Balancing Act

Our account of Coron 7 weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, Yolanda

When one searches for "Coron Palawan Philippines" through popular search engines, the search result yields a vast media coverage of the typhoon and its immediate aftermath. Many of the resulting articles are dated mid November 2013 or earlier. My post will concentrate on our personal accounts in and around Coron, Palawan, Philippines 7-weeks after Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) made landfall from the eyes of a traveler. Likewise, when one searches for reviews or user generated contents pertaining to the El Rio y Mar Resort in Coron, a plethora of hotel booking sites occupy the top search results. Rather than dividing the post into two articles, you will find my personal and exhaustive review of the El Rio y Mar Resort 7 weeks after the typhoon. I think you'll find it especially useful if you have any plans to stay at El Rio y Mar Resort in the near future and worried about its current state.

I've been looking for clear updates regarding the situation surrounding Coron and Palawan post storm and leading up to a week prior to our stay at the El Rio y Mar Resort from December 28 ~ 31, 2013. Suffice to say, almost 6 weeks of searching yielded information of little use and the entire 6 weeks of information searching is simply put, refined frustration. Information only became clear once I started following the Mayor of Coron's Office official Facebook page for updates on the recovery process and assurance. After keeping up with updates from the Mayor of Coron's Facebook page for several weeks, I've decided to push forward with our detour despite reading mix accounts from recent travelers.

Getting to El Rio y Mar

Our stay in Palawan was a 3-day detour from our 2-week vacation in the Philippines - specifically Quezon City. To get to our final destination of El Rio y Mar Resort, we had to travel by plane, boat and automobile:

  • a 1-hour flight via Cebu Pacific from NAIA to Busuanga Airport, followed by
  • a 25 minute van ride on a bumpy dirt road, and finally
  • a 25 minute boat ride along the Panggawaran River.

The temperature at Coron during our stay in late December was substantially cooler than Metro Manila, but sudden surge of heat waves do come and go. We were given multiple refreshments while the boat ride to El Rio y Mar chugged along the mangrove-filled Panggawaran River. When we finally set foot on El Rio y Mar, a posse of El Rio y Mar staff greeted us at the Port Caltom's bar and sang us a welcome song with some fresh mango refreshment drinks to enjoy. Our stay at the El Rio y Mar resort started with a short tour around the facility before being escorted to our room.

The change of pace in Coron and the respite is welcomed after enduring the chaotic metro ambiance of Manila. The location of El Rio y Mar is very exclusive, which also means a very isolated resort. Don't stay at El Rio y Mar looking for some popping night life, because you won't. If night life and action is what you're looking for, go to Boracay instead. El Rio y Mar is more of a couple's retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Come here to unwind and to enjoy the respite, nature and peace and quiet. Our stay at El Rio y Mar was approximately 7-weeks after Typhoon Yolanda and the extent of the damage from the storm is evident (i.e. stripped coconut tree leaves, destroyed mangrove trees, etc.). The entire grove of mangrove tree behind the cabanas are stripped of their leaves, although, they are beginning to recover. Matter of fact, we were informed that our native cabana (cabin #5) was in the process of restoration until the storm swept in and practically destroyed it in its wake. Suffice to say, the cabin was restored (the new paint smell still lingered) and with solid walls instead of sawali and cogon grass (nepa hut material) of its predecessor. The other free standing cabana adjacent to ours was in the process of being repaired during our stay. Gone are the nepa/anahaw thatching material for the roofs. All the roof on the cabins are reinforced with metal tiled roofing. Apparently we were the first occupant of the restored cabana, now renamed to "Caribbean Cabana". The room is nice and spacious with an overhead fan and a new and quiet functional A/C unit. No TV or phone in the room and I see no need for one. There is a microfridge where you can keep your drinks or snacks refrigerated. There are also consumable beverages inside the fridge that costs between p70-p90 if you consume and added to your room bill. WiFi is available and strongest around the common area, i.e. the restaurant. Cellphone signal is relatively strong around the same area, although we were able to connect to Globe 3G in our cabana.

Unfortunately, Club Paradise is no longer affiliated with El Rio y Mar, so the boat transfers between the two resorts are no longer available. This is because the owner recently sold Paradise to Discovery World Corp for a cool p264 million.

We also took a dip in the infiniti pool right by the restaurant. The pool is nice, cool and decorated with a waterfall fountain at one end. It is great for those that want to take a dip but don't want to venture into the sea.

Dinining option is satisfactory for what it's worth. My personal favorite is the Beijing beef. I am not quite sure how it is set up. Some day/night, it would be buffet style. Other day/night, it would be a la carte. So I am guessing the set up is contingent on the number of guests. Pretty sure if you elect not to eat at the buffet, you can have the restaurant whip you up an a la carte dish.

The Port Caltom's Reef Bar is just loads of fun - morning, afternoon or night. In the day, you can feed the fishes by the dock (or snorkel around). The bartenders, Mel and Emil are great people. Emil shared with us stories of his personal life outside the resort and also videos of the the resort the day after Typhoon Yolanda. We were in disbelief with what we saw in the videos, i.e. roofs blown off from several cedar cabanas, coconut tree fronds on the ground everywhere, mangled mangrove trees, etc. The aftermath was just depressing to watch. Then we were informed that a majority of the resort was restored within 2 weeks! Social aside, the drinks are decent and the beer offering, while limited in selection, is satisfying, although I would like it if they carried Red Horse. I've never had a problem ordering drinks, either at the Reef Bar or the Pool Side bar, day or night. Order the Ciervesa Negra if you have a chance - it tastes a bit like Spaten Optimator, but with less ABV. BTW, if you drink at the reef bar at night, be sure you put on some bug repellent. The gift shop sells Off! lotion for p135 for a small bottle, sufficient for two people. If you don't put on bug repellent, your night will be ruined by the mosquitos making a snack bar out of your limbs. Trust me.

Included water activities consists of kayaking, snorkeling, paddle and body boarding. Water activities that costs include jet skiing, banana boating, diving and fishing.

Coron Town Tour Package

The Coron Island Tour is a must-do event. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that you'll be missing out the beaty of Palawan if you don't take this tour. I would also recommend that you bring or even buy an underwater camera specifically for this tour and I regret that we didn't. It costs p3900 per person at a minimum of four people. The more people that participate, the lower the cost per person. Some reviewers complained about the cost of the tour being too high compared to the same tour offered at Coron Town Proper. I think it's a reasonable price (approximately $88USD) considering it includes a personalized tour guide and the required transportation to and from the resort. You get to pick your packed lunch the night prior to the tour and the restaurant prepares it for you in the morning (billed to your room).

Our tour guide was Andrew, just a great all-around guy - educator, diver, driver, navigator, sailor, tour guide, photographer, etc. The tour requires a boat ride back to the dock, followed by a van ride into Coron Town Proper, followed by a bangka ride to the various islands. Along the van ride, you can witness the aftermath of the storm. Not so much destroyed homes or structures as they've either been rebuilt or cleared, but the trees. Many uprooted trees, lots of bare trees with no leaves, etc. As we ventured into town, I was surprised at how quickly the town recovered, especially knowing that Coron was one of the last towns ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda. Streets were bustling with trikes and automobiles, markets were busy with foot traffic and tourists, etc. The fallen steel cross is visible from the mooring area. We stopped by Twin Lagoon, Baracuda Lake, Kayangan Lake and Maquinit natural salt water hot springs. At each stop, we were given the opportunity to snorkel in the destination lake for approximately 45 minutes. After the 3rd stop, we had a 1-hour lunch break at the base of Kayangan Lake. Our last stop was Maquinit natural salt water hotsprings, which completed our day of hiking, swimming and physical activities. Before returning to the resort, we stopped by the Coron Souvenir shop and picked up a few Coron souvenirs.

Romantic Holiday Package

The Romantic Holiday package includes the following, and can be customized further with the consultation of a El Rio y Mar staff:

  • Romantic dinner setup for two with a bottle of wine,
  • a Couple's 30-minute back massage, and
  • Island Escape for two.

The floating spa platform was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda, so the massage takes place in a new spa room located next door to the gift shop, but have since been fixed. Floating spa or not, we got the best 30-minute back massage of our life.

Island Escape for Two

The island escapade for two is just that. Andrew, our Coron Town Tour guide, ferried us to Jatoy Island (aka Diatoy) and left us there for three hours - packed lunch, drinks, towels and umbrellas provided. It is like having our own island for three hours. You can do whatever you want in the privacy of your own island, e.g. swimming, snorkeling, or whatever couples do in the privacy of their own home ;).


Romantic Dinner

For the romantic dinner, I had a choice of having the dinner set up at the beach front or in the gazebo near the poolside. I chose the gazebo for the added privacy. Dinner is served in 3 courses with a bottle of red or white wine. The romantic dinner concluded with me proposing to my fiance :).

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I think the only thing El Rio y Mar can improve upon is to install a Point of Sale system and get rid of the old fashion way of keeping tabs, i.e. hand written receipts for charges. For example, if you order drinks at the bar, or buy lunch/dinner, even the Coron Town Tour, you are to sign a hand printed receipt. The billing department later tallies up all your receipts and add it to your final bill. I think it's inefficient and accident/loss prone. At the end of my stay, I have an envelope stacked full of receipts!

I like to give thanks to the entire staff, especially Eliza, Hannah, Mel, Emil and Andrew for making our stay a very enjoyable one. Until next time!

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