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03/22/2018 | By: CATA SALAZAR-DE JESUS

WORK-LIFE balance is not a myth. We need it, whether we believe it or not. And it actually helps keep people sane and productive. 

There’s a lot of truth to the adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I heard this way back in grade school. And for some reason, while my parents didn’t preach it — they sure lived it! 

Summers, for us, were mostly play. It meant endless days of frolicking on the beach looking for sea shells, bits of interesting coral, burrowing through the sand in search of little crabs that skittered all over the place when we walked aimlessly on a sandbar at dusk.

We’d watch fireflies weave a canopy of flickering lights over the mangroves. It was both eerie and magical. One of our favorite past times at night was eating freshly-boiled crabs that crawled out to shore when our trusty fishpond men  switched on their flashlights,  luring the giant crabs out of hiding. Have you ever eaten fresh crabs that were boiled in a huge drum? I have! Unli-crabs were nothing new to me at age seven. We ate boiled crabs as fast as we ate boiled corn. Both are sweet, unbelievably firm and juicy to the bite when picked fresh from the fields or the water!  

The sound of the wild blended seamlessly with the sound of the wind and waves. Pure freshness just embraced us, engulfed us. Every single day that we spent walking on the beach, on the grass, under the coconut trees, we were washed clean of the grime and stench of the city. 

Well, I had another taste of that last weekend, when my husband and I and another couple, spent several days on this beguiling island. For the life of me, I never thought there was a place as beautiful as this in the Philippines! And I’m not writing this because I’m being paid to — let me say that right off. I’m writing this because that island was absolutely beguiling. The whole experience was a grown-up, luxurious version of my childhood summers on the beach. 

We started off by riding this charming, small seaplane from the waters near the CCP. In 30 minutes, we landed on the island’s private hangar. Everything was clean, fast and efficient — even our welcome drink with its tiny umbrella promised refreshing efficiency. It may sound cerebral and unromantic  — but believe me, “fast, clean and efficient” is the backbone of marvelous vacations. 

We were splendidly surprised to see, feel, and experience the island’s seven theme villages  — in a three-hour tour on a jeepney, accompanied by an articulate tour director who clearly loved his job. Each village was inspired by a country, and was about five minutes away from each other. We did the whole nine yards. We toured all seven villages. I remember going to St. Tropez, Bali, Mykonos, Costa del Sol, Toscana (where we stayed), and the grand Royal Villas which looked very Mediterranean to me. My memory’s not that good, so I took tons of pictures. There were still several big, interesting buildings we missed like a spa, a wellness centre, a sports centre, an interesting hideaway, etc. 

Each sprawling village has villas (or private rooms), restaurants, decor, ambience, and furniture that are specifically designed to that country’s culture and taste. It was like country-hopping on an island! There was also always something different to do each day. Imagine, we ate our meals in nine different places over the span of five days we were there! We just happened to like breakfast at one restaurant so much that we ate there twice. 

The attention to detail in each theme village was incredible. That’s what caught my attention immediately. This was the common thread that ran through all the theme villages we went to. 

The decor in the main halls, the hallways, the big and small salas, the indoor and outdoor bathrooms, and the private villas were very carefully chosen. Beach villas had personal jacuzzis on the patios. The vases and plates, framed prints, main accent pieces or little side tables and chairs, the lamps and lighting fixtures, the flatware and dinnerware — all were meticulously-chosen and tastefully arranged. The over-all effect was elegant, authentic, refreshingly natural. 

We stayed for three nights in Toscana, which has a graceful, old-world charm. There was a fresh water pool just a few steps away from our patio! At dusk, when the lights in the villas and the pools were turned on, Toscana transformed into an even more magical place. 

My husband and I, on our first night, sat on a stone bench that looked out to the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, to be exact. There, we prayed together for dear family and friends who are blessings to us, and whom we have also blessed. We thanked God for bringing us to this splendid place. 

For the next few days, we drank in the lush, unfettered foliage; the sand and sea that were served to us alfresco, the minute we stepped out of our patio in Toscana or our beachfront villa. The ubiquitous island jeepneys had seats comfortably facing front for maximum sightseeing, and were just a phone call away. The drivers brought us wherever we wanted to go — through country roads that cut through field and grass, with fresh foliage at every bend. I cannot forget the haunting, stately Balete trees that sometimes appeared by the wayside. 

Whether we were swimming in the infinity pools or walking on the beach in the quiet, cool afternoons, or thoroughly enjoying the fresh, sumptuous food that we tried in the different restaurants on the island, Balesin was always, always stunning. Refreshing.  Beguiling. 

Hands down, this was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had in the world. And without a doubt, the best one we’ve ever had in the Philippines.