Rambutan orchard adds character to rustic B&B

SAN PABLO CITY, Laguna – Jorge and Amor Bondad took a lot of risks when they bought a parcel of barren land in this city. And it was only after 16 years when they started to reap the fruits of their hard work.
Sitio de Amor, a bed and breakfast farm resort, offers a venue for garden weddings, company conferences and family activities with a tranquil setting far removed from the “concrete jungle.”

“It is privacy that people are paying for,” said Jorge, 59.

He said the establishment aims to provide the right ambiance and comfortable rooms – all tastefully done – to help boost tourism in San Pablo City.

Good buy

“People thought I was crazy to buy land full of grass (talahib) and coconut hulls,” Jorge recalled when they bought the property where rambutan was meant to be sown.

He said he wanted a place where he and his wife could privately spend time after retirement, and “it was never in the plan to put up a resort.”

It took the couple two years to be able to clear the area and grow about 670 rambutan trees.

They next acquired a 600-meter stretch of land that they turned into a private road. They also bought nearby lots, amassing a total of 4.7 hectares, including a lagoon, lily and Koi pond.

“People asked us to share with them the place,” and it was in 2006 when we decided to open Sitio de Amor publicly, said Jorge.

Apart from the farm resort, the couple also runs a 30-year-old human services business in Manila from where they sourced the capital for Sitio de Amor.

They believe in doing away with credit loans to reduce the pressure on them.

“If there is a customer, then we are happy,” said Amor, 53. “If there’s none, that’s just fine since we do not have a monthly amortization to worry about.”

The couple completed the resort facilities styled with Balinist and Asian inspired designs at a low-cost.

Most of the cottages and furniture were made from scrap wood sourced from antique houses of relatives and friends.

The conspicuous three-story riprapped wall built with boulders from Dolores, Quezon, required minimal maintenance, said the couple.

Jorge also showed an old and elegant chandelier, a highlight of the Garden Pavilion, the largest gazebo at the resort, which they bought from a sidewalk vendor in Sto. Tomas, Batangas.

“We really don’t go out of our way to shop,” said Amor, adding that they only happen to pass by the “good buys.” This was also how they acquired a five-foot Maranao jar for only P15,000.

A place of love

Considering themselves semi-retired from their business with all four of their children –all professionals – already abroad, the couple has more time to concentrate on Sitio de Amor.

In deciding to venture into the resort business, the couple manages the enterprise in the same way they handle their 32-year-old marriage.

“We both take part in decision-making. We have the same passion anyway,” said the husband who managed the finances while the wife supervised the flow of chores at the resort.

Apart from a spacious rambutan orchard, Sitio de Amor has rooms that can house up to 400 persons.

It also has a 420-square meter wide and 4-feet deep pool with free-flowing water coming from Balanga River from Mt. Sta. Elena.

“We also get excited when we get wedding reservations,” Amor said. “It is as if our own children are the ones getting married.”

Sitio de Amor’s wedding package is priced much lower than those offered by most hotels in Manila.

“We hope more people from San Pablo will choose to hold their weddings here,” Amor said.

Excursion

Tourists and backpackers are requested to place reservations at Sitio de Amor. A whole day trip costs P1,000 per head, inclusive of morning, lunch and afternoon meals.

We ask the guests what their points of interest are so we can also fix their itinerary, Jorge said.

He said the fees could be higher than those of public resorts. But he is positive that “we have something else to offer.”

For families, Jorge arranges the wild pigeon, Koi feeding and horseback riding activities for the children. There have also been guests from Manila who have requested bonfires, saying they’ve never experienced one in their lives.

Sitio de Amor also celebrates the rambutan festival in July or August.

“We also invite trade booths inside,” said Jorge.

For the coming festival, the couple is planning to invite a band to play at the resort.

The couple wants their guests to do more than just spend the whole day binging on beer and karaoke.

“I want people to enjoy my place,” he added.

Sitio de Amor is located along Kilometer 88.8 of Maharlika Highway, about two hours from Manila.


SOURCE: http://services.inquirer.net/print/print.php?article_id=20090321-195437

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