Baler, birthplace of Quezon (and it is not in Quezon)

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Baler is the capital town of Aurora Province, 230 kms northeast of Manila. I went there via the NLEX-SCTEX-La Paz-Zaragoza-Pantabangan route which took 6 hours because of farmers drying their palay on practically all roads within Nueva Ecija.

Pantabangan Dam is a nice overnight area for those traveling late and saving the trip crossing Sierra Madre for the morning. Uera Guest House allows guests a spectacular view of the lake-dam.

A minor annoyance is having to pass through an otherwise 2-way road that has been limited to one way travel, with concrete barriers on both sides allowing only one light vehicle, or a bus, to pass through. Trucks have to use the Bongabon-Aurora route through unpaved roads. I realize they had to limit the load within this road because the structure also serves as a dike for the small dam beside it.

Lunch was at a roadside cafeteria in the first town, Maria Aurora, named after the former president’s daughter. One pinakbet, one adobo, and 2 pcs of fried fish, plus a coke for my driver and a halo-halo for me was all of P118.00.

Decent Accommodations

Arriving in Baler, I was pleasantly surprised that accommodation(Bahia de Baler 1 (there is a Bahia de Baler 2, a taller structure) was good. For P1,500 I got a very clean air conditioned room with breakfast for 2, fresh linen, hot % cold water,soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. Plus  TV with cable channels, and a small veranda outside, overlooking the garden that leads to the beach on Baler Bay.  There are other inns and surfers’ lodges nearby, at even lower rates.

Bahia 1 has 10 rooms

My room at Bahia 1

Garden and the sea

I went to Baler to join former officemates who went there on a company outing. The group took surfing lessons at only P150 per hour, the cheapest on the planet. Another trip highlight was the visit to Ditumabo Falls, also known as “Mother Falls”.

Ditumabo Falls

I researched about Ditumabo and found a blog of the locals :

http://www.ditumabo.ph/

Baler is an excellent destination because you get an “away from it all” feeling. Yet, it is a fun place  –  – –  drinking in bars facing the beach. Bahia de Baler’s Bar & Grill is a nice place for meals and drinks. A local band plays at night, and their music is good.

Jungle Route vs Scenic Route

Returning to Manila, we decided to take the Bongabon Road from San Luis in Baler. Why? Because the map showed it to be a shorter route. From San Luis, it said 77kms to Bn (Bongabon). Wow, must be a really quick return trip! And the roads were paved. I figured we will be in Nueva Ecija in no time. But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Bongabon route is what I will now call the “Jungle Route”. If you are not on a 4×4 and not adventurous enough, stay with the Pantabangan “scenic route”.

The paved road from San Luis ended way before I could rejoice at the decision to do this shortcut. Soon enough, we were traversing a dirt road carved out of the Sierra Madre, with deep ravines on our right. There were several portions that were so narrow and we had to stop to give way to trucks going up the mountain trail. Most of all, we had to cross two rivers, one was deep and wide enough to make me re-think of the sanity of continuing. But then,this wasn’t the first time my 4×4 was crossing a river, so what the heck. In my mind, I was more worried about  the van that we passed early on. It is one of those second-hand vans you can buy for P150,000,  and I was sure they will have trouble with their decision to take this jungle route. They probably also had a map, and decided to take this “shortcut”. I was glad I took this route so I can advise non-adventurous friends to stay away, and challenge my daring friends to take this road either to or from Baler.

All told, Baler is a place I would want to go back to. Soon.

Laiya, San Juan, Batangas: best beach south of Manila

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just follow this sign and you will get there

Laiya, life in color. That is how the Landco panels describe Laiya. And one who has never been there will find comfort in these signs nailed on several “postes” all the way from the SLEX exit, through to San Pablo, Laguna , through to Tiaong, Quezon, and all the way to Laiya in San Juan, Batangas.

Another developer calls Laiya the best kept secret of Batangas. Well, not anymore.

Laiya attracts tourists, mostly locals – – – families, yuppies, solo travelers mainly because of word of mouth. The white sands of Laiya mesmerize the visitors, pleasantly surprised that such a spot existed along Tayabas Bay, only 2 1/2 hours away from Manila.

There are probably 50+ resorts in Laiya, about 25 kms away from the highway in San Juan where the Town Hall sits in the corner. There, signages of the different resorts compete for attention.  From mom & pop operations to high-end 5-star accommodations.

signages right there where the Town Hall is at the corner

more signages beside the main signage

The 25 km drive is pleasant, with the road lined with mahogany on one side, and a view of the mountains on the other.However, more travelers prefer to experience Laiya almost like the way the locals do.  I checked one cluster, and found out that at Moonlight Resort, the rooms cost P3,000 per day, negotiable. But they charge higher for the same room when there are more people within your party. The trick is to go from one resort to another and bargain until you get the best price. After all, they are all within the same mass of land facing the same body of heavenly water.

the beach at One Laiya

I went to One Laiya, formerly called Tayabas Bay beach resort. It is adjacent to the Porto Laiya.  It is easily one of the most popular destinations. Picnic sheds for rent dot the shore.  A  small raft with a shed and table  can be rented for one whole day’s outing on the water for P3,000.

an expensive raft: P3,000 per day at One Laiya

A boat for 10 people can be rented to take you to the Coral Reef for snorkeling, at a hire rate of P1,000. I actually found these rates to be expensive. The reef is just 10 minutes away. Negotiate! They also rent out nipa huts for overnight accommodations. A nipa hut with one bed costs P2,500 per night, and accommodates 2-3 persons. A hut with double deck beds costs P3,000, and can accommodate 6 . These huts do not have private toilets. No aircon, just fans.

overnight for P3,000, with double decks inside

can squeeze in 6 on the double decks

They also have airconditioned rooms, and a family can get into a VIP room with 2 queen size beds for P5,000 overnight.It doesn’t really look like it is fit for a very important person. Only, the rooms have airconditioning and a toilet.

inside the VIP room

banana boat at One Laiya (they also have jet skis)

One Laiya  also offers banana boat rides and jet skis for hire. Contact Diane at 0922 6197447

From One Laiya, I went to the far end of the resort area, past the concreted road. There is where 3 of the top resorts are clustered. 

The most expensive accommodations in this beach town is Acuatico. Guests love their well-appointed rooms, more like free-standing villas, around the infinity pool. The cheapest room goes for P6,300 per night for 2 persons, plus P1,575 for each extra person in the room. They also have a room called Estancia that accommodates 6 persons, at P21,000 per night. Room rates include breakfast and all-day complimentary coffee or tea, plus use of water sports equipment like pedal boats and kayaks. Acuatico is so popular that they do not have off-peak rates, nor group rates.

rooms, around the infinity pool

cafe-bar-resto overlooking the infinity pool and the beach

after all, it's the beach we went to . . . at Acuatico

Acuatico can be booked thru their Manila office : (+632) 4088383, 8927577 or email reservations@acuaticoresort.com.ph

My personal favorite is Balai sa Laiya, just next to Acuatico. While Acuatico looks high-end and busy, Balai has a restful, provincial setting even while the accommodations are comfortable and air conditioned. Tall trees provide shade around the property, and over the cottages.

it is peaceful here

sampaloc trees for shade

seaside rooms at a P100 premium per person

Single occupancy in a seaside room  is P2,900, twin or double is P4,300. Rooms under the trees are a bit cheaper, by P100 per person. These rates assume aircon is not used, and an aircon charge of P600 per night per room  is charged if guests want this convenience. Rates include 4 buffet meals plus free use of facilities like billiards and pool table, and volleyball.

Balai sa Laiya can be booked by phone 09216065572, look for Edith Egwaras. Or contact them thru their website http://www.balai-resort.com

UPDATE: Balai sa Laiya has just been bought by its next-door-neighbor Acuatico.

Own a piece of Laiya

You can also now own a piece of Laiya. Landco has bought what used to be Laiya Coconut Grove and is developing it, for sale as PLAYA LAIYA, thus, all those signages. Landco also developed Punta Fuego, Terazzas de Punta Fuego, and Canyon Woods. Expect very high-end pricing.

Activ Group, the real estate company that developed the high-end Malarayat Golf community in Batangas is developing Porto Laiya. Lot prices are at an average of P6,000 per square meter.

I knew about these as I was having lunch, and the owner of the place( na itatago na lang natin sa pangalang Tita de Castro) offered to sell me property. She thought I was looking for land to buy, not knowing that I always just drive on, aimlessly, without a destination and without any schedule to follow. (And no, she is not related to Gloria de Castro, the lady in Talisay that I mentioned in a previous entry).

Although she did mention a piece of land that seemed inexpensive. Hmmmmmm. I just might, one day, live my life in color in Laiya.

Question: How do I get to Laiya ?

The first route : SLEX to San Pablo to Laiya(via Quezon Province):

fruits along the way.. rambutan P80/kilo

lanzones at P150/kilo, and avocados

Take the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and drive on towards the direction of Sto.Tomas in Batangas. Drive When you hit Sto. Tomas, turn left towards Quezon province, hitting Alaminos, Laguna first. You will pass San Pablo City, and then you will hit the Laguna-Quezon boundary. You will pass by Dolores, and then Tiaong. Actually, as early as in San Pablo (Laguna), you will see signages from Landco saying “Laiya, Life in Color”. this is a good directional sign for you. Towards the end of Tiaong, you will make a right turn where there is a TURN RIGHT sign by Landco (Laiya, Life in Color) in that corner that says “San Juan”. Follow this road until you hit San Juan town proper, about 14 kms away. This road forks at some point, with a little bit of unpaved road towards the end. Take this unpaved road. The unpaved road is so short anyway and you will soon be back to cemented roads.  You will then find yourself at an intersection. This is the main highway, and you will see the San Juan Town Hall at the corner. Do not make any turns, just cross the road, and you are on your way to the beach area, around 25 kms ahead.  Even as you drive on this road, you will see several signages that refer to beach resorts and subdivisions being developed in Laiya.

The trip is approx 2 1/2 hours from the Villamor tollgate of the SLEX.

Route 2 : STAR Tollway to Lipa and onward to Laiya :

Take the same direction to Sto. Tomas, Batangas, as in the directions above. Drive on to Lipa, either via the old road or thru the STAR TOLLWAY, making your exit in Lipa. From Lipa, drive on to Rosario, the next bigger town. You will pass thru the towns of San Miguel and San Roque before you hit Rosario. From Rosario, drive on to Balugbug. The next big town after Balugbug is San Juan. If you are going to Laiya, then follow the directions I gave in Route 1.

Having taken the 2 routes, I will still recommend Route 1. It is easier to follow, and is not much longer. And then you can afford the adventure of taking the Lipa route on return.

Beyond Laiya

You may want to venture beyond Laiya. There is a pier in the area, past Acuatico and Balai sa Laiya cluster,  that takes passengers to Marinduque, another exciting destination.

Tagaytay Sidetrip: Around Taal Lake on 4X4

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I thought it was going to be an easy ride around Taal Lake.

Mission: Drive around the Lake

In our previous descents, we always took the Ligaya Drive route from Tagaytay to Talisay. The view is fantastic, and the road is good.

Easiest access to Talisay from Tagaytay

This time, we took the zigzag road from the Tagaytay rotunda. A year ago, this was practically impassable. But it is now 100% finished, although some sections were only asphalted.

The 12 kms zigzag road to Talisay starts at the rotunda

At kilometer 59, I saw 2 bridges one after the other, both with strange names. How does Alingayngay Bridge or Pinaglintikan Bridge sound to you?

The zigzag road is about 12 kilometers from the top, ending in Barangay Leynes in Talisay. I have been to this part of Talisay before, countless times, each time having a drink at Gloria de Castro’s picnic place. Or having fried tilapya, ginataang tilapya, or inihaw na tilapya for lunch. And a cold beer while marveling at the view of the volcano at dusk. Aling Gloria pioneered tourism here, accommodating foreigners in her home, earning her consistent mention in Lonely Planet and other travel books.

Barangay Leynes in Talisay, end of the zigzag road

On this trip, we skipped Aling Gloria’s place, and immediately turned right. This brought us to the town of Laurel. I remarked that this spot around the lake is probably the best. It is not as “developed” as Talisay which now has probably a hundred resorts dotting the lakeside.

Taal Lake from Laurel, Batangas

There is a spot from Laurel where you can drive up to Tagaytay, passing through the area where Splendido stands. We decided to stay within the lakeside. The next town is Agoncillo, and this brought back memories when my friends and I used to visit an officemate who had siniguelas trees in her backyard. But we went to Agoncillo then via Lemery, not from the lakeside.

Siniguelas tree

close up: siniguelas fruit

Thus,I never imagined how rough the travel can be. Or maybe because Typhoon Ondoy has just hit the country, and did not spare this lakeside town. Within the lakeside, there were portions that seemed impassable, and the road literally merged with the lake. The maneuver is made worse when the road is on a bend, and you can hardly see where the road would go. And because the Toyota 4×4 Hi Lux is not an amphibian, I felt like we were, at any moment,  going to be submerged in the lake.

After successfully negotiating the lakeside, we found ourselves in roads that looked worse than feeder roads, or farm-to-market roads. Apparently, Ondoy caused all of these, washing away the asphalted roads, with several sections of higher ground eroded or washed out. I swear the trip took on the nature of a 4×4 trek around Pinatubo.

Road leads to the water's edge

My 4x4 trail : no government here?

The place is difficult to reach, to say the least. Thus, within Buso Buso, where, roads are for 4×4 trekking, there are no shops. Ambulant vendors try to make a living in the area. An entrepreneur thought that maybe a mobile grocery and sari sari store is just what is needed in this place.

A mobile 7-11

We stopped at past 12 noon in a “pondohan” where I saw kaldero at kaserola and tables and chairs. We ordered puso ng saging, one slice of pork chop, and one slice of afritada. Plus rice and 2 bottles of Coke. The bill went up to a princely P100.00 flat.

Moving on, it felt like driving in an uninhabited area where we only followed trails.Next we came to an area where roads got a bit better.

Fishing net : the lake is a source of livelihood

Coconut leaves are dried, for fuel

Until we finally saw civilization. Within Agoncillo proper, I saw some really beautiful homes. Big homes. Contrast this to the next barrio, just where we came from, which seemed like no man’s land.

We left Agoncillo for Lemery, and drove back to Tagaytay. Still, I couldn’t believe that a 4×4 adventure trail existed almost within my Tagaytay backyard.

________________

Update: May 27, 2010

With nothing to do, I thought I’d check out my neighborhood 4×4 trail. I found the water level in the lake has gone down, There is no more bend where “the lake meets the road”. Workers are doing the pavement, and, hopefully, the roads will be passable even after a typhoon. But when I say passable, I mean just that – – – passable. I couldn’t believe it that way after Ondoy, and even after the elections, the roads have not improved a bit. Now, I have concluded this may not have been caused by Ondoy. The flooded lake, yes. But not the status of the road itself. The roads are so bad you would wonder if this area is within the jurisdiction of any local government. It is as if the governor does not know that such road existed in this first class province. It feels like there is no mayor, no congressman. Or maybe they are not part of the Philippines. On a positive note, I will always have a place for 4×4 experience.

This time, too, I went on to Lemery town. Lemery is 45 kilometers from the Tagytay rotunda starting point., to complete the trip around the lake.

From Lemery, I drove to Lipa via Batangas, took the STAR tollway and made my exit in Tanauan, heading back to Tagaytay via Talisay.

From the Tanauan exit, the first barangay is Santor, and then Talaga. A good place to visit is the Mabini Shrine, the birthplace of the Sublime Paralytic.

a shrine in Talaga, Tanauan, built where Apolinario Mabini was born

A few kilometers away and you will get to the town of Talisay. Talisay is a destination in itself among garden enthusiasts. There are hundreds of backyard gardens selling plants – – from trees, to shrubs, from fruit trees to  ornamentals. I bought a mango tree from Talisay, and right now the tree has at least 50 mango fruits waiting to ripen.

Talisay marker, cut out letters to promote Tali Beach?

Corn on the cob by the Talisay roadside

I took a quick snapshot of the Talisay Municipal Hall and headed back to Tagay tay, this time thru Ligaya Drive.

Along Ligaya Drive, one can see locals on horseback, fire trees on the road, and three areas being developed by Filinvest as mid-to-high-end residential subdivisions. The 3 areas are collectively called Leuna de Taal. The area nearest the lake is called Orilla, with easy access to the exclusive clubhouse on the lake. The Bahia is at the midpoint of Ligaya Drive, and has views of the lake. The highest point among the Leuna de Taal properties is now being developed as a townhouse community. Units are sold for P3.6 million, with the splendid view of Taal Volcano and the lake as bonus.

Along Ligaya Drive

Subic: Ocean Adventure & Zoobic Safari

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Bengal tiger on the loose - - in the safari

I have been to Subic a lot. In one of my trips, with my wife, my daughter and her nanny, plus my driver, I won so much in the casino that the cost of the entire trip was more than paid for. As I checked out, I was given a promo stub to fill up. Apparently, all guests were entitled to a raffle stub with a trip to Malaysia for 2 as grand prize. I won that, too. Tubong lugaw.

Ocean Adventure

This is my daughter’s favorite. Within the park, visitors can watch a seal show, a dolphin show, a whale show, and actually swim with the whales. And ride the whales. The handlers took my daughter from the shore to the raft in what I thought was not possible. The whales were beached on the shore, and my daughter was asked to ride it and hold on to the fins. With a whistle, the whales swam to the raft, bringing my daughter there. At the raft, the handlers taught my daughter to feed the whales, after which she actually rode the whales, sometimes belly up.

from the shore to the raft holding on to the fins

they are given instructions to feed the whale

so the whales will be kind to them when they swim

Entrance fee to the park is P500 per adult, P420 per kid. The Swim Encounter is at P4,200 per person. The Beach Encounter,   an encounter with the whale just on the beach, essentially for photo-ops, is P2,800. I wouldn’t recommend the latter.

Ocean Adventure can be booked thru their Manila office at phone (+632) 2944891.

ZOOBIC SAFARI: Highlight of the Subic visit

Entrance fee to the Zoobic Safari complex is P495. The tour starts with a briefing from one of the many guides.

briefing: don't annoy the animals, please

The girl assigned to us did not seem enthusiastic about the job, and was just going through the motion. As we moved to the zoo with caged animals, she would give some trivia about the animals, almost always ending with the estimated life span of the animals. For instance, tigers can live 15 to 20 years in the wild, but live 5 years longer when in captivity. The fun part in this leg is when kids are allowed to feed the goats from feeding bottles.

I saw a service van with the name Residence Inn at the back. Apparently, without having verified it, the place is run by the same people who run other zoos like the one in Tagaytay, now named Paradizoo.

Going back to the zoo visit. We were then all ushered to the trains that will take us thru the savannah, at P5 per head. Although there is an option to bring your private car and just convoy with the train. I rode .the train.

First stop was the Tiger Safari. We were transferred to a big jeep with sturdy protection. Imagine the school buses with the wire mesh on the windows. Except that there are also grills on top of the wire mesh. We were given suggestions to buy slices of fresh chicken to feed the tigers roaming in the wild. Huh!. Until we were told that professional handlers were joining us in the jeep to feed the tigers.

The gates opened. Actually a series of 2 gates, to make sure the tigers don’t escape. And then we were inside what looked like a somewhat barren wooded area with tigers roaming, just outside of our jeep! The handler took a piece of chicken and moved it to a small opening and, pronto, 2 tigers came to feed. Cameras clicked, only the wire mesh and the grills separated us from the ferocious animals munching on the chicken from the small opening. A little boy cried, so afraid! We were face to face with the tigers, eyeball to eyeball, an inch away! A third tiger joined the contest for food. When 3 pieces of meat have been done by the 3 tigers, we moved on. The handler then put out another piece of meat and a tiger saw it.

huge Bengal tigers come to your jeepney, within breathing distance

face to face, only a sturdy screen between you and the tiger

As the tiger approached the jeep, the handler threw the chicken meat to the roof, and the tiger jumped to the roof. Our roof was made of glass, with grills for protection. So a tiger was above our jeep, munching on the chicken, for a good 5 minutes as we went on. We then made an exit, again through 2 gates. And then we were back on the train.

The train moved to the savannah where ostriches roam. Saw their eggs, each one the equivalent of 2 dozen chicken eggs.

ostriches roam the savannah, don't get close to them - - they bite

And then to the tiger den, an enclosure at the perimeter of the tiger safari. From the tiger den, we moved to an Aeta Village where natives danced and showed agility climbing trees. The tour moves from there to the crocodile section where guests can feed crocs with meat suspended from poles that looked like improvised fishing rods.

I have never experienced anything like it. It was well worth the time and the money. Although I could skip the other parts next time, and just experience the tiger-feeding safari again.

Phone Zoobic Safari at (+6347) 2222272, 2529489  mobile 09285215557

A personal encounter, and didn’t have a cam

The photo below was taken on one of my visits. I regretted leaving the camera in the car, so I had to make do with a photo to be taken by the Zoobic staff as I went inside a cage to pet and bottle-feed a full grown Bengal tiger. This was right inside the orientation area, just after the entrance gates. For P240, they will take a photo of you using their camera, and another using your camera. For this post I had to take a digital file of the hard copy I got for my P240. If you should do this, make sure your camera is with you.

Pet a Bengal tiger, and bottle feed him on a P240 photo op

More Adventures

There is Tree Top Adventure Subic where you can “get high on nature”.Cross suspension bridges, take zip line rides. cable rides, or just trek. Cable ride is P350 per pax,  Zip line is P200, Guided trek is P100, and a tree-drop is P150.

Phone (+6347) 2529452 website  http://www.treetopadventuresubic.com

Where to Stay My favorite hotel in Subic, inside SBMA, is Segara Villas. Lighthouse comes as a close second choice. On a budget, I once stayed at Pista sa Barrio, a restaurant which recently opened an inn  within the same complex.

Segara Villas has only 10 Balinese-inspired villas, with some of them classified as executive accommodations, with the bed on a loft.

photo from brochure that I kept

I stayed at the Negara, a junior suite.  Segara is actually a spa, more than a hotel. It sits at the end of the waterfront road, by the pier. An al fresco bar is by the pool. A junior suite, (57 sq.meters, one-level room) costs P7,300++ per day, while an executive suite (70 sq. meters, with loft, and a jetted bathtub) is P10,900++ per day. Rates include breakfast and snacks. Phone (+6347) 2528632, mobile +63921 3308024                                 website http://www.segaravillassubic.com

Lighthouse is actually listed as one of the Top 10 attractions of Subic, in the SBMA video shown to visitors. Indeed, it is pretty. But the rooms are only for those who are very intimate with each other, as the toilet and bath is separated from the bed only by a smoked glass. The furnishings are A-1, and definitely 5-star. The restaurant downstairs has a full course for breakfast, easily the best breakfast buffet in Subic. A swimming pool is at the back, facing the sea.

the view from my room at the Lighthouse, taken from the veranda

Lighthouse rooms are at P7,000 to P9,000 for 2 persons. Reservations can be made  by calling (+6347)252500, 2527546, or their Manila number (632) 7110019. You can reserve by email thru marketing@lighthousesubic.com. View the rooms and amenities thru their website http://www.lighthousesubic.com

Pista sa Barrio Inn is the cheapest of the hotels facing the waterfront, inside SBMA. One may not immediately see it as an inn, because it actually started as a restaurant, and the owner only recently decided to open 12 or so rooms. Nice, clean, and at only P1,500 per day for 2. Has TV with cable, hot & cold shower. 24-hour fastfood service. They have rooms with double beds or twin beds, at the same rate. The only downside is that the pillows are, for me, not comfortable. I brought my own pillows and an extra blanket when I came back. Still worth recommending – – a good value inn. Phone (+6347) 2523055, 252 3187

If you want to play in a casino, you may want to stay at Venezia where PAGCOR operates gaming tables.  Off-peak rates start at P1,688++, and a suite goes for only P3,988++. Phone (+6347) 2528399, email customer_service@subicbayveneziahotel.com

Outside of SBMA, the 2 hotels I recommend are White Rock and By the Sea.

White Rock has long been popular.

I like their rooms by the beach. They also operate a pretty good restaurant.Excellent recreational facilities – – Water Park with wave pool and water slides, including a Super Bowl slide, banana boat rides, bowling, jet skiing, kayaking, fitness center, KTV, and basketball courts for kids and adults. Rates start at P6,200 net, with 3-bedroom beach villas going for P14,200. Phone (+6347) 2222378

website http://www.whiterock.com.ph

I went to By the Sea to visit friends who were staying there in the last Ad Congress. I thought the place looked charming, but was told some of the rooms are not well maintained. If you should stay in the hotel, I suggest you first check the room, and check if the airconditioning works. Still, it is a hotel worth considering. I loved my lunch at the open air restaurant near the beach. When I went, they were on a Rainy Day promo, with rooms as cheap as P900. Executive rooms go for P2,500 per day, while a 3-bedroom villa is charged P6.000 per day. The hotel has an infinity pool, and operates a spa within the property. Phone (+6347) 2234346, 2224560, 2222888 website http://www.bythesea.com.ph

Baguio, my adopted hometown

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I was born and raised in the city. Both my mom and dad trace their roots to Pampanga, but we never really knew any close relatives there. Everyone has migrated to the big city. School vacations inevitably caused me a minor problem – – – almost everyone is going to their hometowns for vacation, I am stuck in the city. What am I going to say when the teacher asks us to write “How I Spent my Summer Vacation”. Boring. And this went on until some relatives moved back to the province. Then I started having enjoyable summers.But I still could never call it home.

Kennon Road from the viewdeck

The Lion's Head along Kennon is a most-favored photo-op spot

And then Baguio beckoned. Baguio is a special summer place. So when my wife and I finally had the means, we thought we could finally have our own “probinsiya”, and we didn’t care that it was actually a city. In one of our visits, we stayed in one of the Forest Cabins in John Hay because there were no more suites or cottages available at the John Hay Manor. It turned out to be a good sampler of a house we could own.

The Forest Cabins are brand new, log cabin type homes. These are not the old white, wooden cottages used by the American servicemen. My wife was bullish, she wanted one. Contracts were signed, and our place was ready for us to use on our wedding anniversary. Now, our own place is there for us and our visitors to stay in anytime.

It sits right beside the mini golf, and I could pass the day idly by just sitting in my 2nd floor bedroom veranda, watching dads teach their tots to putt. Or young couples enjoying a game of golf, no matter that it was more play than the real thing.

A gas-fed fireplace makes our cold Decembers more comfortable. The interior design is Cordillera-themed. Bulols, anitos, wooden this and wooden that.

Oh, there is a side story about how I furnished the house.

Way before completion, I started to plan everything and anything that will go into the finished house. I timed the purchase of all furniture and appliances so that deliveries will coincide with the turnover date. I had everything ready, including paintings, decor, and kitchen utensils including tea towels. I did this in secret because my wife was going to see the house for the first time only when it was finished. But she did not know the surprise I planned. It was going to be so finished, all she had to bring was clothes and things to cook.

For a lived in look, I wanted photos of my wife and my daughter – – – family photos, framed. I bought frames, and asked our maid to bring me our photo albums. I was going to choose the photos, and put them in frames while I was locked in one of the rooms. I felt very good that plans were going A-ok.

Came the turn-over day. Deliveries were in clockwork precision. I asked items going to the third floor attic to be delivered first, and then the items going to the second floor, and finally things going to the ground level. So that the place is not clogged with deliveries, and we can work on other things while furniture and appliances were being lifted from the trucks to their designated spaces. As deliveries were being made, two men were mounting the paintings on the walls, the tiffany lamp was being installed. Then came the contractor who did my curtains, having measured the windows while the house was still under construction. They were installing the curtains on the 5th hour of Day 1. With everything in place, one help vacuumed the floor, while the other applied wax and made the floor shiny. Walls were wiped clean, and then Lysol was sprayed generously. The house is now 100% ready.

In the evening, I invited the architect and her staff for cocktails. She couldn’t believe that on the 12th hour after turn over, the house looked like it’s been lived in for 6 months! We had drinks, and she got shocked that I had brought even wine glasses, coasters, chilled wine, canapes, and everything one can possibly think of. Well, I had a checklist in my laptop. I wanted to be sure it was going to ba a major surprise for my wife.

Next day, she arrived. And told me something.

She said that about a month ago, she was surprised that the maid asked her where the photo albums were.

So she asked me when she got to our Baguio home ” Where are our framed photos?”

.

So much for surprises. Today, we go up to Baguio to just enjoy the scent of pine trees. And collect pine cones.

Which hotels are good?

Friends inevitably ask me for my recommendations. Top of the list is John Hay Manor, and its recently added adjunct, The Suites.

The second best is the South Drive Manor. This is along South Drive, that road at the back of Teachers’ Camp, the same road going to Country Club. This hotel is charming, although the rooms are a bit small.

Best value is Mile Hi Inn, right inside John Hay, if you don’t mind being in the busiest area within John Hay.

Some people miss it because it is at the underground level of the shopping area which used to be the commissary. A room for four persons can be as low as P1,900. Or a “sharing type” accommodation at P500 per person. Telefax (+6374) 4466141 or visit their website to reserve : http://www.mile-hi.com.ph

Where to eat?

My top choice is PNKY, in front of Teachers’ Camp, directly opposite the old but recently repainted “haunted house” (previously owned by the Laperal family, now said to be owned by Lucio Tan).

The place is also a bed&breakfast, and just about everything in the place, including the lamp shades in your room, can be bought. Yes, PNKY is also into home furnishings, and operates a shop in Makati’s LRI Plaza in Bel Air. Dishes from all over the world are found in their menu. Shabby chic interiors. Not cheap.

Another favorite is Solibao at the Burnham Park. There is also a Solibao along Session Road. If you promise not to get annoyed with vendors who approach tables set al fresco, selling sweepstakes tickets, balisongs, strawberries, newspapers, or offering to shine your shoes, then sit outside. I always do, and have told myself when I sit there I won’t be annoyed, and politely tell the vendors off. Nice place for breakfast of tapsi. Fresh buco is also always available. My favorite dish here is binagoongan, the best I have tried anywhere in the Philippines.

Go boating at The Burnham Park lagoon after lunch at Solibao

The Chocolate de Batirol is also on my “to recommend” list. They have moved to a better location, right there at the Igorot Park inside John Hay, near the gate going to Baguio Country Club. Of course you go there for rich, thick Spanish style chocolate to go with your suman or turon. They also serve lunch. I like this place a lot. Imagine savoring beautiful chocolate with the golf course as your setting.

And who has not been to Cafe by the Ruins near the City Hall? They claim that kings, queens, ambassadors, movie stars, Hollywood celebs, artists, poets, politicians, and the entire genre of the high and might, together with the “masa”, have enjoyed the Cafe by the Ruins experience. Try their camote bread. My favorite is anything that goes with my salabat with honey.

Finally, Eve’s Garden. This is a hard-to-find place open only for lunch, by appointment. Doesn’t look like Sonya’s Garden in Tagaytay, even while Eve tells me Sonya’s went there to visit. Evelyn cooks very healthy dishes, with a lot of salad picked from the nearby gardens. Finding the place is half the fun. To go to Eve’s, you take the Naguilian Road, and turn right somewhere. I got her number and I am looking at where I kept it. Indeed, a very secret garden.

the lagoon in front of the Mansion House

photograph of a Kodak photo of previous enjoyable trips to Baguio with my then very young daughter

Palayan, You’re for Me (1969)

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I did mention that my travels go back to my Boy Scouts days.

I was in sixth grade and was one day called to the Principal’s Office. No, I was not afraid. I was a good student. Mrs. Bajet asked me “Would you like to attend the Jamboree?”. My heart was beating fast, because I most definitely wanted to go, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me then. And I did not have a Type A uniform, a requirement for participation. I said “Yes, ma’m, but….” but she cut me short. She said I want you to go, and I will make sure all of your provisions are taken care of.

We had a pre-jamboree training for a couple of days and nights at the Nichols Air Base Elementary School. I remember one of our projects was to make a “monkey bridge” such that I still call hanging bridges I see anywhere as “monkey bridge” to the guffaw of my friends.

I call this a "monkey bridge"

I call this a “monkey bridge”

I remember Palayan City in Nueva Ecija. It did not look at all like a city. It was rice paddies upon rice paddies. But it was the site of the 4th National Jamboree. In what was called Camp Atate, to be exact. Our troop’s camp site was beautiful. A river flowed on the edge of our camp, and we would hang on to ropes we tied on trees to go down the river to take a bath and wash our uniforms.

The photo below captures the beauty of our camp site:

not taken from Camp Atate, but this captures the beauty of our camp site

not taken from Camp Atate, but this captures the beauty of our camp site

We did not have to pitch a tent. There were small nipa huts pre-constructed  – – with one small hut for ach troop. As I was too young then and did not have a camera, I am posting what could pass for the hut we stayed in, albeit the hut in the photo is bigger.

something like this, but this is bigger

something like this, but this is bigger

We would go around the camps of boy scouts from other cities. I remember having swapped my beret with a head piece from a boy scout from Zamboanga. It had a mother of pearl shell on it.

Our days were spent going from one activity to the next, earning for us several merit badges. I collected so much that at the end of the Jamboree, and back inthe BSP Headquarters in our city, I went thru a review board and was promptly promoted to being First Class, a 2-step jump from being Tenderfoot when I joined the Jamboree.

To this day, I remember the song we sang about Palayan.

I know a place
Where No one ever goes
There’s peace and quiet, beauty and repose
It’s hidden in a valley
Beside a mountain stream
And lying down beside the stream
I found thatI can dream
Only of things
Of beauty to the eyes
Blue peaked mountains climbing to the skies
Now I know that God made this world for me

Palayan, you’re for me
Palayan’ you’re for me

Only of things
Of beauty to the eyes
Blue peaked mountains climbing to the skies
Now I know that God made this world for me

 

Those were formative years, and my being a boy scout was probably the best thing I had when I was young. More camporees, jamborettes and jamborees followed – – – at the Philippine School for the Deaf and Blind, at Sta Monica in Puerto Princesa, and at the Jamboree site in Mt. Makiling.  And countless other overnigts on our school grounds.

To this day, I live by our oath and the Scout Law. Traveling as an adult, I know by heart that nature must be preserved for our children and for generations to come.

Take Nothing (590x270)

Welcome to my Lakwatsa blog

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I love the mountain...

... and the sea

Friends have been convincing me to write about my travels. They never imagined me to be the adventurous type, and wrongly thought I always travel within my comfort zone. So when they hear about me drinking ginebra with Infanta fishermen at 4am, they are so shocked. Maybe they even think I am pulling their leg, but just too polite to even hint any doubt. Some of my travel stories go as far back as 1969, at the 4th National Jamboree of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.So how do I begin? For one, I am not into photography. How do I do this – – – chronologically? OMG, that means I will have to spend months to write. Reluctantly,I need to get started. Or I will never be able to do it. Watch this space.