Still a good view of the Chocolate Hills
A stairway of 228 steps leads to a new viewing deck that offers a view of unspoiled slopes of the Chocolate Hills.
At the top of the hill is the Honesty Café. No attendants are around so guests who help themselves to beverages and snacks are asked to leave payment according to price labels indicated.
The café illustrates the Boholanos’ trait of trustworthiness.
“We want our guests to feel safe,” said Jing Velasco, managing director of Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP), which got the spotlight after Bohol reopened its Loboc River Cruise and other tourist attractions on Thursday to reinvigorate the island’s tourism program following the Oct. 15 earthquake.
“The Honesty Café is one way to make visitors feel that here in Bohol, you don’t have to fear that drivers will shortchange or overcharge you. Boholanos are honest people,” Velasco said.
Development started last year in the four-hectare property in barangay Buenos Aires, Carmen.
“We soft opened in April 24 and planned to introduce the park by mid December but because of the earthquake, we had no choice but to go full blast two months earlier than scheduled,” Velasco said.
“I don’t know if I should be happy or sad with what happened but what’s important is that we were able to help in the revival of Bohol’s tourism.”
The push to open alternative destinations in Bohol, led by the Department of Tourism and local stakeholders, took place nine days after the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that damaged at least 10 churches in Bohol and reduced its biggest church in Loon town and the Loboc church to rubble.
Velasco, who led Manila’s “hop-on-hop-off” tourism program, said Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr. visited him in Bohol a day after the Oct. 15 earthquake struck.
“He came here with officials from DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) and immediately inspected the place for any quake damage,” Velasco said.
Secretary Jimenez wanted to get Bohol’s tourism enterprises back on its feet as quickly as possible. Tourism is a major revenue earner for Bohol, an agricultural province with beautiful nature spots and no manufacturing industry.
The earthquake ruined the main concrete viewing deck in Carmen Chocolate Hills Complex so CHAP was seen as the best alternative.
“I told the Secretary I didn’t know what to feel. Should I be happy or sad? But we’re just glad that our property could help in keeping Bohol’s tourism alive,” he said.
The park involves an investment of at least P60 million until June next year when at least 30 guest rooms would be available.
CHAP, which is owned and run by Camanayon Hill Development Corp., offers an ecotourism feel with wooden boardwalks that lead to the 248 step stairway to the viewing deck.
Entrance fee is P60.
Water from a spring flows freely through the property with portion pumped to a fountain.
“We simply enhanced the property. We did not build walls to separate our property from the neighborhood which rice fields and vacant lots. Our guests can see farmers harvesting. It’s a view to behold. Our foreign guests love it,” Velasco said.
Their main receiving area has a café and souvenir shop, and a band playing local songs. Staff “ecoguides” welcome you at the reception desk.
Fresh buko juice, homemade hot choco or “sikwate” and coffee are offered with puto maya, bibingka and budbud.
A serpentarium holds a python and green whip snakes for viewing.
Two nipa huts labeled ‘Payag ni Jing’ and ‘Payag ni Dong’ are rest areas on the way up the stairs to the viewing deck.
A zipline will be completed by November as part of the “eco adventure” offered.
“Rappelling, monkey bridges, canopy walks and more rope courses will soon be offered here,” Velasco said.
By June next year, they will build 30 to 40 rooms designed as ‘glamorized bahay kubo.’
Velasco said when they hire staff, 20 percent of the workforce must come from the community.
“I have 18 people now. We are looking for ways to absorb as many staff from the main complex that was damaged during the earthquake, including the blind masseurs from the Chocolate Hills Complex, he said.”
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