Looking back at my first time in Boracay, the Philippines’ dame of all beaches and catwalk of people with impossibly toned abs, I consider myself lucky to not have arrived along with everyone else. And when I mean everyone, I mean the annual Holy Week crowd that, surprisingly, isn’t causing the tiny island to sink yet.
It was July, and the weather wasn’t the prettiest (the sun managed to peek on our last day though). I thought it better that I was there for work, which meant that it was fine to miss everything else Boracay had to offer.
Which was all good with me. We were there a short three days and two nights, and as in every other magazine work I had done, this included a mad dash all the way from Baguio to Manila, and a seven-hour date with a freezing cold bus. Since we had landed in Kalibo, this also meant another two hours on the road before we could finally hop on a boat to the island and (gasp!) start working.
This was why thrilled though I was at finally dispelling the Boracay mystery–something Filipinos feel is their life’s duty–I was overtaken by fatigue at what I had gone through and what still lay ahead.
Which brings me to this wonder of a place I would want to return to Boracay for, if only I had the money to stay at it again.
The entrance to Mandala Spa and Villas, if not for the huge sign bearing its name, would have been easily mistaken as a well fenced house complete with thick overgrowth on its iron gates. Apart from the concrete uphill pathway, you couldn’t make out a thing about how this place looks like from the outside.
Every visit to this place, I would soon find out, would take an incredible amount of what I’d call healthy disposition. Or as its manager Jove Schrottman would put it, a decision to be healthy (Dieter Schrottman, Jove’s father, is the destination spa’s founder).
You can take it from the food it serves: a lean but healthy selection that’s a break from the usual hotel breakfast buffets.
Mandala started as a day spa, but now the sprawling property on top of a hill has 12 villas–8 of which are laid out on a circle, just as a mandala is; and the other four located somewhere farther up the hill, overlooking the sea. So it’s a day spa with a villa where you can stay the night (or nights, depending on how well you can afford its roughly P10,000-a-night price tag).
So this is how it feels to have that much cash to burn for peace of mind, well-being, or just about any other purpose you might have for choosing to stay in this place: an airconditioned bungalow all to yourself, done on soothing earth tones, with the air peppered with aromatic oils, as if inducing you to sleep the minute you step in.
You have a king-sized four-poster on your right, the headboard made of capiz shells, the sheets an immaculate white, and the cushions the softest I’ve slept in so far (and I’m not even trying to patronize here).
One side of the room opens up to a tiny verandah overlooking your very own pocket garden (each villa is separated from the other by tall bamboo fences), while an all-glass hall opposite the bed leads to a bathroom with custom-made Italian fixtures (even the tub bears the name Mandala). And still, another door leads to an open-air rainshower.
The room also comes with a nifty iPod injected with relaxing music, some of which by Dan Gibson of the Solitudes album series–a nice, subtle tech touch which the younger Schrottman had espoused. You can also stay wired with the in-room WiFi and, should staycation tire you, a cable television is willing to compensate for lack of entertainment (but I’m sure you’re not going to do that).
With a room like that, it’s effortless to convince your mind to trail off into nothingness any time of the day. It’s in fact one of the few resorts I’ve been to which made me feel like the prospect of leaving for White Beach was a tremendous deviation, even in Boracay.
And then of course there’s the spa.
It’s what Mandala is all about–being healthy, staying healthy. The Universe wouldn’t have given me the best time to have my first spa treatment: I was dog-tired from all the traveling I did the whole day, my head was throbbing from pain, and I was more than happy to just sleep in my room. Two hours into their hilot massage, thankfully, didn’t feel like work at all (even if I had to take mental notes during the whole treatment). Taking cue from traditional Filipino healing techniques from head to foot, the hilot massage, from its name, is designed to repair the body and bring it back to a sense of balance. The treatment consisted of three techniques: the hihilaan, hilot, and dagdagay.
In the hihilaan, banana leaves heated in extra virgin coconut oil were placed on my back, supposedly to identify areas of heat imbalance. This was followed by the ventosa vacuum cupping technique to restore balance in body heat, and then by traditional hilot strokes all over the body.
The foot massage called dagdagay capped the treatment using a pair of bamboo sticks applied on the soles of the feet and is intended to revitalize the immune system. In simpler terms, that two-hour massage was pure goodness from head to foot, and since it was already evening when we finished, it made sleep such a pleasant retirement prospect.
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Mandala Spa & Villas is located in Station 3, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan
All photos found in this post are by Owen Ballesteros.
This is not a sponsored post. My stay at Mandala Spa & Villas was made possible through a travel assignment by AsianTraveler magazine Philippines. My work was later published on its Cosmopolitan Sanctuaries issue in 2011.