The Funny Lion Inn: The Lion of Coron

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If there’s one lion I will never be frightened of, this would have to be it. Not because of its quirky, highly interesting name, but because time and again, the very same team which brought forth this ‘creature’ into being gets me to do things I would never do, except in their resorts.

The team is One-Of Collection, the same group that established the much loved and internationally renowned Bohol getaway, Amorita Resort. Over at Amorita a few years back, this non-swimming, non-diving, yet beach-loving reporter was convinced by their staff to go through an introductory scuba diving session, and go floating and snorkeling in a marine reserve site, all for the first time. They got me to trust them, and I had my high, pretending I could swim and submerge myself, aided by their able hands, guarded by their watchful eyes.

Through The Funny Lion Inn, the latest addition to the group’s list of resort properties, I experienced another ‘first’: swimming a good length of the sea without actually swimming. And had I not been able again to get convinced by the people of this resort, I would have missed out on one of the most important adventures that a traveler must experience in Coron. As chief executive officer Lucas Niccolo “Nikki” M. Cauton pointed out, each resort under the One-Of group is unique, with only one common denominator – a highly dependable and personalized service. The Funny Lion Inn, after Nikki’s words, may be the king of its lair and the lord of its castle, and rightly so; only a king would know that it must treat its guests with tender loving care.

How a lion leads

The Funny Lion Inn took at least two years of development. It opened only last March this year, making it a mere two-month old ‘cub’ when I and photographer Leah De Leon visited late May. During conceptualization, the One-Of team was inspired by the Calauit island reserve, a game and wildlife sanctuary and safari park among the Calamian group of islands. The Funny Lion Inn can be found within the same island group, being located in Coron town, the commercial and tourist hub of Busuanga Island.

Nikki explained that during conceptualization, his team considered what’s in Coron and its surrounding islands; from the lush mangroves right at the foot of the bay-fronting land where The Funny Lion Inn stands, all the way to the Calauit ranch, the hidden beaches and lagoons, the historic shipwreck diving sites, and the rich marine life of the islands. They are aware that exploring the islands is the true attraction, and that their role as the king of their castle is to make sure that the castle would inspire the guests to go on adventures, beyond enjoying resort comforts. This justifies the subtle ranch-safari-military design touches of the resort: painted room numbers and dog tags for keys, chunky wooden details for the interiors, and wide open spaces reminiscent of army halls. But the good thing is One-Of Collection executed the vision with its signature class. “We try to bring it to an adventure luxe level,” said Nikki.

This luxe level of adventure comprises of staying in spacious rooms housing five-star beds with equally big and full pull-out beds, huge flat screen cable TVs, herbal-organic lemongrass beauty care products, ready-assistance from a 24-hour front desk, and in-room dining services. Speaking of dining, The Funny Lion Inn’s restaurant, The Hunt, boasts of filling and luscious bestsellers. They got the tender beef strips-laden Hunter’s Cheese Steak, the meatpacked Hunter’s Pizza, the mellow Honeyglazed Chicken served with organic rice, the seafood-teeming Fettucine Neri al Crema, and good old Cassava Cake with creamy milk sauce and topped with cherry. If you want a serving of roasted cashew nuts to go along with your meals, cashew nuts being a top product in Coron, the restaurant can arrange for that, too.

The team also made sure that no environmental damage would be done during construction, hence they built around existing trees and maintained the terrain, and worked with scientist-environmentalists from the University of the Philippines for guidance. As in other properties, they practice environmental sustainability measures, such as installing solar panels and using wastewater treatment systems to nourish their landscape plants. Their commitment to supporting local economic growth also stands, with them having a staff of roughly 90 percent locals, as in other One-Of properties.

During dinner at The Hunt with Nikki and One-Of Collection’s chief operating officer Lyba Godio, and although I was sure they have been asked many times and will continue to be asked many times more, I just had to ask again, for the record – why settle on such a curious name? Nikki asserted, “We are the only lion in Coron!” there being not one lion in the Calauit reserve, he said, and I just had to laugh, hearing that fact. Then the lawyer-turned-hotelier imitated how one of his kids roared in joy upon first setting foot in the resort, recalling The Lion King film, “It’s Pride Rock, just like Simba’s!” As I visualized the kid’s excitement, I had to laugh heartily again.

More laughter with the lion

Guests of The Funny Lion Inn can choose their own adventure, with guidance from the resort. Partnering with Calamianes Expeditions and Ecotours, a local tour operator, the options include a Coron town tour (heritage and cultural), a Coron island ecotour (exploring hidden beaches, lagoons and marine reserves), a wreck and reefs diving tour (exploring underwater ruins of Japanese war vessels), and of course, a trip to the Calauit Safari Park.

Opting for a not-too-extreme-but-still- fun adventure, I and Leah agreed to go for the island ecotour that Lyba arranged for us. We had four major stops: Kayangan Lake, Bulungan Island’s Kalachuchi Beach, Siete Pecados Marine Park, and Twin Lagoon. For Kayangan Lake, we hiked approximately 300 steps to reach it. Our guide, Emil Meron, as if not tired at all, navigated our balsa across the lake, while Lyba and Leah sat down on it and took photos, and I just lay down at the end of it, caressing the waters with my fingers. At Bulungan Island’s Kalachuchi Beach, we feasted on a lunch of grilled pork, squids, fish and seaweed salad, cooked on our boat with a built-in stove by our boatman-cook. As if our lunch on an island without palm trees and bearing frangipani instead was not amusing enough, Emil made it even more interesting by narrating how the beach was an ancient place of healing for the local Tagbanua people, caretakers and owners of the island. Lastly, at Siete Pecados Marine Park, and after she has fulfilled her photography obligations, Leah snorkeled her way through the deep waters with Emil. I feasted on mangoes and rested on our boat, looked on contentedly at the snorkelers, as I have already been fulfilled by my own little daring feat earlier, at our first stop, Twin Lagoon.

After openmouthedly staring the whole time at the rock islands fronting the entry to Twin Lagoon, I was informed by Emil that it was already high tide. This meant that our boat could no longer go any further into the first lagoon. This also meant that I had to swim across the first lagoon to reach the narrow wooden bridge on the rock formation that divides Twin Lagoon into two, if I wanted to see the other half. One by one my companions jumped off the boat and swam their way towards the rock and the bridge, while Emil remained floating just outside our boat, holding out his hand to me, encouraging me to jump. I reminded him that I could not swim or float, and that he had to look after me, and he laughed while taking it all in.

Still holding out his hand for me to reach, I took a deep breath, demurely slipped off the boat, and clung on to him for dear life, riding his back as he slowly dog paddled towards the dividing rock. I kept hollering things like, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want!,” all the while laughing too and hugging Emil from behind. Finally, we reached the rock and the bridge, and I slowly climbed up to the other side. After I did, the second lagoon presented itself to me, even clearer and grander, splendid beyond words. Then I just had to quietly laugh again while marveling, realizing the length that I ‘swam’ to reach it, realizing it was another ‘first time,’ and realizing that I had to swim the whole length once more to go back.

It was worth the risk.

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