Friday, July 28, 2006

Creating Colors in Calatagan

Celebrity beauty tycoon Ricky Reyes may really have a predilection for colors and cosmetic beauty. The coastal area of Barangay Uno in Calatagan, Batangas, used to be barren save for clumps of shrubs and weeds, patches of sugarcane fields and a collection of little houses and fishers’ shanties.

Now, his resort sprawls over it, its swimming pools complete with contraptions that spurt water like summer rain, playgrounds, pocket gardens and lawns, fishponds over which traverses a bamboo walkway, a hulking plastic slide, an artificial waterfall, cute multipurpose huts, neon colored flags flapping and pale salmon-pink and beige cottages, all new and bright like big, shiny toys strewn on the rocky shore.

The Golden Sunset Resort appears like an oasis after a long drive. Along the main highway traversing Calatagan, the hacienda and golf course of the Zobels, the town’s most prominent family, stretches on one side, with rows of stores, fields and houses on the other. There is no sign of the resort from that point except for a big green-and-yellow poster, inviting one to enter a small road that winds through a quiet neighborhood and sugarcane fields. Houses become fewer and smaller and farther apart. The road becomes narrow, snaking through drab, undulating tracts of land dotted with scraggly trees and wayward goats and cows. Just as one feels lost does the resort appear, its high fence dressed in a series of tarpaulin posters boasting its amenities and activities.

It was a bright June morning when we arrived, after a two-and-a-half hour drive from Manila. Though it was the tail-end of summer, the heat was still oppressive. The entrance of the reception hall had a large picture of a radiant Ricky Reyes, welcoming visitors. The resort staff was on hand with leis of small bamboo, beads and bright artificial flowers, and welcome drinks of bright yellow and sugary pineapple juice.

The hall had a billiards table at one side, and a small function hall at the other. Catching our eye was a wall of photographs, capturing, in beautiful angles and light, images of the town: salt beds, farmers, fishermen, the quaint town church, the carabaos, the old Cape Santiago Lighthouse, the fields, the sunsets, the beaches. Historic sites and touristy spots and everyday scenes made touristy.

The resort, in partnership with the local government, had hosted a group of photojournalists and held a photography contest with the town as subject. This was one of the activities that aimed to promote tourism in the town. Peter Oliver Palacio, the town mayor since 1998, has been eyeing the tourism potential of Calatagan as of late.

Formerly an extensive hacienda of the Roxas-Zobels, the 10,527-hectare town is a peninsula jutting out of southern Batangas with the South China Sea at one side and the Balayan Bay at the other. My impression from a few visits of the town was that it was hot and dry and almost barren. It is because it is generally flat, a friend said. Indeed, the town’s name means a “spread” or a wide “expanse” in Tagalog.

The wonder of Calatagan¸ which is110 kilometers south of Manila, lies under its plain topography. The town is chiefly known to be an important archaeological site, and artifacts, mostly pottery, have been unearthed there, suggesting a thriving pre-European contact particularly with the Chinese as well as a sizable community in the area. These artifacts though can be seen at the homes of private collectors and in museums in Manila, particularly at the Ayala Museum.

Coming second in antiquity and interest is the Spanish-era lighthouse at Cape Santiago, nine kilometers from the Poblacion, the town proper, which stands as the town’s prime heritage structure and top point of interest. Here, 47-yearold Antonio Coz, third-generation lighthouse keeper, has maintained the structure for 22 years now. The lighthouse was built in 1890, he said. The iron stairs have 65 steps. There’s a ghost of a woman haunting the area but I haven’t seen it, he smiled. And there’s an escape tunnel in one of the rooms. Relatively well-maintained and still functional, the 51-foot lighthouse affords visitors a good view of the sea and a stretch of shore. Other than that, Calatagan is rarely a tourist destination. But this may change, the mayor hopes. And he has been “partnering” with mostly facility investors.

There are currently 10 major resorts in Calatagan including Lago de Oro, which is known for its wakeboarding facility and Rosegold Beach Resort and Hotel, a handsome cluster of cottages standing on the sea. The Zobel-owned Punta Baluarte is closed but the golf course is open. An exciting development though is underway. Landco Pacific Corporation, a major developer, is building Playa Calatagan, a 74-hectare resort community project at the barangay of Santa Ana at the town’s western coastline. The plan boasts of seaside homes, hotels, a commercial center, apartment and condominium buildings and recreational and tourist complexes.

It will get busier when the pier opened, the mayor said. A ro-ro (roll on, roll off) port is under development, and it will service those going to and from the provinces of Occidental Mindoro and Palawan.
Meanwhile, the mayor was excited about Golden Sunset Resort and was proud that a celebrity has decided to put up a resort in his town. He prodded Reyes to open it to public when it was initially built as personal retreat, and paved roads going to the resort.

Arguably the best-known hairdresser in the Philippines, Ricky Reyes is very visible with television commercials and shows and big billboards advertising his chain of beauty salons. His rags-to-riches story struck many chords. With perseverance and marketing savvy, he rose from salon attendant to beauty maven. With salons dotting the metropolis, a resort seems to be an unlikely business venture. But as mentioned, he didn’t plan it that way.

A mutual friend tipped him off about a property in Calatagan. He bought eight hectares of it and began developing it into a getaway for himself and his family and friends. However, many people persuaded him to further develop it into a resort, which he did. For two years now, Reyes has been personally seeing through the resort’s progress, making embellishments here and there. He formally opened the resort on January 2006.

The ever sunny and affable Ricky Reyes took us for a short tour of the place, his now familiar voice and peals of laughter sprang like drops of sunshine on water and his make-up not running even in the summer heat.
Many people call the Golden Sunset Resort the Ricky Reyes Resort. Why not call it Ricky Reyes Resort? Mother Ricky, as he is fondly called, just laughed at it. “You must discover for yourself why it is called Golden Sunset Resort,” he winked.

The reception hall affords a commanding view of the resort. I saw layers and differing shades of blue. Two swimming pools occupy the center, the larger one having a big slide, almost serving as a centerpiece of the resort. Behind the pools are the wide fishponds, and behind them the sea. Beside the reception hall is a butterfly sanctuary (Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an entrance fee of P50 for adults and P30 for children) and a children’s playground. Reyes liked to compare himself to a butterfly, particularly noting its ability to metamorphose.

Specially designed green jeepneys or golf carts can take guests around the resort. Flanking the big swimming pool are the waterfall and a café, Café Veranda with tarp roofing and menu of drinks and sandwiches. By noon, the café’s coin-operated videoke machine was cranked up by day-trippers. After them, we hogged the machine from afternoon till dinner, our singing melding with the sound of the waterfall.

At the edge of the fishpond is the Cucina de Oro Restaurant offering Filipino and foreign dishes, all personal favorites of Reyes. A bamboo walkway traverses the side of the fishpond, leading to the cottages and rows of rooms. A big pavilion with lounges accent the walkway, where one can enjoy the view or go fishing. Milkfish and tilapia are raised in the fishponds. To make fishing more rousing, one can rent a small boat docked on the side of the walkway and paddle around the fishpond, accented with cement outcroppings made to look like rocks and painted with a beige color.

Midway, there is the Fishpond Restaurant, a small mess hall with screens as walls. Artificial vines snaked on the corners through the ceiling festooned with artificial flowers. Industrial lights hang from the ceiling. “Kalandian ko lang ‘yan!” exclaimed Reyes. We laughed. Kalandian in Tagalog means “flirtatiousness.” Here, it could mean “whimsy,” “caprice” or fancy, or perhaps a burst of inspiration. It was his standard answer when asked how did he come up with the design of the place.

“Dati ang motif ng salon ay plastic vines and industrial lighting. Now iba na. Spa look. Kaya nasa restaurant na siya,” (Before the motif of the salons were plastic vines and industrial lighting. Now, it’s different. Spa look. That’s why they’re now in the restaurant),” he explained.

The layout and design of the whole resort came from Reyes himself. He just followed his impulse, instinct or kalandian. Only a percentage of the property was used for the resort, the rest he planned for a residential subdivision.

After the short tour, he bid us to explore and enjoy. We went to cool off in our room, which had a small television, two beds, a painting and vases of artificial flowers.

Brackish water ran on the faucets of the bathroom. Aside from this standard room (P2,520 to P3,080, according to season), the resort has rooms with lofts, non-air-conditioned rooms, dormitory rooms which can accommodate six to fifteen persons (ranging from P2,700 to P7,000, according to season). Across the fishpond is the Garden Cove cluster of rooms with its own small pool. The cottage here can accommodate up to six guests (P4,050 to P4,950). At the far end corner of the resort is the Premiere Guest House, which accommodate 12 persons, with three bedrooms, private swimming pool, multi-purpose pavilion, dining hall, kitchen, and satellite television (P31,500 to P38,500).

Aimed with passport in different denominations, so that guests will not need to carry cash around the resort, we proceeded to Café Veranda for refreshments and snacks. In the searing afternoon sun, boys were playing volleyball. A paint factory in Cavite was having its annual company outing. The employees were mostly young men, most of them attractive, running around the pools. The air vibrated with playfulness and the place became golden with sunlight and bodies.

By late afternoon, we went to try out its spa by the side of the fishpond. The massages are performed at open-air huts. The Serendipity Spa offers an ample range: shiatsu (P500), Swedish (P500), foot (P300) or combination Thai massages (P500). Their specialties are called the Golden Touch (P500) and Indulgence (P1,200). The Golden Touch uses a combination of elbow and foot stretching techniques, aiming to relieve muscle stiffness and other body aches. On the other hand, Indulgence promises to be pampering treatment, beginning with a footbath and scalp rejuvenation treatment. These are followed by a hydro massage, a volcanic stone treatment and a massage by a pair of masseuses.

In addition, the spa offers beauty treatments: foot spa (P150), manicure and pedicure (P200 each), and hair treatments like hair spa (P500 to P1,500), hair reborn (P500 to P1,500), hair booster (P500 to P1,500), hair shining (P500 to P1,500).

Saturday night is abuzz with activity at the resort as a dance show is regularly put up for guests. Tables were set up for an al fresco dinner. The smiling dancers came performing Filipino folk dances. The girls did a Tahitian dance while the boys an exhilarating fire dance. As a culminating activity, the dancers invited the guests to dance and there was a contest of who among them could best do the Tahitian steps. Male guests were made to wear grass skirts to the amusement of the audience.

But a more spectacular and electrifying show happened at the shore before this performance. The pebbly shore was not much to look at, but it set the stage for a magical burst of colors. The sunset cast its magic on almost everything: the craggy shore, the huts on bamboo rafts, the moored fishing boats, the neighborhood children, the empty grassland, the fishponds, the giant plastic slide.

The sky wore tatters of periwinkle, violet and coral over a mantle of orange. As minutes passed, swirls of magenta, vermilion and lilac floated, and disappeared in a surge of mauve and deep purple as the sun went down, a fancy of the heaven and conceptualized by a greater beauty expert.

For booking and reservation, contact Travelpros at SM Megamall through tel. no. 02-6343109 or 02-6361687; Travelpros at SM City Fairview through tel no. 02-9388742; Travelpros at SM City Lucena through tel. no. (+6342) (042) 7104055; Travelpros at SMSouthmall (LasPinas) through tel. no. (+632) (02) 8000467; and TPI, Flight Center at Market! Market! through tel. nos. 02- 8897296, 8897297, 7572250, 7572251 or 8897396. E-mail and/or visit website at