Palawan, made up of 1,768 islands, is the second largest province of the Philippines. Its total land area is spread between the main island where the capital city Puerto Princesa is located and among the peripheral islands of Busuanga, Culion, Linacapan, Dumaran, Cagayanes, Balabac, and group of about 40 islets and islands collectively known as Cuyo.
Cuyo is divided into two island groups. Up north is the Quiniluban group to which Pamalican island is part and where the 89-hectare, ultra-exclusive Amanpulo Resort belongs. To the south are the Cuyo islands, where the village of Cuyo is located.
An hour and 30 minutes by air and 24 hours by sea from Manila, Cuyo is a fourth-class municipality composed of 17 barangays. With a population of 18,257 people (2000 census), it is one of the unexploited islands in the country. Home to a fort—which shelters a church and a convent in its high stone walls—constructed during the Spanish period to protect its population from Moro pirates, Cuyo has one of the most ancient forts in the Philippines. Incidentally, Cuyo was the second capital of Palawan from 1873 to 1903.
An island where flowers do not grow due to the coastal climate and strong seasonal winds, Cuyo is nonetheless a place blessed with nature’s beauty. Secluded and quiet, it is covered with cashew and coconut trees that gracefully sway to the wind. Thick clumps of bamboo abound. And of course, the vast blue seas—home to a myriad of corals and sea creatures—that seem extend to eternity.
The island would appeal to hardy, outdoor types of people who enjoy taking walks, swimming, and discovering a unique local culture, rather than indulging in material pleasures. And forget five-star hotels: There is only one on the island—Cuyo Place. Cuyonons live on the basics and hardly complain. They are very resourceful and have found ways to make the best of what they have, like making tuba from coconut, and cashew brittle their specialties. Life is slow, timeless, and the epitome of “rural living” in its simplicity, the kind that grows on people who visit the island.
During the filming of Judy Ann Santos’ highly anticipated film “Ploning,” the staff and crew had a blast making bonfires and feasting on banana-cue (skewered bananas cooked in oil), kamote-cue (skewered sweet potatoes cooked in oil and coated with a little sugar) and small crabs called peye laid on banana leaves. The film’s actors instantly fell in love with the place. Judy Ann, Mylene Dizon, Meryll Soriano, and Ces Quesada even called themselves adopted daughters of Cuyo.
“Ploning,” shot entirely on the island, uses some of the lovely town’s areas as sets—the unfinished pier served as the waiting place of Ploning (played by Judy Ann), the basketball court of Igabas served as the place where Rodrigo (played by first-time actor Cedric Amit) and Celeste (played by Mylene) meet for the first time, and the Intigban beach where Ploning and Rodrigo walk while holding hands, among others.
Furthermore, unique practices of Cuyo like making cashew nut brittle and harvesting salt will also be shown in the movie. Panoramanila Pictures Co., the film’s producer, took great pains to ensure the authenticity of the film and in fact, 40 percent of the movie will be in the Cuyonon dialect. Screenplay writer and director Dante Nico Garcia, a native of Cuyo, made sure to bring out the islands’ socially and culturally unique elements.
There is nothing to be lost in Cuyo except perhaps one’s heart. Its untouched beaches, gracious townsfolk, and simple life are its gems. Rare are places where the concept of excessive materialism does not exist yet people are thankful and welcoming, where happiness is equated with putting value on love and life, and living means working with nature and not trying to change it. Cuyo is also ideal for kite flying and windsurfing for those tired of the overcrowded Boracay. If only for these things, Cuyo is a traveler’s dream.