Beach home at Freia (Frea) newest in Pico de Loro Cove
Family music along Hamilo Coast By Alfred A. Yuson Updated Monday February 10, 2014 - 12:00am
We'll long remember how we reassembled as a core family after two decades, and how the highlight of our siblings' balikbayan fortnight was a delightful weekend on Hamilo Coast - enjoying togetherness in the sun, by the sea, with our kids and grandkids. Token representation, one might say, given that many other members of the immediate family couldn't tag along. But the baker's dozen that convoyed in two vehicles for the 90-minute drive from Roxas Blvd. had super fun enough for all. At least the rest can curse at the album of a thousand photos from a dozen cameras the next time we reconvene, if only virtually. Our only sister, who's been based in Los Angeles since the early 1990s, could only come home last month with the proper papers. Our youngest brother who's been in Chicago for over a decade had a homecoming once. And the three of us perennial Manileños would individually see them whenever we indulged in a Stateside visit. But last month was the first time that all five of us actually got together, after well over 20 years.
The grand bienvenida party that included cousins and their progeny - all only from the maternal side of the clan - involved over 50 bloodkin. We numbered half of that when I hosted dinner for just us siblings, our kids and their partners and own kids. So, 13 of us escaping the metropolis on a weekend, together with one pro driver, didn't exactly turn out unlucky. Rather was it a lush, plush, delirious bonding jaunt. The choice of destination had everything to do with it. When we planned our out-of-town escapade, both balikbayans and their significant others were all excited. Sis Girlie recalled that we may not have been to a beach together in 30 years. Why, I couldn't even recall it, but it must have been just in Parañaque - at Jale Beach or Aristocrat, the two seashore strips that were popular at the time. Or it could have been at Matabungkay or Nasugbu, then reachable in only a couple of hours. We considered driving all the way to Ilocos, but that was quickly thumbed down, given the time constraint. We could only go out for Saturday and Sunday. Next was a private membership cove in Batangas, but we weren't sure if we could stay overnight as guests. Our eventual choice was perfect. A few of us had been to Pico de Loro Cove, and told the others that its main beach and seaside amenities were ideal for family. I had last been there on a day trip with friends over a couple of years ago, and enjoyed swimming with schools of fish in the well-protected, entirely safe and placid waters. The beach clubhouse and pool, restaurant and bar were first-class, as they had to be, representing the pioneer phase of ambitious leisure property development that had set out to make Hamilo Coast a byword for pleasurable weekends for citr y folk. At the time, construction had just started on building clusters for resident-members and guests, including what has now become the Pico Sands Hotel. Word from friends who had eventually acquired units was all good. The large lagoon that had just been a pit when I was last there now served as the centerpiece flanked by the residential mid-rises. We had also heard that the drive to Pico de Loro was now very much shortened with the completion of the Ternate-Nasugbu Road. It used to take as long as three hours by way of Tagaytay. We would now discover that Hamilo Coast has indeed become by far the finest option for a premier beach outing for Metro Manilans. No need to go through SLEX and the Sta. Rosa Road. From Roxas Blvd., it took us 90 minutes on a Saturday morning by way of Coastal Road thence CAVITEX (a short, scenic, seaside expressway), before negotiating through several towns of Cavite, then the climb up a mountain road that passes by Puerto Azul, a left to veer away from the direction of Caylabne, heading towards Nasugbu, and finally a virgin drive through what is reputedly the longest tunnel in our country - the Kaybiang Tunnel that is all of only 300 meters. Still and all, it's a thrill, especially since upon exiting the tunnel, the reward is a grand vista of the West Philippine Sea and the undulating Batangas coastline. The panorama doesn't quite include all of Hamilo's 13 coves, as most remain hidden beyond the headland that features the first cove, Patungan. Lookout points that have been cleared on ridge's edge lure motorists to photo-op rituals and a breezy breather for appreciating the scenic view. Then it's downhill for another 20 minutes until one enters the gates of Pico de Loro Cove, the maiden residential community of Hamilo Coast. We were billeted in three adjacent ground-floor loft units of two-three bedrooms in the Jacana cluster of twin mid-rise residential buildings, six and seven stories high. Three other twin-clusters - Myna, Carola and Miranda - surround the expansive lagoon where lotus pods have begun to bloom. This early, one can envision mallards, maybe even swans, gliding along the tranquil water. And if there's a way to convince lagoon lovers to refrain from disturbing residents with gleeful whoops, why, rowboating, fishing, and even water-bicycling can become added attractions in the future. On one end of the residential clusters stands the Pico de Loro Country Club and pool complex, with sundry other amenities: a ballroom, function rooms, bowling and billiards, game room and music room, gym, dance studio, lanai bar, videogame room, and playing courts beyond for basketball, badminton, squash and tennis. On the other end is the Pico de Loro Beach Club, the Reef Bar, and the main beach. That's where we head off to as soon as we settle our room arrangements and luggage, for we're pulling out all the stops on this holiday. The first activity, right before noontime, is crossing the wide beach in our swimwear to board the Navigator, a speedboat that tours us around the coast. Are the kids, Fil-Am balikbayans, and kids at heart excited? You betcha! Raptured by seawind and seaspray, we head out of Pico de Loro Cove until we can look back towards inland and see the distant mountain range that gives it its name, that twisting rock peak, or twin peaks, that simulate a parrot's beak. The next cove to the north is Papaya Cove, where a seaside village, Barrio Papaya, is populated by locals, most of them employed by Costa del Hamilo Inc. (CDHI), the exclusive developer of Hamilo Coast and a subsidiary of the SM Group of Companies. The cove is an ideal harbor, so that it's envisioned to turn into a sanctuarty for pleasure craft. On another seaside stretch is a dock for fastcraft that can bring in residents and guests from a jetty off Mall of Asia in well under an hour. Then it's a ten-minute ride inland to Pico de Loro. But since land travel from MOA has been shortened to 90 minutes, it's has become the preferred option, especially since it also allows weekenders to loop back to the city via Tagaytay. We head out to sea again and cruise past rocky Turtle Island, then Elephant Cave back on the coast, before the Navigator enters yet another placid cove, enticing with its white-sand beach. As enticing is its name: Santelmo Cove. F&B staff from Pico de Loro stand in a line on the sand waving a welcome. My daughter Mirava can't wait for the slow glide to end onshore. She dives into the inviting turquoise waters. The rest of us are handed welcome drinks and led to a tree-shaded part of the glistening beach where makeshift tables of bamboo and hardwood have been arranged, and decorated with palm fronds spiked with colorful heliconia, for our lush lunch. Can't get any better than this, we congratulate ourselves, torn as we are between that first dip in the waters cum frolic in powdery sand and the seafood array being served on the facing tables. It's over lunch that we learn from the staff that Santelmo Cove is one of three of Hamilo Coast's 13 that have been officially declared as MPAs or Marine Protected Areas. It turns out that since 2007, Hamilo Coast has worked closely with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on environmental programs that involve nature preservation and coastal resource management. But wait, let me at that blue marlin first, then the grilled squid. Let's continue this next week.