21-22 January 2020
Iloilo / Carles
The flight from Manila to Roxas City was fairly smooth. I kept my three-year-old Maddy busy with her tablet while Wifey and our one-year-old Oli was seated separately from us. My mother-in-law was a few rows back. Lasting just over an hour, we had finally landed.
Outside waiting for us, stood a man holding a sign with our names on it. We pre-booked our airport transfer as our hotel, Solina Beach and Nature Resort was an hour and a half drive away (TIP: Roxas City is the closest airport). Not wasting any time, we made our way through a poorly lit highway, passing farms, fields and little towns. There was no traffic at all. Nothing to hinder the van apart from random tricycles that would appear out of the darkness, moving to the side of the road to give way to our “people mover” powering through.
An hour in and we were all hungry at this point. Our snacks were exhausted. Maddy fell asleep on my lap while Oli, visibly upset was not happy to be quarantined in a dark van. “Not long now”, I reassured Wifey as I checked the time on my phone.
The cool breeze blew intensely as we got out of the van and into the reception area. Chinese lanterns (we were there during Chinese New Year) swayed aggressively in the wind. While we waited for Wifey to finish check-in, I watched over our two kids fascinated by the sungka game on the coffee table. Oli moved the pebbles around the holes, carved into the wooden board. We were advised that due to a recent typhoon that devastated the hotel two weeks before our stay, the wifi in the resort was unavailable apart from the reception area. The news dampened my already weakened spirit (due to hunger).
A golf buggy escorted us to our villa, the Balay Reyna. Inside were two queen beds crisply done. The ceiling was high making the room feel a lot bigger than it really was. Sliding wooden louvered doors opened to reveal the balcony with the pool view. The only thing we could see out of the darkness. We freshened up before heading to the restaurant.
The restaurant was only a two-minute walk away from our villa. It looked grand with its wooden exposed beams set upon the high ceiling of the alfresco dining area. There were plenty of set tables with a handful of guests already enjoying their evening meal.
For our dinner, we ordered three dishes. The lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly) had the crunch that we were looking for. Maddy enjoyed the grilled chicken. Its sweet smoky flavour was on point. “My seafood pasta is better”, I arrogantly declared upon tasting their version of the dish. Seafood pieces were abundant in the dish, however it lacked a bit more flavour. Oli was happy to eat the rice and nothing else. My kids had been very picky when it came to food upon arriving in the Philippines and tonight was no exception. For drinks, we were served cucumber juice on the house and Wifey ordered a fresh mango shake. (TIP: If they forget to serve you welcome drinks at reception, ask for it at the restaurant).
Guest numbers somehow double during breakfast time and the floor was busy as can be. We settled on an available table, Wifey and my mother-in-law headed first to see what was included in the breakfast buffet spread. They came back with various dishes, mostly Filipino. There was sinangag (garlic fried rice), tuyo (dried fish) and pandesal (bread roll). I went straight to the omelette station and ask for a fresh one with the lot. The pandesal was one of the best we have had and it was freshly baked in-house; soft, milky and just the right sweetness. It was even better toasted.
A walk was in order after the sumptuous breakfast. “Let’s check out the beach”, I said. It wasn’t the white sand that I was expecting, more on grey. Low tide exposed a darker more grittier sand littered with tiny shells that was a little sharp for bare feet. Stray dogs lounged on the shore without a care in the world. A lone lifesaver’s chair was positioned between two trees. Maddy jumped on a tattered hammock. “Dad, can we go swimming now?”, she said.
The resort had three different sized pools, one dipping pool for kids and two for adults. Water was not heated and felt chilly on my first dip. Maddy was given arm floats by the pool attendant. She got used to it in an instant. “I can float by myself now, Dad”, she said. As the hour passed, more guests appeared to cool off in the cool water.
Lunch at Bancal Port
Tricycle was the only means of transport from our hotel to Bancal Port (TIP: Ask the guard to call a tricycle for you). The driver arrived and we were surprised by the seating arrangement within his side car. Standard tricycles normally had seats inside the compartment. This one had seats both inside and outside; back-to-back. Maddy and I opted to sit at the back. I held onto Maddy tightly as I could with one hand holding an opened umbrella to shield her from the searing midday sun. The trip took around 20mins and as soon as we stepped out, we were greeted by the salty breeze from the sea. “Where can we find a restaurant here?”, we asked the driver and he pointed us to a questionable carinderia (small eatery). “Anything else?”, I asked. He took us around the corner and found what we were after. “This is it”, I said to myself. The driver said he was going to wait for us until we were done eating so he could take us home. He didn’t ask for the P150 one-way fare yet.
DAYON SA DAMPA, KAINAN – the restaurant sign said which loosely translated to “Come in our eatery”. The cozy hut was supported by stilts above the water’s edge. A sari-sari (variety) store stood by the entrance. The restaurant was surprisingly empty apart from the lanky white cat that caught Oli’s attention. We were seated near the “sea view”.
We ordered two whole fried snapper, grilled squid and a bitter melon stir fried dish. We couldn’t help but use our hands to tuck in our cheap lunch (compared to hotel restaurant prices). The fish was fried to a crisp. Squid was tender, delicious when dipped in soy sauce with kalamansi (like a Filipino lime) and paired with warm steamed rice. Even the cat was salivating as it watched us devour our feast. A lady selling kamote-cue (skewered sweet potato snack) came in and offered the restaurant attendants. We managed to buy the last one.
Next door was a souvenir shop where we purchased our typical holiday memento; another fridge magnet to our collection.
Afternoon at the beach / pool
Fresh from our naps and with the sun about to set, we made our way back to the beach for a walk. We noticed that the bar and the recreation area by the beach was closed and the windows were all broken. “It must have been the typhoon”, I said to myself. Oli and Maddy happily frolicked in the tide pools. My mother-in-law collected some shells to show to her grandchildren.
We managed to squeeze in another pool session before dinner. The lights around the pool were eventually turned on creating a magical setting against the darkening sky on the horizon.
Not wanting to travel back to Bancal Port for dinner, we decided to stay at the resort and eat at Angga once again. This time, we opted for the following; pork sinigang (sour soup), penne bolognese and another type of grilled chicken. Maddy barely ate the penne, saying it had too much sauce. The sinigang was sour to our liking, its warm soup comforted your throat with every sip. Compared to the previous chicken we ordered, this was below, flavour-wise.
Day 1 was all about relaxing and experiencing what the resort had to offer. Despite no wi-fi around the resort and the evident devastation the typhoon had caused to its amenities, Solina Beach and Nature Resort delivered. It was not perfect but it was a pleasant stay nonetheless. With all the food we ate on our first day, I definitely gained a kilo (or two) in Iloilo. Day 2 coming soon…