Shoemart is the undisputed king of malls in the Philippines.
Starting with the SM City along EDSA in Northern Quezon City in the waning days of the Marcos era, SM has been at the forefront in the country of this lifestyle-altering, economy-boosting social phenomenon that is the mall. Heralding a new shopping experience, the mall was and is a big hit as it provided everything under the sun under one big complex: department stores, book stores, groceries, hardware, cinemas and bowling lanes. As Yahoo contributor Henrik de Villiers pointed out, “It also heralded in a new urbanisation concept where everything was taken to the consumer in his comfort zone – suburbia. The days where you have to struggle to get to the inner-city to do your shopping in the Central Business District were gone. Now, for the first time everything were actually on your door step.”
Now, comes SM Land which is applying the mall concept to the tourism and leisure industry in the country. Will this work? It seems the savvy and adroit people behind SM think so as they are willing to experiment big time (billions of pesos) and long time (a 30-year masterplan). The laboratory of this grand endeavor is the Hamilo Coast (http://hamilocoast.com/) in Nasugbu, Batangas. Hamilo Coast property is huge with an area of 5,800 hectares , about 1,800 hectares of which are developable per the masterplan crafted by IMA Design Group. The huge size of this SM project in beach resort reminded me of how big SM City or SM Megamall were when compared to the other malls in the early 1980s, notably Harrizon Plaza and Ali Mall.
Hamilo Coast (Hamilo means “to see everything” in Sanskrit) has 13 coves: Arkaya, Balibago, Baybay, Bucanita, Dorado, Etayo, Limbones, Neela, Papaya, Patungan, Pico de Loro, Santelmo, and Subli.
The first phase of the development in Hamilo is Pico de Loro Cove. And it to this place that I was blessed to visit this last weekend of May with my family, courtesy of the generosity of my wife’s sister. It looked and felt like a mall masquerading as a beach resort. You have everything you can possibly ask for in a weekend escapade inside one big complex. Within Pico de Loro are a Beach Club, a Country Club, a hotel (Pico Sands Hotel), a chapel, and a handful of mid-sized condominium buildings. Inside the Pico de Loro Country Club are a game lounge, a restaurant, a billiard room, an indoor kids’ playground and bowling lanes. For all I know there could be a food court and some cinemas inside the country club as I have only been able to explore one wing of the said building.
You might think I may not enjoy my stay in Pico de Loro given my dislike of big malls but the place, on our first day in a planned 3-day vacation stay has already captured my heart, not necessarily my pocket. How could I not? The sandy beach is roughly a kilometer long and I was already salivating at the chance to run barefoot on it. But that could wait for the second day.
The highlight of our first day in Pico de Loro was the speed boat ride which we took in exploring two of the coves.
The first one is the Bucanita Cove. Bucanita means “small opening” or “bukana” in the vernacular. A small tunnel is the main highlight of the said cove and the driver of the speed boat did a masterful job of maneuvering the boat so that I could take close shots. On the other end of the cove is another land feature with an “opening” which made it resemble like an elephant’s head with the long nose.
The second one is the Santelmo Cove and this is where I fell in love with the Hamilo Coast. Despite its name , the Santelmo Cove has gotten a reputation as one of the favorite places for this generation’s romantics to make a marriage proposal. It is not of the matrimonial kind that my heart got captured but more of the marine kind. You see, the Santelmo Cove is a fish sanctuary and the driver of the speed boat was very careful in entering its waters. But once inside the protective cove, we were allowed to swim and snorkel in 15-feet of water teeming with marine fishes of spectacular color and shapes. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has identified 99 species of reef fishes under the waters of the 13 coves of Hamilo and I swear I could have seen 69 of them on my swim in Santelmo Cove. And swimming in close proximity to these creations of the seas had a reinvigorating effect on my tired and weary body. I felt so alive.
A bonus treat was to be near (almost a handful meters away) to photograph a flock of seagulls as we exited the cove. I felt like Sir David Attenborough on one of his natural history documentaries for BBC and Discovery.
Our encounters with the marine birds and the reef fishes are to me the defining appeal of Hamilo. I don’t have to travel very far or ride a plane to experience Discovery channel up close and personal. There is Pico de Loro along the Hamilo Coast which is just 3 hours ways, could be less than 2 hours as soon as the Ternate route (via a 400-meter tunnel under the mountains) is open to the public come July 2013. What’s that again that Henrik de Villiers talked about the mall phenomenon? “You don’t have to struggle to reach …”
Wow, I am already waxing nostalgic about this place and I am just on my first day. On my second day, I have some running to do on asphalt and most especially on barefeet, along the beach of Pico de Loro. For this 2nd-day adventure, you have to tune in to my other blog the following day (http://bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2013/05/running-in-pico-de-loro-may-27-2013.html?utm_source=BP_recent).
Photos courtesy of the camera of my brother-in-law Rel.