When you think of a coal-fired power plant, few ideas immediately come to mind – thick black smoke, sulphur and ash emission, burning coal, all of which are deemed detrimental to the environment. That’s what I thought, at first, until my friend Noel and I, along with other invited colleagues from the media had a chance to spend one weekend in Pagbilao Power Station at Isla Grande in Quezon, owned and operated by TeaM Energy Philippines
Combine a beautiful coastline ideal for leisure swimming and snorkeling , a bird sanctuary which hosts the yearly migration of some threatened bird species, a mangrove forest recognized as the world’s second most bio-diverse next only to Ghana, local organic vegetable produce within the power plant, a laid-back unhurried pace of a rural community yet boasting of a dynamic dining culture , and you have a tough act to beat.
- Bird watching. I was up before sunrise in anticipation of our first activity, bird watching. We were told that the biggest number of ducks sighted in the bird sanctuary located right inside the power plant was 1,700, ninety percent of which were the famous Philippine ducks. Armed with a pair of binoculars, my moleskine mini-notepad, and uncontainable curiosity, I joined my newfound friends and we quietly made our way to the birdwatching area. Soon enough, we were rewarded by the charming sight of Chinese egrets and Philippine ducks flying around before gracefully landing on the calm waters. A few of them we found perched on rocks protruding from the water surface, standing high and mighty on their webbed feet, inviting us to marvel some more at their extraordinary beauty. It was my first time to do birdwatching and I could not have asked for a better companion than one of our hosts, Ricky, who is a member of the biggest birdwatchers group in the country. He had with him a copy of the bird book which I would constantly refer to each time he would name a specie that sounded all too-strange to my ears.
- Mangrove trekking. Mangroves are said to live life on the edge. These botanical amphibians have one one foot on land and one in the sea, occupying a zone of desiccating heat, choking mud, and salt levels that would kill an ordinary plant within hours. Yet they are among the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on Earth. And I consider myself very lucky indeed to have been given a chance to visit the Pagbilao Mangrove Experimental Forest which covers 150 hectares. It was an extremely humid day and I could feel beads of sweat running down my neck and exposed back, but the lush green canopy of the mangrove shielded us from getting roasted some more as we ambled along the 800-meter boardwalk constructed right in the middle of the thick forest. At the end of which, stands a wooden construction where you could go three floors up and have a 360-degree view of the thick foliage of mangroves. From up there you could see birds roosting in the canopy and some shellfish clinging to the tree roots. I kept asking about snakes and crocodiles which are known to lurk around mangrove forests to hunt for food but we didn’t see any. Although they told me that snakes are pretty common in the area but so far, there have not been any crocodile sightings reported. Not that I particularly relish some face-to-face time with them because truth be told, reptiles terrify the bejesus out of me.
- Snorkeling. I have the greatest fear of the open water which explains why I never learned how to swim. So when I was told that we will go snorkeling after our scrumptious lunch at Bayview, I got a bit worried for two reasons: (1) possible drowning within a few seconds of jumping into the blue water because of my non-existent swimming skills, and (2) looking like a pot-bellied she-male in my swimsuit because of the amount of carb-rich food I consumed just minutes before. Everyone was quick to reassure me that I will not come to any harm because I will be wearing a life vest (You know of any other 30 year-old woman who goes snorkeling in a vest? I rest my case. Embarrassing, am I not?) and the rest will be swimming close by just in case something goes wrong. Like a little girl let loose in Barbie-land, I hurriedly changed into my swimsuit, lathered a thick layer of sunscreen on my body, put on my life vest and snorkeling mask, and uttered a silent prayer for safety just before I dove into the deep water of Lukang beach. Another one of our hosts from TeaM Energy, Greggy, provided tips on proper breathing through the snorkel, which enabled me to enjoy the many colourful sights underwater. It was just like watching marine life blossom inside a gigantic aquarium – except this time, I was part of the action! I swam around for a few minutes admiring the school of fish passing by the coral reef but at the same time getting equally-frustrated that I couldn’t get any closer because I was just floating on the surface, when I realized that I have ventured a bit far out from where our yacht was anchored and I panicked a little! I was, however, determined to enjoy a few more summers lounging by the beach and sipping a glass of frozen margarita at sundown, so I swam steadily until I reached the yacht and clambered up the ladder to safety.
- Lukang Beach. We then transferred to a smaller boat which ferried us to the shores of the isolated Lukang beach where I got to flail my arms and legs around in an extremely awkward attempt to swim. I swear I will learn how to swim properly this year – and then I can train to become a full-fledged trialthlete! But never mind, at least I was able to indulge the sunworshipper in me and do a bit of sunbathing to enhance my bronzed skintone some more. Just when we thought the adventure was nearly over, something quite interesting happened. Ricky had a minor jellyfish incident and one of our friends had to do something drastic but very much scientifically-endorsed, to ease the swelling and pain. I won’t tell you exactly what it is but you are most welcome to make a guess. Or you can buy me dinner at a nice restaurant and we can go over the details there.
- Sunset view. It was nearly sunset and our boat didn’t arrive on schedule so we had to do a little trail walking from Lukang to the verdant clearing from where we can see the magnificent view of the power plant covered in bright shimmering lights at night-time. I enjoyed the trail walk immensely and at one point, was leading the pack when Greggy said I shouldn’t be walking way ahead of everyone in an unfamilar trail, so he went in front of me instead.
Heading back to Bayview after our full day of outdoor adventure, I felt my heart sink a little. I experienced my many firsts – bird watching, snorkeling, power plant tour, which busted all the myths I previously thought to be facts insofar as power stations are concerned – that weekend and it broke my heart that it had to end so soon. But the big bad world summoned me back to the urban jungle where I have a real job waiting for me – the same one that would take me to Istanbul, Turkey a few days after for a totally different kind of work adventure. Life is indeed beautiful!
ALL beautiful photos taken by Noel Abelardo.