creaminess and crunch that make it a must from the menu), the ground staff tends horses for guests to ride, the salt-water infinity pool is expansive and elegant, and the accommodations range from midsized minimalist comfort to private villas that have their own cliffside view and pool.

But Antulangan (how the entire place is called—literally meaning “where the gumamelas grow”) is more than just its popular resort, which is the site of countless commercial photo shoots (retailer Bench has made the place one of its favorite locations for commercial shoots, and the infamous Alfred Vargas sexy coffee-table book, produced by Walker Briefs, was shot in many of its nooks and crannies by photographer Ronnie Salvacion). It is, in the long run, the cumulative experience of being in Siaton town, in the beach or atop the lime rocks with the sight of sea and sky, and the possibilities of myriad marine encounters. Venture down the stone path that leads from the resort to the pebble beach below, and you find yourself in the rush of surf and the calm blue-green of Mindanao Sea. Go further, and there are caves and nooks in the limestone walls to examine like an intrepid geologist.

One secret corner of the Antulangan stretch of coast is a little resort somewhere in the pockets of huge beach rocks that hide lagoons and sandy sound. Kookoo’s Nest, reachable only by a considerable hike down a steep, winding incline of limestone steps, is owned by a British couple who spends half the year in London and the other half in this tropical getaway that is a little bit more than an elaborate hut with two or three cottages nearby for letting. The cottages, however, are appointed in what can be said to be Bali aesthetics with a lot of Siaton sensibilities thrown in. The result is an eclectic style that soothes and amuses at the same time. A perfect day in Kookoo’s Nest is simply sitting down on one of those rocks that litter the white sand beach, watching the tide come in.

There is always the opportunity, however, of boarding one of the yachts or little skips that trawl the area and explore the curve of water that embrace the coast. Ms. Adriano owns a boat named after her—or, if you are the literary type, the famous character from the poem by Edgar Allan Poe—and aboard the Annabelle Lee, we cruised through the area, hoping to beat the sunset. The pilot took us to Tambobo Bay, an area that surprises with its population of boats of various kinds flying international colors. On one spot, there is the British man with the brown yacht. On another, an Italian who owns a Chinese junk. There are boats of all shapes and sizes, and the men flying them are the colors of the rainbow. The small community that embraces the beach that shape the bay is a ragtag affair of architecture, approximating an eyesore but could be really embraced as nicely peculiar. In this setting, aboard the Annabelle Lee, we watched the sun go down, and delighted in the smell of salt on our skin.

When we went back to the resort for dinner and song, the blue sky has become a thick blanket of stars, something you do not readily see in the city drowning in false light. Having had my fill of dinner, I sat back and relaxed in the ambient glow of the pool lights and the soft incandescence of lamps sprouting from the ground everywhere. I thought of taking a midnight dip in the pool. I thought of strolling the grounds among the dwarf tigpud trees and tuba-tuba plants. I thought of sleeping to the sound of surf. From the railing that separated me from the void where the sky was and where the sea was below, I strained my eyes to try to catch the horizon from the darkness, and it dawned on me that there was none at all, that everything was a comfortable wall, or a blanket.

In the quiet, I breathed deeply like I have never breathed before.

[photos from antulang.com]

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