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March 15, 2021

15 March 2021

Dear Members and Friends:

Exactly one year ago, Balesin Island Club was locked down due to the pandemic. We were allowed to reopen in mid-June, but then locked down again and reopened in August. Except for two quick trips to Manila, and a trip to London, I have been in Balesin for all of the last year. Balesin has remained COVID-free and we work hard to keep it that way. In Balesin, we breathe only pure, fresh air and eat a healthy diet of seafood and organic veggies. It feels almost sinful that we enjoy our everyday life in such a paradise.

When we were locked down last year, our 500-strong Balesin staff didn’t have much to do. We tried our best not to lay off staff, but we had to keep them busy. So, we invented all kinds of projects for the island. Actually, we invented work for our staff and it worked!

First we cleared much of the undergrowth so we could plant fruit seedlings. We have cleared about 12 hectares and planted more than 10,000 fruit trees. You see our orchards everywhere when you tour the island.

We also planted thousands of coconut trees, especially along the main roads. In a few years, you will be riding around the island on coconut tree lined avenues!

My only problem is that my 2-1/2 year old granddaughter, Lia, is getting impatient and she wants to be able to pick fruits from the seedlings NOW! I tell her that she has to wait a few years, but she is not happy with that, and always frowns at me when I tell her. As I said before, Lia is the Supreme Commander of Balesin and the only boss I have in the world!

We expanded our seafood farms and now raise the most delicious vannamei shrimp. We are proud of our shrimp and they thrive in Balesin’s pure salt water aquaculture farms. We now harvest a thousand kilos a week. We also expanded our other seafood farms and now commercially grow sea bass, grouper, bangus, and samaral. A few days ago, we harvested an enormous 6-kilo, yard-long sea bass. I had some for lunch and it was delicious. It will probably take us several weeks to consume it all.

But we have been unsuccessful with our lobsters. They were mostly wiped out during the typhoons in November, and I have been hesitant to restart our Lobster Farm. I think our Balesin waters somehow are not suited for them. Too warm, our technicians tell me.

We also started our salt beds in the northern part of the island. Truly, our Balesin sea salt is pure and authentic. With good weather, we harvest about a hundred kilos a week. Not really in commercial quantities but enough for our members to enjoy.

We also started our Honeybee Farm. Our honey is unique because the bees mostly feed on the coconut tree flowers. But I found out that bees tend to “abscond,” i.e., they migrate to other parts of the island, and we lose them. But the honey that they do produce is really quite delicious.

Our Poultry Farms continue to thrive. We have now over 2,000 ducks producing our famous Balesin balut. We also produce guinea fowl which are quite prolific layers. We are also raising turkey and native chicken but they are not yet as productive as our ducks and our guinea fowl.

We have also been working hard on improving our road system. Whenever it rains, Balesin’s roads are studded with potholes, making them difficult to navigate. We are now resurfacing our road system with a rock-type material that we have discovered in some parts of the island called “palanas.” We top up the road with about a foot of this material, then steam roll and water them for several days. After a while, they are almost as hard as cement. We have 27 kilometers of roads on Balesin and we have done only a third of them, so we have many more kilometers to go. But we are at it every single day.

In November, we opened the Bierstube, our German sausage and beer restaurant. It has been a big hit and the beer, which is imported from Bavaria, has proven very popular.

A few weeks ago, we also inaugurated our Balesin Sala Sunsets. Our sunset cocktails bar in Bali Village, Nusa Dua, had been overflowing, and many times it was standing room only. So, we decided to open Balesin Sala, also as a sunset rendezvous. Balesin Sala was our first clubhouse in Balesin, before we finished what is now the Clubhouse. We had never opened the Sala for cocktails, serving only breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But it is now rivaling Nusa Dua in popularity, with comfortable bean bags on the lawn and Aperol Spritz as our signature sunset cocktail drink.

Rico Sison and I are now considering how we can improve Balesin Sala. In addition to adding more comfort rooms, we are thinking of building a wooden deck around the huge century-old tree on the south side of the lawn. Abangan!

Since we reopened Balesin last year, the number of members and guests coming to the island has more than doubled. This is obviously because people are unable to travel to their favorite overseas destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and other places around the world. So, they come to COVID-free Balesin. It is really heartwarming to see so many familiar and happy faces as they enjoy the island, having been released from the confines of their homes in Manila.

This coming Holy Week, we will have record occupancy in Balesin. For several days during that week, there will be more than 1,000 members and guests in more than 320 villas. This is the largest number of people we have ever had in Balesin. (Three years ago, we had 800 during the Christmas season.) But we will be ready.

During the last few months, our Maintenance team has been hard at work making sure that our 368 villas at Balesin Island are ready. Our village managers have ordered enormous amounts of food to feed some 8,000 members and guests during that week. Balesin has always been proud of its high standards of excellence in hospitality. We continue to get much praise for our F&B operations and we are determined to exceed your expectations!

Balesin is actually quite a complex operation to manage. Remember that we are an island and much of our food and supplies have to come from the mainland. Operating the 7 villages on the island, which are a few kilometers from each other, is like running 7 small hotels. And now, we have added several private villas and 4 Regency Villas.

I am proud of our village managers, almost all of whom have been with me since my Tagaytay Highlands days and who followed me to Balesin. I think you will agree that they are a superior breed and they make Balesin what it is.

A few weeks ago, someone sent me an email with a brochure of a resort in the southern part of the country, which shall go unnamed in this update. But as I went through the brochure, it was very obvious that Balesin is quite unbeatable, with regard to villas, amenities, and most of all, PRICES. I was astounded to see that their villa prices are four times that of Balesin! Not to mention that this island is three times farther away from Manila than Balesin!

I hope you will forgive me for crowing about Balesin all the time. But truly, Balesin is Unique in the World!

ROBERTO V. ONGPIN
Chairman