‘Don’t drink the water’ is a common piece of advice given when traveling to developing countries, and I know from personal experience it applies to the Philippines. During my last visit six years ago, my Tita mixed up my water bottle of clean drinking water with one of tap water. The results weren’t pleasant. After emptying my guts in the Mall of Asia bathroom, we went straight home and I did my best not to do the same in the back seat of the taxi.
I would never have expected to be doing the same thing at a ‘luxury’ beach resort near Iloilo city six years later.
After a merry morning of swimming, courtesy of Jen who paid the entry fee for our party of twelve (most of Jen’s family, plus me), we sat in the shade to eat the food she had ordered. I hadn’t been swimming in years, and had forgotten just how much energy it requires, so I was famished. We dug into pizza, fried squid, fries, and chicken. It was the latter, a little red close to the bone, that we think caused some rumblings in our stomachs, and Jen and I back and forth from the pool to the bathroom.
Other than that, it was a pleasant day. It was my first time visiting a resort and seeing a white-sand beach in the Philippines. During previous trips, mainly been in busy cities, the filthy water of Manila bay being sight of the sea. Bearland seemed appealing enough, though the name puzzled me. At the entrance, a young couple took pictures of themselves in front of a statue of a Polar Bear and two cubs.
The resort comprises a water sports center, tennis & volleyball court, cottages and rooms for overnight stays, a modern-looking conference centre, and two pools, which is what we were chiefly interested in.
After Jen had paid our entrances, we made camp at a table in the shade and rushed to the water, sweet relief on a sweltering day. Jen had brought the GoPro, and her family enjoyed taking underwater videos and selfies. Even the babies got in, their parents placing them in rubber rings and long-sleeved swimwear to protect from the midday sun. Jen’s tubby nephew beamed as he floated along, splashing the water with his hands. With his pudgy legs, arms, and belly, he almost looked as if he too had been filled with air.
Jen and I went for a wander. The unrelenting sun had baked the stone paths around the pool; going walking barefoot was not an option. A few clouds hung white and weak in the sky, powerless to stop the sunshine. It was too hot to be out in the sun for long, so we darted from one shelter to another. I had been applying sunscreen regularly, but by 1pm, my neck and shoulders were starting to sizzle. Beyond the wall of the resort, a couple of stray dogs walked along the coast, nosing through litter than had washed to shore, calm waves washing their paws. Fishing boats moored on the sand sat roasting in the sun. In front of us, local children dived into the sea from small pier. Further down, outside their coastal homes, a larger group swam to sea and played on a boat, their excited shouts and laughter carried to our ears by a gentle sea breeze.
Behind us, the pool, had emptied somewhat. Jen’s family took cover in the shade, a few women sat at the bar.
By 2pm, I was feeling fatigued. I hadn’t been swimming in years, and had forgotten what a physical toll it takes on your body. The heat hadn’t helped, and I was tempted to join the babies and Jen’s Tito in taking a siesta.
By the time we left, at around 4pm, I was shattered. The seven of us – plus three babies – packed into the minivan and head back to the city, Jen’s sister and her boyfriend following along on his motorcycle. We stopped to grab a bite in a small pizza place in a market. Outside it, crates and crates of glass soft-drink bottles, straws poking out their tops, stood waiting for collection. I was still feeling a little queasy, but I hoped the pizza would help to settle my stomach until I got back to the house. It seemed to.
When we did get back, Jen and I trudged up to our humid room and flopped onto the bed. We had left our strength behind; in the chill swimming pool, in the humid air, and in the Bearland bathrooms.