Palawan, a group of islands in the Philippines, is known for world famous beaches such as El Nido, Coron and Port Barton beaches. It is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Underground River. There's a lot to do from island hopping to partying and it can be tiring after a while.
This is when you need a vacation after a vacation! Good thing there's a retreat center just in Palawan's capital - Puerto Princesa City.
Personally, I signed up for a 5-day retreat to de-stress from work and studies. 2018 really felt overwhelming that I was willing to pay the price to be away and relax. Retreat centers can be quite expensive especially relative to Philippine costs.
This retreat center, however, is the most affordable I found in the Philippines. I spent Php 14,250 (USD 270) for 5 days while other retreat centers would cost USD 200 per day! I still hope that one day they give Filipinos a local discount to encourage more Filipinos in trying out a healthier lifestyle (and refrain from eating oily and yummy pork adobo!).
So was it worth it? Let me show you around and you decide.
Bahay Kalipay Labyrinth Meditation
BK: Bahay Kalipay
Bahay is the Tagalog word for house while Kalipay means happiness, and so I was expecting a lively place.
I arrived and there was just one guest at the reception who signaled for me to keep quiet, in a nice way :)
Silent Day & Coconut Fasting Day
One thing I failed to do was read their Know Before You Go list thoroughly. I arrived on a Wednesday which was Silent Day and it literally means a day of silence - no one speaks with anyone. It was a day to reflect and just go inwards, a day for yourself.
I was attended to by one of the lovely BK staff and we were able to talk for a little while for some orientation of the place. I guess it was an exception because it was my first day.
Aside from silence, it was a day coconut fasting day. You can eat as much coconut meat as you can and drink as much fresh coconut water as you can. I love buko (coconut) and believe it or not this is becoming expensive in Manila (I blame in on the health trend that makes anything healthy expensive) so unli-buko day was a real treat!
Unlimited Buko Day!
Surprisingly, coconut meat was really filling. Some people were afraid that they won't last a day with just coconut but everyone there were as surprised as I am that we didn't feel hungry at all. I only had 3 coconuts for the meat and countless glasses of coconut water. Refreshing!
Raw Vegan Food all day, every day
I am not vegan so being on raw vegan for 5 days is something new to my system. I have been eating mostly plant based due to health reasons and this was also the reason why I signed up for this retreat. I need a full on detox from all the junk I ate my entire life.
And surprise after surprise, their raw vegan food was the most delicious and healthy food I ever had. This convinced me that healthy doesn't have to be tasteless. The variety of food served showed how you can be creative with fruits and vegetables.
Powered by plants! Yummy raw vegan stuffed tomatoes & vegan mac n cheese
All I can say is we were well fed with nutritious whole food. We start the day with a plate of fruits, topped with superfood like spirulina and a yummy dip made with tahini or cacao (it varies daily). A green smoothie is served just an hour before lunch.
I always look forward to lunch and dinner because the kitchen staff are so creative with what they serve. They were not limited with a cuisine, one day we'll have vegan mac and cheese, vegan samosa and so much more. In between lunch and dinner, we also have a snack treat which was usually a frozen vegan cake.
Yoga, Dance, Mindfulness & Meditation
We don't just eat the whole day, our day was filled with activities. Our morning starts really early and I usually wake up before 6am which wasn't difficult because we're asleep by 9pm. I start my day there with oil pulling like most guests. They even have an oil pulling spitting area because this can clog a sink.
The first group activity is yoga starts at 7am. I was never really a fan of yoga until I tried it at Bahay Kalipay and other yoga studios in Palawan. Yoga in the city (which is what I tried previously) is different from yoga in retreat centers. Yoga here is more relaxing and focuses on breathing. This was different from the yoga studios I tried in Manila that felt more like a work out and filled with the energy of stressed out yuppies. One of the yoga teachers told me that city people demand more from yoga, they want their peace back asap! I definitely found an appreciation of yoga in this place
A day in the life of a girl who just wants to get away from city stress :)
Aside from yoga, there are other activities like karma yoga where we serve for an hour without expecting anything in return. It can be bathing the cats or sweeping the floor. We had dance therapy, meditation and the package also come with an hour of relaxing massage.
My favorite activity was the raw vegan food preparation lesson (I can't call it a cooking lesson). We actually prepared the food for our ourselves and our fellow BK guests. Daily activities can vary but Wednesday is always Silent day while Friday is always nature trip day.
Friday Nagtabon Beach Day and Inner Dance
You've never been to Palawan if you've never swam in their waters. We still started the day with yoga and went off on a jeepney. Since we were in a remote place in the Philippines, we did toploading (this is when you sit on the jeepney's roof, with no seatbelt)! For safety reasons, you don't wanna do this in busier areas of the Philippines.
By now, you may have noticed that there's spirituality in the place. The day wouldn't be complete without some form of spiritual enrichment or mindfulness. Friday was extra special because we went to Maia Eco Village which was away from Palawan's city center.
I had no expectation on this day and of what will happen in an Inner Dance. Inner Dance is not the usual dance as we know it. Inner Dance was started by BK's founder - Pi Villaraza and I honestly don't know how to describe it because the experience is different for me and for those people in our group. I can tell you about my experience though.
Inner Dance on top of a hill
We went up the hill with our yoga mats. There were facilitators who gave a brief orientation about Maia Eco village and their life of raw veganism and spirituality among locals. There was no expectation so we laid on our yoga mat and closed our eyes.
There was music playing and I can sense the facilitators going around. I heard someone crying, and then someone shouting. Then the facilitator went to me as I felt a finger touch my foot and then my stomach telling me to let go.
So this was my first time do such thing and it felt odd for me. There was a slight fear because I'm figuratively stepping into the unknown (which I just realized later on is what I needed to do). There was a moment when I just felt tears flowing from my eyes.
At the end of the session, each of us shared our experience. It was indeed different for everyone but with most people seem to have tapped into an unexpressed emotions, which is maybe why some were crying but then there's relief afterwards. As for me, I just saw colors and there was just a moment when I did cry. To be honest, I still don't know the reason why. My experience wasn't as profound as the others and I guess it's because I was a bit resistant.
And then it's beach time! Nagtabon beach is not as popular as Puerto Princesa' Honday Bay (and less touristy is what I prefer). The place was filled with mostly locals as there was also a surfing competition.
Nature Trip Day at Nagtabon Beach
The waves were strong and my fellow BK guests did some body surfing. I just learned of the term from them. As for me and another BK guest, we went out to the calmer waters and went freediving!
There are no freediving rental gears around so you have to bring your own fins and mask if you want to freedive. I didn't really see a lot because I couldn't dive deep again. It's been a long time since my last free dive. It was just a good practice for me but I think the beach is a better place for relaxing or surfing. You can rent a surfboard or even pay for a surf lesson.
Was it worth it?
This would really depend on what you're looking for because it was mostly experiential for me. Would going back to the basics appeal to you? This means that there's no internet for most of the day, you clean your own food utensils, sleep in a nipa hut, etc .
My humble and comfortable Nipa Hut at BK
As for me, I even went back in a span of 3 weeks! I think my timing the first time I went there was wrong as I did a detox before the New Year and then went drinking throughout the New Year and my time around Palawan! I felt the need to do another detox before going back to Manila. You can say I did a detox-retox-detox lol. I stayed another 3 days and it was a great way to conclude my Palawan trip.
It was somehow life-changing for me as well because this really pushed me to be more consistent with a healthier lifestyle and introduced me to meditation. I availed of their colon cleanse which really got me to re-think whenever I want to eat something unhealthy. I was so scared but it unexpectedly felt so good. I felt that all the junk I ate since I was a kid was going out of my body!
More importantly, I met amazing people throughout my stay. I noticed that almost everyone who go there are in some type of transition in their life. I really felt connected especially with the first group I was with which during the Christmas week. As my friend from BK said, it was a special group - who would stay in a retreat center with strangers during Christmas? A special kind of person indeed and I am now confident to say that I am one of a kind :)
Washing our own dishes the traditional and water saving way
Tips before you go
- Read Bahay Kalipay's Know Before You Go guidelines so you know what to expect. They do not allow the use of chemicals within the place and there's no toilet paper. More on that in their website linked here
- Bring your natural insect repellant like a Citronella lotion. As much as I love the place, I didn't enjoy getting bitten by mosquitoes. They also provide a Citronella spray but it wasn't enough for me to repel them.
- You can bring your own yoga mat but they do have a lot of yoga mats there.
- Before your arrival, gradually get into a healthier plant based whole food diet so you don't get overwhelmed with not having meat if you're not vegan
- If you have time, avail of at least 5 days or a week of package. This is more cost efficient because their 3-day retreat is much more expensive if you would compute its daily rate. This would also give your body time to adjust with the new type of healthier food. Resident volunteers even stay there for months!
- Be open and go with the flow. BK is a safe place and you can be yourself with no judgment :)
How to get to BK
Puerto Princesa is just an hour flight from Manila. From Puerto Princesa airport, take a tricycle going to Bahay Kalipay, Hagedorn Extension. This will cost you around Php150 (USD 3) for the whole ride, so you can share the ride with someone else to split the cost. Travel time from the airport is 15 to 20 minutes.
Posted from my blog with SteemPress : https://wanderein.com/2019/05/18/de-stressing-at-bahay-kalipay-raw-food-yoga-retreat-palawan-philippines/