Tuesday, November 24, 2009 by Daniel

Philippines Day 9: Off to Sumilon

If there is a benefit to jet-lag, it is that – in certain situations – it makes getting up insanely early a lot easier. 3:30AM found us up and about with only a little bitching and moaning, finishing up our packing, microwaving coffee and adobo pandesals I’d purchased for us the night before (Turns out Seattle’s Best, on the second floor, makes much better coffee and pastries than Starbucks. They do not, however, have real cream to put in it.) The trip to the airport was a replay of our trip to Palawan, though our party had more than doubled in size. With us for this leg of the journey are Ben, his best man Ray, Alison, Levi and Jai (Raine’s son from a previous marriage. He’s 21 but looks 16, rail thin with a huge smile and monstrous appetite for plain white rice.) We were surprised to hear that Raine wasn’t coming, but apparently the plan was always to get us out of town and out of her hair so she could focus on the wedding.

The short flight to Dumaguette island was followed by a 10-minute drive to the beach, where we hopped on a relatively large banca that took us to Sumilon. Sumilon is the name of both the island and the resort that is its only resident. It is small (you can walk all the way around the island in less than an hour) but extraordinarily beautiful, with two large white beaches and surrounded by clear, azure waters and coral reefs. There are only 14 rooms in the whole resort, in plush cottages with big sliding French doors that open out onto the beach. The common area is up a little hill overlooking the two beaches, with a large open-air pavilion that houses a few dining tables, the front desk and a large Christmas tree constructed of wire and big, brown tropical leaves. Nearby is an “infinity pool” that looks out over the sea and is ringed with smaller hot-tubs, a series of smaller pavilions with beds where they have seaside massages. Orange, yellow and red bouganvillea arches on trellises over the stone stairs leading down to the larger beach and its lagoon. It is, without doubt, the closest I have ever been to the typical tropical island paradise. Sometimes I find myself humming the theme to “Gilligan’s Island.” It is also astonishingly cheap, considering how luxurious it is (there are probably mid-rate hotels in Fresno that charge more, and don’t include three meals a day and snorkeling).

Rebecca was suffering from congested ears and a general icky feeling, and others wanted to rest, so Levi and I grabbed a pair of snorkels and headed off to see what we could find. One of the local staff recommended the waters off the western short, so we started following the path around the island. We wound up going about 1/3rd of the way around the island before we found a spot where we could clamber down some rocks to get in the water, but oh, what we found when we got there!

I have only been snorkeling once, and it was a disappointing experience. My mask leaked a lot due either to my beard or its shoddy manufacture, and the location (off the Denali coast in Kauai) left much to be desired. This was entirely different. The water was only a few feet deep, but the coral was vibrant and extremely diverse: some shaped like huge leaves, some like brains, some like spiky branches, and all different colors. Tons of fish, too, of course. We saw blue and white angel fish the size of dinner plates, and large clown fish peeking out at us from their gently waving anemones. Other fish of all shapes and sizes, such variety as to defy description. We didn’t have fins for our feet, so we didn’t get very far, but we were really impressed with what we saw. Levi had a nasty run-in with a severed jellyfish tentacle, so we decided to pack it in and head back, as this was only ever supposed to be a scouting mission. Talking later to another staff member, he told us that side of the island had bigger fish, but the other (eastern) side had a larger quantity and variety, so we resolved to check that out the next day.

By that time it was starting to get late, so we convened up by the pavilion for cocktail hour. The mosquitoes were out, which was a bummer, but also out were the bats, which were amazing. None of us had ever seen bats so large – they seemed as big as eagles, flapping overhead in the waning light. Fruity island drinks were the popular option, but I’ve never really been a fan, so I went with a simple scotch. They lit candles on the tables as it grew dark, and we watched the lights from nearby boats dance across the water as we ate our dinner.

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