Crimson Mactan: A Retreat of Playful Surprises

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Maybe it was the light jazz music playing in the background. That always seems to bring out the best conversations. But it could’ve well been the dimmed lighting, or the fact that, aside from our two fantastic servers, who seemed to know in advance our every whim, we had the room all to ourselves – our little corner over candlelight. The words were effortless, almost coaxed out into an exchange of laughter, and more importantly, some light flirtation. On the verge of our fourth year as a couple, and a looming wedding on the horizon, so much has been spent reminiscing on the past, contemplating the road ahead, and too little just enjoying a playful exchange. This was precisely what we needed.

Where did all the time go? The early days are still so vivid, the late night exchanges, the awkward dance of testing each other’s boundaries. The excitement of taking risks, the fear of rejection all bundled together in a box of a thrill-seeker’s dream. Plenty of things have changed since then. There’s a beautiful familiarity and comfort that comes only from the acceptance that even the most gorgeous human specimens pass gas. And they do it in your presence, unapologetically, while watching Mean Girls on TV. But while that closeness, something possible only through a careful nurturing, brings an invaluable foundation, it often breeds an inevitable routine – an unassuming monotony that seeps in unseen.

Perhaps it was the attempt to describe just how pristinely fresh the smoked salmon was, or the fact that the tiramisu that followed was hands down the most delectable in our years on this planet, that spurred our trajectory away from the usual suspects of exchange. Instead of how the day went, or what our plans were, this was our only pressing concern for the evening. Somehow, extremely underdressed, and light-years away from our comfort zone of casual settings, we’d wandered into one of the Philippine’s finest restaurants, an award-winning display of Mactan’s culinary pride. Had I been with anybody else, maybe I would have pretended to know which knife or fork was for what dish. As it turned out, I still had some brilliant ignorance yet to be laid bare.

It was the perfect end to quite a day. It had been raining all week, but it had let up at just the right times to allow us to experience Crimson the way it should be enjoyed. We briefly entertained the idea of a nightcap at the Score Sports Bar, but  there weren’t any pool tables available. It was probably for the best. It seemed unlikely we’d top our little tête-à-tête at Tempo, and the idea was to end the day at the highest possible point. Besides, pushing it on six hours of sleep over the last two days couldn’t bring too much good.

I almost felt it was a travesty to even suggest that dinner was even more of a pleasure than our introduction to the resort earlier in the afternoon. With the beach as our visual, the sun coming out to play, some light house music over the speakers, and Chef Godfrey Laforteza’s wide array of specialties tickling the nostrils and teasing the palate, it was a party for the senses – a stunning welcome to a part of Cebu I’d yet to experience. Unlike Tabitha, this was my first foray at Crimson Mactan. But like me, this was her first time getting acquainted with the newest addition, Azure Beach Club.

Starting with some perfectly seared tuna tataki and a delectable citron-cured salmon carpaccio, I was on the moon that I’d just recently started appreciating the vast world of seafood. Topped with a crispy wanton salad with grilled chicken, we dug in perhaps a little too zealously, prompting a reminder that there was still more on the way. More seafood delights followed, with garlic noodles and rock scallops, and the necessary king prawns. To add a bit of variety, we were also treated to some savory offerings, with the braised lamb shank and a special pork loin – the sauce of which left the taste buds in a perpetual state of being right on the edge of pinpointing the flavor. Stuffed to the brim and still trying to navigate the flurry of sensations, dessert surfaced – a Sichuan crème brulee and a wood oven baked apple tarte tatin, both served with ice cream. Immediately our appetites reemerged, a final nail in the coffin to our newly formed commitment to avoid sugar and anything other than greens and lean meat. There wasn’t even any post-meal shame.

A quick stroll around the sprawling property seemed the most appropriate way to work off lunch’s exploits. Like us, the rest of the hotel guests were maximizing the sun’s presence for the afternoon. Couples in matching rash guards, their next generation in equally coordinated attire, splashed about in the water. Some Korean youngsters were locked in the Kids’ Amazing Race, looking slightly bemused by the language barrier brought about by their brightly dressed Crimzone facilitators. Their mothers, who were just as engaged, were finding the ordeal hilarious, the disconnect offering a comedic respite from the day’s water adventures. Equally amusing was the emergence of the pool aerobics session that was starting up. The Director of Fun, as he’s called, was standing at the edge of the pool, enthusiastically taking the day’s participants through his playful routine – some seriously tuned in, others just looking to get goofy. I felt a serious urge to contribute to the atmosphere, but a quick glance at my companion made it clear I’d have to enjoy it in a solo capacity.

We eventually ended up in the water, soaking up the sunset with a quick refreshing dip, oblivious to the fact that just a couple of hours later, we’d be embarking on another culinary masterclass, garnished with our own delectable back-and-forth. While such pleasant surprises are best encountered without any foresight, the next day’s shock wasn’t as ideal. Had I known I’d be waking up to a ferocious fever, maybe we would’ve pushed my lack of sleep aside and lingered a little longer over dinner, maybe indulged in a curious cocktail, instead of saving it up for the next day.

On the upside, despite my illadvised stretching of my body’s limit leading to being mostly debilitated and robbed of my taste buds, we were upgraded to a garden villa and later treated to a delightful hour and a half at the AUM Spa for a traditional Philippine hilot . Sure, I couldn’t join Tabitha in our little private pool, but the view certainly wasn’t something to complain about. And while dinner was restricted to room service, somehow Crimson’s staff had found out that this particular day marked our 47th month together as a couple, and sent over a complimentary cake – ensuring my condition wouldn’t be an excuse to put off celebrations. It hadn’t panned out as the spectacular second day of water sports and gastronomic discoveries I’d imagined, but there it was again – a pleasant surprise to end an eventful day, filled with playful exchanges in between sweaty naps and searing headaches.

Positively miserable, shivering on the plane ride home, I mustered a smile. Physical condition aside, we’d been treated to the perfect retreat, an opportunity to simply enjoy the unexpected twists and turns of the last two days, and a commitment to, in the not too distant future, revisit our little candlelit corner of delightful food and mischievous conversation.

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