Henrylito D. Tacio describes an idyllic beach resort in the south of Philippines that has a history of cultivating white-lipped oysters for pearls.
Davao, 20 February 2017. You read it in the newspapers. You’ve seen it in television sets. Photos of it have been shared in the social media. And people who have been to the place have various descriptions: beautiful, enigmatic, exotic, mesmerising, and world-class, to name a few. But does Pearl Farm Beach Resort on the Island Garden City of Samal really deserve those accolades?
To find an answer to that question, my aunt Aida Day – together with her son, Carl Jr. and wife Tina – visited the resort recently. They came all the way from the United States. The last time my aunt came to the country was almost 15 years ago, while Carl Jr. was only a little boy when he came for the first time.
Also with us on our aquaculture tourism discovery were my aunt, Lydia and a guest from Cebu, Bennie Revecho.
“I have been to various beach resorts in the United States and I think Pearl Farm can be compared to those in Florida,” my aunt Aida pointed out. Her son, who had just been to Ecuador, echoed the same observation. “My wife and I enjoyed it here,” he said. “I think this is the highlight of our visit in the Philippines.”
Indeed, the breeding ground for Daniel Aguinaldo’s white-lipped oyster in the past is now a haven for people who want to be far from the madding crowd and enjoy the beauty of the nature and the clean underwater environment.
Since it was opened to the public in 1992, the 14-hectare aquatic hideaway is already a must-visit beach resort not only in Davao Region but throughout the country. “This exquisite place in Davao is what you call paradise on earth,” hailed Joseph “Ace” Durano when he was still the head of the Department of Tourism.
“Nestled on the quiet west coast of Samal Island, it has a dominating view over the Gulf of Davao, neighbouring Talikud and Malipano Islands and the majestic Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines,” said the resort’s briefer.
One of the famous landmarks of the resort is the three-tiered Parola wharf (named after the local term for lighthouse), which was once a lookout post for strangers who were not welcome on the island, back in the days when it was still an aquaculture farm for pearls. Newly-renovated, it’s not air-conditioned and you can drink your favorite beer or gin while talking to your friends or companions.
Equally attention grabbing are the six luxurious two-storey Muslim-inspired Samal Suites. Each suite provides versatile family accommodation on two levels, a private beach and a veranda overlooking the sea and private stairs leading to the water.
On the upper portion of the Samal Suites are the Hilltop Rooms that open onto a veranda overlooking the Davao Gulf and lush forest. It is called balay, the local dialect for home.
Located on the center part of the resort are the Samal Houses, patterned after the stilt houses of sea faring Samal tribes of the Sulu Archipelago. Built on the water, each house offers westward views of the sea, sunset, Mount Apo and surrounding islands that can very easily endure long daydreams.
Walking further from the Samal Houses are duplex-type bungalows called Mandaya Houses. Sit among the palm trees, each has its own pocket garden and individual private balcony facing the beautifully kept white sand beach and the magnificent Southern Mindanao sunset.
A few hundred metres off the beach resort is the Malipano Island, which is the site of seven exclusive villas. All waterfront bungalows were designed by world-renowned Architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa, inspired by the stilt houses of the Sulu Sea using strictly native materials such as bamboo, coconut and yakal.
Don’t worry about food. The newly-renovated Maranao Restaurant features scrumptious Filipino dishes and enticing international cuisine with fresh seafood specialties prepared by its food connoisseur.
Those who want to bring some pasalubong (local souvenirs) can go to Butik, a shop near the frontdesk that offers a variety of local handicrafts, native outfits, and even the latest in trendy beachwear.
Pearl Farm is a mere 45-minute boat ride from Pearl Farm Davao Marine wharf. All guests are advised to strictly follow the regular boat transfers.
“Surely, I will recommend this resort to my friends out there in the United States,” said my satisfied aunt.
The History of Pearl Farm Beach Resort
It all started in 1958. While visiting the tranquil and exotic Samal Island, wealthy businessman and ecologist Daniel Aguinaldo discovered a secluded cove with crystal-clear turquoise of waters that was an idyllic place for raising oysters.
From Sulu Sea, Aguinaldo airlifted twelve thousand white-lipped oysters, which were cultivated for their pink, white and gold pearls. “Apart from producing pearls, Aguinaldo preoccupied himself with conserving the natural beauty of the forests and the surrounding steep mountain vistas on the island,” wrote David Hodges in an article which appeared in Mabuhay, the inflight magazine of Philippine Airlines.
When the wealthy Floirendo family bought the area, they didn’t know what to do with it. In the past, they used it as a recreational haven during weekends for family members and friends. Pushed on by friends, they soon realized the potential of the place as a resort.
To carry on the astounding work started by Aguinaldo, they called it Pearl Farm Beach Resort. The name was adopted also as sort of a reminder of its former glory as a foster home for fastidious oysters whose survival depended upon an ultra-clean environment.
Today, this aquatic hideaway in the Island Garden City of Samal has been called “paradise on earth.”
Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
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