Viewed from Lagen Island, which affords the traveler the best vantage, Pangulasian Island appeared to me quite out-of-place yet perfectly in place. Unlike the stand-out limestone islands of Bacuit Bay and the El Nido area, northwest of Palawan, Pangulasian is not made of the same deep and dark, million years old, imposing rocks. If anything, Pangulasian looks like a little hill, playfully afloat in the middle of the bay. I asked El Nido Resort’s environmental officer Jamie Dichaves right away if it could be trekked by nonclimbers like myself, and she said “yes.” Right then and there I wanted a boat ride to get there.
I would learn later that I am not the first to be lured by this inviting vibe of Pangulasian. As I would hear from resident manager Lei Policarpio, guests from the other El Nido Resorts who get to pass by the island tend to decide to stay once they get a peek of what Pangulasian has in store – especially once they learn that being a Pangulasian guest gives them access to all the rest of the facilities, amenities, and island beach clubs of all the other El Nido Resorts (Lagen Island Resort and Miniloc Island Resort) in Bacuit Bay. Lagen and Miniloc guests may not be given instant access to Pangulasian, but Pangulasian is the traveler’s ultimate El Nido doorway. It may not be an accident after all for Pangulasian to be the center of attraction this side of Palawan.
It’s got what’s hot
Pangulasian, in the local Cuyunin dialect, means pagpapawis in Tagalog, or sweating. It is the hottest among all the Bacuit Bay islands, given its central position in the bay and the quality of soil it has, reddish and metallic. Hence, the ground being marked with pinkish and reddish stones, and conducive to the growth of plants and hard wood such as mangkono (ironwood), duhat (jambul), macopa (love apple) and antipolo (jackfruit) trees. It has therefore not been an easy task for the locals and the rest of the El Nido workers to build from the grounds of the island, with temperatures that often tested their working conditions. Construction lasted for three years, and it was only last year, on October 15, that Pangulasian finally opened. The very first guests were a couple from Taiwan who had the island all to themselves.
Since then and in only just a short time, Pangulasian has launched offerings to its guests that no other El Nido Resort can give. Its white sand beach alone stretches at nearly 800 meters. It allows guests exclusive access to a recently opened Palawan mainland white beach, the Pagauanen Beach, which is just across Pangulasian’s beach front. While this beach is already open to Pangulasian guests for team building functions and beach-to-beach kayaking, it will further be enhanced to become Pangulasian’s own, exclusive beach club for private dinners and sports activities such as open court tennis, biking and hiking. Jamie even told me that there are Pangulasian guests who have done open water swimming from Pangulasian to Pagauanen, and with the bike trail which would be set up soon in Pagauanen, mini-triathlon events could even be possibly hosted by Pangulasian in the future.
Pangulasian’s beach is also the best El Nido spot for windsurfing, having the best breezes and just the right kind of waves, again, owing to the island’s strategic central location in the bay. For those who prefer seeing marine life, the island is the prime place for shark watching. Black tip reef sharks can be seen by snorkeling, or by simply hanging out at the beach every early morning. When I asked if these sharks are dangerous, Jamie assured me they are shy. Pangulasian guests can relax; even the wild marine life around the island will not touch them.
It’s got the best
Ayala Land’s partnership with El Nido Resorts in developing Pangulasian shows in the luxurious suites of the island. This resort is the first that Ayala Land has built from scratch, says Lei. It’s no surprise that the company saw to it how the structures that rose must bear the Ayala imprint – classy, cutting-edge, aesthetic and eco-friendly.
Pangulasian’s accommodations consists of 24 beach villas, eight canopy villas, six pool villas and the masterful Kalaw Villa. The beach villas are situated parallel to the island’s long stretch of beach, giving occupants of these villas easy access to the waters for snorkeling. The canopy villas are the highest villas in the island, towering to as high as 18 meters above the ground, affording occupants the best views of the bay. The pool villas each have their own pool verandas, with each pool measuring 22 square meters. Meanwhile, the Kalaw Villa is a cluster of four villas possessing a cluster living space, infinity pool and an open-air lounge area.
All villas are similarly designed, with hut-shaped roofs, nipa (woven palm leaf) ceilings, dark brown hardwood flooring, and sliding panels or glass windows – it’s the view that makes each villa unique. At the center of each room is a full bed with white cotton sheets and feather pillows. Modern conveniences and special treats abound: 36-inch wide flat screen TVs that swivel; mini bars decked with coffee machine espresso capsules, beers, energy drinks, non-fat milk, cookies, chips and dried fruit and nut; marble bathrooms as wide as 18 to 22 square meters; freebies of bamboo pens and buri (woven) bags and wide-brimmed hats, with the resort staff even soon to ask guests their foot sizes in advance, so they can custom-made the freebie woven slippers.
the-spot, such as the feast he laid down before us: octopus ceviche with tropical fruit salsa and stir-fired seaweed; steamed herb-crusted salamin-salamin (moonfish) fillet in sweet carrot sauce; and flourless chocolate cake topped with Pangulasian-made ice cream. For spa lovers, their most luxurious Pangulasian Haven Ritual, lasting 3 and a half hours, will pamper guests through a herbal foot bath, a coffee and coconut body scrub, a papaya body wrap, a citrus bath, an aromatherapy massage, concluded with an Algo-Intense Care facial.
The island’s electric-solar powered buggies can transport guests to almost anywhere in the resort. For the gym buffs, they got Kinesis gym machines and yoga classes. Being a keen checker of libraries, I saw that theirs is the one filled with the best titles such as poetry by Dante, fiction by Edith Wharton and Isaac Asimov, and photography books by George Tapan. Their kids game room even come with babysitter services, and they ask you right away if your baby is quite talkative or rambunctious, so they can ready an articulate English-speaking babysitter from El Nido town. While the parents do their island hopping and island hiking, the kids can busy themselves with grooving to Just Dance in the game room’s X-Box, which Jamie and I just had to test in one of our rounds. Call it cooling-down from our ascent to the best El Nido treat there is – a 360-degree view of the entire Bacuit Bay.
The island stares back
Guests in Pangulasian have two ideal hiking options to the top of the island: a sunrise or a sunset hike. These are the best times, with the temperatures in the island being at their lowest. A sunrise hike is normally held around 5:30 AM, depending on the actual time of projected sunrise which staff daily monitor from the weather advisories. As for the sunset hike, the time of which is also based on news advisories, these may or may not be held when the sunset would be too late, so as not to have descending hikers disturb the nocturnals in the forest.
And because asianTraveler is special just like Pangulasian, and after I assured Jamie I can hack it, I was allowed to go through the forest with her for a mid-noon climb.
If only all forest trails were like that of Pangulasian’s, I may finally drop all my hesitation about getting into trail-running. The trail we took was no-joke, I felt the gradual incline test my legs and breathing early on, but it was pretty solid, and I was able to enjoy taking in the view of the ironwood all around, and occasionally stopping with Jamie who identified bird sounds for me. I did not have to worry about stepping on and tripping on loose huge rocks and rolling down away back to the beach. And while Jamie said there’s actually a sharp, steep and rocky trail which can be taken on by more adventurous hikers, I was happy enough on the path we took. As much as I find risk appealing, I want to be able to see things as I stride along. And on that trail, even while panting, I was grateful that I was able to hold my head high and not be troubled by my steps, grateful that I was seeing all there is to see.
I took in a deep breath before I climbed up the wooden view deck on top. Don’t look around yet, teased Jamie, so for a few moments, to surprise myself, I kept my gaze on my steps again as I went up the deck. Then, as I reached the platform, I lifted my face and looked around – the whole of Bacuit Bay, El Nido’s islands in full glory, basking in the sun and afloat the deep blue waters, were all around me. There was the dive spot Popolcan Island; Miniloc’s beach club island and rock-climbing spot Entalula; Dilumacad Island with the underwater tunnel and coral reefs; the bay’s largest island Cadlao; the dive site called Twin Rocks; Miniloc Island with its big and small lagoons; Shimizu Island for snorkeling; Turtle Island, the nesting site of the endangered green sea and hawksbill sea turtles; Pagauanen Beach on Palawan mainland; Vigan or Snake Island with its curvaceous sandbar; Pinagbuyutan Island, called the rock sentinel of Bacuit Bay; and Lagen Island, from where I first saw this emerald hill of an island I am standing on.