Finally, a short word about where we stayed in Siquijor. We had booked our accommodation back in February when I first learnt my family was coming for Christmas, and we managed reservations from the last few rooms available. It had been recommended to me by friends as one of their favorite places in the Philippines and, as a result, I had high expectations. But I was still pleasantly surprised when we arrived. It was very, very pretty. And large.
The resort is spread out along almost 2kms of beach, with two restaurants, two swimming pools and and cottages widely spaced in different settings. I loved the restaurant tables, where you could get a table in a little private hut, far away from others. Everything was well cared for and the service was good. The clientele was from all over the world, but there was a high percentage of families from Europe. This was reflected in the menu, which offered a lot of European dishes with potatoes, not rice unless you asked for it, and European service standards. Additionally, there were many customs and typical Filipino protocols that weren’t followed either. If you haven’t lived in Manila, you wouldn’t notice their absence, but we did. Staff were trained quite differently. The Filipino standard Mamsir form of address was replaced with first names only, which they took the time to learn. Starters were brought out as a first course, not along with or even after the entrée, a common practice here. Entrees came out at the same time, so everyone ate together, rather than just delivering the dishes as they were prepared in the kitchen. Even the plate clearing was handled differently. Giving good service in a Filipino restaurant means clearing empty plates away as quickly as possible. This can be awkward to Westerners who don’t like their plates cleared so quickly, leaving the other diner eating alone. Here plates were cleared when everyone had finished. A small detail that makes a big difference to Western manners.
We quickly learnt that the way to get efficient service in the restaurant was to preorder your meal. If you go down to the restaurant earlier in the day and let them know where you would like to sit (the best beach tables were booked a couple of days in advance) and what you would like to eat, the food arrived hot and prompt. If you didn’t, you went straight to the back of the line as everyone else pre-orders, every meal, every day.
In the main, the resort did everything very well, and it was a pleasure to be there. At Christmas, it was full with families – the noisiest of guests – but we rarely really felt their presence. You could walk on the beach or through the grounds, see others but feel enough personal space that they never took away from the relaxing experience. The pool was probably the only place I sometimes felt other people’s presence intruding on mine, but the pool was an optional space. So if you felt crowded, you could just walk away. There were plenty of quieter spots that were comfortable with pretty views. We did have to fight the German’s tendency to reserve every pool chair with their towel, holding the chair for hours for their exclusive use. Fortunately none of us really wanted to hang out around the pool too long anyway.
Coco Grove was that rare find in the Philippines so far… an affordable resort, with excellent service that took advantage of its beautiful location. I don’t think we’ll have a chance to return, but it would be a wonderful opportunity to go again.