The question is: when you find the perfect place, do you share that info?Well, I have found the ideal spot. And, after much deliberation, have decided to reveal this paradise. It is a little island called NoaNoa.
And I found it in the Philippines, about a half hour speedboat ride off the town of TayTay in northeast Palawan. It sits in the middle of a gorgeous coral reef.
The owners, Andy and Chelo have been building and living on the island for about 10 years. And they have done and incredible job… it is so elegant. Last October they decided to let the rest of the world enjoy their little slice of heaven and started welcoming visitors. NoaNoa is neither hotel nor resort, but rather an experience. And one of the most significant things they want you to experience is the coral. Andy has been appointed steward of the reef, an unpaid and thankless labor of love.
The Philippines reefs are rapidly declining. It’s a shame from so many levels. Not only are they breathtakingly beautiful but also they are important to local economies. If well managed, a square kilometre of reef can provide 15 tons of seafood per year. All the coral reefs in the entire world only have a total area of about half the size of France, yet they are home to about 25% of all marine species.
Most are poorly managed. Most are dying. And in the Philippines they are dying fast. On our first morning, in a Zen state, happily snorkeling along I was shocked by a loud bang… so booming I literally felt it in my stomach. We all popped up horrified. What was that?!?!? Well, it was a fishermen throwing dynamite (or more likely some kind of homemade bomb). He was about 3 miles away from us. You can just imagine what it did to the fish. And what it does to the coral. It takes more than 20 years for coral to start to recover from being blasted. It can take hundreds of years to return to its pre blast state.
Sadly, Andy is protecting his reef from more than just bombing fisherman. Rising water temperatures and pollution are both problems, even the sunscreen I was wearing was harmful. John, environmentalist that he is, decided to ignore my nagging and go with out. No fish were hurt; he got a bad burn! Careless tourists stepping on the reef causes further damage as do people taking shells and coral for souvenirs.
Cyanide fishing is also horribly destructive. Poachers dump cyanide in the water that stuns the fish so they can be caught alive and sold on to restaurants serving living fish or people with aquariums. It doesn’t sound so bad except only 25% of the fish survive the trauma of the poisoning and transport. Those that make it to aquariums tend to die much faster than their net caught brethren. And I really don’t like the idea of eating fish that have ingested a big does of cyanide. I also don’t like that the cyanide kills the coral and the plants the fish live with.
Andy and Chelo don’t preach, but if you are interested, they are happy to share their experiences and knowledge. They also try to help the locals by providing income alternatives to harmful fishing. They own a small hotel and restaurant on the mainland called Casa Rosa. And there are a ton of staff employed on the island, all of whom worked hard to make it such a special place for us.
When we weren’t in the water snorkeling, kayaking, diving (not as good as the snorkeling) or exploring caves (amazing!!), we were indulging our laziest side. I convinced all (three) boys to try facials and body scrubs in addition to their usual massages and am pleased to report their metro sexual side came out. We ended up spending hours in the spa trying all the treatments. The rest of the time seemed to be spent eating… three huge meals of California influenced Filipino food and two snacks daily. We could barely waddle onto the plane when it came time to leave, which we did with great reluctance. We kept adding days but, eventually, there were other guests arriving and no more room for us.
I loved the Philippines in general and NoaNoa in particular. Go before it gets overrun with tourists. And head to NoaNoa if you are looking for gracious hosts and the luxury that results from attention to detail and harmony with the environment. Andy’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him I sent you.