By Michael Karlo Lim
I FELL in love with a mermaid. She could not breathe long above water and I could not stay long in it. The turbid shallows of compromise turn turbulent at times and we both escape to wetter water on her breath. Of recent was “to the open sea”. Panglawod. Panglao.
The sleepless past four days extended to five as we took the six-in-the-morning right after the dessert course of a long dinner. Leaving the torture of fastcraft jump seats at the Port of Tagbilaran, we were quickly whisked away in a van to ourselves to Bluewater Panglao. The lines between weekdays and weekends have been severely blurred and we were looking forward to this getaway.
First impressions were of small, boutique resort feels with the sincerest of greetings and smiles welcoming us in. The main collective of buildings gave no hint to the sprawl of the property into the cliffside break spanned by hectares of manicured gardens. A total of forty-six poolside and second-level pool view rooms border a free-form lagoon-type plus four Family Lofts and another four Villas. The heat was temporarily drowned by Bluewater Panglao‘s signature drink, Lemongrass Cooler, before our transfer to our villa by golf cart.
Villa Balicasag opened into a private courtyard and beyond the wading pool, a deck with lounges to sun ourselves on. Hand-finished wall-treatments blend outdoors in with contemporary tropical resort touches by designer Benji Reyes. A cantilivered king bed imposes in the massive suite with a sunken living area facing floor-to-ceiling glass-paneled doors and views over the balcony into the garden.
The equally enormous bathroom and walk-in was yet another story with his-and-hers sinks, a bathtub and a rainshower under a sectioned skylight. Attention to detail was even more apparent in the co-branded amenities that were well-curated with considerations for guests who take the word resort as it really is. Which other hotel boasts of moisturizing face masks, facial scrubs and mattifying creams as standard inclusions on top of the usual toiletries?
Bluewater Panglao‘s Operations Manager, the very dapper Gene Soler, dropped in dressed in muted florals and Vans to walk the resort’s brand of relaxed sophistication. Shaking up the area’s hospitality scene since he took its helm, no stone was left unturned by his personal touch. His long list of possibilities ended with us promising him that we’d actually use our private pool.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the dreamscape of sheets, chasing after what has long been elusive restfulness, falling in and out of sleep. We blamed the island’s heat but the airconditioning was on turbo so it may very well have been our own bodies and later made good the promise to use our pool. Shadows grew longer on the deck as our fingertips grew wrinkly in the soaking before Gene popped in to invite us to dinner. Island life is so tough.
The City of Friendship was well represented by our welcome to Aplaya, the resort’s seaside dining pavilion, which was away by scenic meander through the gardens. More than the optimal serving temperatures, warmth came in the earnest service and the flavors of the glocalized dishes served under the beautiful, high-pitched, trussless span. The designer Reyes’ signatures for Bluewater Panglao were echoed throughout.
Umami was more gourmet nanay in the Adobo Rice topped with crunchy Lechon Kawali, served in polished bamboo. Grouper fresh off the restaurant’s functionally decorative saltwater pond swam straight into a light and flavorful broth of select herbs in the Tinolang Pugapo. Moringa leaves were a surprising addition — a Southern Tagalog nuance, we were told. Chicken Halang-halang came heavy with the reduction of coconut milk and the light zing of chili and ginger perfect with rice to sop up every flavorful dollop with. A Mango Cheesecake ended the meal with the beautiful interplay of cream cheese and fresh mango flavors on the light shortbread base.
Back at Aplaya, we extended our seaside experience in a serving of fresh Panglao Oysters with Kaffir Lime Granita. The sweetness in these could only be had in ones freshly shucked with the lime giving it a complementary tang. Stuffed Grilled Squid was served bursting with edible aromatics, echoing the side salad of cubed, fresh tomatoes and onions. Sweet, soft and succulent flesh mark it fresh with a delicious char in the grill marks. I order house burgers with a lot of hesitation stemming from bad experiences but the Bluewater Cheeseburger was a surprise. It’s 100% Angus beef patty done medium well– I’d say medium perfect–oozing with meaty juices, topped with the chewy texture and mellow flavor of mozzarella all sandwiched in a beautifully baked and tasty bun.
Sundays in Panglao deserve that name with the day opening bright and cheery into a breakfast buffet. Sufficiently stuffed, we were packed into a boat with packs of refreshments to lay waste to the rest of the morning at sea. The nearby Isola Del Francisco and Virgin Island made for interesting stops and the latter held offerings from the water. Sea urchins were cracked open for uni – the bright, buttery and briny goodness a far cry from the what I’d enjoy on sushi in the city. Having stimulated our appetites, we worked through our on-board picnic in anticipation of lunch.
We couldn’t complain about the towering pile of Pinoy-style beef steak.Bistek, dripping with a render of onions in calamansi on to the steamed white rice and pooling into the plate. Our expectations of breaded chicken fillets drowning in bottled lemon sauce for the Lemon Chicken were quashed by a delightfully simplistic and simply delicious grilled chicken marinated in fresh herbs and lemon on mashed potato with veg sidings. We had separation anxiety topped with pending workload for dessert and retired early to soak up the last several hours of this break.
I played out my barista dreams on the in-room espresso machine in the morning whipping up a cappuccino for the Bae and a straight-up for myself. There was that breakfast buffet we had to hurdle before bidding the beach goodbye. We kept it light with the thought of the toss of the waves on the way home and tucked into traditional puto. Buttered coffee is now popular in hipster havens the world over but it is an old Filipino family recipe involving that kind of love that figures in their native hot chocolate. I’ll admit I gave in to the bacon on the way out.
Gravel seemed to grumble along with me under the golf cart as we wheeled to the front desk to check out. I had a meeting to jump straight into and several others after that waiting in Cebu. Then again, I had to go back to all that so I would have something to get away from. To the open sea. Panglawod. Panglao.
We took the chance to make the weekend getaway to mean exactly that. We lost the rest of the afternoon to sleep, sweet nothings and snacks only to be roused for our scheduled poolside massages. The Amuma Spa pavillion refreshed what seemed our distant memory of the main collective and reception. We were skillfully kneaded into the mattresses, waking up to nightfall. Now even dinner seemed like an obligatory chore.