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ANILAO, Batangas Where the beaches wait for summer
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Pinky Concha Colmenares
Date: 2001-04-23
The Pinoy has an affection for the beach. Notice how most of us almost always choose to have a beach excursion to celebrate anything, especially summer. When was the last time you heard someone say: ''Let's go to the mountains''? But I'm sure you must have heard the sigh - ''Let's go to the beach'' - around you this week.

Although I am more a mountain soul than a beach bum, I always include a beach picnic in my family’s summer excursions. Call it the “inspiration of habit” because the only thing I like about a beach is to watch the sunset.

I do not swim in a beach, no matter if that’s in Boracay, Pagudpud, Phuket or even in Miami Beach! The closest I got to enjoy the waters was to wade along the shoreline, preferably on my way to shopping in the flea markets nearby.

In Boracay and Pagudpud where the beaches were undeniably spectacular, my traveling companions – Aris, Anjo – and I chose to swim in the hotel pool. We did that again recently when we were in Anilao. In fact, the only reason we chose to stay at the Aguila Beach Resort was because it had a swimming pool!

So even if I have no special feelings for beaches, I set a special assignment for a summer issue with beaches as destinations. And since I always had this thought that the Batangas beaches were closest to home (Metro Manila), I said – “Let’s go to Anilao!”

To the average once-a-year excursionist, Anilao is synonymous to diving and naturally, to beaches. In fact, many think (including me) that Anilao is a town where the beaches sprawl, waiting for the seasons to change.

Right and wrong. Yes, Anilao is where the beaches sprawl waiting for summer. But no, Anilao is not a town, it is a barangay in Mabini town, some 135 kms. from Manila.

Anilao had gained a reputation for beautiful beaches when scuba divers discovered it in the early seventies. A few of them decided to develop the diving spots into resorts. Their friends kept coming back bringing more friends. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

After the divers, the picnic crowds came. There to offer the beach front to them were families who lived along the strip where a long line of beach resorts now stand.

Most of these beach resorts carry the Casapao family name like a brand. There were no divers then in the Casapao family, only a wide strip of beach as a front yard.

In 1978, the family of Pedro and Nita Casapao opened their front yard to picnic goers, putting a few tables and chairs for rent. Then for those who wanted to stay overnight, they rented out their house. Meanwhile, the family stayed in a tent outside their house, offering various “resort” services to their first customers.

Pedro is the third generation Casapao living in that same beach area. Pedro and Nita have seven children, all of them helping out in the family business.

“We built these facilities one at a time. Today, we have 40 rooms for rent to picnic goers,” Nita said waving her hand to show us how “Nita Casapao Beach Resort” has grown. From her house balcony, we surveyed the place. A two-storey structure stood nearest the beach, it’s ground level occupied by many picnic tables, an office, a bar and a kitchen.

Since the waters are reputed to be very deep just a few meters from the shore, Nita and Pedro have installed floating bars to offer swimmers something to hold or sit on.

There are now five beach resorts sporting the brand name Casapao, all of them along one strip.

Competition does not seem to be in the air, though. Nita said most people who come to Anilao know where they will stay for the day or the weekend.

“But there are the aggressive beach owners who have people wait outside for out-of-towners to drive into town. They influence them to go elsewhere by telling them some tale of horror about drownings in the area. The truth is, we’ve had no drowning incident in this strip,” she said.

In that strip of Casapao beach resorts is a concrete multi-storey structure called the Vistamar Beach Resort and Hotel. Naturally, it has more sophisticated facilities. Its long line of picnic tables (about a hundred) are made of concrete; it has a basketball court; facilities for aqua sports such as aqua bikes, jet skis, row boats, wind surfs, paddle boats.

The narrow beach in that popular strip is not extraordinary, though. Although the shoreline is quite rocky, swimmers enjoy the tranquility of a beach outlined by a cove.

It is this almost private beach feeling given by a cove that gives character to the beaches in Anilao. Farther up the strip, human structures are built far from the sea, displaying a wider, more inviting, beach to enjoy.

Our Road Team colleague, Aris Ilagan, by now turned into our guide. Aris, a diver, is an adopted son of Anilao and a native of the next town of Bauan. He explained that the beach fronts were cleaner and more inviting as you drive farther around the Batangas Bay because the place was less populated. The developers, too, have seen the potential of those unpopulated beaches, building quaint, ethnic, Latin American and even massive concrete structures along the shoreline.

In the past, when the road that winds around the mountain were too rough to negotiate, the guests of the resorts farther down the bay were fetched by banca from various docking points near the Anilao public market. But with the roads now paved, visitors drive along a scenic winding mountain route to reach the more expensive resorts that occupy more private parts of the bay.

We drove up to one of those called the Dive Solana Resort. Aris had warned us about taking a “few steps” down to the beach resort. He did not exactly say that the parking area of Dive Solana is on top of the mountain and we had to take exactly 250 concrete steps down the cliff to reach the resort. (Naturally, we had to climb those steps to get out of there!)

We reached Dive Solana’s beach at the end of a sunset framed by the silhouette of the Maricaban island on the left and the Batangas Bay cove on the right. Can you hear the silence and tranquility of that frame?

There we found Omar, the resort manager, who turns out to be a diving buddy of Aris. Omar, who looked visibly contented at being in that place without neighbors, didn’t have to “sell” us the qualities of Dive Solana. Even if Anjo and I were not divers, we apprecited the way the resort’s main building and dining area reminded us of a South American film. The rooms along the shore have an “open character” – its louvered doors fully fold aside to allow the beach scene into the room.

Many non-divers have come to the place seeking just some peace and quite; others are part of a company planning session; and most of course are diving buddies who bring their families with them.

Those who prefer to leave the 250 steps out of their exercise routine, can take the boat from the docking station in the Mabini town proper. But if you do take your vehicle with you, Omar said there are room boys who can take those steps to carry your gear.

If you just want to go on a picnic, you will not need a reservation to enjoy a day at the beach in Anilao. You can spend at least an hour driving along the long strip from the town proper of Mabini to the barangay center of Anilao and way past that, up the winding mountain trail.

There are beach resorts offering picnic tables for a hundred a day; entrance for R25 a head; and a beach front according to the development plans of the resort owner. If you can afford more comforts and seek more beach facilities, there’s the multi-storey hotels. If you dive, there’s a variety of dive resorts, all of them offering all-day buffet dining, plus a tranquil beach that can inspire you to do nothing.


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