THE President of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry , Consul Sam Chioson, challenged our tourism committee to get together and improvise new, unexplored tourism sites to sustain Cebu’s undisputed reign as one of the best destinations in Asia, and the country’s top economic accelerator. Tall order? Not really. Cebu never relents in coping with any worthwhile challenge.

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We gathered the members of the Tourism Product Development Team led by this writer and our VP-external affairs Nestor Archival (who had endless inputs about his eco-tourism ventures); travel exponents Marget Villarica, Cecille Saa (with husband Audie), Aida Uy, Zenaida Chua, Cookie Chan; Rowena Montecillo , Agnes Toling (later joined by Judilyn Quiachon, Christine Ordesta, Camilo Wapiri, Reynan Co and Marlon Barrientos ) of the Department of Tourism-7; trustees Tess Chan (with husband David), Edwin Ortiz; Lyndon Gabato and John Ciocon of Amazing Cebu; Jun Selma (who joined us in the tour); CCCI executive director Ann Cabigas and external affairs/membership staff Mars Cabildo in a series of meetings to plan for our first project, an ocular tour of the first set of eco-heritage tours.

With a common vision, we found it easy to craft an itinerary.

So, at exactly eight in the morning on Aug. 6, the team assembled at Starbucks, Ayala, with three vans ready to take us to our destinations. At exactly, 8:15 a.m., we all headed to the House Close to Nature, environmentalist Nestor Archival’s haven in Talamban , a 20-minute drive from Ayala. Ah, the place is nature’s sanctuary, giving shelter to a vegetable and fruit garden, a fish pond; bird’s kingdom; re-cycling systems and a showcase of native instruments like guitars and ukuleles; a cozy corner for goat and pig raising and a mini-park of greens and blooms. But, the main attraction was Nestor’s house,

where fresh air and sunlight could be had, as a poet said, by the “poorest comer”.

Ceilings and walls, as well as floorings are made of strong and native materials, some fixtures, like chandeliers, book shelves and lamp shades, made of recycled cups, wires/steel bars and bottles Nestor personally collected from some hotels and Ayala.

Striking was the Mama Mary grotto as well as a flexible mini chapel where mass could be celebrated. We could see how Nestor put so much time and logistics to put up this refreshing site.

We noticed that small groups of foreign and local tourists are already visiting the place.

The team gave a 100% approval rating to mark House Close to Nature as the first stop for an eco-adventure morning itinerary.

Next was a 45-minute journey from Nestor’s home to the Highland Farm Hideaway of Rene Mercado in Agsungot. With wider and cemented roads, the trip could be shorter and more comfortable.

But, despite the lack of good infrastructure, the place is worth all the effort. True, it’s a farmland where fresh leafy vegetables and organic food (including native juice and tasty vinegar) are cooked in varieties to please guests. It was drizzling when we reached the place but we enjoyed the breeze as we cavorted in the green field on a hilltop, so close, seemingly seeing and reaching the clear skies, despite the intermittent rains. Some of us turned poetic because the place was so conducive to quiet interludes, or romantic trysts.

We did not want to leave the place immediately, but we had two more itineraries. After the lunch prepared by Mrs. Mercado herself, we headed to the residence of Edwin Ortiz, passing the Kan-irag route. Nestor and Sam thought we should stop to look at the vast Kan-irag Nature Park, owned by the Ayalas.

Zenaida Chua , president, Cebu Travel Tour Operators, was quick to think of a tree planting activity in the place and requested me to write Francis Monera for his go-signal.

It was a long drive to the Ortiz residence, almost 45 minutes from the Mercado’s (it could be shorter through another trail), but along the way, we viewed some picturesque scenes, where colorful flowers in tin cans and fruit stands were placed on the side roads. We all went home with a basketful of sweet corns, bananas and veggies which we bought at very cheap prices. The Ortiz tour has its own attraction, one of them, the breathtaking zip-line experience, not to mention the verdant mountains and trees and the city views from the top. We saw many youngsters waiting for their turn to do it.

The Café served as the venue for tête-à-tête and light snacks with hot coffee or tea.

Another hour-long travel time took us to Gabby Leyson’s Café Filipina, then, to Casa Japonesa and finally to his residence.

Gabby’s passion to mold his tourist landmark into a cross- cultural immersion is unique and attracts many tourists.

Encased in an environment-based cottage on top of the hill, Casa Japonesa , or, Haponesa, has authentic fixtures and rituals. A ten-minute drive brought us to his fabulous residence and resto-hotel (the complete name of the place escapes me at this writing).

The ambiance is soothing for restful weekends; but it could be incentivized to accommodate many motifs, like Halloween or fairy tales. The lovely lady behind this tourist attraction, Tina Jordana, served us delectable organic cuisine, packaged so well with beautiful food lay-out and table setting. She cooked them herself. Then, she toured us to the various rooms for individual or group ‘check-ins’ offered with affordable rates.

We finished our tour at five in the afternoon. Tired but satisfied, we all thought the ocular tour was fun and useful.

From our experiences, using a time-zone, Cecille, Marget and Zenaida thought that a morning tour could just include the House Close to Nature and the Highland Farm Hideaway. This will give ample time to explore and enjoy the places.

Another tour option in the afternoon, or another day, could be devoted to visits to the Ortiz and Leyson residences.

These innovative environment-friendly tours could be more convenient with wider and well-paved roads and services.

The CCCI Tourism Team will draft a presentation with the help of the travel stakeholders to request the City and Province of Cebu and the Department of Tourism to prioritize the infrastructure development in the areas we visited to make new tour itineraries more accessible to local and foreign tourists.