Saturday, May 4, 2019

Eskapo Verde Resort in Badian, Cebu: (Throw)back to Nature

The boardwalk/elevated view deck above the atubs
The birdsong was lilting and very much singsong, rousing me up before my iPhone alarm clock rang at 5:45am (too early for me!) following our first day in Eskapo Verde Resort in Badian, Cebu.  The compulsion to look and shoot the bird was strong.   Yesterday, while on the course of completing our first day group exercises/activities, I keep getting distracted by the birds, mostly trilling somewhere above our heads when we go outdoors, or perched on a branch or wire just outside the conference hall windows.  I would later find out that the birdsong was by a Pied Triller (thanks Alice (Villa-Real of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines)) and I had lucked out in finding one by accident perched on a tree above the restaurant and shooting it for posterity.  (Click here to listen to Romy Ocon's Youtube video of a Pied Triller calling)

The invitation to give a talk in Cebu was a very welcome one. An opportunity to travel, of course; but also to try something rather new.    When my friend, Yassie Arquiza, Senior Manager for Communications and Events of RARE Philippines told me of the Eskapo Verde venue in Badian, Cebu, my curiosity got piqued.    Browsing through their website got me thinking more about the place, sort of like Robinson Crusoe-sque but with modern touches.   Did the experience live up to expectations?
Serene sunset on our first day in Badian
Well, the actual experience exceeded my expectations.   First, I must say kudos to the triumvirate (Alain, Simon and their Filipino partner whose name I forgot; my bad!) for their daring, their guts, to come up with an eco resort that doesn't mess up with the word "eco".  As most of us travelers can attest to, there are quite a lot of places that promises "eco-friendliness" but fall way short or worse, fall flat on their implementation.  Not so with this one.  A word of caution though for the tourist whose reason for traveling is to find creature comforts away from home.   Too wimpy to walk on the dirt path from cottage to restaurant, parking lot to reception?  Too attached to hot showers and air conditioning?   Too steeped in the noise of the city so as to be bothered by birdsong in the mornings and deep silence come evenings?   Perhaps, this resort is not for you.

It takes guts, lots of it actually, to open a resort like this.  I told Simon Wright, the British co-owner and 1/3 of the multinational triumvirate, as much when I got the chance to chat with him during a sunset hour.  Having been here in the Philippines for over 40 years, he had much to say about their facilities, about the deliberateness in their offerings.  In lieu of un-eco-friendly air conditioning, the cottages are built using largely bamboo and other kinds of wood; ceiling fans and windows for every bed in the cottages bring in ventilation.   The cottages as well as the conference hall and restaurant are surrounded by trees, most of which have grown tall during the five years it took to construct the resort.   If you're keen on details, you'd notice the finer points of the place, very organic and naturally put together -- the sawali and woven bamboo slats used for the walls; the papag floors that invite one to go barefoot; the individual reading lights for each bed (a must for bedside readers like me); the structures built on stilts with a silong (space under the house which was standard in the native house of old).
Reading with a view
To begin with, there's a meandering bamboo path from the parking area to the reception office and cottages, some 100-120 feet that calls to my mind a Nobedan path -- stone steps in Japanese gardens which force the walker to slow down and be mindful and meditative of every step even as he/she is greeted by bird calls emanating from behind and above the surrounding trees.

Here's another touch largely borrowed from the houses of olden times:  to take a shower or answer the call of nature, you go out to a nearby outhouse (there are two); the left wing is for the guys, the right for the women.   There is no hot water (this is a tropical country for God's sake, Simon said) but the water is usually warm; besides, there's really no need for hot water anyway.   Amply screened windows let in the breeze and the birdsong.  I vividly recall washing up to the sound of birds tweeting in the nearby trees just outside the outhouse.

Some of the trees carry identification and one of the mindgames I played going around the resort was to try and remember the local names -- Buta-Buta, Morinda, Langitngit, et al.   Really fascinating or maybe I'm such a nerd.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, "You cannot love what you do not know."   Hence, this innate need to know which tree is which, not just to label the whole lot as "trees" because each one is different.   Just ask the birds, they can tell which ones they prefer.
 

Pied Triller
Heading for the kayaking or stand up paddle boarding area, I got lost twice.  But those were interesting diversions as it's mighty interesting to look up the label of trees and shrubs along the way.    The watersports shed is manned by the friendly manager, Demar, assisted by Pedong; it leads to the boardwalk/elevated view deck that extends halfway to the mangroves by the small islet to the northwest of the resort.   

Since I made up my mind not to leave the resort without kayaking, I made arrangements early on.   Pedong showed me some of the highlights in and around the mangroves including the fresh water stream where it meets the Badian bay before heading to the open water further away.    There are older growth mangroves farther from the shore, complementing the shorter ones around the coast which have grown back after years of recovering from unwarranted cutting by the locals (mainly used as cooking firewood).  Sighting Pescador Island off Moalboal in the distance (5 km away according to Simon), I would've loved to kayak all the way there especially in the relatively calm sea conditions.  Next time, I really intend to do that.
White Collared Kingfisher
Simon later showed me the numerous atubs (meter-deep fish nurseries covered with rocks to protect spawning fishes and juveniles from predators) in and around the boardwalk periphery.    Bamboo poles mark different atubs which would be appropriated to the construction crew as a source of livelihood after completion of their work on the resort as well as some for the care and stewardship of the nearby barangays.  I must say the choice of venue for the RARE Philippines event was but apt, if it was not serendipitous.  The resort, built on limestone terrain and filled with mangroves and other trees, is literally, a showcase, a living lab for the environment, if not for sustainability.
Striated Heron hiding behind a buoy on Lambug Beach
I wouldn't deny the fact that due to the balmy weather when we were in Badian, I had a bit of difficulty settling to sleep on the second night.  I thought I may have made a mistake choosing the lower bed.   Maybe IMHO, a fan for the lower level of the double deckers would be a good idea during the summer months.   Ditto, an option to use grass mats instead of the foam mattress to line the beds.

As for the food offerings, I seem to have the impression that the restaurant's main strength and draw are the vegetable dishes, especially those prepared/simmered in coconut milk/gata.   The native treats/kakanins are also excellent (too bad, wasn't able to sample the halo-halo).  Oh, not to forget, the view is lovely any hour of the day but most especially during sunset when the sun puts up a fiery spectacle before settling down behind the mountain range of Bacolod. 

To sum up, Eskapo Verde Resort is a (throw)back to nature.  A destination that's short on rhetoric but  really lives up to its promise of low-impact, sustainable, tourism.  In an age where tourists are largely indoctrinated to keep looking for creature comforts away from home,  I guess that maybe, this place is not really for every Juan.  But to the guest with an appreciation of a more natural interaction with well, Mother Nature and a desire to tread lightly, it's a godsend.

Postscript:
It's rare when the conversation between guest and resort owner turns sort of metaphysical and it doesn't sound so weird:   Me:  "Who's to say (pointing to the schools of fishes emerging from the atubs at sunset time) these are brutes and primitives?   They know so many things we don't"   Simon:  "Well, they sense the fading light, the drop in air pressure, that it's time to feed again."   A naturalist will indeed, feel at home here.
Fishermen dot the horizon
INFORMATION:
Eskapo Verde Resort
Website:  www.eskapoverde.com
Address:  Santander - Barili - Toledo Rd, Barangay Bugas, Badian, 6031 Cebu
Contact Numbers:  +63 928 740 4182 (Smart) • +63 915 465 8085 (Globe)

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