Menardo Jimenez’s secret paradise
DASOL, Pangasinan – A new theme park, “where the air is so pure, [and] the gentle breeze is so free,” is this town’s version of the home on the range.
Dasoland, a family adventure park carved out of a 400-hectare mango orchard, is a refuge for the city-weary, offering modern recreational facilities that rise out of a rustic setting.
The park was developed as a town legacy by its owners, Menardo Jimenez and his wife Carolina, whose family is also behind television giant, GMA.
“It is really their pet project. Each corner of the park is their idea. We merely execute the plan in their minds,” says architect Ronald Salditos, who designed the theme park.
Salditos says when he arrived in 2005, the area was a “jungle” of untended mango trees, overgrown with vines and wild grass. He says few buildings occupied the property, but there was a “villa,” a two-story house that served as Jimenez’s “war room” when he entertained plans of running for Pangasinan governor.
His political aspiration never bore fruit because the family quickly nipped it in the bud. So six years later, the property became Dasoland – an agricultural, cultural, leisure and eco-tourism park.
“This is an integrated resort complex and has been rated as a special interest resort. We have nice accommodation facilities, but that is secondary here. What is primary are the areas of interest [broken down into educational, cultural, agricultural, and recreational tours],” says the resort manager, Monika Labaupa.
As soon as guests enter the complex, they are greeted by the nativity village where the birth of Jesus Christ is depicted in a life-sized diorama executed by a local artist, and by the Santa Village, which displays an enormous collection of Santa Claus figures from different locales and periods.
Visitors are then toured through the butterfly garden, and a cactus house, which displays a hundred varieties of the plant.
Dasoland’s primary education tour brings guests to Zooland where animal statues greet them at the gate. But don’t be fooled because real animals will crawl, fly, hop and sprint through the 2.5-hectare zoo.
Zooland boasts of nine exotic species and 11 indigenous species, including homegrown bantam chickens that owners allow to roam the facility, says Dr. Earl Sison, the in-house veterinarian.
Among the zoo’s collections are the flightless cassowaries from New Guinea, ostriches, white and yellow flamingos, doves and eagles, and Brazilian crocodiles.
“The plan is to make this a petting zoo,” Sison says. “We are training the animals so the guests could hold and feed them.”
The old farms familiar only to this generation from scenes depicted in Fernando Amorsolo paintings are on display in Dasoland.
Agricultural implements like a wooden sugar mill, a coffee grinder, plows, harrows, sleds and carts are propped up for visitors. There is also a row of ice crushers, which show present generations that their grandparents enjoyed a cold drink or two while in the fields.
Guests with environmental advocacies will also be treated to actual demonstrations of vermiculture and composting and a tour of the 408-hectare mango orchard.
Michael Bustria, who supervises the orchard, says the plantation started with four mango trees. It now boasts of 3,500 fruit bearing trees belonging to seven varieties, as well as 370 trees of the carabao mango variety, which is reputedly more luscious.
Guests can stroll through the trees, or rest under their shady branches.
The agricultural tour also brings visitors to the bamboosetum, to marvel at 25 varieties of bamboos that shoot straight toward the sky.
The closest things Dasoland has to a time machine are pieces of century-old furniture from all over the country which are on display, including a vintage phonograph playing a thick vinyl record to bring guests through the ambience of an 18th century dance.
The tour then shifts to the 1940s, taking visitors to World War II by marching through a fleet of American jeepneys, trucks, and a “van” marked with the International Red Cross sign.
These vehicles are in top condition and can actually run, “but when a truck consumed P20,000 worth of gasoline from Manila to Tarlac, we decided to have it towed instead [to Dasol],” says Salditos.
Another point of interest is the Ifugao village and artifacts, with an authentic Ifugao hut brought to the resort from Banaue. A replica of the Ifugao rice terraces can also be found here, but instead of rice, they planted flowers.
But what’s a resort without the fun? Dasoland has several recreational facilities like swimming pools, a boating and fishing lagoon, lane for horseback riding and biking, a playground for kids, a mini golf course, skating rinks and a kids’ playport.
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