Friday, February 13, 2009

Big Love at Amorita Resort

Ignorance made us bold, Ria Hernandez-Cauton said with a laugh. The 28-year-old owner of Amorita Resort was relating her adventure in putting up this very new vacation haven in Panglao Island’s Alona Beach. Although she graduated cum laude with a management degree at the Ateneo de Manila University, had a master’s in business management and helped managed her family’s bus company, Five Star, one of the country’s largest, Ria modestly admitted having no background in the hospitality industry, not conducting a market study and having no thought that Bohol would soon become a tourism buzzword. She still went on building Amorita. What she said about ignorance may be partly true, but there were more important factors that came into play like serendipity and love, perhaps more of the latter that the result is perhaps the most beautiful resort on the most beautiful beach in the province of Bohol.
Ria never dreamed or planned having a resort of her own but a rundown resort on a cliff at one end of Alona Beach “beckoned” to her like a vision she could not shake off. They were on a vacation in the island province in central Visayas, and she had no intention of hunting for property to buy.

She and her family occasionally vacation in Bohol since 2003. Aside from the beach and the natural attractions, the resorts on Alona Beach appealed to her because each has its own character. One can try different resorts and the experience will different every time, she said. The first time they stayed in Panglao Island Nature Resort. In their next jaunt, they went for Alona Tropical Resort. It was during this time that she saw the property on the cliff. They were eating lunch at Alona Tropical Resort when the property caught her attention. They inquired about it but someone told them that the property has been hold a week ago. The resort was Crystal Cove, one of the first resorts on the island, owned by the Lims, a prominent family in Bohol who owns a small mall, the only one, in the capital Tagbilaran.
When they went back to Manila, Ria told her father about it, who remembered it being offered to her uncle. They decided to make a try in acquiring the property, which proved to be exasperating. Ria said they were three attempts and every time there were hitches or something happened that prevented them.

When they were about to give up and let it go, it was offered again to them. This time, the negotiations pushed through. Ria vividly remembers the day they visited their newly acquired property: it was a Saturday, July 5, 2005. It was ramshackle place, she recalled, but intriguing with curiously triangular rooms and a swimming pool shaped like a question mark. The owners must have been into the pyramid thing, she thought.
Her father decided to let the boys do the initial work, staying there for a month to secure the place. After that the girls entered the picture. The resort became Ria’s pet project, which she christened Amorita, which means “little love” in Spanish, and referred to as a girl, a she. Not only the project acquires a personality, it also had a gender.
Ria liked to think of the project as feminine because “working with bus company is very masculine and ‘dirty.’ No room for creativity.” Ria is the granddaughter of Jose Hernandez, the founder of Victory Liner, one of the country’s largest bus companies with more than six decades of history. She practically grew up with buses.

They started working on Amorita on March 2007, tearing the original structures down, and finished the initial construction on November 2007. In February of the next year, they concentrated on the landscaping. Shortly after that, they began having guests, although Ria admitted having no formal opening. “It is still a work in progress,” she said.
I stayed at Amorita in August 2008 and everything seemed to be beautifully in place and was smoothly run, not bad for a greenhorn. The first time I met Ria I was surprised by her youthfulness. She and her darkly handsome lawyer-husband Nicky, whom she married last year when this big thing is happening, now live in the resort. She was pregnant but remained energetic and effervescent. The resort staff remarked on her diligence and desire to get things done.
Ria revealed that of the 1.8 hectare land area, a hectare has been developed. The remaining is reserved for the second phase of construction which will include 30 to 40 more rooms and a branch of Mandala Spa, the well-known and acclaimed spa in Boracay Island.
Right now, there are 20 deluxe rooms and two sky suites at a hotel near the reception, and 14 villas, six of which has a view of the Bohol Sea, spread over the landscaped garden lush with palms, hibiscus and birds of paradise.
With 150 square meters, each villa has a wooden gate which leads to a private plunge pool and the room. I stayed at one of the Ocean View Villas. I woke up to the view of the plunge pool and the sea beyond. The bathroom was open-air with L’Occitane toiletries. The room, which has all the amenities de-rigueur of any good resort, is Zen-like in its cleanness of design.
That is the way Ria wanted it—simple, clean and tropical but not too “rustic.” By rustic, she meant rough. The inspiration is not even a resort, she revealed. It was a boutique hotel they found in the Internet while planning an excursion to Angkor in Cambodia. The stylish Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap describes itself as a “hip combination of art deco and traditional Khmer design.” But Ria said she was inspired by the feel of the place, which she said had an element of hominess and is not grand and not “rustic” either.

Another lovely feature of Amorita is the view. Though the resort has no beachfront, it has an envious view. Perched on a cliff, guest is afforded a panorama of the Alona stretch, best enjoyed at the infinity pool, or at the restaurant or at a platform where dinner can be set under the trees and globular lamps and diners can feel as if floating towards the sea and sunset.
The open-air Saffron Restaurant, so named because of the color of the sunset which cast a lovely glow on the restaurant, is where one can watch the beautiful sunset of Bohol and have comfort food. The menu features local fares like sinigang and gambas and international foods like fish and chips and cheeseburger. There is an ample selection of appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, entrees and desserts. Try their original Peanut Kiss sans rival and coffee with the sunset.
Other than imbibing the view and the place itself, Amorita can arrange for tours and activities like a countryside tour of Bohol and diving. The area offers a number of dive spots. In fact, nine kilometers southwest of Alona Beach is Balicasag Island, which many consider as having the best diving spots in the region. Other water activities include snorkeling,
kayaking and island tours. Try also the dolphin watching activity, which takes guest near Pamilacan Island.

Or course, one can simply enjoy the one-and-half kilometer stretch of white-sand beach. Alona Beach at the southwest of Panglao Island, which in turn is at the southwest of the main island of Bohol, is the most beautiful beach in the province and is also the most happening place, with its row of resorts and bars. But it is “relatively sedate,” according to Ria, than Boracay. Indeed, if one wants carousing and a rowdy night life, then there is the neighboring island of Cebu or Boracay, but Bohol is a place to chill.
On Alona Beach at night, one can easily spot Amorita Resort, glittering like a lit jewel on a craggy limestone stand. I could understand how it beckons to someone. Then again, I had not seen the place before Amorita. I just saw something blossoming, an achievement kindled by a mysterious sense of calling and ushered into realization by ignorance. Undoubtedly, there is big love put in this place called “little love.”

Getting There
Major airlines fly from Manila to Tagbilaran including Philippine Airlines, Air Philippines, Cebu Pacific and Seair with a traveling time of about an hour. By boat, WG&A goes to Tagbilaran from Manila on Friday and Sunday with a traveling time of 31 hours. WG&A goes to Cebu daily except Monday and Friday, taking about 24 hours. Negros Navigation goes to Tagbilaran on Wednesday, taking about 19 to 23 hours.
In Tagbilaran, the resort can provide land transfer from airport to Panglao Island, 18 kilometers away. Traveling time takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

Contact Information
Amorita Resort is at Alona Beach, Tawala, Panglao, Bohol, with telephone numbers (+63 38) 502-9001 to 03; and fax number (+63 38) 502-9002. Its Metro Manila sales and marketing office is at Unit 1632, Cityland Megaplaza, ADB Avenue corner Garnet Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City with telephone numbers (+63 2) 914-0585 and (+63 2) 687-3641; fax number (+63 2) 914-0584; email; and Web site

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Luke for Love

These days, singers are prepping up for Valentine shows, including Luke Mejares, who is still famously known as a former lead vocalist of the band South Border. Now he is striking it out on his own—performing in hotels, bars, lounges and concert halls; doing corporate shows and shows for overseas Filipino workers; and releasing two CDs, Stop, Luke, Listen and Pangako. He has been in the professional music business for more than a decade now, but I was getting to know him a little more just recently aside from his being with South Border.
A friend organized an intimate dinner at Uno CafĂ© in Quezon City with Mejares, some of the producers and a few journalists. Mejares was affable and shy, somehow self-effacing. He is known for his falsetto, singing rhythm-and-blues and pop songs with pitch and breadth that elicit applause, as vocalists of South Border are known for. What is immediately noticeable about him is his physical features—more African-American than Filipino—which I am sure has been asked about him frequently.
His father is black Mexican-American, Mejares said. Despite the sad story behind it, he talked about it as if there is no bitterness, remorse or anger. Someone eventually asked and he was open to talk about it.
Mejares grew up in Tagbilaran, Bohol, only knowing his adoptive parents as his real ones. Often, he got teased about his features. He was often called “Negro” or “Igorot.” His parents, Leonides and Elvira Mejares, told him that he is pinaglihi kay Michael Jackson.
As grew up he learned that his parents are really his uncle and aunt; that his real mother live in Cebu; and that his real father was with the United States Navy who got assigned to the Philippines. It was only in recent years that Mejares got to know his father. That journey started in 1998 while in the company of friends, who were asking what little he knew of his father.
Former MTV VJ Sarah Meier was taking note of the details Mejares was giving, and unknown to him she embarked on a search through the Internet. One day, Mejares got a call from Meier. They met up, and she handed him a diskette, crying. The diskette contained pictures and information on Mejares’s father, Robert Edward Davis.
When he opened the diskette, he saw his father’s picture and immediately recognize the physical similarities. The diskette also contained his list of achievements, an admirable one, and his current whereabouts. Davis lived in Hyattsville, Maryland, and was with the faculty of the town’s Northwestern High School.
Mejares wrote his father a letter, telling him that he doesn’t want money, that he is a famous singer and that he only wanted to know him. He also sent a few clippings, a photograph and a CD with it. But the letter went unanswered. In 2002, Mejares had saved enough money and decided to go to the United States to meet his father. His then girlfriend Inger Cuenco from Cebu went with him.
They went to the school where his father worked. Inger went in his office first and Mejares followed. As soon as Davis saw Mejares, there was instant recognition, and his demeanor changed. He went berserk and yelled at them to get out, pushing them out of the office. As they were leaving, Davis even called security. Inger was crying and Mejares was numb, too shocked to feel anything. Davis had built up a good standing in the community and church that perhaps he did not want tarnished. After that episode, Mejares seemed to have moved on well. Mejares married Inger and has two children, Akeisha and Jamal. And he has a career in music he has to concentrate on.
Music is another journey for him. Aside from sports, music was one of Mejares’s loves when he was young. In Bohol, he became known as the Gary Valenciano of Bohol, singing and moving like the famous singer, although he still maintains Michael Jackson as his most influential artist.
He has always been sent to compete in amateur singing contests, and he remembers always emerging second to Cebu’s Ana Fegi. They eventually became schoolmates when Mejares moved to Cebu to study college. He also moved in to his aunt who later turned out to his real mother. Fegi and Mejares were always chosen to do front acts whenever a famous performer visits and does a show.
Ryan Cayabyab went to the south, searching for a new member of his singing group Smokey Mountain. Fegi was chosen while Mejares became an understudy. In Cebu, he slowly carved a name as an entertainer, doing front acts and becoming a host for an ABS-CBN lunchtime show.
He eventually went to Manila, trying his luck in the music business. He was then chosen to replace Brix Ferraris for South Border in 1998. After fruitful five years, he left the band and went solo.
Now, he is evolving as an artist. “One has to grow with time. As an artist, I feel that I should be open to explore possibilities, to spread my wings as a singer, to sing songs beyond those that I usually perform,” he said.
His latest gig is a Valentine’s show at Club Mwah in Mandaluyong City. The idea for the show came from a small group of friends partying at the Abaca Resort in Mactan Island, Cebu, where Mejares was performing. The producers include the owner of Abaca Resort and the owners of Club Mwah, a small club known for its cabaret-like performances and performers, some which are transsexuals.
“I’d be doing musical collaborations with the Club Mwah performers,” Mejares said. “It’s a first for me and I’m excited. I have heard a lot of good reviews about them, and I’ve seen them do their act. They are really amazing at what they do—so much passion, so much heart, so much color, so much art, too!”
As of now, Mejares is concentrating on this and looking forward to a musical future.
“Music is what brought me to where I am now. I am grateful for all the small victories I had and many of the perks I still get as a singer. I look forward to continue singing for as long as there will be people out there listening to my songs and watching my shows,” he concluded.

For inquiries on the Valentine’s show at Club Mwah, call 0929-8568428, 0922-8584321 or 0922-7832012, or e-mail Club Mwah is at the third floor of The Venue Tower, Boni Avenue, Mandaluyong City.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Spotlight on the Sarsuwela

After focusing on the komedya for a month last year, the University of the Philippines is shifting the spotlight on another traditional theater form, the Philippine zarzuela or sarsuwela, also for the whole month of February with an exhilarating array of activities and performances aimed at generating awareness and appreciation, stimulating scholarship and generally enjoying this once popular entertainment.
Aside from the performances of important works of sarsuwela by select theater groups, there will be an educational and interactive opening parade, film showings, a national conference and an exhibition. There will also be researches, an outreach program and a writing series.
The zarzuela, a form of musical theater first presented to the court, originated in Spain and spread to its colonies, including the Philippines, developing their traditions. It was introduced to the Philippines in the late 19th century and became popular, performed in different languages in the country. Contrary to the komedya, also introduced by the Spaniards, which is didactic, the zarzuela is primarily for entertainment, usually a love story and has formulas. By the turn of the 20th century, the form was ensouled with nationalism and was used as a vehicle for subversion against American rule. With the advent of other forms of entertainment and technology, it died down.
Now and then, the sarsuwela is being performed by contemporary theater groups, and there is sporadic interest in its revival and study. UP’s Sarsuwela Festival is perhaps the biggest sarsuwela venture in modern times.

The festival has four sarsuwelas, deemed classics, to be presented by different theater groups: Paglipas ng Dilim by the University of the East Drama Company, Walang Sugat by the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation, Sa Bunganga ng Pating by the Far Eastern University Art Theatre Clinique, Ang Kiri by the Dulaang UP, and Iloilo Sarsuwela: Padayon Ang Istorya by the UP Visayas Alumni Theater Company.
To be mounted by the official student theater organization of the University of the East, formed in the 1970s, Paglipas ng Dilim was written in 1920 with libretto by Precioso Palma and music by Leon Ignacio. It tells about the love story between Estrella, a maiden with a pure heart, and Ricardo, a popular young man who recently graduated from medicine, which will be tested by Caridad, a society figure who had her heart set on Ricardo.
Sa Bunganga ng Pating is written in 1921 with libretto by Julian Cruz Balmaseda and music by Leon Ignacio. While telling the loves story of Nati, daughter of a greedy landowner, and Mario, a son of one of their farmers, the play also tackles injustice and other social matters.
With libretto by Severino Reyes and music by Fulgencio Tolentino, Walang Sugat was performed in 1902, tackling the oppression of Filipino prisoners by Spanish Friars in the love story between Julia and Tenyong. This will be mounted anew by the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation, an award-winning community theater based in Bulacan.
Ang Kiri, written in 1926 with libretto by Servando de los Angeles and music by Leon Ignacio, is the story of Sesang, who is a non-conformist, thus misunderstood as loose, and her search for true love.
Paglipas ng Dilim will be onstage from Feb. 4 to 6, Walang Sugat from Feb. 11 to 13, Sa Bunganga ng Pating from Feb. 18 to 20, Ang Kiri from Feb. 25 to 27, and Iloilo Sarsuwela from Feb. 23 to 24 at the University Theater, with P75 ticket price.

Sarsuwela on celluloid
Complementing the live performances, there will be a showing of films to underline the great influence of sarsuwelas on early films. In fact, these films were from sarsuwelas like the 1919 Dalagang Bukid, produced and directed by Jose Nepomuceno, considered the father of Philippine cinema and starring Atang de la Rama. The sampling of sarsuwela-based movies includes ones from the 1930s to the 1970s such as the 1939 Giliw Ko (on Feb. 18), which stars Fernando Poe Sr; the 1939 Tunay na Ina (on Feb. 19) directed by Octavio Silos; the 1954 Maalaala Mo Kaya (on Feb. 25) starring Carmen Rosales and Rogelio Dela Rosa; and the 1971 Stardoom (on Feb. 26) directed by Lino Brocka. With ticket priced at P50, they will be shown at the UP Film Institute.

Making the milieu
UP’s Vargas Museum will mount “Zarzuela Sarsuwela,” an exhibition that aims to replicate the sarsuwela culture of the turn of the 20th century, allowing the viewer to situate him- or herself in the social milieu of the time through sound, image and performance.” It will run from Feb. 11 until April 5.

The national conference
From Feb. 25 to 27, at the Pulungang Claro M. Recto, Bulwagang Rizal, UP Diliman, researchers, academics, scholars, historians, theatre practitioners and many others are expected to converge for the First Sarsuwela National Conference. Esposuing the theme “Amor, Vida, Patria: Re(dis)covery of the Nation in the Sarsuwela,” the conference aims “to interrogate sarsuwela as a Philippine traditional theatre form or performativity; to reevaluate the nature and elements of sarsuwela; to rediscover the past (history) through sarsuwela; and to historicize the historical continuum of sarsuwela.”

Other components
The other components of the Sarsuwela Festival include research to answer to the dearth of materials on the sarsuwela; a lecture series for secondary schools and colleges with resident theater companies to encourage them to mount sarsuwelas and other traditional theater forms; and the sarsuwela writing competition to encourage playwrights to create new sarsuwelas.

Drawing up the curtain
To usher in the festival with a bang, there will be an educational and interactive opening. Scenes of the featured sarsuwelas will be paraded around UP Academic Oval on Feb. 4 at 2 p.m.

The Sarsuwela Festival is organized by the Office of the Chancellor of UP Diliman through its College of Arts and Letters and the Office of Initiatives for Culture and the Arts (OICA), in line with the University of the Philippines centennial festivities. For inquires or ticket reservations, e-mail, visit or call up telephone numbers 928-7508 and 981-8500 local 2105.