Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Life’s a beach on Lakawon


PHOTO: TRANQUIL: The writer on practically deserted Lakawon Beach Resort in the Philippines. (PHOTOS: JUSTIN NOREIKIS)

HERE are the kinds of people who visit a beach location and spend half their time trying to keep sand out of their bags, hair, and their rooms.


Then there are the others, who relish the feel of sand between their toes and for whom a holiday is not complete unless fine powder is found even between the sheets.


I belong in the latter category. Heck, I’m happiest when I can feel the crunch of the grains between my teeth.


Trouble is, when it comes to nearby beach destinations, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find one that provides just the right kind of isolation that I’m looking for when I plan a beach trip.


See, my idea of a beach holiday is one where I see as few people as possible and where I get to drink loads of beer. I’m not always fond of built-up destinations that have capitalised on the tourist dollar (Thailand) or where the beer doesn’t come cheap (Malaysia).


So it was that I found myself travelling to Lakawon Beach Resort – located 48km from the provincial town of Bacolod in the Philippines, followed by a short boat ride from a jetty – after a friend’s wedding in nearby Bacolod City.
So unplanned was this side trip that I wasn’t sure of where Lakawon was exactly, or even how to spell its name, until the day I left the island. I’d relied on the expertise and know-how of newfound friends, who’d booked the trip and who were generous enough to let me and my partner come along.


I’d simply heard the word “beach”, realised I’d never heard of the location, and said: “I’m in!

Sometimes, that’s the way a trip should be.

PHOTO: DOG DAYS - The resort’s pack of dogs eye the wild guinea fowl as though they would have liked to take a bite out of the birds.


Bacolod City is the capital of Negros Occidental, also known as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines”, since it reportedly produces more than half of the nation’s sugar output.


Early on Valentine’s Day, we boarded a van that drove us through roads that wound around fields of sugar cane, which the native people once used as a natural toothpaste, chewing it to clean their teeth.


Everything was a surprise, from the miles of sugar cane to the little huts made out of tyres that are used to house fighting cocks.


The trip back from the remote jetty after our Lakawon adventure, though, was broken only by one sudden roadside check, where a policeman toting a rifle peered into the van.


What’s he searching for?” I whisper to a fellow traveller, Rick, a Filipino who lives and works in Singapore.

Guns,” he says. Then, more lightly, he adds: “Guns, goons and gold.

Another new friend, Chester, soberly provides this information: “It’s election time in May.” And election time in the Philippines sparks violence: A mayoral candidate in Negros Occidental was gunned down in Iloilo City, an island to the northwest of Negros Occidental, last month.


But on our trip – to and from Lakawon, and back to Singapore from Bacolod City – all is calm.

The policeman at the road block smiles and waves us on.

On the way to and from the jetty, the only excitement would be when the truck driver blares his horn and suddenly weaves around trucks piled high with sugar cane, and jeepneys stuffed to the brim with pineapples and people.


The area around Lakawon – according to the resort’s owner, Mr Victor Puey, a former Asian power-boat champion – sees mostly tourists from around the country.

The accommodation is rustic to the max; its beach huts have rooms that are very, very basic, but clean.

Electricity is turned on only at 6pm, to conserve power. This means that even if one gets an air-conditioned hut, don’t expect this luxury until dusk.


Mr Puey gestures vaguely around him, saying: “I see mostly Manila people here. These people can’t afford five-star accomodation.

For the first time, wandering around the huts and watching the clear blue waters roll in and out with the tide, I feel like I’ve made it to a place where the outside world can’t touch me.


All around me are the protected marine reefs that hold seaweed forests and teeming marine life.

If travel is meant to literally and metaphorically transport you, this island has done it for me.

And there’s no one here but the party of eight I’ve come with: my boyfriend; Mr Puey and his family and workers; and the residents of the small fishing village nearby. (There, you can watch cock fights and buy local coffee and delicious grilled, caramelised bananas for a few pesos. A peso is about 3 Singapore cents.)


The resort’s other residents are the goats that are used as lawnmowers around the property, a pack of dogs that romp happily in the sand at sunset, and some guinea fowl (the dogs watch these with wariness).


The abundance of fauna around makes it feel as though the pages of British author and naturalist Gerald Durrell’s 1956 book, My Family And Other Animals, have come alive for me.

Durrell, who died in 1995, spent his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu, where his burgeoning love of animals and nature took off.


On Lakawon, as the light grows dim, I watch as my partner plays frisbee with three kids. In the background, two stout-legged puppies dig around on the beach, nipping playfully at scuttling crabs before lying belly-down in the cool sand.

PHOTO: CALM WATERS: The writer’s partner, Mr Justin Noreikis, chills out on a banca, a type of motorised outrigger boat, on the way back from idyllic Lakawon. (PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO)

A bonfire of fun in this island paradise
We feast on a dinner of pork adobo – a kind of stew – grilled pork, vegetables and rice (Lakawon Beach Resort also offers steamed crabs at 320 pesos per kg). The food is home-cooked and simple, much of it flavoured with tamarind, which gives the meal a pleasantly sour taste.

After dinner, Mr Puey suggests that we build a bonfire under the stars. We happily agree.

PHOTO: DAY’S END: Spend the night star-gazing as you lounge around a bamboo bonfire on the beach.

With the sound of popping bamboo – which is used as firewood – in the background, we watch for shooting stars and point out the constellations we know. Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades and the Big Dipper are all there.

The Milky Way travels slowly across the night sky.

Talk turns ribald and we discuss whether love is better than sex, or just better with sex.


We clink beer bottles and stoke the fire until we run out of wood to feed it with.

I thank my friend Chester (nicknamed “The Godfather” because he is in charge of booking the trip and collecting the money owed for it) for having us along.

I was anxious you’d be bored here,” he says, relieved when I tell him there’s not a chance in high hell of that happening.

We leave the next morning on a motorised banca – a type of outrigger boat native to the Philippines.


A boisterous dog my friends dubbed Randy (after a squint-eyed 1980s Filipino singer) has, over the course of the trip, taken a liking to our jocular friend, Don. The dog follows us as we make our way to the boat until the water gets too deep for him. He retreats to the shore and there he stands, tail wagging.

We shout our goodbyes to him until he gets tired of watching our boat melt into the distance. I see him shake once, then turn his furry back on us. He trots off towards the island’s shade as the sun begins to rise higher in the sky over Lakawon.


我的字典: Wǒ de zì diǎn

Beach holiday: 沙滩假期 - shā tān jià qī
Marine life: 海洋生态 - hǎi yáng shēng tài
Bonfire: 营火 - yíng huǒ
Constellations: 星群 - xīng qún