Mabitac: Home of the Victorious

As part of our trip around CALABARZON we still decided to present you the few remaining towns left in the province of Laguna that we or you still haven’t discovered. Laguna truly is a magnificent province in the country that would never fail to amuse any foreign or local visitors seeking for an adventure or just looking for the perfect place to unwind and relax.
Mabitac is a 5th class municipality situated on the eastern side of Laguna and it is known as the battle ground where Filipino revolutionaries won over the american soldiers during the Philippine-American war.

Coming from Sta. Maria (another town in the province we will feature) our rented tricycle brought us to the neighboring town that is Mabitac.

Mabitac was once known as a great hunting ground for wild games. The town was refered as “Mabitag” from the root word “Bitag” meaning, a place with plenty of traps but since the friars who inhabited the place could not pronounce the letter “G” thus Mabitac came along and the rest as they say is history.

Various history books in the country rarely mentions Filipinos winning battles against Americans or if there were any books about Filipino victories against the Americans they were only concentrated in Manila or other nearby places, but the Battle of Mabitac is an example of Filipinos victory against the colonizers. It was on the fateful day of September 17, 1900 where General Juan Cailles, a Filipino revolutionaryy leader in the area, fought and won the battle against Col. Banjamin F. Cheatham Jr., an American soldier from the 15th and 37th infantry.

Even if the Americans were far superior, the Filipino revolutionaries from this town headed by Cailles didn’t succumbed to give up and instead used their mastery of terrain and their Guerilla tactics to bring back glory and freedom to their much beloved town that resulted for the Americans to leave Mabitac.

The town marked the 109th anniversary of the “Labanan sa Mabitac” (Battle of Mabitac) last September 17, 2009 and so unlucky of us because we arrived and explore the town a day prior to their much awaited celebration where the whole town was kept busy preparing a one-day event that includes parades, mass, a play reenactment of the battle, quiz bees and cultural shows that is especially done and prepared by the ever-friendly local officials and staff to pay tribute and commemorate the triumphant victory of Filipinos who never gave up against the much stronger and superior American colonizers.

Aside from it’s historical value, we asked the tourism head of the town Mr. Norberto Tubaña on what other attractions do their town offer and he led us to their famous church just beside the municipal office situated on top of the hill that requires 126 steps to get to the church itself (there’s another way aside from the stairs), another feature of this church is the relaxing view of Laguna de Bay and the small town, truly a mesmerizing and not the usual environment you will see when attending a mass.

This may sound cliché but we personally like to say that another considered gem of this town are the people whom we personally want to say thank you most especially to the local staff from the Mabitac’s municipal hall who warmly welcomed us to their humble office as they entertained all of our questions, gave us a little background of their simple yet historically-rich town with truly amiable people and being invited to their anniversary celebration of the battle that was won by the Filipinos against the much superior American military.


Los Banos: Majestic Pride of the South

The Philippines offers a wide variety of tourist spots that can cater to people from all walks of life. If one is seeking for a fun filled adventure minus the hassle of a long and tiring trip… I suggest you head down of Luzon to see one of the majestic pride of the south. Los Banos is a major town in the province of Laguna that offers a myriad of tourist spots for the whole family and your barkada to enjoy.

Los Banos was declared as the special Science and Nature City through Presidential Proclamation no. 349 in recognition as a center for Science and Technology in the development of agriculture and the preservation of the environment. Indeed, a first class urban municipality that is just two hours away from Manila (still depends on the traffic). You can get to Los Banos by taking a Sta. Cruz –bound bus for a mere 100 bucks. On your way to “L.B” one can expect a clean and green environment from the newly modified South Luzon Expressway that could give anyone an idea of what to expect in their destination.

Because of the town’s proximity to Manila, Los Banos is an inevitable ground for endless weekend or summer getaways because of the abundance of hot spring resorts that will truly be enjoyed by the whole family or barkada. L.B is also home to the University of the Philippines, University of the Philippines – Open University and other foreign, local and international research centers like the International Rice Research Institute, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, Philippine Carabao Center at UPLB and SEAMEO-SEARCA.

Aside from its importance in academics, science and research, Los Banos has lot to offer. One of the town’s attraction is the Alligator Lake (Enchanted Lake), the Lake is contained in a raised circular shape with a diameter of about 330 meters, it is believed to be the mouth of an extinct volcano that juts out of Laguna de Bay. It is located at Barangay Tadlac just turn right at Bagong Kalsada and take a tricycle.

Another cheap but fun attraction is Barangay Lalakay’s waterfall called Dampalit falls with a unique feature as it has a seven series of waterfalls. There is a rest area and Small Park with plant stalls nearby. Dampalit falls are a few minutes walk from the national hiway or about 30 minutes from bayan . This is one certified fun and cheap getaway for nature-trippers and barkadas because aside from splunging on the cold water one can also experience the fun of hiking.

General Paciano Rizal Shrine is also an attraction at Los Banos. Paciano Rizal is the older brother of our national hero Jose Rizal. His house stands near the newly renovated Los Banos’ park which is frequented by the locals for its spacious playground, one can also experience the scenic view as the sun sets in.

The National Arts Center is a special educational institution and retreat for training artists and musicians. Situated on the slopes of Mt. Makiling, it overlooks Laguna de Bay and the towns of Rizal, Los Banos and Calamba. The National Arts Center hosts the Philippine High School for the Arts, a government school for artistically gifted children.

Lastly the mystic Mountain of Makiling is one of the main attraction of Los Banos, it is approximately a three-hour climb from mud spring above the College of Forestry in the University of the Philippines.

This is just few of the town’s main attraction, so if you are planning for a fun and cheap getaway, then Los Banos, Laguna is the answer.


Sonya’s Garden: Tagaytay’s Best-Kept Secret

Kabalikat, are you a tourist or a traveler?
Well, you might say that they are one and the same. Honestly, I beg to differ. I define a tourist as one who goes on a trip and take on the usual route listed on those commercial travel books. They are those who are willing to shell out some hard-earned cash to view those so-called tourist spots. A traveler, on the other hand, is one who goes on a journey and braves out onto the off-beaten tracks. They are those who are never afraid to wander in unfamiliar grounds, get lost, and eventually make new discoveries along the way. They are those people who are able to unlock some of the best-kept secrets hidden in their destination.

Years back, when Tagaytay City was not yet developed into the commercial tourist hub that it is today, the trips down south would usually be consisted of these activities: lunch at Picnic Grove, a drive up the People’s Park (called Palace in the Sky during its glory days), horseback-riding, and photo-op with the Taal Volcano as their backdrop. Predictable as it may sound, that has been the traditional family’s routine — until their travel grapevines intervened that led them to discover a “hidden treasure” this side of the town.

Rumors were going around the metro of a restaurant which serves wonderful country cuisine in a lush garden setting. However, it was so exclusive that it requires one to have a direct affinity with the restaurant owner to be able to sample her food offerings. Now, the owner (who goes by the name of Sonya) is one privy lady, and getting hold of her number is no easy feat. Not one to be easily turned down (especially in matters of gastronomy), my aunt finally got hooked up with Sonya via the friend of a friend of her friend.

Finding the place was a tough one, as it is within one of the smaller barangays of Tagaytay (even though I was originally from there), tucked between rolling hills. Back then, a small rusty “Sonya’s” signage was your only landmark if you are coming from the national highway, so it is better to be on the lookout for the bigger “Barangay Buck Estate” welcome arc. A seemingly never-ending drive commenced once we entered through this arc (okay, I was exaggerating but hey I was already extremely hungry then), but the hills of neatly lined up pineapple plants along the side of that narrow road kept us entertained for a while.

Once you get there — lo and behold — you would never believe such a place could exist in that part of our country. A vast English garden exploding with vibrant colors greets guests upon entry. (We later found out that each shrub here was laboriously and lovingly planted by Sonya herself.) As you walk past these bushes of flowers of every imaginable kind, they give off a natural fragrance that beckons you to leave all your worldly concerns behind and be at that moment. Canopied rest stops can be found throughout the garden, with little trinkets giving the whole place its country charm.

The dining area is set in what seems like gigantic greenhouses, adorned with ferns and plants. Wooden pieces of furniture fill the space, while tabletops of excellent embroidery and dishes served in vintage chinaware finishes off the details for a rustic ambience.
Food here is uncomplicated; simple yet gratifying. The menu is composed of Sonya’s culinary repertoire, no-frills country cuisine with Asian and European influences. One is assured that every food item is freshly prepared in their kitchen, with most of their ingredients grown and handpicked from their organic garden.

Proof of this is their salad, a bevy of greens plus the occasional edible flowers, tossed in with fresh fruits, broad beans and parmesan cheese, and perfectly orchestrated with Sonya’s secret dressing (a concoction that is tangy and sweet) or Balsamic Vinegar.
This is followed by a serving of wheat bread, freshly baked from their in-house panaderia, accompanied by a variety of dips and toppings that include pesto, white cheese, anchovies, bruschetta tomato, mushroom pate, black olive tapinade and fresh green peppercorn in olive oil.
Main course comprised pasta with a choice of two sauces: the traditional red sauce (made from sun dried tomatoes sans the meat), or white (cream-based with chicken bits and mango base). This is served with toppings of ratatouille, salmon belly, shiitake mushrooms, black olives, capers, peppercorns and grated parmesan cheese.

Freshly squeezed dalandan juice aids in cleansing the palate for this play of flavors, while a serving of their tarragon helps to digest all this food intake.
By this time, you should still have room for their well-loved desserts, comprised of banana fritters, glazed camote and their decadent chocolate cake.
This set menu of Sonya’s remains constant; this is the same kind of gourmet fare she has been serving since word got out of her secret hideaway. Surprisingly, loyal patrons keep coming back, and each time they bring in new ‘recruits’. What started out as a private paradise for Sonya has now become a ‘home’ for many: balikbayans, honeymooners, urbanites seeking refuge from their daily routine — or a wandering traveler, who is ever ready to unlock a new secret in his journey.

(Note: At present, Sonya’s Garden is a secret no more. In fact, she has maximized the area to include a panaderia and country store, where food items such as her secret salad dressing, broad beans, and assorted breads that were in the restaurant can be bought and brought home, alongside various knick-knacks and curios. There is also a spa, where one can choose from among a variety of massages and services for that well-deserved pampering. The Sonya’s Signature Massage, a full body massage that is done with long flowing strokes, comes highly recommended. Finally, there is the Bed and Breakfast — perfect for those people who cannot get enough of the Sonya’s Garden experience in a day. An overnight stay here comes with free activities on the “art of doing nothing,” a philosophy that Sonya herself lives by. This could be lessons on flower arranging, basic gardening, and cooking with herbs.)


Tagaytay : Solace in the Heart of Nature

Tagaytay : Solace at the Heart of Nature

Are you a dynamic, young professional who has dreams of a life full of leisure, excitement and thrill – but finds those dreams impossible fantasies given your monthly earnings? Do you stop for a quick second and find yourself tired of commuting to and from your workplace, desperately needing even just a short break from having to brave the gruelling traffic of the metro? Have you had enough of paying exorbitant rates just to get yourself away from your hole of a living quarter?

If you answered yes to one – or better yet, all of my questions – then hear ye! Hear ye! Deliverance from your dilemmas is at hand as I bring you this solution: TRY TAGAYTAY.

Tagaytay City, one of the best places to be in Southern Luzon, does not let Agro-Tourism be permanently edged out by the generous proliferation of air-conditioned malls all over the country and the overwhelming technology advancement fad that comes with it. The city boasts of its maintained agricultural ambience with a few urban touches here and there – enough to make your mind wander off in awe of the glorious landscape, but at the same time giving you the same luxury feel of a five-star tourist spot – all at the comfort of your pocket.

Tagaytay City offers the perfect break from city life for the urban professional who is always on the go. Accessibility is an understatement, as it is just a P100 van ride away from the metro (The van terminal is located at Star Mall, just across SM Megamall). Convenience, the thing most people (myself included!) today consider the most vital in determining their plans, is definitely not a problem, as the tourist spots in Tagaytay have a P15-30 admission charge. Transportation along the city is relatively easy, for there are only two routes that jeepneys take. In addition to that, travel costs are just on the minimum. Convenience AND comfort!

Should you wish to just marvel at God’s magnificence, People’s Park in the Sky (formerly Palace in the Sky during the Marcos regime) is definitely a must-see. Situated right at the highest point of the city, People’s Park in the Sky offers the best view of the cityscape. During mornings, however, as thick layers of fog shroud the city, it would be quite difficult to see the view. I would recommend going to People’s Park in the Sky early morning to revel in the literal park among the skies, and then staying there just until the cloak of fog start to thin. This way, you will see the splendid scenery as it is unveiled in front of you.

The city landscape is welcoming with its combination of shades of the serene and subdued blue Taal Lake, lush green trees enveloping the entire city from all sides, and the occasional white fog that comes every morning. The latest addition to its roster of must-try activities is the recently installed Zip Line at Tagaytay Picnic Grove that traverses through the city, overlooking the abundance of trees and at the same time giving a magnificent peripheral view of Taal Lake. Tagaytay City really is the perfect place for relaxing activities like horseback riding, picnics and sightseeing. Another thing worth mentioning is that during holidays and special occasions, the city police wear their gala uniform and go on patrolling the city – on horseback!

The city people are as friendly as they come, as the city also calls itself the City of Character. One can be assured that anyone he approaches for directions would be more than glad to help.

A short jeepney ride will also lead you to a restaurant chain comprising a variety of cuisines that would suit whatever your taste and mood is. What I would suggest for a first time visitor to the city is to try eating at the famous Mushroomburger (also along the restaurant chain). Find out for yourself why this small restaurant has that big a name!

Come night time, stylish and elegant street furnishings are revealed, giving the rather new transients a plethora of colored street lights, as well as a different view of the world-acclaimed lake, in the color of deep night purple generously sprinkled with sparkling night lights.

With vacation costs that suit the budget of even the young working class, Tagaytay is indeed the best place for one to visit, as the city becomes your solace at the heart of nature – even for just a day.