And so we went, Bert and I.
We got a great deal on Cebu Pacific. With senior discounts, we paid just a little over P6,000 for both of us. That’s about $60 per person for the one hour flight from Manila to Busuanga and back.
OK, so with our savings, we decided to splurge a bit on our hotel. Let the money go! we said. Live it up! But as a lifetime frugalette (that’s a word I just coined), I chose to book at Bayside, which is the less decadent and definitely better priced of the two Two Seasons hotels in Coron.
It was great being whooshed from the airport to the hotel. Service was impeccable. Everyone stood to either thank us or greet us with their hand on their chest – ooh la, so very nice and courteous, but when the front desk agent handed us our room key and I asked, “Does it have a nice view?” and she said, “Actually, no m’am,” I was stumped.
“Uhm, what do you mean no? It does not have a water view?” I asked.
“Yes m’am,” she responded as politely as she could muster. “It has a view of the street.”
We had just driven through the streets of Coron and they were not pretty. Across from the hotel was rubbish piled high between roughly built structures. The road was strewn with litter. I was horror-struck to think we had paid $578 for three nights’ stay in a room that looks out to this unpleasantness in a provincial town where I kind of expected hotels to be less expensive than let’s say, New York City.
So I told the lady, “You’re charging us nearly $200 a day and we don’t get to see the water?”
“Yes m’am,” she repeated, then added, “I wish we could move you to a room with water view but we are all booked.”
“And if you were not booked,” I asked, “how much would a room, cost?”
“They start at $250 a day,” she said, “plus tax and service charge.”
I gave up.
We went to our room. It was pretty standard as standard rooms go except for a balcony to heighten appreciation of the view.
Our waitress in the hotel restaurant recommended we take a tricycle tour of the city that afternoon starting at 4:00. For P500, the driver would take us to the city highlights – hot springs, a mountain view, a large souvenir shop, the town center park and St. Augustine Church. Uhm, okay. Bert and I are not big on tricycles because he can hardly get in them but our waitress promised this tricycle would be big enough.
It arrived new enough, too. Our driver was proud that his ride was only a few months old. Woohoo! And it would have been wonderful, but have you experienced Coron’s city roads? Oh my. The cement has washed out on all the roads, leaving their surface rockier than rocky roads. So there we were going a-chug-a-chug-a-chug for hours on end and dammit, I said, We’re out of here!
When the driver stopped at Lobster King and said that’s where we should have dinner, I looked at the wide ditch in construction progress in front of the wooden shack and I grabbed Bert’s arm. “Uhm, no,” I said. “No way. We are not going in there!” But our driver assured us it was the #1 restaurant in town. Bert led the way across a wooden plank to a used cardboard welcome mat to the restaurant.
We ordered four small lobsters and shrimp tempura. While waiting, I got a free 10-minute back massage and that was good. I needed that.
The lobsters, grilled then smothered with margarine and garlic, were good, but the tempura shrimps were not. Dinner, with our 20% senior discounts, cost about P1,200. Does that make Coron a cheap place to go for seafood?
It rained all of the next day so we cancelled our island hopping tour. Oh dear, what to do on a rainy day in Coron? The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing. But my feet ached to go somewhere so I left Bert in the room and headed to town. A tricycle dropped me off at the park and I explored the area in the rain.
The central park was a sea of muddy potholes. There was no charm in the market where dogs roamed freely and the building looked downtrodden. The shoreline smelled of pee.
Downtown there were few souvenir shops; the rest were ukay-ukay (second-hand) and sari-sari (variety) stores.
It was very hard to love Coron.
The gods heard us and the next day, after a rainy start, the sun came out.
“They’ll pick you up between 7:30 and 8:30,” our tour agency said. The van arrived at 9:10 sharp.
We got on a blue boat where several other passengers were waiting. The tour was supposed to start at nine. Seats on the dry side of the boat were taken so Bert and I sat on the side where rain soaked our backs wet. Ohmmmmm ohmmm, said Buddha.
Finally, after 10, our boat took off. We were at the first of five islands within minutes. The island was lush and green. Our tour mates jumped in the water but we did not. I had just had cataract surgery and my doctor said definitely no salt water in my eye!
The second island was not as green but still beautiful. By this time the sun had come out full force and it would have been good to lie out on the sand if we were not leaving in 20 minutes.
We had lunch on the third island – it was great, by the way! Our boat crew grilled fish and chicken on the boat and cut up fruits beautifully. Rice and pinakbet had been cooked beforehand. There were covered picnic tables on the island and we corralled one, along with a visiting monkey and a few dogs.
The fourth island held Kayangan Lake and it was quite funny. You had to climb 170 steps up to the view deck. Then you had to go down over 200 steps to the lake. I think this was the favorite for most of our group. I got in the water without wetting my eye, then got up and walked back up the 200 steps and down 170 steps to the boat.
It surprised me that the teenage girls on our boat said, “M’am, you were able to do the stairs???” Uhm, yes.
I think I liked our fifth island best. It was a marine sanctuary. For P100, I joined a tour on a glass bottomed boat. We cruised the area for about 15 or 20 minutes and saw some really awesome corals and fish – the same corals and fish Bert and I had just seen in the San Francisco Academy of Sciences.
We were out for over eight hours and all we had was a tiny restroom in the boat with a door that would not lock. I refuse to discuss this.
Finally the tour was over and we wrote our feedback. I said the crew was great, the islands were beautiful, food was good but the boat could stand improvement and they could start their tours on time.
Our ride home from the island-hopping tour was an impromptu tour of the city. We had to take our tour mates back to their hotels, and this gave us an expanded view of the city. I believe this is the poorest town we’d visited in the country. Here we saw no one walking in high heels. There were few cars on the road. There were no Jollibees, no malls, no 7-Elevens. Not even Colette’s buko pie.
It was wonderful to be back in our hotel! After three days of going around town, I could finally understand why it cost so much to stay in our hotel. We walked across the lobby, now adorned with Christmas trees, and sat down in the Baja restaurant where huge jellyfish made of glass hung from the ceiling and morphed from green to red, to orange and blue. They were quite magnificent.
We sat at our usual table by a wall so better to see the sea, the swimming pool and all the people walking in and out of the restaurant, and we wondered if they, too, felt that the only place in town where they could be comfortable was “home.”
While having frozen margaritas and nachos in the restaurant, Bert and I exchanged views about Coron. Unsurprisingly, they were the same.
The main problem, I think, is that outside of the island hopping experience, there is nothing to do on your vacation. There are no beaches where to relax and get a good massage. In fact there are no beaches in town. The water where our 5-star hotel sits smells of rotten fish and grime.
The city roads are in bad condition. Not only are they narrow; they are so rough that cars and tricycles alike could not last beyond their warranty.
I felt sorry for all the foreigners walking everywhere trying to avoid litter, potholes and mud to get from point A to point B.
There are no restaurants or stores in town where you might want to hang out and spend time. The Floridian man on our shuttle van back to the airport gave a malicious grin while showing us pictures he had taken of the hot springs. He, too, wondered why they built a satellite antenna right next to the mountaintop cross, the highest and most important landmark of Coron.
I did find good cashew marzipan sold somewhere.
I hate that we were not impressed with the city. I hate that we did not ooh and ahh at seeing the islands because as beautiful as they were, we saw no wide open beaches of any color to enjoy. We are not hikers or trekkers.
Maybe it’s because the reviews were so glowing that we expected to be overwhelmed by it all.
Unfortunately, we were not.
Bella Bonner, UP Mass Comm graduate, moved back to Manila after 30 years in Texas and is trying life as an urban farmer. Between growing arugula in her neighbor’s yard and making artisan cheeses, she contemplates on raising goats in her own yard. Would her neighbors agree?
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