Bohol: Before and after

I consider myself among the lucky ones who have seen Bohol's magnificent churches before they were ruined by the earthquake.

A year after the earthquake, I was back, this time, looking at each and every corner of the Loboc and Baclayon churches or what was left of them. Every structure that remained was important now. The first time I came here, I just kneeled before the altar, said a short prayer, then left.

The task of rebuilding began. There were no more traces of the cracks in the roads and the pavements because they were repaired immediately. But the churches were still heavily damaged, some beyond restoration.

Most of the major tourist attractions hardly show any trace of the devastation. At the viewing deck of the famous Chocolate Hills, there was a portion that was still damaged, but generally, access was allowed. The Loboc river cruise was back in business.  Life appears to be as it was before for the Boholanos. Or is it?

Months after the earthquake, we've learned that tourism came to a halt, not so much because of the damage but because there was no electricity coming from Leyte where most of Bohol's power comes from. But it was actually only in January of this year that tourists, mostly foreigners, started to come.

The island of Panglao was spared from the earthquake, but tourists do not know that.

And that is why, more than a year after the earthquake, tourist arrivals have not completely returned to their pre-earthquake levels.

But this has not deterred tourism operators from pursuing their plans.

The owners of Bluewater Panglao, who also own and operates two other world-class resorts (Bluewater Maribago in Mactan Island, Cebu and Bluewater Sumilon in Oslob, Cebu) have acquired an adjacent 3,000 square meter property which has increased the size of the resort to 5.5 hectares.

According to Bluewater Panglao resident manager Edison Navas, the original blueprint for the resort calls for three phases totaling 150 rooms. There are at present 54 rooms divided into four categories - 46 are premier deluxe, four are family lofts, three are single villas, and one is a family villa.

Plans moving forward include constructing not only additional rooms but more recreational facilities as well. This would include an outdoor garden venue.

Navas has managed all three Bluewater Resorts. But prior to that, he has had an extensive experience in the hotel and resort business, having been part of Ayala Land's Anvaya Resort, the old Hotel Nikko (now Dusit), the Mandarin, Crown Plaza. He has also taught hotel and restaurant management at the College of St. Benilde.

Navas and the Bluewater group prides itself with the relaxed, laidback atmosphere of Bluewater Panglao, which of course serves as a jump-off point for major tourist activities like diving at the world-famous Balicasag, or dolphin-watching. The beaches of Panglao reminded us of Boracay of yesteryears when life was simplier and more quiet, and of course, minus the crowd.

The staffmembers at Bluewater Panglao are among the friendliest and the food at the resort is top-notch. And of course, there is Amuma Spa which offers among other Pikpik Kawayan sa Siki, a treatment that uses bamboo poles to apply rhythmic pressure on the foot area, and Hingut-an, which involves pulling the hair gently to stimulate circulation.

But nothing will beat the white-sand beaches, pristine waters, and marine sanctuaries of Panglao Island and the inherent warm hospitality of its folks.

We have learned that the Bluewater group plans to add two more resorts in its roster in the next five years. Among the choices are Siquijor, Dumaguete, and Palawan, all great tourist destinations.

There was a huge streamer from the local government of Carmen that sums up the experience for Bohol. It says: "One year after the great Bohol earthquake, we remember not the tragedy but how we rise from the ruins."

Tourism has become the lifeblood of Bohol. The hotel and resort owners and employees; the tour operators, the tourist guides, and their staff; the boat owners and boatmen who would bring us to the different islands; the restaurant owners and their people - all eagerly await the time when tourism would be back to its pre-earthquake levels. But things are definitely looking up.

The opening of the new international airport in 2018 will mean more tourists and businesses coming in. We've also heard that there is another part of Bohol that is currently being developed as an alternative tourism destination. The big names in the resort business have started to locate in Bohol. Progress has become inevitable.



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