GETTING HIGH AT THE CHOCOLATE HILLS ADVENTURE PARK
Ma. Andrea C. Liamzon and John Paolo R. Rivera
Any trip to Bohol, Philippines is not complete without seeing the famous Chocolate Hills. Lush green during the rainy season, and chocolate brown during the dry season, the hills are a delight to anyone who sees them. With the opening of the new Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP), one can do more than just look at the Chocolate Hills. At CHAP, you not only see the hills: you can also ride a bike zip line at 100 meters high, and even have your photo taken.
CHAP is the latest ecotourism adventure park in Carmen, Bohol. The once undeveloped land has evolved into a venue for extreme adventures, requiring that visitors have sufficient adrenaline, strength, and courage to try the activities. From South Palms Resort Panglao, we were able to reach CHAP in 1.5 hours courtesy of our driver Edgar. CHAP offers extreme activities like hiking trails (a 438-step stairs that would lead you to remarkable views of the Chocolate Hills), tree top adventures (rope courses for kids, beginners, and advanced – the "Pentagon"), and the famous bike zip (also known as "The Rush" – a 550-meter round-trip zip line using a mountain bike to cross from one hill to another).
During our visit, the weather cooperated: we got the perfect amount of sunlight, clouds and zero rain, which is odd for this time of year. Upon arrival to the site of CHAP, stalwart wooden gates greeted us. After passing through the gates, a pleasant Filipino and tropical-inspired garden, pond and lobby welcomed us. We knew that in this place, we would be one with nature. We purchased "combo" tickets for "The Rush" and "Pentagon" at a discounted rate. We were then directed to the base camp where they conducted a preliminary health check, gave us helmets, and let us sign a waiver. We also bought a pair of gloves, since the staff advised us to wear them during the tree-top challenge for gripping the ropes.
After undergoing their safety standard operating procedures, our adventure started from the bottom of the 438-step staircase that led us to the viewing deck where magnificent views of the Chocolate Hills awaited us. Gazing at the picture-perfect hills, I knew that no words or photograph could give justice to their beauty. After a brief savoring of the fresh air from the viewing deck, it was time to face the challenge of "The Rush". We had to climb another set of stairs, leading to the bike zip platform, which served as a precursor to impending heights. We could feel gravity pulling our guts down. Riding bikes and zip lines were supposed to be easy. And yet, we felt nervous though the staff provided encouraging words to calm the visitor – "relax", "breathe", "no need to balance" (the bicycle wheel is actually lodged into zip line), "seize the moment", "just pedal". Well, there was no point whining. We braced ourselves; and as the famous adage goes, "you only live once."
After the first few pedals, it got easy as we finally got the momentum. There was something about the breathtaking view that made us forget our fears. As we traversed the line, the views became even more spectacular. In hindsight, the hills reminded us of parabolas – as if "ancient aliens" made them. Each of the hills was unique but all of them are equally fascinating because of their symmetry and quantity. The power of geological formation is indeed marvelous. Before the bike zip ends, the staff will ask you to let go of the bicycle's handles and stretch your arms as if you were flying or giving the thumbs up.
After the bike zip, we had to return to the base camp to proceed to the next activity – the "Pentagon".
The Pentagon is the advanced rope course made up of five challenges. From the base camp, we started the challenge by walking through the hanging bridge leading us to the starting point of the Pentagon. Connecting five forest treetops were shaky ropes and wooden planks of various sizes and lengths. We were in full gear – with hard hats and harnesses linked to a rope overhead. These tools assured us that if we lose our balance, we would fall and hang for a while until someone comes and rescues us.
The challenges were intimidating. With sweaty palms, we embarked on the first challenge. Walking on the Burma Planks made you feel like a trapeze artist – balancing on thin wooden planks, fortunately with ropes to hold on to for balance. Earthquake, the second challenge, was like walking on a bridge whose planks were unfixed. Every time you shifted your weight, the planks swayed. The only way to feel in balance was to strategically place your foot in the middle of the plank. Easier said (or written) than done. On the Vine Walk, you have to trapeze on a piece of rope, while gripping "rope vines" every few meters. The secret to this challenge is not to stand on the rope, but rather lean slightly backwards as you grip on the vines. The king of all the rope challenges was the Jacob Walk. It requires walking horizontally on disconnected planks; and swinging the plank sideways (while balancing) to reach over to walk on the next one. There were only about six planks; but it felt like an eternity. After sweating buckets, the Tyrolean, was a breeze. You zip to about halfway the line until the momentum is lost, then you'd have to use your upper body strength to get to the end of the line.
There is something about doing the bike zip and the tree top challenge that makes you feel valiant. After completing the courses, we felt that we could do pretty much anything that we set our minds to.
We were fortunate to have a chat with Mr. Jing E. Velasco, CHAP's Managing Director. He shared with us the humble beginnings of CHAP. At first, CHAP's arrival in Bohol was seen as a threat or competitor by local tourism firms who offer something similar. However, Mr. Velasco emphasized that he came to Bohol not to compete with existing tourist attractions but to complement them. He also shared with us some insights into the architectural design of CHAP. It was constructed without disturbing the existing ecosystem of the area. Making use of simple and natural materials, he believes that "you can create something without destroying."
For more information, visit http://chocolatehillsadventurepark.com/
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this feature are the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views or policies of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the AIM Scientific Research Foundation (AIM SRF), or its Board of Trustees. AIM and AIM SRF make no representation concerning the views in this feature and do not assume any legal liability, responsibility nor guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness, or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.
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