When two flew into the Kookoo's nest
It’s not that I don’t love Seoul; I do. But sometimes the utter urbanality of the bustling city, with crowds of cosmetic faces, wafting of polluted air and a cacophony of mobile phones and car horns can drive you crazy. This past Christmas, my fiancée and I found a salve to sooth our overtaxed souls called the Kookoo’s Nest. An unusual resort, away from the mod-cons of everyday city life, it is a place to escape the insane asylum of the cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Situated on an isolated beach on the south coast of the Philippines’ Negros Oriental Island, The Kookoo’s Nest is owned by a wonderful British couple, Jamie and Nikki, who share the resort with their like-minded guests and four golden retrievers. The complex is only steps away from the Sulu Sea and the beach faces directly west, so every sunset is in the middle of the horizon.
Flying from Seoul to Manila, from Manila to Dumaguete, and then taking a van through the backcountry, farms, and even a jungle resulted in a literally physical removal from city life. Mentally, you found yourself far from everything the city has to offer and forces upon you. Staying at The Kookoo’s Nest for eleven days offered not only a psychological but also a spiritual removal from the tumult of everyday life.
In keeping with the motif, the Kookoo’s Nest eschews the travel brochure-style soft, white sandy beaches that are perfect for skinny dipping. The quiet, secluded coral beaches it does provide can frustrate the barefooted swimmer. However, grab some of the available snorkels and fins and you can float over living coral reefs, alongside angelfish and Nemo-like clownfish, just meters from the shoreline. Once we learned this, swimming seemed boring in comparison to snorkeling and scuba lessons.
Although we enjoyed the sunshine and warmth, the sea breeze, and the ocean waves, the resort can come as a shock to some. There’s no hot water or air conditioning and sleeping quarters are shared with spiders, geckos, and mosquitoes. As the bungalows are all open-air, mosquito nets are provided; but expect little sympathy if you have trouble bunking with creepy crawlies.
Jamie warned us from the outset that we were to be living National Geographic style. However, my reaction to finding a thick, hairy, headlight-sized spider one morning was clearly not in keeping with the vibe of the resort. With a garden rake as my ally, I did battle against the gigantic arachnid that had garrisoned itself outside our door. I thought it must surely have been worthy of some concern, but was surprised to be met with laughter, teasing, and genuinely cheery curiosity when I told Jamie, Nikki, and some frequent guests of my skirmish. It was almost as if I should have considered myself blessed to have seen such an amazing creature. Was everyone crazy? Or was I the one out of my mind for not finding a monstrous spider to be something “cool”? Such encounters take some getting used to, but they help you understand that some things aren’t worth being afraid of.
As our worries and concerns over bugs and gecko poop subsided, we realized that we were letting go of our modern anxieties too. The isolation and quiet, the return to a simpler kind of living, the coming to terms with our multi-legged neighbors; it was like a massage for the soul. We were getting relief from the tension of our institutional lives, where we care too much about our hair, our apartments, and what other people think. That’s not to say that the Kookoo’s Nest is all about roughing it.
The Kookoo’s Nest restaurant is rightly renowned for its focus on local produce and the menu offers a range of international and local cuisine. Nikki, who cooked for rock stars in Europe, works with her staff to offer all-day breakfasts, burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, and home-made bread. Every night there was a buffet which the more gastro-enthused guests saw as the highlight of their day. We would pull all our tables together to dine and drink as one; knitting together as a community. Of course, there was also the opportunity for something more romantic if we wished, with tables facing the sunset in the evenings.
The real charm of the Kookoo’s Nest lies in its serenity and the chance to reconnect with our true selves. As days passed, we checked our smartphones less and read in our hammocks more. We found ourselves thankfully sharing our bathroom with spiders because they hunted the flies. We became less concerned with our damp mattress and welcomed the ever-present smell of the sea.
The nest calls upon its guests to embrace nature and become independent of modern amenities; something one does not expect when visiting a typical beach resort. It’s not for everyone. If you need the creature comforts of the city, then stay at home. If you’re able to appreciate the unique comforts of the Kookoo’s Nest, you won’t find a better place.
The Kookoo’s Nest offered us asylum from the insanity of urban drudgery, from our manic jobs, and from the cold of the Korean winter. When we said our goodbyes on that last day, Jamie and Nikki hugged us, and we really felt like we were saying goodbye to family. Maybe we were just saying, “See you later.” It would be crazy to spend next Christmas anywhere else.
Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!
Follow us on social media!