9 OCTOBER 2004 – Club Noah – www.clubnoah.com.ph
Five in the morning comes way too quickly on trip day, especially if you’re supposed to be up at 4:30 and the alarm doesn’t go off, creating a panic of trying to wake children along with packing those last minute items with a driver outside knocking on the gate. With our plans being local, even arriving at the airport less than an hour from departure time didn’t seem to matter. The domestic building is tiny with a single room hosting all departing passengers, and glass doors leading to the airfield and awaiting planes. The only casualty for the trip was Nicholas’s blanket… left at home for the duration. As it turns out though, he was so busy both days and so tired both nights, blanket didn’t even get mentioned.
At the airport with plenty of time to spare, we crossed paths with Chad & Misty and Eric & Rachel who were all on their way to Boracay for Columbus Day weekend. It made the time go quicker chatting with them.
Our flight was called and we received our seat assignments and in-flight snacks of mango rolls (think mini mango fruit roll-ups). I was assigned seat #1 while the rest of the family was in the teens. At first the part-time stewardess wouldn’t let me move back (I say part-time because she came on board to get us into our seats and do the safety lecture, then left the plane), but once everyone was on board she determined it was OK. See, we flew a 19 seat aircraft. Upon checking our bag, the bag was weighed as were we so our weight could be split evenly and the plane wouldn’t tilt to one side.
All aboard, we had a one hour and twenty minute flight to Rodriguez ‘airport’ in Palawan. Everyone got a little chilly flying in shorts and sandals with no heat at 10,000 feet but here I’ll put in a plug for beach wraps. They are light and thin cotton, but pack compactly and are warm. The boys shared one and it provided some entertainment as they built a tent over their heads, and the girls shared one to keep their feet warm. Flying above island after island, we spotted reefs and sandy beaches, mountains and rice paddies. The Philippines outside of Manila is just an amazingly beautiful country and one we don’t expose ourselves to nearly enough.
After too many inquiries into our arrival time, we reached our half way destination, landing on a grass and dirt strip and exiting the aircraft to the one room open air lounge where juice and rolls were waiting. Of course the first thing we notice after living in Manila is the air quality. Ian and I joked that we’d have to take deep breaths before leaving to try to hold on to that wonderfully clean air. The kids devoted their attention to the wandering dogs. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer.
The Club Noah representative gave us an overview of the next legs of our trip and once the jeepney had our bags and we were off on a 10 minute bouncy ride along washed out dirt roads and across a bridge of two cement boards. Accompanying us was an armed Philippine National Police guard, a presence we became accustomed to over the weekend whenever we took a boat to another island. It’s part of overall Club Noah security, along with radar stations, boat patrols and on-island stationed guards. Did we feel safer? I don’t know that I would have felt less safe without their presence, but when you consider that Dos Palmas on another Palawan island is where the Burnham kidnapping was, the security wasn’t really overkill.
To a rickety wooden path over part of the river, we collected life jackets and carefully stepped our way to a small motorboat that floated us over to a large bangka boat in the middle of the narrow river. Along this brackish river among the mangroves were reportedly crocodiles and monkeys but we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Since it was already 8:30 a.m. it was too late for most creatures to be out.
We were allowed to sit on the roof of the bangka where the breeze was cool, so all the passengers did. We were traveling with another family with two little girls and some other couples. It was then I realized I hadn’t put sunscreen on our fair skin and we weren’t wearing hats. Did the sunglasses at least count for protecting our eyes? I sure hope so. I did get better about the sunscreen as the vacation went on, but still didn’t account for the ridiculously strong sun on Sunday. More on that later.
Club Noah Isabelle came into view, a beautiful cove with small cabanas on one side of the beach and a mix of cabanas on the other side, including ours, a two-story family cabana. The resort is along the coast in front of large mountains with plenty of jungle growth precariously attached to shear black rock. In the middle of the resort was the beach (advertised in photos as an expanse of powdery white sand, instead a smallish rocky spread of coarse yellow sand) along with the buffet restaurant, shop, clinic and under-construction-swimming-pool.
We took another small motorboat from the bangka to the dock, freed ourselves from our life jackets, and followed the path to a thatch roofed area set up with tables and fruit drinks. Jonathon promptly knocked his drink over and received a replacement as our host explained a map of the resort. Then we were set to go to our cabana. Our bags had magically appeared at the door as we explored Cabana 43. Bright and airy, there were two twin beds on the first floor along with the shower room and toilet room and a small deck with outdoor hangers (invaluable with loads of wet clothes daily). A gate opened to a set of stairs leading down to the sea, literally when the tide was up and the bottom steps were under water. We could watch the sunset from our room, over the main Palawan island. The sea was flat with just the sound of lapping water along the edge. Peaceful is only the beginning. Upstairs was a queen bed and an additional twin on the floor for Jonathon. The windows all opened and the breeze filtered into the room. At night we could close up and turn on an a/c unit and fans. It sounds like a waste but the mosquitoes made it more of a necessity, though now I’m thinking we probably should have taken the plunge and plugged in the electric mosquito killers. It would have made the rooms quite a bit quieter, and there’s nothing like sleeping to gentle water sounds, live from nature. Our cabana was set over the water, on stilts.
What happens first? Swimsuits on, of course. The sky was overcast so we went to the beach to try some volleyball, chase some beach bunnies (literally, the island is crawling with rabbits and there are covered bunny huts everywhere that hold food and water and provide cover when it rains), dig in the sand and play in the water. There were ducks near the beach and a trio of geese that were a plain nuisance. Jonathon really wanted to chase them but they were bigger than he was and we all know how nasty geese can be. These were no exception. The bunnies didn’t want to be petted either, so the kids were reduced to playing with mom and dad. The water was so shallow that I didn’t worry at all about the boys because even if there was a dip where they suddenly couldn’t stand, they could swim enough to get over to a shallower spot. The number one way to get mom to relax is to not have a threat of someone dying every ten seconds and this gentle shore was perfect.
The girls and I tried to make a village but it was hard with so many shells, rocks and coral in the sand. Building became a hassle so we followed Ian’s lead and just picked a spot and started digging until we created little pools along the beach. Why? No reason, it was just fun to do. The sea was warm and so very salty, everyone agreed it tasted simply nasty. We wouldn’t have to add any salt to food for a good long time. Ian said it was way saltier than Virginia Beach back home.
Without breakfast that morning, we were more than ready for lunch. After removing sand as best we could, we settled in at our assigned table with plates full of buffet options. Surprisingly good options, in fact, and there were enough choices to make everyone happy from soups and bread to rice and meats and fruits. The desserts were great too, including banana bread and flan. Lunch timing was perfect as the heavens opened and rain poured down during our meal. It stopped as lunch ended and we prepared for snorkeling. The snorkeling guide ended up being our water activity person for the weekend and was great with the kids. They didn’t have snorkeling gear small enough for the boys but it didn’t really matter. If the boys wouldn’t go down to see the fish, Danding would bring the fish to them. At one point while snorkeling he caught a small clownfish and put it in his face mask. All the kids got a huge kick out of seeing a little fish swimming around his eyes. He released it back home without too much damage to its psyche. Hopefully.
Schools of striped and brightly colored fish were all over, thanks to a large amount of bread tossed in. Some along the bottom were huge. Jackfish created rippling splashes as they came up, but the kids weren’t allowed to feed them by hand because the jackfish would just as likely take a finger or two along with the bread, they were that big. We spent over an hour just finning our way around the dock watching everything under the surface. The coral was non-existent because of the heavy boat activity there. On Sunday we would go snorkeling again at a nice reef, but for Saturday the kids were introduced to the experience. The girls took right to it and Katherine was the last one out as she always is with water activities. The wind was picking up and the sun was heading down so we decided it was time to get cleaned up before finding a snack. Dinner wasn’t scheduled until 7:30 which for my kids is bedtime, so we needed to get some food into them before then. Considering also that they’d been up since five in the morning and had a busy day I was surprised they were hanging on.
Showered and in clean clothes, a slow walk took us back to the main area of the resort and the outdoor pool table. The kids love to play pool, though we rarely ever do. They always ask and since no one was playing, we took over the table and played several games in teams and finally one with just Ian and me. Whenever kids weren’t playing, they were on the beach with our own evening yaya, Miss Ann. She swung them in the hammocks, played badminton and followed them while they chased rabbits. We didn’t ask for all this attention, but kids being kids, they got it anyway. It was nice for us because even while they were always in view on the beach, we could play some pool and not worry too much they’d fall into the water. Even if they had though, the tide was out and it would have taken them a long walk to get to any deeper than their ankles.
At 7:30, dinner time. Too late. Rebecca was hungry but more tired than hungry. She pushed her food around and eventually put her head on the table. Jonathon was glazed over. Before the show began he fell asleep on my lap. Katherine and Nicholas did OK, even after Nicholas knocked over his mango shake, and they all woke up a bit when the show started and there was singing and dancing to watch. The favorite was the coconut dance with men wearing ½ coconut husks on various parts of their bodies and clapping them with coconuts held in their hands. Now that patch on our Philippine quilt makes sense.
We slowly worked our way “home” after a filling meal with more yummy desserts. Jonathon slept the entire way and didn’t budge while having his feet wiped down and being placed in his bed. The kids sleepwalked into their beds. We all crashed hard. I can’t say that I slept, because I didn’t, but I did feel really good being where we were. The kids had a wonderful day and so did we.
10 OCTOBER 2004 – Club Noah on Sunday
Why is it kids wake up at 5:50 a.m. whether they have school or not? *yawn* Good morning. It was OK though. Rebecca read the boys a book, they played a game of UNO and I got a few pages of reading in before we decided to get our day going and search out breakfast.
For an all-inclusive resort, there’s a lot that’s not included, like drinks aside from breakfast juice. Even the cooler drinks after our reef snorkeling weren’t gratis. Of course the gift shop items weren’t included, but the snorkeling gear? The weekend was not cheap and I felt like rental items should have been part of the package. I can understand alcohol, but Coke? That’s probably just me though.
Swimsuits back on, down to breakfast and this time I brought my backpack with cameras. Made to order omelettes alongside yogurts, Tender Juicy hotdogs and something that resembled grits. Thank goodness the kids like yogurt, bread and fruit because that’s what they stuck with.
We had a busy day of fun planned. First was a skip through the gift shop and we examined a project called Art Clay Silver. It’s moldable clay that when fired, all the other properties burn off leaving behind the 99.9% silver particles to create jewelry. I want to look it up on-line, it sounds really nifty. Katherine had asked for a massage, so we scheduled one for 9 a.m. then decided to explore a bit. The steps to the scenic view went up, but not to a view point. It basically petered out and left us in the jungle. So we returned back to the bottom and instead went up the steps to the grotto. The kids were both intrigued and nervous. It didn’t help that Ian kept saying this is where the monsters lived. There wasn’t much exciting at the top, just a small cave opening and a statue of Mary. Katherine asked to explore but it looked like prime snake territory to me. At the bottom of the steps was a baby bunny I picked up to let the kids pet. And so continued the chorus of “I wish we could adopt this bunny” and “Can we bring him home?” I’m sure our cats would just love having a bunny all their own to play with.
At 9 a.m. Katherine got comfortable on the table in the beach side massage hut. Ian and I, along with Danding, took the rest of the kids kayaking. The two of us with Rebecca were no match for Danding and the boys. It was obvious who had been kayaking all his life and who… had not. The boys thought it was way cool to pass us up even as Ian and I struggled not to whack our oars together and actually keep our arms moving. I should note that Ian hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet and it would prove to be a mistake he’d pay for later. We returned to shore when Katherine was done and she paddled away with Danding while the rest of us played on the shore and noticed schools of fish in the very shallow water. Rebecca ran to my bag where I had stashed bread from the breakfast buffet and we spent a good long time trying to catch a fin. My efforts to fling some onto the shore were fruitless. Rebecca didn’t have any better luck holding bread under water and trying to coax the fish into her hands. It was while we were feeding fish that I noticed Nicholas wasn’t there. He had climbed into a kayak and was paddling himself out to sea. He was easily 30 feet away before I noticed and I do believe he’s a better kayaker than both his parents. He, of course, thought it was hilarious and since the water was so shallow so far out, he could paddle around as much as he wanted. The kids played in the seaweed, splashed around, jumped off kayaks and swam under the brilliant blue sky. The tide was starting to go out when we decided it was time to gather for our beach picnic. It didn’t make sense to change, so we rinsed off the sand as best we could before heading to the dock and took the motorboat to beach around the bend where a barbeque lunch had been set out.
A table for six was all set in the shade and the buffet included grilled shrimp, meat and fish. It was delicious alongside the fresh fruit, vegetables and desserts and while we ate we watched schools moving along the shoreline with small black-tipped sharks circling about. After lunch I lathered sunscreen on the kids again and this time Ian put some on his face as he was starting to turn pink. Nope, nothing on the rest of him yet.
Relaxed after a leisurely lunch and swim, we returned to the dock and prepared for snorkeling. This time we were going to take the bangka to Noa Noa island. Jonathon was totally worn out and it only took a minute of laying his head down on my lap to have him snoring to the breeze and gentle rocking. We reached the very rocky shore and in minutes the kids and Ian were gearing up with fins and masks. Jonathon was still completely zonked out so I put down a wrap in the shade and let him sleep. With nothing else to do, I went snorkeling. Of course I could see him at all times! Well, except for the time my face was underwater. We purchased a disposable water camera and each took turns capturing images under the sea. The coral here was much prettier than by Club Noah, but I have to be honest and say it was not nearly as nice as what we saw in Puerto Galera. Danding brought up a sea anemone and yes, it does sting your finger if you touch it. Not terribly painful, but still an obvious sensation. Our guide also used the camera and took underwater photos of us snorkeling. Nicholas quit early because he cut his hand on a rock and the salt water stung too much. I don’t blame him. With the tide out the coral was very shallow and I think we all bumped into a piece here and there and the mini cuts did sting. Even without the life jackets, we could float easily because of the high salt content. I just hope the photos turn out, because it’ll make a great layout when I scrap them. Did I just say that?
Jonathon slept through it all. When I was done snorkeling, he was in the exact same position and only the sun had moved to cast new shadows along his sprawled body. He didn’t want to wake and took a while to get moving. I don’t think he was sad to have missed snorkeling and an Oreo on the boat brought some life back into him. We shared our package of Double Stuf Oreos with two other little girls on the trip.
We were salty, sandy and generally feeling tired, gross and yet still refreshed. A hot shower was definitely called for and we all scrubbed clean and changed into dry fresh clothes. It’s such a wonderful feeling after being soggy and sticky all day. We meandered down to the end of the resort where a club house on the water was set up for sunset viewing and we sat there soaking in the rays while a guitarist serenaded. There was plenty of live music all weekend, while we were playing pool, eating dinner or just lounging around. Favorites were, of course, Tagalog love songs and classics from the Beatles and John Denver. The kids loved listening to Take Me Home, Country Road. Twilight and we moved back to the main resort to the Rock Bar where we had a private table to view the night sky and be serenaded once more. The boys didn’t like it at all and kept asking to leave. Katherine said it was just like Survivor, even as she asked the guitarist to sing songs by Avril Lavigne. No, he didn’t know any, nor did he know who she was. I’m still trying to figure out the Survivor comment myself.
The boys couldn’t hold out anymore, they didn’t like being in the dark on the side of a hill surrounded by flickering candles and insisted that we leave. It was dinner time anyway so we complied. At the bottom of the stairs we checked out the dining area and saw… nothing. Finally we had to ask and discovered that dinner was being held on the beach. A group of Korean honeymooners had arrived that morning, so the buffet included kimchi and plenty of Korean foods that none of us have taken a liking to. We stayed with the pasta and the delicious desserts. This time, Jonathon made it through the show because of his earlier nap, but Nicholas fell asleep sitting in his chair without eating his cake. Dancing and singing and one number that invited guests to join the performers, so both girls joined in. They were all more than ready for bed again.
11 OCTOBER 2004 – Farewell Club Noah
All weekend our phones were turned off and our watches were in the suitcase. We were led by the position of the sun and the rumbling in our tummies. It was a time to enjoy each other and being a family. Why did we leave so soon? This was a three day weekend but there is a single Sea Air flight to and from Rodriquez “airport” each day. I would have loved to have arrived Friday evening and depart Monday evening, but it couldn’t be done, so we enjoyed the time we had and all felt a sense of sadness when it was time to leave. I know that seems extreme but you have to understand how gorgeous, how peaceful, how fun it was to be there. None of us was prepared to leave.
But it was time to leave and while the resort crew sang a farewell at the dock, we took to our bangka for the departure to the main island of Palawan. We watched our plane land and then took to our seats with our souvenir t-shirts and Katherine’s giant clam shell safely stowed away.
We don’t have much longer in the Philippines, and this weekend truly captivated us with how beautiful the country we have called home for a year and a half, truly is. We’re thankful for having had the opportunity to indulge our senses and we’ll miss it once we’ve gone.