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It was a 3-hour ride from Cebu International Airport to Moalbaoal. Falling in and out of sleep, I kept wondering how much longer it would take before we could stretch our muscles. Then all of a sudden, as I wake from yet another sleep episode, a white walled structure started to emerge from the dry grass that shrouded the landscape. As it started to grow, it turns out to be the only single “A” resort in the whole of Moalboal.
Clean white walls, an immaculate aqua pool, manicured lawns, coupled with a well planned landscaping made for a refreshing feeling. It was so wide open and unrestricted that it was a direct contrast to the confined environment of the car. This was Kasai Village.
Fishes, Corals, and Foreign Instructors
Meeting the owner Mike Pettersson, from Sweden, and Marc Hoffmann, the dive instructor from Luxembourg, was a little disconcerting but a proud moment for me. (When I started to discover how beautiful this country is, I have always carried a chip on my shoulder for being Filipino especially when other nationalities make it their home.) But the awkwardness soon faded into ease simply with the personality of these two totally charming gentlemen. Throw into the mix a gregarious Filipina named Jovy Maquiling, their Marketing Manager, and a party ensues.
But before it becomes heavier, let me talk about something else from the only “A” resort in the whole of Moalboal coastline: the food. (Single “A” is equivalent to 3.5 in the star rating for hotels. Once they finish the pier, their application for “AA” will soon follow, propelling them to 5-star.)
Upon arrival, we were treated to a lei of flowers, welcome drinks, and an acquaintance session. A late lunch was soon to follow. We were guided to the second floor where the sweeping vista was lunch itself, not to mention the breeze. If only words could recreate the breeze…
First, we were treated to crab and corn soup. I must confess I’m not a big soup person, much less a crab and corn soup person. So with much apprehension, I dig my spoon into the soup and started to sip a most savory cream of corn mixed with a sprinkling of crabmeat and even before I could blink my eyes, I finished the entire bowl.
Next came the main course of chicken and squid. Befitting an “A” dive resort, the presentation was not your run of the mill seaside restaurant, but one where the food was not only to enrich one’s palette, it was a visual feast as well. Being a squid fanatic, I was totally giddy when I saw the perfectly broiled meat and the char covered parts of its body. But the ultimate test of a perfectly cooked squid is its tenderness and the richness of its taste. And like every aspect of the resort, it was perfect to the last bite. It was a large squid but surprisingly tender. The taste was exquisite as the rich flavor of the squid melted in my tongue. And to think, I actually had the chicken which was as delightfully flavorful.
But the piece de resistance was a cheesecake that was an epitome of perfection. Firm, a little tart, it was cheesecake paradise! And this was just the first meal for the rest of the stay. The succeeding days saw more spectacular dishes: outstanding was the pork loin in béchamel sauce. The meat was perfect to the bite, and the sauce, despite it being full-bodied, was not overpowering to the taste. Truly a 5-star feast in this “A” dive resort! I later found out that the owner Mike used to be a chef in Sweden and has found a way to cure the local pork to his desired consistency—one that will remain a Kasai Village secret.
The Waltz Starts
Considered the dive center of Cebu, Moalboal has been at the focus of diving in this part of the country for many decades now. I found out that the term ‘moalboal’ is the local term for the word “bubbling water.” It’s because there is a spring or “bukal,” where bubbling water emanates from, but no one can definitely say where it’s located.
Moalboal will not be Moalboal if not for a small fish that we Filipinos love to eat with our rice – Sardines. A 25 minute boat ride from Kasai Village brought me to Pescador Island. Pescador has become famous the world over for this one tiny fish, the sardine. It maybe odd that this tiny thing of a fish can make this island a tourist destination.
But if you have 9 million on them, then indeed it should be considered a tourist destination. So there I was, gingerly floating in the waters of Pescador with all the contraptions of a seasoned diver. After diving for what I thought was a short period of time, I signaled to Marc, my dive instructor, that I wanted to go up as I was feeling tired. When we got to the surface, he unassumingly asked me if I wanted to see sardines. Much as I was ready to give up, I put my mask back on, deflated the BCG and lo and behold, the water that was so clear earlier has turned into a dark ash grey. I almost spat out my regulator because I wanted to shout about how beautiful the site was. Swimming in unison, all I could think of was Johann Straus’ beautiful Blue Danube. I was humming it in my head and for some reason, the sardines were swimming on cue! To say it was hypnotic is an understatement. I stayed, I swam, I hovered, I reached out, I gasped. It was magical.
Carol King and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy
So, I finally saw the famed sardines, and I heard Johann Straus in my head, but little did I know that right in front of the resort, I was going to encounter Beethoven, and not just any Beethoven, it’s his 9th symphony, 4th movement, the famed Ode to Joy. For the unfamiliar, the Ode to Joy sounds like Christ being brought to heaven.
It was 7 am and there was a slight rain. I decided to go snorkeling despite the overcast skies. Putting on my snorkel, mask, and life vest, I plunged into the water of Moalboal right in front of Kasai Village Resort. I started to see familiar fishes and other aquatic life. Then I began to see corals of different colors but interspersed by corals that were grey. I felt let down because it is heartbreaking to see nature devastated either by man or by its natural environment. With trepidation, I decided to move on while hoping that more corals were going to reveal themselves to me. After getting my bearings, I decided to move farther to the left of the resort. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by an explosion of colors. Purple, lilac, orange, magenta, chartreuse, aqua, yellows, they were all vying for my attention. I was in coral heaven, and then Beethoven starts playing in my ear. I was totally dumbfounded by these beautiful corals some of which I have never seen. My favorite was a soft, luminous apple-green coral that I saw for the first time. It was swaying like an old friend waving to me, then it hit me, Carole King—You’ve Got A Friend.
So between bursts of Beethoven and a sprinkling of Carole King I was trying to figure out what to make of this overload of beauty right in front of me. Suffice it to say, when beauty stops you at your tracks, it is indeed sublime.
Moalboal’s Hidden Treasures
But for those who are not into underwater magnificence, Moalboal has many another attractions to offer. Kawasan Falls, which is a short climb in the town of Badian, was truly an experience to be remembered. For the more urbane tourist, there is the Cebu International Golf and Resort. It’s an 8-hectare 18-hole golf course that is nothing short of world class. Then there are the many caves for spelunking, a place for canyoneering, and Mt. Kanlaon, just across Kasai Village. So whether up, down, or even sideways, Moalboal has its treasure trove of surprises.
Aside from the treasure nature gave Kasai, she has one that is all her own — the four hand massage. Of course, in order for me speak of it, I had to experience it.
Inside a hut made of bamboo at the edge of the resort, I was asked to lie on my stomach by two beguiling lasses. Never having experienced a massage by two people, I thought, “This is going to be interesting.” They first start by covering my prone body with a cotton blanket that was cool to the touch. It was funny because each masseuse stood on each side of the massage table but the way the blanket covered me was like clock work. They picked up the blanket at the same time. They laid the blanket on me the same time. And if I didn’t know any better, I would think that there was only one person doing everything. As they started the massage it was so uncanny because the pressure they exerted, both left and right, were the same. The time they took for each stroke was the same, they even lifted their fingers at the same time. And before I knew it, I was laying on the bed and everybody has gone! I thought I laid there for 5 minutes but I actually missed dinner because no one wanted to wake me up! How’s that for experiencing bliss?
Mike told me that Kasai Village’s tagline is “Come as a Guest, Leave as a Friend.” It started out as a swaying waltz, but once it reached its crescendo, it was a full-blown symphony. But in the end, as Carol King reminds us, we all have a friend. Kasai Village has made sure Moalboal lived up to Carol King’s ditty.