"Reports of the Ulysses battering the island felt like a chainsaw cutting off my left leg,’ cried Ongpin."
I read last week that to escape from COVID-19 and the lockdowns imposed by a growing number of LGUs in the United States, Americans are driving up or flying to beaches, the free, open and invigorating miles of coastal scenery that has become a must-visit destination in the age of the pandemic.
In this light, I yield my column to my friend, Bobby Ongpin, the irrepressible master builder of properties for the rich, famous and the aspirational. Here is RVO’s letter to Balesin members and customers:
“Today is Monday, November 16, and it is early evening here in Balesin. It was sunny the whole day, and the calm has returned to the island after the horrific typhoon Ulysses, which made a direct hit and battered Balesin on Wednesday last week.
“I returned to Manila on Friday from London, where I had been for six weeks. London is eight hours behind Manila and I spent a sleepless night monitoring the wrath of the typhoon. Fortunately, the mobile phone connection in the island held steady and Mike Asperin gave me almost an hour-by-hour report on that terrible night. You all know how dear Balesin is to my heart and the reports of the typhoon battering the island felt like a chainsaw was cutting off my left leg!
“I went around the island immediately after I returned to Balesin yesterday noon. I had been dreading seeing the typhoon damage to the island. But I am happy to say that I am, in fact, quite relieved. One gets a distorted idea of the damage because of the several hundred photographs and some video clips that I was sent. They were understandably all about the damage. But going around the island yesterday and also today, while there was certainly a lot of damage, it wasn’t that bad at all.
“The most telling aspect for me were the leaves that had been torn away from the branches of the trees on the island, so that the shade was not like before. Surely, plenty of ‘bruises’ but no ‘broken bones.’
“The most damage was at Balesin Village, where 24 of the 40 villas suffered, some with roofs blown away. Up to today, we are still carting away the debris. As I told my management staff, in the next few weeks, the leaves will return to the trees and our beloved Balesin will come back to life.
“There will surely be evidence of the typhoon’s wrath for the next few months, particularly the Balesin Marquee, where the roof was partly torn away by the winds.
“We had imported the structure from Germany where we were told that their special polypropylene fabric could withstand 250-mile per hour winds. Ulysses had ‘only’ 100-mile per hour winds, but they were torn anyway. We will be able to restore the villas in two to three weeks, but the Marquee will remain as a sad memento of this typhoon, as the fabric will have to be imported from Germany again.
“As you all know, we have had to close the island for one week, and we will reopen this coming Friday, November 20. Of the 364 villas on the island, 240 will be operational by Friday and all but 60 will be back in operation before the holidays.
“At this juncture, I would like to commend all the staff on the island, for their excellent performance during the typhoon. We had 125 guests on the island when Ulysses hit.
“Mike Asperin divided the staff into six teams, which diligently and safely evacuated the guests to the Clubhouse and several villages. Despite the wrath of the typhoon, there was no injury to anyone at all. A lot of wet clothes and many other discomforts, but no physical injuries at all. Surely, a most commendable feat!
“Now to more pleasant things. Rico Sison’s new baby at the Clubhouse, the Bierstube, is quickly taking shape and we plan to inaugurate it on December 19. We will invite all members and guests who will be at the island at that time. My daughter Michelle and her husband Frank, together with super daughter Lia, have been in Salzburg, Austria for the last few weeks visiting her mother, and she has done a fabulous job of finding unique and authentic Alpine décor for the Bierstube. While it is not yet finished, I was there with Rico yesterday and I assure you, it will be another gem, very gemÏ‹tlich.
“Before Ulysses, since we reopened in mid-June, I am happy to report that we have had a lot of members and guests, all with happy faces, enjoying the island. As if liberated after the quarantine in the city, they were enjoying Balesin’s COVID-free fresh air.
Despite the inconvenience of a COVID test, which we required for all who wanted to come to the island, we averaged more than 200 people a day, coming back home to Balesin.
“When we reopen on Friday, we have bookings, as of today, of 348 members and guests in 128 villas. A total of 240 villas will be available, and all the restaurants will be open except for Salathip in Phuket and the Warung in Bali. The weekend after, we will have over 400 pax and while there will still be some evidence of the typhoon, we will be back in full operation in the usual Balesin standard.
“For the Christmas and New Year holidays, we have reservations now of more than 600, but we have no problem handling even a thousand members and guests.
“We are all looking forward to having you all back on beautiful Balesin!”
Roberto V. Ongpin