Friday, February 5, 2010
SINCE summer is just around the corner, I’ll be posting more travel stories between now and the succeeding three months. That’s in between of course, the other stuff that I also do here.
Isla Verde was just one of our many stops during that weekend. And now, I’m happy to share this slightly tweaked piece with you.
Special thanks to Ms. Jojie Alcantara for most of the photos.
By EDWIN P. SALLAN
LET’S just say this is one summer getaway where you’ll literally have a sweet time.
The 1,625-hectare Isla Verde or Verde Island (depending on who you ask) is pretty much the pride of Batangas City, a place usually known for things like its unique kapeng barako (extra-strong Batangas coffee) and equally famous balisong (Batangas switchblade). Discovered by Spanish soldiers under the command of one Captain Juan Verde (hence, the name), it’s about a 45-minute boat ride from the Batangas mainland.
There are two great things about this island. One is the wonderful Dos Palmas Verde Island Resort which occupies about 110 hectares of the entire island. The other is the pakaskas, a “sugar-less” sweet delicacy that is to Batangas what peanut brittle is to Baguio. The pakaskas is actually produced in the other side of Isla Verde and despite the rather lengthy boat ride and the subsequent long walk to see how it’s done, it is something well worth our time and then some.
Our boat ride to the island itself was quite an adventure. The unpredictable waves, while not exactly as thrilling as the Rio Grande Rapids ride in Enchanted Kingdom, can nonetheless give anybody the occasional scare or two. At the same time, it’s also pretty exciting as we were also treated to some breathtaking views during the course of our sail including picturesque islets and flying fishes jumping in unison.
Dos Palmas Verde Island Resort
The Verde Island Resort, however, is usually the first stop of any tour of the island. Developed in 1986, it is quite the nature trip as it is pretty obvious the resort’s development did not come at the expense of destroying the island’s natural resources. If nothing else, the resort only further enhances it.
Visitors are usually given a Hawaiian-style welcome by the resort’s manager and staff complete with either lei (handmade flower necklaces) or flower petals sprinkled at us after alighting from our boat. I can’t help but feel like Eddie Murphy being followed by his rose bearers in Coming To America.
After downing our welcome drinks, we were immediately treated to a tasty breakfast at the Comida De Pastor, the resort’s main restaurant and bar that serves both traditional Filipino and international cuisine including the Pastor family’s own recipes. The Comida De Pastor also provides room services to all guests.
Everything you expect in island-based resorts in far-flung summer destinations like Boracay and Palawan are also right here in Dos Palmas Verde Island from the generator-powered supply to satellite cable TV to swimming pools right down to a diving and snorkeling concessionaire. Since the resort is adjacent to a 50-hectare bamboo plantation, its very character is pretty much defined by the indigenous materials used in the construction of the rooms and cottages such as the bamboo floor tiles, the hand-woven buri mats and the laminated sawali walls.
There are four types of accommodations. There’s the Casa Aplaya, located along the shoreline, the hillsite cottages of Casa Dahilig, the hotel-type rooms of Villa Condesa and the condo units of Villa Maharlika.
Dos Palmas Verde Island Resort is also known for its elevated pool area known simply as the Infinity Pool because its clover leaf-shaped adult pool punctuated by a tension edge gives the illusion of pool water overflowing into the sea. Our photographer Noel Pabalate wasted no time in taking a dip here.
The famous pakaskas
As much as we wanted to stay a little longer, it was already time for our pakaskas-making tour on the other side. One thing that I noticed in this island is that regardless of what side you’re in, the villagers are very friendly. In fact, the whole island is one big happy community on its own complete with schools, churches and sari-sari stores. I was able to even have my prepaid credits reloaded here which shows that these people are not exactly isolated and insulated from the rest of the Batangas province.
The community atmosphere of Isla Verde also somehow made our long trek towards the “pakaskas factory” a whole lot bearable. In what seemed like an eternity of hiking guided by a nice old woman who smilingly insisted that our ultimate destination is “malapit lang” (just nearby), we finally got to a small hut characterized by a kawa (huge frying pan) where the pakaskas is boiled to perfection in around 45 minutes.
Yes, boiled and not cooked. This delicacy is made from the already sweet sap of the buri palm tree, a plant that seems to be in abundance only in this island. It is called “sugar-less” by Batangueños because no extra sugar is necessary to further sweeten the deal. And it is called pakaskas because the process consists of scraping (“kaskasin” in the vernacular) the sugar from the boiling sap.
Once thick and hard enough to be considered “cooked,” the pakaskas is then placed on talikads, a small bamboo containers about the size of a typical Reno Liver Spread can. It is then sold by tens. In any given pakaskas cooking, er, boiling session, 600 talikads or 60 packs are made.
Our group was also treated to a “half-cooked” pakaskas, which is served to us as balinghoy or a caramelized sweet sauce for boiled or steamed cassava or camote and tastes just as great.
Pakaskas, by the way, is also used as the sweet topping for another popular Batangas delicacy, the Suman Taal, a popular sweet rice cake made from sticky rice, and wrapped in a banana leaf then boiled till cooked.
Our very brief stay at Isla Verde was obviously not enough for us to enjoy everything the island has to offer. We were not able to see and try out the other amenities and attractions of Dos Palmas Verde Island Resort. Also known as a diver’s mecca, I certainly would have wanted to try out its famous glass-bottom boat ride that allows non-divers like myself to marvel at underwater wonders without actually getting wet.
What we both experienced and didn’t experience in Isla Verde are all the more reasons to come back here. Now that I myself have discovered this wonderful and not too crowded island paradise, any return trip to Batangas City from hereon would not be complete without braving the occasionally temperamental Batangas waters for it. Sweet.
More about the island: