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"When writing about places I’ve been to, I tend to focus on what could have gone wrong, what did go wrong and what should have gone wrong, but for the grace of the Gods. This is not due to a pessimistic nature, but because in my opinion, this is where the entertainment is. It may also be why hotels aren’t falling over themselves for me to review them!



Christy Powell
© 2013 Christy Powell. All rights reserved

Amanpulo – Philippines

Jumped in a taxi driven by a dude who goes by the name of Ronaldo Bravo – couldn’t make it up if you tried. The Italian is at Manila’s domestic airport to meet me looking fresh, lean, clear eyed and fully detoxed. He’s bouncing off the walls with new found energy and excitement and it’s catching. I give him a squeeze and try to feel uninhibited joy that he is feeling and looking so good. He has been at The Farm – a detox, health centre set in a tranquil coconut plantation a couple of hours outside Manila – worth a visit, apparently. I haven’t been there yet, but when I do, I’ll do a full report. What I do know is that you are given no food for a week and have to suffer regular coffee colonics which is probably the reason I’m holding off.

A bit of advice

Do not forget your sunglasses. Seriously, you will be blinded, no question. The sand is just too white and the reflection of the sun on it will burn your pupils out and it will all be over. If you have forgotten your favorite sarong or only brought bikini tops, and forgotten the bottoms or left behind your contraceptive pill and already have seven children, these are not big deals compared to no shades – do not forget them please, it’s critical.

Before entering the one room terminal, we are asked to stand on some weighing scales. Yes, you heard correctly. We are going to be weighed and not privately either but in front of everybody. What is worse is that before the weighing-in of each person is recorded, it is shouted out because the weigher and the record keeper are different people and for some reason the record keeper is sitting at a table a good two metres away. If this is enough for you right there and you decide there’s no way in hell you can go on this holiday, my sympathies are with you entirely. Every instinct in my body was telling me to bolt, bolt, bolt.

Food

What can I say? – it isn’t bad but then when did you last go out to your favorite Filipino restaurant? However, the winelist is EXCELLENT.

Being publicly weighed is a bad moment for anyone but worse for those who know that, had they been given just a few days notice, they could easily have done a juice fast, or at the very least, not eaten the entire box of complimentary dried mangos in Ronaldo’s car on the way.

Horror turns to a deep-seated dread when I see that my fellow passengers are being made to stand on the scales WITH their hand luggage – it’s not possible! ‘I try to catch The Italian’s eye to signal to him to take it from me but he has moved two places in front, eager to show off his new, featherlight self. I stand there, alone and fearful, and I know how Oliver Twist must have felt going to ask for more porridge – the outcome is going to be bad but there is no choice but to step forward. “Please can I just take my kindle and camera out?’ I ask the weighing-in guy who I swear can’t be more than eight years old. I give my sweetest smile and this really is quite sweet. I can actually squeeze out a few dimples when I need to. “sorry mam” all bubbles and cartoon cuteness “we need you to keep hold of your possessions. “How about my lip balm? I think it might be more than 100ml?” It’s a Kiel’s and it says clearly on the side that it is only 11.5ml but I’m hoping, on account of his age, that he just might not be able to read yet.

“Sorry mam, we need you need to keep hold of your possessions”.

“Ok, that’s fine but there’s some stuff in here that isn’t mine, I’m sure.” I fumble around inside my bag, blindly fingering each item to ascertain what is what and what might be discardable .

“Baby just get on the bloody scales for God’s sake, no one gives a shit how much you weigh.” The Italian has appeared back to see what is taking me so long. He’s holding a San Pelegrino and looks utterly carefree.

I ignore him and continue with the search– Invisible Zinc face cream (essential), Smythson’s notebook (not essential but plan to become notetaker type person so don’t want to give it up), tube of Mentoes (important for equalizing ear drums during flight), eyemask, beach shoes, sunglasses, nail file, rose scented tissues, Jo Malone eau de toilette in Vetiver and then I strike gold. My fingers have folded around something completely alien; something that is definitely not mine and, what’s more, it weighs a great deal. It’s a rather nice, well worn, Dunhill wallet, very familiar but absolutely not mine. I look at this heavy, bulging thing with the same level of incredulity that one might give a gremlin on discovering it has been camping out in your luggage. I hold it triumphantly in the air for all to see, evidence that my concern about this whole procedure was justified. I had been well and truly sabotaged “Yours, I believe” I say as I hand it over to my slightly less smug other half. I make sure everyone sees what is going on. He has deliberately tried to hide his wallet in my bag so that he weighs less. It is shameful. I pause for a second, just in case anyone wants to clap at my victory over women’s rights but it is silent, so I step forward onto the scales but with my head held high, confident that I weigh a lot less now than I would have done, had I not had my wits about me. There is a bit of an embarrassing kerfuffle as The Italian has to be re-weighed and we are ushered into the weighting area.

The humiliation over and we are loaded into one of those terrifyingly small Cesna Caravan, propellor planes. I know these have a great safety track record, or so I’m told, but they still scare the pants off me.

The flight time is about 1 hour and I am white-knuckled for every minute of it. My fear is not eased when the pilot announces that the landing might be a bit bumpy because there is a 27 knot cross wind! I actually have no idea if 27 knots is a lot or not but my fear is confirmed when suddenly we drop what feels like a thousand feet and the woman in front of me starts praying. I think it’s going to be a Hudson moment but amazingly we make it onto the runway and we are safely spewed out onto the tarmac on the beautiful island of Palawan .

Watch out for typhoons

We are talking roof-ripping, house-tearing, lorry-hurling, lamppost-impaling type storms, and they occur, on average, FIVE times a year. When a Filipino tells you that her mother was blown away the other day she does not mean that her mother was told something that really amazed her.

Amanpulo is a very slickly run hotel. Somehow, the ground staff know who’s who as you disembark which I think is quite impressive. You’re then taken off in your own private golf buggy and whisked to your casita (little house) all within minutes of touchdown – my kinda airport! It reminds me of fantasy island without the cheese factor and the little guy.

Just as we’re walking up the little private path to what is to be our home for the next three days, a crocodile masquerading as a lizard runs across the path. “Fucking hell, it’s a Komodo Dragon!!!!!” I turn and try and jump onto The Italian to get myself off the ground, but he isn’t ready and I bounce off his chest and go splat on the floor. Jessica, our personal guest service manager is making a gallant effort not to laugh as she explains that these are not Komodos but some totally harmless brand of lizard – not convinced.

Drama is almost forgotten as we enter the blissful tranquility of our casita. Seriously, you’re going to love this place. It’s gorgeous and secluded and just set back from the most beautiful beach I’ve seen in all of Asia. The sand is talcum powder soft and as white as chalk with a turquoise, translucent sea gently lapping the shores – paradise.

I’m going to tell you what happened next even though I’m sure you’ll think I’m making it up. We’d been in the sea for less than five minutes when suddenly the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen in my life, by miles, casually swims past. It’s so surreal I think it must have been planted there to please the guests and is actually a pet of the owners, but this is not the case. This is a real, live, non domesticated, gigantic turtle and it ‘s right beside us. The Italian shouts “grab it!” and we go after it, swimming alongside and feeling like something out of Blue Lagoon.

Language

The Filipino language is called Tagalog. It is very soft and bubbly sounding. If fish could speak, I’m sure it would be in Tagalog. If Nemo had spoken with a Filipino accent and slipped into the occasional bit of Tagalog – that would have been an Oscar right there. I am amazed no one has thought of this? There is a sweetness and innocence to their voice that is very appealing and heart-warming. They also all look a good ten years younger than they are which can be deceptive or even disconcerting. The girl at the passport check at Manila’s International airport looked about eleven. When she handed me back my passport I found myself saying “well done, you did really well.”

Out of all the Aman’s I’ve been to, which is about five, this is my favorite so far. They’re got it really right. The service is impeccable without being over-the-top, the accommodation is beautiful, without being overly grand and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Guests are looked after extremely well without being made to feel over precious. If I was to pick anywhere in Asia for a romantic mini-break, this would be it. It is truly sensational, so much so that The Italian and I have been back four times. Having said that, it is not a place I would recommend for more than a week as there’s not a huge amount to do here. It’s predominantly a place to come to to do nothing which is great if that is what you’re signed up for. If on the other hand you need action, there’s tennis, scuba diving and sailing.

Something that might seem tempting but I would really recommend against is bonking on the floating bar. When one is on the bar, it looks like no one can see you and therefore the idea of a shag seems both natural and inviting. Please, do not be deceived into thinking you cannot be seen, you CAN and you WILL and it is terribly embarrassing when you return to the mainland and the entire Beach bar has seen you . It is very, very difficult to maintain dignity after this and it would be a shame to have to cut your holiday short as a result.

Other things that are good fun but not advertised in the brochure are racing the golf buggies along the runway at night and lying on the beach at the end of the runway at the same time that the plane comes into land.

The best time of year to come is November – February. However, the month of May is when there is the most sealife. If you canoe around the island during this month you can see masses of baby turtles under the water, sticking their heads out of the sand. There are also stingrays and baby sharks but you do risk some quite dodgey weather. Personally, I don’t see why they can’t chuck some extra sealife in during the dry season – for the price you pay it doesn’t seem such a big ask.

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