Honda Bay lies 15 kilometers north of Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan.  A number of the 7,641 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago are scattered about in Honda Bay, and they are now the destination for a bustling tourist business out of the wharf at Tagburos.  Visitors book “island hopping” trips in bangkas both big and small, which ferry them to as many as six islands where they can enjoy clean water and lovely beaches, strong sun and shaded beach cabanas, fresh seafood and cold drinks.

Islands from air

Islands

It was not always so.  30 years ago my family would fly to Palawan for some of our “down time” and ride out to Tagburos in the large “trike” of Palawan (a trike is a motorcycle with a sidecar and space for baggage).   There a bangka would be waiting to take us over to a resort on Meara Island that was run by an Austrian couple, whose names I remember as Frans and Marianne.  I remember no other resorts in the bay.

Bangkas at wharf

Our bangka waits in Tagburos for us to wade out and climb aboard.

Their resort was primitive, intentionally so.  No aircon, only sea breezes.  Hot water was warmed by the sun in a rooftop tank and fell by gravity for our showers.  There must have been a generator to supply power for refrigeration and cooking.  We ate in a central building without walls, eating wonderful fresh sea food caught by Johnny, an older man with one arm who paddled and sailed his tiny bangka out into the waters around Meara every day.  Other food must have been brought over from Tagburos.

We spent our days reading, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving – for Frans taught diving – and playing games.  They had a monkey who bit, fun to watch but not for cuddling. In the evening, fruit bats, the huge “flying foxes”, would stream back from the mainland to their roosts on Bat Island.

Bangkas in line

Bangkas now anchor in line along the shores of small resort islands.

Frans protected the reef around his resort from dynamite fishing, so the coral was healthy and the fish abundant and so colorful.  Occasionally dangerous too:  the lionfish, stonefish and moray eel were to be avoided.  He allowed me to take my children scuba diving.  It was a magical experience for me to share this beauty with them.

Meara was not a great place for walking, as much of the coast was mangrove swamp.  I remember a walk when we ended up lost (for a while) and much bitten by the mosquitoes that love coastal swamps.

A typhoon once blew over Meara while we were guests.  Coconuts rained down on the thatch rooves of our small bungalows, and in the morning the long wharf was gone.  Frans was also an ocean sailor and his boat rode safely at anchor, but it took a while to rebuild a place where a bangka could moor to pick us up.

Our bangkero

Our bangkero and his younger son as we motor between islands

Meara was definitely a place to relax.  This did not prevent an older Austrian gentleman – Marianne’s father, I believe – from laboring for hours under the sun with a heavy roller, trying to pack down a tennis court from the sand and coral fragments next to the resort.

Meara2

The shore where a tennis court tried to be born

I don’t know if he ever finished the court.  Some years later I watched Frans sail away from the Manila Yacht Club.  He may have been on his way to the trendy island of Boracay, where I heard he worked for a time.  The latest I heard came on this trip, when our bangkero (the boat pilot) told me that Frans died when his seaplane crashed near Roxas on Palawan.  I learned that Johnny too has died.

Kubo on Meara

Meara today:  a fisherman’s bamboo “bahay kubo” sits back in the shade with boats on the shore

We motored out to Meara and the bangkero showed me where the resort once stood.  The mangroves and other vegetation have closed in.  There’s no sign of the buildings or the wharf that once stood there.  Fishermen have settled in a few spots along the shore, but while so much of Honda Bay is now resort, Meara is mysteriously untouched.

Meara1

This is where the Meara resort once stood.

Advertisements