Bloody Mary singing about Bali Hai in the Broadway play and subsequent Hollywood movie “South Pacific” made us dream of islands in the sun, islands in the mist, an island paradise:
“If you try you’ll find me, where the sky meets the sea. Here am I your very special island/ Come to me, come to me.”
The woman had seen it and her eyes and song made the GI boys forget they were at war.
With its more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines has a bounty of Bali Hais. But one of the most accessible island experiences can be found just off Davao City, where a five- to seven-minute boat ride brings one to Paradise Island Resort on the Island Garden City of Samal. One can even swim to the island to prove one’s daring, as some have, but that’s another story for the sports page.
The Tourism Department’s new come-on slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” could very well apply to Samal Island’s many offerings that continue to draw both local and foreign visitors. Samal, was once one of Mindanao’s best kept secrets, but not anymore.
Thanks to its location, Paradise Island Resort has become a popular destination for people seeking the “life’s a beach” experience. Because it is right smack across Davao City, the resort is accessible via boat services that are available every few minutes during the day till late at night. Guests can even leave their cars at the dock’s parking lot before boarding the boat. The place is so close to the city one need not worry about being marooned should a proverbial hurricane blows, if at all.
But the resort’s greater come-ons are its affordable entrance fees and room rates, its family-friendly setting, the great food and good service, and its safe, clean waters for soaking, swimming and sports.
Visitors who want to linger for a couple of days, like we did, could choose from the resort’s many cottages (there are about 70 rooms) set amidst a lush tropical landscape. The hotel-style amenities offer comfort, privacy and quiet although between that and the beckoning sand and sea, beach lovers readily choose to frolic in the sun.
Twilight brings with it another scene. As day guests pack for home, those left behind could look out to sea and contemplate the city lights beyond while sipping their drinks and listening to live music.
Paradise Island Resort has a shoreline of almost 800 meters, well maintained with periodic “scubasurero” clean-ups. The beach is constantly combed to keep it clean, while the waters have a safety net to ward off flotsam and jelly fish. The net also discourages anglers from poaching in the area. In the netted area are fishes that snorkelers can enjoy while life guards keep watch. Jet skiers and banana boat riders can go a little farther a-sea. The resort also maintains a dive zone.
Non-swimmers can enjoy other activities as well. One can engage in sports, do meditation walks, ogle the wildlife in the mini-zoo, have a massage or just read under the trees. There are facilities for conferences, seminars, weddings and parties, as well as cultural shows. The more adventurous can explore the island on foot, by bike, trike or four wheels. The place is relatively safe but the resort maintains a Safety and Security Team trained for emergencies and has a 911 connection to the city.
Tasty, affordable food is another attraction. Picnickers, who used to bring their own food packs, can choose to just order from the resort’s food outlets, and choose from Filipino, oriental, American and European food and drinks. Or they might want to choose fresh catch from the sea and young coconuts picked from the tree. Those watching their budget can B.Y.O.B. (bring your own baon) and stay in another section of the resort’s shaded picnic/dining area. The resort boasts of a huge kitchen staffed by expert cooks and efficient waiters.
Paradise Island Resort started out in the 1970s as a weekend picnic destination for the Rodriguez family and their friends. Little by little the Rodriguezes developed the place so that people wanting a beach weekend could come. The resort is now managed by Julian Rodriguez III, eldest of eight children of Dr. Julian (Chiching) P. Rodriguez Jr. and his Spanish-born wife Purita (now a full-fledged Davaoeña), who have been married for 55 years. The place must have served as the young couple’s paradise getaway back then.
Well-traveled and educated abroad, the elder Rodriguez, an educator, has experienced what the world had to offer to culture- and pleasure- seeking travelers. The family’s island property, transformed as a resort, is now open for people to enjoy and confirm the DOT’s claim that really, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” •