To: Balesin Members and Friends
Once again, we are at the end of the month, and this time, I am dictating this on my last day in Italy where I have engaged in my usual purchasing binge for Balesin Island Club. Tomorrow, I fly to France, then to Yangon in Myanmar (Burma) on PhilWeb business, and I will be back at Balesin on May 1st. I left Balesin only on April 12, just a bit more than two weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime and I am itching to see all the new projects which we have completed.
But first, some rather unfortunate news. Bollie Bolton, our first General Manager of Balesin Island Club, has had to resign because of a severe case of “deep vein thrombosis” which requires him to lie in bed most of the day with his legs elevated. Bollie, whom I know many of you will miss, has contributed his fair share in building Balesin to what it is today. But obviously, a person’s health and well-being takes precedence over everything else. And so, Bollie will leave us at the end of this month. I hear that the entire staff at Balesin gave him a despedida party the other night. We shall all miss Bollie, and we wish him the best.
Thank you Bollie and good luck!
To take over as GM, we have been fortunate to find Gerhard Kropp, a German national, married to a Filipina, who has spent his entire career in the hospitality business. Gerhard has occupied senior executive positions in many of the top international hotel chains (Dusit Thani, Mandarin, Sino Hotels Group where he was General Manager of the world renowned Fullerton Hotel in Singapore, Crowne Plaza, Hyatt, and many other chains). He has managed many hotels and resorts in many countries in Asia, in Europe, and many others around the world. A more experienced GM we could not have found. He has been on the island since April 8 so that there would be a smooth transition between him and Bollie, and I have no doubt that Gerhard will maintain and even improve on the standard of excellence in resort operations that we have set at Balesin.
Our new GM Gerhard Kropp
On a happier note, I would like all of you to know that we must have set some kind of a world record at Balesin earlier this month when the mother of Babes Oreta, our President, spent a couple of days at Balesin. A world record, as Mrs. Nena Oreta is 99 years old, but can outdo Babes in almost every department, including singing and dancing. I am told that she spent until past midnight singing karaoke with her entire family at the Tabacalera Cigar Divan. I understand that Babes Oreta was the first to give up and fell asleep, while his mother still wanted to sing. Shame on you Babes!
Babes Oreta, his wife Babot, Julian Ongpin & Mrs. Nena Oreta
Now back to business.
The most important development was the addition of a Dornier 328 twin turbo prop with a passenger seating capacity of 31 to our existing fleet of two 9-seater CESSNA Grand Caravans and two 19-seater British Aerospace Jetstreams. The addition of the Dornier now gives us a daily capacity exceeding 300 passengers.
This is just in time for the ever increasing members and guests visiting the island. During the last several weekends, we have had between 200 to 300 members and guests on the island and the traffic continues unabated even on normal weekdays. As we have said on many occasions previously, aviation services to and from the island is our lifeblood and will always have our highest priority.
With the addition of the Dornier, we intend to base one of our CESSNAs on Balesin Island to take care of any emergency situation. I myself am looking forward to my first flight on the Dornier when I get back to Balesin.
As we now have over 200 rooms and villas operational, we find that even on very busy weekends, we always have 10-15% of the villas unoccupied. Thus, for Costa del Sol and Toscana, our last two villages, we are focusing on first completing the dining facilities as we have found that our members who stay for a weekend or even longer, would like to have as wide a variety of food choices as possible.
In this connection, I am happy to inform you also that we have added Robert Lilja, a Swedish national, who is also married to a Filipina, and who has had a great variety of food and beverage experience all over the world, including cruise ships, to be our Executive Chef. Robert is fine tuning all of our F&B service, particularly our French cuisine, one of his specialties.
Executive Chef Robert Lilja
After a heavy meal in one of our restaurants the night before, many of our members have said that they would like to have a light salad for lunch the next day. I am pleased to tell you that Mika Santos (one of our tour guides, a woman of many talents being a graduate of Ateneo University, a wakeboarding whiz, a rock-climbing champion, a zumba dance instructor, and a long list of other talents, too long to mention here, but obviously, with a GREEN THUMB), has volunteered and has been appointed to be our Organic Farm Manager. Mika will be there to make sure that your wishes are fulfilled.
Mika Santos, Organic Farm Manager
We presently have quite a number of greenhouses which you see on the south side of the island as you land on the airstrip, but we are increasing this almost tenfold.
Mika has proudly let me have a taste of her first arugula harvest from seeds which I gave her from Italy and I must say that the arugula was one of the best I have ever tasted.
16-day Old Organically grown Arugula
These last few days in Italy I have acquired, believe it or not, a total of more than a thousand packets of various kinds of Italian vegetable seeds, and I am sure that our members will love these wonderful Italian vegetables which will be ready for harvest in just a few weeks. In the meantime, we are in the process of building a series of “salad shacks” right by the vegetable greenhouses so that you can pick your own vegetables and dress your own salads to your taste and enjoy your Italian veggies right by the greenhouses. Our island CEO, Mike Asperin, tells me that this should be ready before the end of May.
Rico Sison has been hard at work in completing the dining facilities at Costa del Sol. Our Spanish chefs are itching to have you try our very special and authentic cochinillo, paella, and callos (see our initial Spanish restaurant menu in Annex A).
Entrance Gate to Costa del Sol
Entrance to Costa del Sol Sala
Main Floor Reception of Costa del Sol
View of the Costa del Sol Veranda
Wine Rack Archway at Costa del Sol Ground Floor
We shall have two swimming pools at Costa del Sol, one salt water and the other one, fresh water. As soon as I get there in early May, I plan to ensure that the finishing touches on both our villas and restaurants (we shall have five restaurant outlets at the Main Sala of Costa del Sol!), are ready to serve you the great Spanish food that you can enjoy in Barcelona or Madrid.
Soon after we open Costa del Sol, we plan to complete the dining facilities for Toscana. Having spent many months in my villa in Italy over the past 25 years, I am quite fussy about my Italian food, particularly my pasta. This time, I have been on a buying binge of my favorite Italian pasta (DE CECCO), prosciutto, salami (all kinds from all over Italy), wonderful Italian wines, and even 50 kilos of the original parmigiana cheese. I better stop because I am getting hungry!
We have received quite a number of suggestions from our members which we always appreciate. One of them was that we add more mountain bikes of all types and all sizes. We presently have 10 and find that they are simply not enough. We have therefore ordered another 30 bikes for use of our members and have added a basket for each, in order that you can have a container for your personal things as you bike around the island. Balesin is ideal biking country being almost flat terrain, and we are most grateful to our members who made this suggestion to us.
With the onset of the summer months, we have found a great increase in the usage of our aquatic sports facilities. Our members seem to enjoy paraw sailing in Lamon Bay, particularly at sunset.
Members Enjoying a Paraw Sail
Sunset Paraw Sailing
Wakeboarding Behind the Speedboat
Since we acquired the island some three years ago, we have strictly enforced a no dynamite or cyanide fishing rule. As a result, we are pleased to let you know that the coral around the island is beginning to rejuvenate and our Dive Shop, managed by Jay Server, has proven popular with many of our members.
Discovery Dive Class at Balesin Clubhouse Pool
Diving at Lamon Bay
Horseback Riding in the Sea by the Beach
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding on Lamon Bay
I must tell you about the great feeling of satisfaction that one gets when going around the island. I notice so many happy faces enjoying our restaurants, sports facilities, and a sunset drink at our Nusa Dua Bar. Someone asked me, when will you complete your Balesin resort. Frankly, we have in fact completed it when we finished the 160 villas we promised our members. So, I answer that perhaps we will never complete it because we keep thinking of new projects and facilities for our members to enjoy.
Dinner Party at the Balesin Sala
Mixology Class by Herman our Bartender
Sunset at Nusa Dua
A Serenade at the Taverna Balcony
I cannot close without thanking my good friend, Tony Lopez, for his wonderful issue in BizNews Asia devoted almost entirely to Balesin. Just before I left, Tony spent a long weekend at Balesin with his whole family and the result is the issue on Balesin, copies of which we have put in each of the villas, but which keep disappearing because our members love to take them home. Tony has been a friend of mine for over 30 years, and I cannot close this without a word of gratitude to him. I suspect that he loves Balesin even more than I do.
See you all back in Balesin in just a few days!
Roberto V. Ongpin