On the road to Hamilo, even if the coaster so gingerly skittered, some 200 feet high, around the craggy edges of the earth, I felt as if I was in a place where nothing bad could ever happen.
For, notwithstanding the pell-mell excitement that immediately pervaded our trusty wagon when the urban nudniks among us finally saw the slice of blue deep we had long hankered to see, I was at once commanded, so that nothing else mattered, by the kind of transporting quiet one associates with outer space, and that which you seek to savor on a detour if you, pining for every last remote place in the world, indeed were to travel with no intent of arriving.
But we had arrived, as Tribune photographer David reminded in between clicks of his shutter. “It’s that feeling when you’re in Pico (de Loro), baby!”
We reached our destination just after a veneer of dew had unfurled an estate perched at the feet of the mountains, some clustered like an elaborate house of cards flanking a lagoon, some plonking off the main bulk facing the sea.
As was everyone else in this tour mooning over summertime respites, deeply enamored by a whiff of salt and spent sunscreen in the breeze, I particularly hooted to be sun-drenched and try my sea legs, perhaps hop on a jet-ski so that I could drive away forever.
Too well, helas! The tides were unusually agitated and swollen, the sky overcast, the lifeguard’s red flags out to flutter like sails.
But the sea was just a part of the postcard, and so our host, Costa del Hamilo Inc. (CDHI), took it as a hint to give us a different helping of experience.
Birds of Eden
We were treading lightly along a trail glazed with slush, eyes peeled to scour the treetops, when Wesley, CDHI Sustainability head and full-time birder on staff, held up his hand and trained his binoculars on one direction.
Somewhere in the leafy canopy, something stirred.
It darted from one branch to the next before vanishing into the verdant umbrella.
A dragonfly on speed?
I didn’t quite catch what it was, but, according to Wesley, who talked almost in a hush, it was one of the 200 species of birds (95 of which have been spotted at Pico de Loro) endemic to the Philippines.
At Hamilo, if you would not wake up to the din of rolling waves, you rise up in your bed and breakfast full of bird song.
You have to be up when the birds are up, and go for a morning walk not just for the birds, but the other inhabitants of the natural forest (case in point: an iguana peering over the edge of a dugout).
Before CDHI came into the picture, even before there were paved roads here, Hamilo was practically a patchy island at the mercy of man.
Now it is blanketed by a lush secondary limestone forest, punctuated with benchmark sustainable developments that complement, rather than replace, its rich environs. The birds are heading home again.
We were passing a stream when Wesley pointed at the blue thing foraging at the water. He taught us a new name: “White-collared Kingfisher.”
“Can I take one home?” I asked.
I wanted one, badly. I would name her Terry. I would love her, and, when she has already become a part of me, I would let her go so that at least a part of me could ever fly.
Communion at the mangroves
The boatman paddled over the waist-deep waters, as if in a trance, as if performing a ritual, each slosh sounding like a reverberating “Ohmm.”
There were six of us in the canoe but nobody felt the need to talk, at least when we were already drifting deep into the forest.
There wasn’t even a mandatory tour guy who yapped endlessly about nothing.
If the mangroves could teach us a lesson, it was that we were merely passing by.
I combed the river with my fingers the way I might dip them in holy water. One for Saint John. One for Saint Joseph. One for Saint Mary. Early on we were briefed to touch nothing that wasn’t directly related to us.
It could be a frog.
Or a fairy.
I read tall tales about mangroves coming alight at night, when the fireflies converge and flicker in unison.
If it weren’t true, I reckoned it still might be best to row down, candle on the bow, this body of water at nighttime, when the sky is irrevocably clear and you can navigate by the stars.
At sundown, pining for lost love and lost years
“Have you ever felt that pang of sadness watching the sunset?” A woman who was with us on the tour lamented.
This, despite the sun tucked halfway under the clouds, a sullen puddle of ochre faintly glimmering beneath slivers of silver.
She stood at the view deck of Hamilo’s famed glass chapel overlooking the sea, and I was gyrating around tipping my toes.
I realized she was talking to me. She reiterated her question.
I had watched the sunset elsewhere: above the clouds, from a moving train. It’s not necessarily sadness, but a feeling akin to the one you get seeing a smile a loved one gives as she drives away.
Or maybe it’s the time of day.
In my experience, sunset is like the wee hours of the morning you spend in a bar staring through smoke and semi-darkness. Or looking listlessly outside the car window, whorehouse music issuing from the stereo.
But on that day in Hamilo, subject to the vagaries of the weather, it was neither the sun nor the time of day, but the fading line between the sky and sea, which prompted me to remember someone.
“Is that where you went to? Do you think of me? Are you still alive?”
The calming troubled waters
It wasn’t exactly the idea, but I thought having an alfresco dinner at the beach, even under a sky still devoid of stars, would make up for an entire day of shying away from the ocean.
There was nary an after-sit-down-dinner party, nary even a midnight orchestra.
But the conversations were replete with alcoholic sincerity, the air thick with brine and bated breath — and late-night needs.
I snuck into the shore to listen to the sound of the ocean and calm. Hamilo at night is an echt lonely planet.
Back at the table, they were talking about the many things they could have done here if the circumstances were different — things that show they’re living amazing lives on Instagram.
But not me. To be undone by liquor alongshore, to be smothered in peace — that’s all the beauty I would ever need.
Costa del Hamilo Inc. is the developer of Hamilo Coast, a premier seaside community in Nasugbu, Batangas. A master-planned development carefully integrating residential, resort, leisure, commercial, and institutional land uses and communities, it sits on 5,900 hectares of lush terrain and natural beauty, and has 13 distinct coves along a 31-km coastline. Costa del Hamilo is a subsidiary of SM Prime.