The silence of Sabang

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014


A NEARLY perfect view: the bay pushing quietly between two capes against the white sand beach, the headland’s edge, like a protruded lip, touching the line that divides sea from sky.

Such was the vista of Sabang that the platform 150 meters aboveground offered. But this was no time to laze around and enjoy the scenery this way. Instead, there was only the sense of urgency and unease as the wife and I suited up for the Sabang X Zipline.

I traced the zipline cables with my eyes—they curved toward a mound below, always parallel but never intersecting, until they vanished. Those 800-meter-long stainless steel cables would carry all 80 kilos of me, then the wife’s (which, sorry to tell, is a closely guarded secret).

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I studied the zipline gear—carabineers, trolleys and all—they were made in France, the
reliable Petzl kind. This bit of information helped pacify those nerves that only a while back were as calm as the West Philippine Sea. And those cables? I heard they’re strong enough to lift a car, good enough to take us to the other end, that we may return to our accommodations at the Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa in one piece.

There is a science to all this zipline thing—speed, friction, gravity. But when surrounded with all this natural beauty, you have no time to think about the physics of descent. There is just that subdued feeling of exhilaration as you zip downwards, and the beguiling thought that Sabang is all yours.

Suspended in midair for a minute and a half, you hear the hypnotic whir of air being crushed between trolley and cable, and as time slows down, you begin to wonder how you got here in the first place. Looking back at those 90 seconds or so now brings to mind these lines from the writer and physicist Alan Lightman:

Moments before I “landed,” hair ruffled and all, I caught a glimpse of the Sabang River, where less than an hour earlier, we took part in an unforgettable Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour. Bretha, who had arrived first, was hopping and skipping over this landing mound, a tombolo of irregular rock formations facing out to sea.

So this was what the zipline was all about: from one spectacular view to another, from air to ground. And from where we stood in this seemingly alien landscape, Sabang became unfamiliar once again. The rocks seemed like collapsed decks piled on top of the other, as if some terrible force of nature toppled stone upon stone, leaving deep serrations on the surface where barnacles now thrive.

As we made our way back to the resort, we felt light on our feet, even though our trekking shoes were soaking wet. We were barely halfway through the day yet we had experienced so much: the mangrove tour, the trek through the rainforest, the zipline ride, even a dip in a half-concealed saltwater pool.

Later in the afternoon, as part of Sheridan’s tour package, we’d also get to try an amphibious vehicle tour, an informative ATV jungle trek, and a relaxing cruise aboard a “paraw” or sailboat. But before that, our guide Razam said we’d be having lunch first at the resort’s organic farm some seven kilometers away.

Started four years ago in the fertile terrain of Cabayugan, the Sheridan Organic Farm now supplies the nearby resort’s fresh produce as well as the rare black rice, which is considered one of the healthiest food types around.

From the nursery to the soil, all the vegetables and rice are cultivated using natural farming methods. Since no synthetic chemicals are used, pesticides and fertilizers, as well as feeds for livestock, are all organic and made by the local farmhands themselves using indigenous byproducts and material.

“The farm now supplies all the vegetables and black rice of the resort,” said Razam in Tagalog.

And the harvest couldn’t be fresher and more diverse: there are the more common tomatoes, lettuce, pechay, mint and basil, as well as the more difficult to grow coriander, parsley, fennel, radish and cauliflower.

But it hasn’t been an easy foray into organic farming, a process which involves strict adherence to practices and painstaking trial and error. Unfamiliar with natural methods, the farmhands had to learn from scratch, and in the process, became farmer-scientists themselves.

“Some vegetables are difficult to grow in this climate, like the cauliflowers,” said one of the farmers. “But we figured out a way to grow them, so now we have plenty of cauliflowers.”

Walking over a wooden foot bridge past rice paddies, she led us to an open cottage where she served appetizers: a fresh bowl of salad from vegetables she had picked up along the way and hot tea made from a mix of herbs.

Half an hour later, we walked up to a gazebo and gathered around a table covered with banana leaves, over which several dishes of meat, salted eggs, vegetables, white and black rice were spread carefully.

“A boodle fight for lunch,” exclaimed Razam to his guests, who were now famished after completing half-a-day’s tour that was packed to the seams.

Later that evening, after enjoying a massage that both sent us momentarily to dreamland, Bretha and I talked about how impressive this resort was in so many respects: from the eye-opening adventure tours, the advancement of a healthy lifestyle, to the pleasurable accommodations, amenities and service.

True, the Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa is a luxury hotel, but its efforts to help preserve the natural beauty of the place and its pursuit to use 100 percent renewable energy, in my book, is what real class is all about.

That said, I couldn’t help but cultivate this sense of having experienced something relevant, of being reassured that Sabang, at least for now, will retain its natural charms, many of which have come as a surprise.

And just when you’ve thought, it has run out of surprises, Sabang quietly shows you something wonderful in the most unlikely of places.

While walking along a row of coconut trees in front of the resort, Bretha and I stopped at a signboard that read: Green Sea Turtle Nest. Buried in the sand were roughly 100 eggs that a mother pawikan had laid on the same spot it was born.

In 60 days, the eggs would hatch and dozens of baby turtles would amble their way into the open sea. And one day, too, some of them would find their way back to their Sabang.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 01, 2014.

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