Dec 13, 2017 - Jan 23, 2018
5 Weeks at the Fox and Firefly Cottages
Location: Fox and the Firefly Cottages, Loboc (municipality), Bohol (province), Philippines
It was uncanny. When I arrived Loboc 3 months ago and stepped foot at Fox and Firefly for the first time, I already liked the place. But I couldn't afford to stay there so my wishful thinking was, "it would have been nice to stay here". I didn't even know the owners. Two months later, without any effort on my part, I became the resort supervisor to oversee operations while the owners were away on holidays until their return - that's 5 weeks of actually staying at the resort!
I have to be careful what I wish for - everything I ever wished for already came to be (hmmm....except for that Lamborghini Diablo).
When the position was offered, it was the realization of a fantasy - of being a resort/hotel optimizer. As a homeless nomad, I've lived the last 6 years of my life in resorts, hotels, guesthouses, dorm rooms, hammock, etc. and I already know what works and what needs to be done to optimize a resort/hotel from different perspectives - as a guest, as an owner and as staff member.
I would often play the optimizer role to friends who own their own resorts, but not in any official capacity. Now, I'm that guy! I really have to be careful about things I wish for. This beats printing money!
This is probably pushing it, but the best case scenario for me is to be an optimizer with no accountability! That's right, no accountability. Why? It's not because I don't want to own up. Sure, I take responsibility. But with accountability, you also lose spontaneity because of the added pressure. Just ask any champion paper trader how much he loses when he actually trades real money! Best role? I'd have the ears of the president (any president) without me being a cabinet member or a political appointee. Kinda like what Bong Go is to President Duterte.
Occasionally, I would join the tours - stand up paddle or mountain biking. Even though I'm there only as an observer, I do a lot of things like a tour guide would - from towing an SUP because the paddler was already winded out, to pushing a cyclist who couldn't start on the bike on a mild grade, to positioning myself for a good photo-opt, to coaching how to paddle, how to shift gears, etc. In fairness, it was fun while it was happening. But after arriving, I feel the fatigue.
The staff are polite and courteous - despite me being the guy to blow the whistle on them. It's not a choice - it's my job. I'm not here to win a popularity contest. Despite their exterior smile, I wouldn't be surprised if I am disliked for pointing out all the wrong things I see.
With all the "ooops!" happening under my watch, I wonder what else happened last year when there was no one representing the interest of the owners...and what were hidden from them? I can only speculate.
In fairness again, the staff do their jobs. But they need a nexus to pull everything together into a seamless production flow. Otherwise, what could go wrong is liable to go wrong.
When I interact with resort guests, I introduce myself as a traveler on a brief 'life hacking' stop at the resort - which is true. This way, they don't see me as a suit and become more spontaneous. I enjoy this part the most - interacting with travelers the way I've always done on the open road as a fellow traveler. The interaction is good while it lasts no matter how promising. The pattern repeats itself without fail - you meet someone, and as you both warm-up to each other, it's time for the other guy to leave. Story of my life. Sigh!
The owner already warned me that Netflix was a black hole that would suck me in. That was so true. With their high-definition flat screen tv, I became addicted to my Netflix fix - Madame Secretary, Marco Polo, Unabomber, The Crown, etc. I can't blame myself though. I know that after this stint, when I take on the open road again, it may take years before something like this happens again. It's all good while it lasts, no matter how indulgent. I'm not attached to it anyway.
I love having a kitchen to work with again. I could make my dough from scratch, whip-up dishes that excite me, make my pan-roasted pizza and whisk my own sikwate drink. I share some to friends or resort guests I've been friends with. Tagbilaran is only an hour away and I can do my city indulgence while stocking up at the same time. With a fridge to use, I can now buy butter for my hot off-the-cast iron flat bread.
Don't Lie to Me
Whenever I hear about an inter-staff complaint, the lesson I learned is never to make judgement on the initial allegation until all parties have been heard and information synthesized. Almost without fail, what I hear is a half-truth, exaggerated truth, inverse chronology truth or an outright lie that paint a totally different story. And they can be crafty in spinning the story. I had to talk to all parties and put the pieces together in the right chronology to make sense of what really happened. At one point, I had to tell one, "do you appreciate my frustration talking to 3 people who give me three different stories about the same incident? You know what that tells me? You're all lying!" It was exhausting!
I know it's not part of the Filipino culture to own-up. But it would have been a lot easier for the culprit to simply say, "my bad...sorry" - end of story. Instead, there's a lot of finger-pointing even on things that weren't even big deal to begin with.
I take this episode as an interesting experience in the human factor, but if I have to do this full time as an HR employee, I would rather eat broken glass.
At the apparent level, it would seem like life on Easy Street - resort lodging, compli-meal, tour-access, friend-privilege, interacting with guests, etc. But I wasn't there as a guest-on-holidays. I was vigilant 24/7 wearing the optimizer-hat - ensuring operations run smoothly, ironing-out the kinks, trouble-shooting issues, keeping the staff on their toes, monitoring a flooded river, balancing the books, probing for possible anomalies, fixing what's broken, conducting a workshop, etc. I came up with almost a daily report to the owners to update them on what's happening and also to present my observation and suggestions. Even when I was on a hammock or watching Netflix, my mind kept racing. At the end of the ordeal, it was exhausting.
Of course, my lenses are that of a newbie...unclouded by past history of what else have already happened here. I am not burdened by baggage the same way the owners who have been running this resort have gone through. Perhaps I approach all this with equal idealism and naivité. Now that I'm gone, I come away feeling that I played my role too seriously. But the experience was priceless.
I may have stumbled-upon a hidden niche. I just saw a TED Talk episode about an established surgeon who took a mentor just to tell him what he was doing wrong - no established professional does that! But he was surprised to realize how many blind spots he had - from lighting conditions in the operating room, to the way he handled the precision surgical equipment, etc. Hotel/resort owners face the same dilemma - they've seen the dirt on the wall too many times, they now think it's part of the wall. They need someone with fresh eyes who can spot the obvious issues that require fixing. But there is no job position for this sort of thing. This experience is another tool I put into my human Swiss Army knife. As wonderful and enriching as this experience is, I'm actually glad to be moving on again.
Many thanks to the owners of Fox and Firefly for the trust, many thanks to the staff for putting up with my overbearing scrutiny and many thanks to the resort guests who added color and animation during my stay!
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Next stop: Making Sikwate: from cacao fruit to a hot dark chocolate drink
Loboc, Bohol, Philippines
Bohol FYI / Tips
- the tourist area where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators are, is located within the Alona Beach area
- the tourist attractions in Bohol are far apart and spread-out. It would be difficult to visit them all using public mass transit. Better hire a van (P3500/day) if in a big group, or rent a motorcycle (P400/day + gas)
- Bohol relies on its tourism for revenue. As expected, everything they can capitalize on from tourism is extensively used and developed
Tagbilaran Port to PanglaoYou can charter any tricycle from the port all the way to Panglao (~P300), but if you want to do it on the cheap,
- don't take the tricycles lined-up inside the port. Walk past the port gate and immediately outside, you'll see many tricycles. Take one to the bus terminal in Dao (~P15)
- in Dao, take the jeep that plies the Panglao route (~P20)
Tagbilaran (Bohol) to Cebu City by boat** schedules and rates keep changing, call for latest schedule
- Weesam Express - departs 6:15 AM, 11:30 AM, 4:00 PM
one way: Economy (aircon) P500.00, Economy (non-aircon) P400.00, First Class P600.00
round trip promo (at least 2 days advance booking): Economy (aircon) P600, Economy(non-aircon) P500, First Class P1200
round trip promo (1 day or on the day booking): Economy (aircon) P800, Economy (non-aircon) P700, First Class P1200
- Ocean Jet - departs 6-7:05-8:20-9:20-11:40AM, 1-2-3:30-4:20-5:30-6:30PM, 2 hours, arrives Pier 1 in Cebu
Open Air / Tourist Class P800, Business Class P1000
+63(32)255 7560 / +63 (32) 255 0115 / 0917 638 0000
- SuperCat (2GO) - departs 5:50-11AM, 3:45-5:25-8:15PM, arrives Pier 1 in Cebu
+63 32 233 7000
Things to do, Places to go in Bohol
- Chocolate Hills - this is a clustering of more than 1200 hills within a 50km2 area. They range in height from 30-50 meters. What's unusual is their near-perfect conical shape resembling an individual chocolate chip. No one knows how they were formed. Entrance is P50/pax.
- Tarsier Conservation Area - located Upper Bonbon, Loboc. The tarsiers are no longer being played at by tourists as circus props, but instead, visitors now view them in cordoned-off areas in their natural 6ha habitat. As they are territorial and nocturnal, they are predictable on where they can be viewed. P50/pax.
- Alona Beach (Panglao) - Alona Beach is the tourist hub of Bohol. It has 1.5 kms of white sand beach lined-up by bars, hotels and restos. Alona is also the jump-off point for Balicasag Island, a world class dive destination.
- Danao Adventure Park - located in Barangay Magtangtang, 72 kms (2 hours ride) from Tagbilaran. Adventure activities include river trekking, tyrolean traverse, rappelling, bouldering, rock climbing and ziplining.
Carlos P. Garcia Island
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