|Cove of earthly delights
|Author: Alex Y. Vergara
HAVE you ever been marooned on an island for three straight days and survived to relish the experience?
Well, we did—and in style yet—despite the absence of such modern-day comforts as the TV, Internet and our ubiquitous Globe cell phone.
And the best part is the island, okay, resort, is a mere hour and a half away from Manila by boat, and three hours by land. Indeed, Montemar Beach Club in the town of Bagac on the western coast of Bataan has been one of the province’s best-kept secrets since the resort reopened a few years ago.
``We purposely dropped the TV since we don’t want our guests to get distracted,’’ explains Christine Ibarreta, Montemar’s sales and marketing manager. ``Some complain about it, but an overwhelming majority like the idea. It allows them to bond with their families while they relax and unwind.’’
And there are no landlines, too. For some reason, only Smart cell phones work in this part of the province.
The mountains surrounding Bagac, including historic Mt. Samat, where a giant memorial in the form of a cross is planted at its peak, must have obscured Globe’s signal.
Your credit is good but Montemar needs cash. The absence of reliable telephone lines is definitely one reason the resort accepts only cash. Guests can pay before they check out of the resort or soon after they arrange their bookings at Montemar’s Makati office. Call tel. nos. 892-6497 and 892-6498.
``Some foreigners can’t believe their ears when we tell them that,’’ says Ibarreta, with a chuckle.
There was even a time when an Indonesian guest ran out of pesos and had to settle his bill in rupiah. US dollars are most welcome, but pesos will do nicely, thank you.
Montemar used to cater to an exclusive clientele composed of members and their families. In 1996, the new set of owners decided to open its doors to the public as well. Before that, the resort had embarked on an expansion program, which included building more rooms and better facilities.
Guests, for instance, can choose between the beach, the entire 500-meter stretch of it, or the deep blue swimming pool (yes, designers opted for dark blue tiles instead of the usual white) surrounded by dancing coconut trees, stone hedges and lush garden foliage. A cabana juts out from the middle of the pool to provide guests with a selection of thirst-quenching fruit juices and all-time favorite sodas.
Since it faces the China Sea, Montemar is relatively free from the trash and oil slicks that have become permanent fixtures in Manila Bay. The resort is actually part of a cove sandwiched by a pair of lush hills. Summer winds, thank goodness, are as fresh and as calming as the sea.
Landlubbers can opt to jog by the seashore where smog and other city irritants are virtually nonexistent. Or they can take a leisurely stroll down the beach hand-in-hand with loved ones as they imbibe the sunset.
Montemar’s beige sand may not be as powdery as the white variety found in Boracay, but you can walk on the beach without your feet turning into a corkboard pinned with jagged stones and sharp seashells. Parents have lesser reasons to worry about their kids’ safety owing to the resort’s short beach strip.
Rich marine life
For P250 an hour, guests can either rent a kayak, aqua cycle or an entire boat. The cove is also a rich source of marine life that’s bound to excite and warm the hearts of urban fishermen as they cast their line. Or they can shoot the breeze while at the beach on horseback.
Aside from occasional fishing boats, ``Jalosjos’’ Island (yes, referred to by locals after former congressman and convicted rapist Romeo Jalosjos) and the mothballed nuclear power plant, which resembles an odd-looking lighthouse from afar, in nearby Morong complete the picturesque vista.
The island, known actually as Matikis, got its new name after pursuing lawmen caught Jalosjos hiding inside one of the nipa huts in the sparsely populated hideaway. No, the lawmaker-turned-lawbreaker didn’t use Montemar as a jump-off point while on the lam.
``He didn’t fit our guest profile,’’ says Ibarreta with a wink.
People in a hurry or on a shoestring budget are also most welcome. They need not book a room to avail of Montemar’s facilities. Aside from unlimited access to the beach, so-called day guests can also use a smaller pool fronting the conference building, a white structure housing the ballroom and several function rooms.
With such facilities for parties and meetings, Montemar has become an ideal venue for team-building seminars and field trips as well. With the recent opening of a nine-hole golf course, business people and executives have discovered another reason to stay awhile longer.
``We try to give something back to our members and guests in the form of new and better facilities,’’ says Ibarreta.
Current president and general manager Vicky Gonzales, for example, plans to build another set of 50 rooms in front of the conference building. The resort has recently upgraded its restaurant by constructing several outdoor areas connected to the main dining room called El Meson.
A new food and beverage director has just come on board to further spice up the menu. By the way, the kare-kare and pinakbet are to die for.
Each of the 70 air-conditioned rooms at Montemar’s two-story Mediterranean style hotel is furnished with rustic rattan pieces. Built-in verandahs lined with potted bougainvillea provide visitors with a generous view of sun, sea and sand.
A number of rooms open to a feast of greenery in the form of coconut, mango, mahogany, narra and talisay trees. The resort has also become a botanical sanctuary of sorts since a number of trees inside the 12-hectare property are labeled with their popular and scientific names.
Rooms are classified into deluxe ( P1,000 ++ per head) and gallery (P925 ++ per head). The gallery room, which comes with a loft, has enough space for a family of four plus a companion or two. For big families and those used to living in sprawling spaces, Montemar also offers a couple of premier and executive suites ($185 ++ a night).
``At least two children below 12 are free of charge,’’ adds Ibarreta.
No kids? No problem. You can always spend the extra time curled up in bed reading a good book before the distant drone of lapping waves lull you to sleep.
Mt. Samat Ferry Express, with a terminal at the CCP Complex in Manila, transports passengers (P180 per head) to Bataan and vice versa. Its clean and air-conditioned catamaran (the company now has three) leaves the waters of Manila every 90 minutes or so.
In less than an hour, guests reach the town of Orion where a van awaits them for the 35-minute drive (prior arrangement is necessary) to the resort.
There, a world unto itself awaits them. A quiet place so near yet so far away from the zany realm of inane TV shows, alarming radio programs and, to a certain extent, annoying cell phones.
[ Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Wiki ]