Who would've thought that somewhere, within the typhoon-battered province of Polilio Quezon, lies one island that will soon be a world-class destination? But that's the beauty of it, isn't it? It's like a secret paradise. It's not hidden from plain sight but only a privileged few can set foot on its enchanting territories.
Upon the invitation of Balesin Island Club, an exclusive resort destination and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alphaland Corporation, select members of the press were recently flown in to personally witness how the developments are coming along and experience the wonders that the island has to offer.
For starters, the Club offers its members subsidized flights to and from the island on its own private planes. In Manila, the party boarded the brand new Cessna Grand Caravan at Alphaland's Hangar inside the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines in Parañaque. After about 25 minutes, we landed at EL Tordesillas private airstrip and were met by the company's project director Marco Diaz.
Marco immediately let us in on some key information about the island, particularly the airstrip which was named after its previous owner who was Marcos' former trade undersecretary. ''We owe to him, all of the greenery that you see around the island. Long before it was popular, he was already into having forest and marine sanctuaries. He didn't like cutting trees and as you can see we kept with the same principle if you look at how we built things on the island.''
Built 240mm thick and 1,500 meter long, the runway is at par with international standards for it is meant to bring in guests from Hong Kong, Singapore, and eventually, Sydney. But what's even more impressive is that the runway is made as a water catcher as well. ''Rainwater is harvested to provide potable water for the island's water features. We get 101,250,000 liters per year from the airport runway. And two of our lakes have a storage capacity of 60,000,000 liters.''
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Balesin Island is made up of 424 hectares of land with 7.3 kilometers of pristine white sand beaches. A short history of the island tells us that during the Japanese occupation in the country, there was a contingent of seven soldiers living on the island. During those years, all they did was to ask fishermen to go fish, get coconuts, bike around the area and get a massage. When they were called to Manila to surrender, they couldn't believe that there had been any fighting.
After World War II, Tordesillas bought the island and started developing it with mostly Japanese visitors coming in; the visitors went there to get married or simply have a vacation. ''It was a very idyllic spot for them and there's always enough space to get lost,'' says Marco.
Today, standing on the same spot where the Tordesillas' small resort used to be is the Clubhouse that will soon be home to a specialty restaurant with Sushi and Teppan Bar and probably a Live Fish Restaurant. On its right side is the Seven Suites laid out on the mezzanine level with its own sun deck overlooking the outstanding 1,100 sq. m. infinity pool. But the nicest thing about it is that it isn't just a big square laid out with water in it. The water actually goes around the trees thereby leaving nature's original design untouched.
As for guests with kids, there is a 400 sq.m. kiddies' pool with life guards manning the area. Likewise, there are whirlpools, sun deck and lobby bars where people can just lounge around on their own leisure time. If not, they can always opt for the cogon huts situated on the beach front.
Not so distant from the clubhouse are other facilities on the island that are still under construction such as the Aquatic Sports Center, the Thalasso Therapy Destination Spa and the Balesin Village. Completion is expected two months from now. ''We are on the pelagic route of the Pacific and this area is perfect for deep sea fishing and other recreational sports. And because we have over 2,500 hectares of marine sanctuary, there's no dynamite fishing or any other illegal form of fishing... We have our own security force, highly trained and highly motivated. They are all ex-military with distinguished service records. We have several of them positioned around the island and we have the radar site which will see everything coming in. Everything within the three kilometer radius is warned, intercepted and checked.''
While on the island, one will never run out of things to do, the club made sure of that. They have a fully covered sports center with indoor and outdoor basketball and tennis courts, three badminton courts, table tennis room, a gym and a cardiac clinic with ambulance.
''If anything should happen, you have somebody to stabilize you; you have the plane which is always here, and an all-weather runway. In 30 minutes you'd be flown straight to your big hospital and have your world class treatment,'' Marco reassures.
For those seeking outdoor adventures, horseback riding may appeal to your taste. Marco continues: ''We actually asked about 30 kids what best experience they could ever have with their parents and they said riding down the beach on a horse. Now we have 8.6 kilometers of horse path and 700m long white sand beach which is exclusive for the use of the horses.''
Apart from Balesin Village which exhibits the Philippines' wealth of natural beauty, the club is building five more hospitality villages on the different parts of the island. At its helm are architects Miloy Casas, Conrad Onglao and Jorge Yulo. It took inspiration from the most famous and exclusive international vacation spots such as Mykonos, Costa Smeralda, St. Tropez, Bali and Phuket. Each of the villages will have 40 villas, swimming pools, sun decks and restaurants. All construction is expected to be complete by the end of the year. ''You can have a Filipino breakfast in the Balesin Village Sala, an Italian pizza and steak in Costa Smeralda, a Thai merienda and a Balinese dinner. It gives you a chance to go all over the place,'' Marco encourages.
Still according to Marco, each of the areas that the club built on cost R38 million in engineering and environmental study. ''Every single study that you can think of - wind, wave, water, earth - we did everything! Having all these data, we got the best master planners in the world - Ecoplan of Florida. They placed things in the proper areas, even the sewage treatment plant is 20 meters away from the beach front which allows ample space so that when people come in with boats, it's not like a city on the water. If you look left and right, you'll notice actual trees right beside buildings and that's because on the plan, we actually planted out where all the trees were. And so our building is not just this giant square that you plot on the map. You actually contour it and twist it to fit the environment.''
The club is also getting help from the island's locals. ''We have a baranggay of 700 people here. All of them are training to become a tourism-oriented village. From a fourth class baranggay that was earning R80 a day, they are now earning about R30,000 a month. All of their kids are our scholars as we've added teachers also. Once they are grown up to the high school level, they would have OJT in the club and once they finish high school, they're better than practically anyone else because they are trained hospitality staff.''
Marco recalls the moment they first came to the island. ''The people who live here didn't have any water. They didn't have a proper toilet. And so we built for them... The locals are the first protectors of this island. They will protect their new way of life. They will not do things like cut trees because they understand why they shouldn't. Or throw their trash on the beach or use dynamite.''
So what's next? Are they going to build more once everything is done? ''We're only developing 10 percent of the island. All the rest is as you see it from the plane. You'll actually notice that developments are just pockets. The only places we developed are the areas that have been cleared already by the last owner or were former coconut plantations... That's what master plan is for. It's supposed to tell you the extent of your development.''