Matabungkay: Seaside Nirvana

Kabalikat! I got another beach destination for you! This time, we are off to Matabungkay, what people consider to be the Boracay of Batangas.

Matabungkay was once just a measly fishing village that attracted campers and beach lovers. However, since the boom of the establishment of resorts in the area significantly increased the number of visitors and local tourism. Because of the sudden fluctuation of guests to the beach, the once small fishing village instantly turned into a local, and eventually national, tourist spot.

To get to Matabungkay, take Santa Rosa exit at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). Turn right and follow the sign to Tagaytay (Woot! Hometown!), and from there, follow the signs to Nasugbu, Batangas. Huge directional sign boards along the way with the “To Lian and Calatagan” signage would be your guide to arrive at the right place. Continue driving along the Calatagan road until you see the big “Matabungkay Beach” sign at the right side of the road.

Situated right along the Matabungkay beach strip in Lian, Batangas, is the famous Coral Beach Club, which was named after the traces of coral pieces that are scattered along its sandy shorelines. With dozens of rooms that can accommodate up to almost a hundred guests, the resort has clusters of differently themed cottages that all shoot up a comfy and tranquil atmosphere. You can choose from the Japanese inspired rooms, to several golf club named ones (like Alabang and Canlubang to name a few), and to even local themes. Each one of these rooms is furnished and styled with native and native-inspired interiors that add up to the serenity and laid back ambiance that welcomes every guest. The ceilings are made from sawali and nipa, the bed railings and headboards from bamboo, the windows and wall panels from capiz shells, and other fixtures such as the lamps from woven rattan. Almost everything is wooden and natural.

At the center of the resort, you can find a restaurant and a bar, where all the other supplemental structures surrounding the resort were patterned. The flow of the native theme from the center of the resort is very eye-friendly, with the continuity of the mish mash of the past to the present. One thing that the guests notice first among the other décor is the basket woven chandelier that hangs from the restaurant’s center. Just the intricacy and the detailing of the piece of art give joy and amazement to those who get a chance to behold it. Other fixtures that are worth noticing are the wooden oars, or sagwan in the vernacular, that hang on the walls and ceiling and the wood carvings that add to the aesthetic charm of the place to the guests of the resort.

The clustering of the resort rooms is suitable for companies that would like to hold seminars and/or team building activities. Their function room is fully equipped with up to date and high end technological amenities like a digital projector, sound system, internet connection, among others.

To go perfectly together with the homey and cozy atmosphere of the resort are varied home-cooked dishes which can be chosen from a wide selection of intercontinental carte du jour, from European to Asian cuisine that suite the astute taste buds of every resort visitor. Nearly all dishes are served in bighearted portions, which are not only satisfying but in the same way delectable too. You can choose from their verdant greens, bruchettas, curry sausages pesto pasta, pork aloha chicken sticks, blueberry cheesecake and other dishes, guests can be guaranteed of having a mouth-watering dining experience here.

The resort also has its own mini green house that houses all their diverse vegetables, herbs and spices such as lettuce, tomatoes, basil, rosemary, among others are grown so as to preserve the eminence and flavor of the food that they dish up to the guests.

Special arrangements for aqua sports and other facilities such as paddle boats, jet skis, fishing bangka, balsa (floating wooden rafts) for picnics while afloat on the water, and diving equipment can be made at the resort. For relaxation after a long day’s work, or probably after an exhilarating but exhausting day at the beach, other services like massage is available upon the guest’s request.

Interestingly, even if it is not peak season in Matabungkay, Coral Beach still retains a usual number of regulars. For them, they consider as one of the major factors in order to gauge success is the fact that almost all of their clients come back to the resort at another time. And given that more or less everybody are familiar with each other, the atmosphere of ease and familiarity among their clientele provides for the resort an advantage for having regular customers who stay at the resort whenever they visit Matabungkay all year round.

Yet another attribute that marks Coral Beach as one of the best beach resorts to visit and sets it apart from the other resorts lined up along the Matabungkay Beach is the because at their resort, accommodations are set no more than to a minimum, with the purpose of guaranteeing the paramount level of service. Their resort personnel are also trained on a regular basis to ensure that they never get out of aptness and appropriateness. Aside from that, Coral Beach also operates all year round as if it is peak season at all times, making sure that all facilities and services offered by their resort are operational, functioning and always accessible to guests that wish to avail of them. Contrasting to other resorts that are over and over again under construction all throughout the off-peak season, they, on the other hand, do not compromise service and maintain continuous checks to a minimum so as not to disturb or interrupt the resort’s businesses and operations throughout the year.

Coral Beach Club coalesces the magnificence of nature – the breathtaking sunrise, the soothing sunset for the ever romantic, the cavorting waves as the splash the shore, the tender sun rays – and the embrace of your own little nirvana, as you relax and unwind by the seaside.


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.)


Discover Los Baños

It’s summer. You are stuck in your office. The air conditioned room cools your body from the summer heat. Outside, you feel the sun burning your skin and wish you were in a beach and applying suntan, but your short weekend break does not allow you for a long travel. Where can you go to relieve the stress and hot summer days?

Then I propose that you go to Los Baños!

Los Baños is a town in Laguna which means “the baths”. It is your nearest exit from the scorching heat of Manila. All you need is two hours of travel and you are on your way to a relaxing summer vacation.

True to its name, Los Baños is full of public springs and resorts lining up its highways. All you have to do is roll down the window of your car, breathe in the fresh air that is so rare in Manila, and call one of the resort caretakers flashing the “private pool” sign. You are on your way to ease that stress! But if you are looking for premium resorts, Los Baños also has Splash Mountain, Monte Vista Resort, Sun City, Libis ng Nayon, and many more which are all promoted by the Department of Tourism. Ooops! Don’t forget! Buy some buko pie before going to your chosen resort. Nothing beats submerging in cool water and eating the famous Los Baños buko pie.

Now, if you had already rejuvenated your worn out soul, why not go to some mountain trekking and explore the wonders of Mount Makiling? By just looking at the panoramic view of this mountain (which looks like a maiden sleeping on its back) will make you marvel of what this mountain holds. And your first stop in this adventure hike is the University of the Philippines, Los Baños.

UPLB is the largest UP Campus because of its upper campus, Forestry, which covers the foot of Mt. Makiling. Stroll around the campus or maybe have a family picnic in Freedom Park while indulging on ice creams, yogurts, kesong puti, and fresh chocolate milks made from DTRI. You could also visit Museum of Natural History and Philippine High School for the Arts located at the top of the campus or camp at night at Jamboree.

For a more adventurous trek, visit the so-called “flat rocks” near the Botanical Garden of UPLB. It is a clump of large flat rocks forming a ruin or cave that excites your exploratory soul. After taking a short break and washing your hands and feet in the river beside the flat rocks, climb up and boil some eggs in mud spring. It is one of the many “mouths” or craters of Mt. Makiling which is really an inactive volcano. The reason for the inactivity of Makiling is that its hot, boiling water runs down to the many hot springs now enjoyed by the locals and tourists.

Now that you have explored Mt. Makiling, enjoyed the cool, fresh air, and marvelled at the huge trees, it is now time to go down the mountain. Try the route called the “Magnetic Hill”. This hill got its name “magnetic” because vehicles are pulled up the hill when their engines are turned off. But not just metals are magnetized by this hill, even water and coconuts are found to be rolling up instead of rolling down. Because of this, locals have explained that the hill is really going down and not up as what the eyes can see.

So after wondering and wandering, maybe now you know where the nearest exit to paradise is. Don’t waste your weekend! Pack up your bags and see you at the paradise that is Los Baños.


Paete: Carving Capital of the Philippines

No place in the Philippines comes to the minds of the Filipinos when it comes to wood carving than Paete in Laguna. In fact, the name of the town Paete was derived from the word “paet,” (or pait) which is the local counterpart of chisel, the principal tool for wood carving, in the Filipino vernacular. The place has produced a great quantity of statues and other wood carving products; these products, usually found in churches, have reached the different places of the Philippines, and even outside the country. Truly, the people in Paete have mastered and really dedicated their lives perfecting their centuries-old craft, which ultimately culminated to the declaration of the town as the “Carving Capital of the Philippines” back in 2005.

The easiest way to get to Paete is through the Manila East Road. With almost no traffic, and one of the longest stretch of the picturesque scenery to revel the traveler’s eyes upon, the road trip through the national highway is an exciting experience in itself. This would take almost two hours of driving. To those who would rather skip the scenery, however, an alternate route is through South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) where the travel less scenic, but with a smoother ride and more commercially-developed pit stops.

Should you take the former, you would pass through Rizal province towns of Antipolo, Teresa and Morong, and then to Tanay. From there, the meandering mountain roads of Rizal are through, and you would now pass through the lakeshore towns of Laguna: Mabitac, Pangil, Pakil and then, finally Paete.

One of the must-see places in Paete is the Church of Santiago Apostol, a declared National Historical Site. The first church was erected in 1646 but was destroyed years later. Due to earthquakes, the succeeding churches entrenched on the same location were also damaged. The now Church of Santiago Apostol has endured a number of earth tremors and has been restored several times since its building in 1939. Despite the damages of the earthquakes, the church is still filled with paintings and, of course, wood carvings that Paeteños themselves collectively made many decades, even centuries, ago, including the beautifully carved retablo. It boasts a number of religious icons; some of these statuaries were made quite a lot of time ago.

The illustrious Paete-born artist Jose Dans, known for mixing pulverized volcanic ashes with color pigments and using cat’s hair as paintbrush, was the one responsible for some large murals of the church, especially the image of Saint Christopher clad in European clothing, and the Langit, Lupa at Impierno.
Wood carving is what the Paeteños are good at. In fact, many churches in the Philippines have at least an image carved in Paete. Even the famous churches in the world have carved statues made in Paete such as the Crucified Christ at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This just illustrates the caliber and quality of Paete wood carvings, which is, to put things simply, world class. The wooden toy yoyo is also believed to be first made in Paete. The traditional Filipino footwear bakya has further become popular as different designs are introduced on the wooden sole of the foot wear adding more appeal.

The art of papier-mâché is also at its best in Paete. If not wood carvers, Paeteños make toys or decorations made of papier-mâché. Some of the houses of the Paeteños become their workplace for the papier-mâché business, where they make toys, masks, Christmas decorations and displays, mostly ordered by clients.

Aside from wood carving and papier-mâché arts, Paete is visited by tourists during the Holy Week. Perhaps the most anticipated celebration in the town is the Lenten Season where local and foreign tourists witness the procession of life-size images on Holy Wednesday. Paete has also its moving dioramas that re-enact three biblical scenes at three different places – public market, Plaza Edesan and town plaza.

On Maundy Thursday, the senakulo is re-enacted at the town plaza. Many people also start trekking to Tatlong Krus to stay until Good Friday. Before reaching Tatlong Krus, visitors may opt to drop by the Matabungka Falls and relish the picturesque view of the falls. They can also swim into the water and feel the cascading water of the Fflls during their stay there.

During the procession on Good Friday, all eyes are directed towards the Mater Dolorosa, aside of course from the resting representation of body of “God.” The Mater Dolorosa is the exact replica of the image made by Mariano Madriñan, considered to be the town’s hero, which earned him a plaque of recognition from King Alfonso of Spain and a gold medal award at the Amsterdam Exposition in 1883.

On the night of Black Saturday, the town celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ through the Easter Eve Ball, which lasts until the salubong of the following day (Easter Sunday).

Another festivity that Paete is known for is the Salibanda Sto. Niño Festival in January. The gaiety, which ends the long Christmas season, is characterized by street dancing similar to the Mardi Gras, and pouring of water among the people in celebration of Christ’s baptism, infancy and entry into manhood. The Salibanda starts with a fluvial parade on Laguna Lake then a procession into the streets of the town. The same merry-making happens during the town’s fiesta, the feast of Saint James in July.

Paete has a unique version of trick-or-treat during the Halloween. The children wander around the town as kaluluwa or souls of the dead. It is believed that these souls were given an off for a night to beg for alms. Thus, children, although costume-less, make some noise and ask for candies, cookies or even coins from the people.

Although Paete is famous for wood carving, this town is also known for the incomparable sweetness of its golden lanzones. Although lanzones are only available during the latter days of September until November, the different sweetness that this small, round, yellow fruit with leathery skin offers is worth waiting for.


Angono: The Philippines’ Art Capital

What do New York in the United States, Paris in France, and Rome in Italy have in common? Aside from being the forefront of progress and development, these places are considered as the art capitals of the world! They brag about their collection of art works, from paintings to sculpture to jewelry, made by world-renowned masters of art.

Since these places are so far and out of reach to the common Filipinos, it is quite impossible for them to see such works of art. Thus, many Filipinos are being deprived of witnessing the actual Mona Lisa painting of Leonardo da Vinci or the paintings at the ceiling of Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, but they can satiate their eyes by visiting one town in Rizal that has become the depository of artworks. Yes, the Philippines has its own version of art capital, and it’s none other than Angono – the site where the oldest known work of art in the Philippines was discovered, the Angono Petrgolyphs, with 127 drawings of human and animals carved on a rock wall some 5,000 years ago.

Angono, located 30 kilometers east of Manila, can be reached through the Manila East Road for a little less than an hour using private vehicles. For commuters, the trip to the art capital usually takes an hour or a little over from Cubao or EDSA Central, where FX cabs and jeepneys bound to Angono pass.

Angono is the home of two National Artists – Lucio San Pedro, for music, and Carlos “Botong” Francisco, for visual arts. Their families have been so generous in allowing visitors to explore their houses, where the National Artists lived. The family of Lucio San Pedro still maintains the piano where the Maestro composed his masterpieces, as well as other things he used while composing. All the Maestro’s compositions, such as Sa Ugoy ng Duyan (a famous local lullaby), can also be seen and read at the house. As for the house of Botong Francisco, because most of his masterpieces were commissioned, these works belong to private individuals and institutions so his famous works like the Blood Compact and Bayanihan are not at the house. What can be seen in his home are some photographs of the master, some of his murals and paintings, and his collection of knives, baskets and kulintang, a musical instrument composed of small gongs arrayed in one row.

The street where the home of Botong Francisco is located, the popular Doña Aurora Street in Barangay Poblacion Itaas, has become a tourist attraction because of the murals on the walls of the street. Some of the tour de force of the late Botong Francisco can be seen on the walls of Doña Aurora Street, including the Merienda and the Pilgrimage to Antipolo. A mural of the Maestro and the lyrics of his composition Sa Ugoy ng Duyan can also be seen on the wall of the street. These murals were created by Angono’s resident muralist Charlie Anorico, in honor of these two great legends.

One of the must-see art galleries in Angono is the Nemiranda Arthouse. It shows the paintings of the Nemiranda family, headed by its patriarch Nemencio Miranda, Jr. illustrating the traditional and colorful life in the Philippines like fiesta celebration and happiness-filled harvest season. Also on display are the works of his 5 children, who have their own themes and interpretations. Some carvings – concrete and wood – and sculptures are likewise seen inside. The Mirandas have also become advocates of clean and healthful environment that they have turned some junks into works of art! They, too, are on display.

Another gallery that shouldn’t be missed by visitors is the Blanco Art Gallery, which showcases the life-size paintings made by Jose “Pitok” Blanco, his wife and all of his 7 children. The paintings show the rural life the Filipinos, such as the hunting of animals and harvesting of fishes, as well as their beliefs and traditions, such as the fluvial procession and Jesus’ sufferings. The Gallery also shows a “progress report” of the Blanco children as it showcases their paintings since they started to paint up to their masterpieces now. Works of local artists are also exhibited in the Gallery.

The Tiamson Art Gallery is also a must-see gallery in Angono. Owned by painter, musician and trans-media artist Orville Tiamson, this gallery boasts a collection of paintings with different touches as the artist integrates music, poetry and video into his paintings. Philippine culture is usually the theme of his paintings with modern touch, as well as children and underwater sceneries.

Aside from these three great “destinations,” other galleries, which include the Vicente Reyes Art Studio, Juban Studio and Hernandez Studio, show the works of excellent local artists. These galleries surely offer visual arts that can match the quality of those made by Botong Francisco, Pitok Blanco and Orville Tiamson especially that the owners of these studios have trained and devoted their lives to painting; in fact, Vicente Reyes was a student of Botong Francisco, Salvador Juban was the assistant of the National Artist, while Cesar Hernandez frequented Botong Francisco’s house to see him paint.

After visiting the galleries, tourists can sate their stomachs at the Balaw-Balaw Restaurant; it was put up by artist Perdigon Vocalan. Just a caveat though, the Restaurant offers exotic dishes! It serves adobong sawa at itik, ginataang uok, camaro, and Soup No. 5. Cooked tapang usa, palaka, bayawak and baboy-ramo are also served at the restaurant.

The paintings and sculptures, including the Higantes and masks made of papier-mâché, of artist Perdigon Vocalan are hanged and placed inside the Restaurant. The Ang Nuno Artists Foundation Gallery can also be found at the Restaurant which showcases its vast collection of paintings and sculptures made by artists of Angono.

Angono is also famous for several festivities including the Higantes Festival or the Feast of San Clemente, the patron saint of fishermen (celebrated every November 23), and the Carabao Festival in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers (celebrated every May 14).


Magdapio Falls: Shortcut to Paradise

Niagara. Angel. Iguazu. Victoria. Maria Cristina. The list goes on.
Perhaps one of the beauties nature offers to mankind that people in the metro do not see ever so frequently is a waterfall. Many city inhabitants are deprived of its beauty simply because there is none in the metro. Or if there is one, it surely is man-made. Imagine what these people miss – a breath-taking view of playful water that freely and briskly falls from an edge into a wide basin whose water runs profusely toward its many conjunctions or exits – wait, just describing a waterfall alone gives us an imagery you would want to see for yourself – surely a paradise!

But don’t despair, mga kabalikat, we have Laguna, which is just so close to Manila. Laguna harbors the world-famous Magdapio Falls, or what is internationally known as the Pagsanjan Falls. Contrary to its name, Pagsanjan Falls is not located in the town of Pagsanjan but in Cavinti, about three miles from Pagsanjan, so local people prefer the name Magdapio Falls, based on a legend of a man named Magdapio, whose brother died from drought. According to local folklore, he asked water from their tribe gods, who eventually provided him so through the waterfalls.

Regardless of what people call it, Magdapio Falls never fails to attract tourists, fellow Filipinos and foreigners alike, totaling five hundred to seven hundred visitors daily. The Magdapio Falls offers a gorgeous – yes, I daresay gorgeous – view of nature.

The jump-off point is in Pagsanjan, that is why it is mistakenly called the Pagsanjan Falls. Before reaching the breath-taking view of the 90-meter falls, tourists have to go through sixteen rapids. Let me say that again in case you missed it: SIXTEEN rapids! For more than an hour, boatmen and passengers experience the adrenaline rush of traversing the mighty water of Magdapio River towards the falls – the former struggles to maneuver the canoe, and the latter strives to maintain balance amid the gusty rapids. Unfortunately for the thrill seekers, during rainy months, the water level rises, so there are less than sixteen rapids. The adrenaline rush is still at its peak although the voyage to the Magdapio Falls is cut short during this season because of some imminent dangers. For safety measures, should it rain when you go there, I suggest you take a pass at the seemingly thrill-filled rapid adventure that might bring you harm instead.

Aside from the Magdapio Falls, several other falls greet the tourist along the Magdapio River, including the Talahib Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Kaluykuy Falls and nineteen others. These may not be as magnificent as the Magdapio Falls but, definitely, they are a sight to behold!
If tourists do not want to experience going through the exhilarating rapids, they have the option to take the land-based route to the Magdapio Falls. The municipal government of Cavinti developed the Cavinti Eco-Park, also known as the Pueblo El Salvador Eco-Park and Picnic Grounds. It was opened to the public in November 2007. If the water-based route is full of excitement, the land-based is, nevertheless, as exciting as shooting the rapids! The Eco-Park traverses the tourists towards the Magdapio Falls presenting as many types of scenery that are definitely very pleasing to the eyes as you pass through the Magdapio River route.

Unlike the shooting the rapids adventure, where tourists only brace themselves for the mighty water, opting to travel the Eco-Park way enables the tourists to experience several fun-filled, excitement-loaded experience. From the jump-off point in Barangay Tibatib in Cavinti town, a 15-minute trek leads to the first panorama – the Nakulo Falls. Soon, the Talahib Falls brags also about its beauty. Within the Eco-Park are the 368-meter Tibatib Nature Trail and View Area, where several waterfalls can be seen, the Bayakan Falls, and the view of Magdapio River and the tourists that shoot its rapids.

Another view inside the Eco-Park is the statue of El Salvador del Mundo, the patron saint of Cavinti. Proximate to the statue is another trek, an area where the tourists are wrapped with harness to descend through the metal ladder; tourists can also rappel so they can experience the feeling of freely descending, of course with harness, through the 672-step ladder. At the end of the rappelling experience awaits the majestic view of the Magdapio Falls! But the Falls will not have its majestic view sans the beauty of nature surrounding it – flowering plants, trees, vines, colorful birds, frolicsome monkeys and other plants and animals, among others.

Should you wish to spend the night there, you can choose from a wide variety of hotels and hostels that would surely suit your taste and budget. And if you choose to do so, I would recommend that you wake up before the sun rises. Watching the morning sun’s rays as they hit the waterfall, even from just your room’s windows would definitely make for all the money that you spent.

Tourists also have the option to go near the Falls through the rafts. Not only will rafting allow tourists to feel the strong water of the Magdapio Falls, it will also deliver them to the mouth of the “Devil’s Cave,” whose main door is the Falls. The cave is named so because many believe that its opening resembles that of a devil’s face.

Truly, tourists witness the paradise in Magdapio Falls. What makes it more beautiful and crowd-drawing is the beauty of nature that tourists behold on their way to the Falls. The several mini-falls greeting the tourists, the adrenaline rush experience with the mighty rapids, the sight of the playful monkeys and other animals, the blooming flowers of plants – every sound of Mother Nature seems music to the ears of every tourist. Sure, the Falls is so scenic, so delightful to the eyes. But what makes it distinct, what makes it a paradise is the splendor of nature, the fusion of all pleasing sceneries that God has seemingly situated from the start of the trek until the very location of the Magdapio Falls.


Herb Republic: Food Savant’s Heaven on Earth

For whatever reason, whenever I am hungry, I find myself surfing back and forth at the Lifestyle Network, the Food Network and Travel and Living, among other channels. This leads to, of course, me getting even hungrier. It might be because of the way every show never fails to display appetizing dishes each and every episode. Or perhaps because every single dish, for that matter, never falls short in making my mouth water, my taste buds salivate to the extent that I crave for the current dish that was presently onscreen. Every. Single. Time.

And to make things more interesting, I know for a fact that I am NOT alone here. Given that one of the basic instincts of man is to eat, most people would actually agree with me when I say that man does not only need to eat, but in fact to eat good, if not great, food. I know that it is not only me that craves for lip smacking treats. I know that most people share my hunger (literally and figuratively) for these delectable things. I know that for a fact. Now, now, to those who are sharing my hunger as you read this, we all need not despair, mga kabalikat, for there is a new place that satisfies all the requirements that a food show calls for. And that new place is just here, hiding at the outskirts of Laguna, away from the hustles and bustles of the busy city.

Situated at Brgy. Maahas in Los Baños, Laguna, Herb Republic is quite a starting restaurant – they opened to the public just last April 2009. But do not be fooled when I said “starting”. The second we walked inside, I instantly liked the décor. The natural feel was all over the place, greeting you as you entered. You can choose where you want to eat, depending on your mood, from the native-inspired wooden tables in the middle of the garden, or in one of their bamboo and rattan kubos (more known as nipa huts, the Philippines’ national native house style), to a lush lounge area that exudes an opulent feel. The restaurant’s eye-friendly lighting matches the brick-line walls and tall fences constructed from bamboo stems.

My buddies and I opted to eat at the lounge. The cushioned sofa just fully embraces your back and bottom with its softness the moment your body touches it. A piano is installed and an acoustic guitar is also available for the guests to play with and kill time while waiting for their orders. Another thing that you could do is take pictures of the home-grown plants that are all around the restaurant grounds. A well-maintained indoor pond with playful fish and lilies also add to the serenity of the place.

If you have decided, however, to go for the wood tables in the center or in one of their bamboo kubos, an even more tranquil atmosphere can be felt as the combination of sun, air and plants transports you to a quiet place along the countryside.

While waiting for our orders, they served us tea in these cute small teacups. Not only does the tea tasted great, but it was a house warming gift for free. Way to go for us!

From the appetizers to the main courses, the menu was reasonably priced and was packing with flavor. We ordered Stuffed Tofu (a bighearted helping of deep fried tofu stuffed with rolls of bacon), Mushroom Tempura (mushroom caps deep fried in tempura breading with a slightly spicy dip), Garlic Chicken (a quarter of a chicken generously flavored with garlic and served with herbs and spices of choice), Grilled Tuna Belly (perfect for fish fans, a humongous slab of tuna that was grilled perfectly – very crisp on the outside, and yet tender and juicy on the inside – and that would feed four to five people), Chicken Inasal (again, a quarter of a chicken that was permeated with a slightly orange or reddish hue from azuete seeds), Grilled Pork Liempo (their version of the pinoy pork staple served in bite sized pieces), Marinara Pasta (for seafood lovers, al dente pasta with a delicious creamy marinara sauce), and loads of rice! The infusion of their homegrown herbs and spices to every meal made it taste both bold and fresh at the same time, and that was, to put things this way, an exquisite mishmash. For our drink orders, we had their Calamansi and Pineapple Slush. Both are fairly fruity concoctions that are perfect to complement a healthy meal rather than with your regular softdrinks. For desserts, you can choose from their two (just two at the time of writing) specialties, their Molten Chocolate Cake or their version of the famous Pannacotta.

I know I used the word “outskirts” to describe the place’s location (this is to accentuate the serenity that the restaurant offers with its ambiance), but yet again, don’t get the wrong end of the stick of what I was saying. Going there is rather easy. Buses from Manila going to Santa Cruz (via Calamba and Los Baños) are stationed at the Buendia and Cubao bus terminals. For first timers, you can request for the bus personnel to stop for you at South Supermarket in Bay, Laguna (opposite the University of the Philippines Open University), so you could get off at the right stop. From there, a short tricycle ride can take you to the restaurant’s front door. And just so you could make sure that all your travel would not come to waste, you can call in your reservation to the restaurant’s staff in order for you and your buddies, family or loved one to have a secure dining spot at the resto at (049) 827-4407 or at 09228437206.

At the end of the day, we were all very delighted that we decided to experience new-fangled things and sate our stomachs at the said eating place. Herb Republic is definitely not your typical run-of-the-mill restaurant. The food was of premium quality for just a moderate, not-so-expensive price. Celebrate the grandeur of man’s healthy creation amidst God’s majestic conceptions here at Herb Republic.


The Southern Gateway to Paradise

Jose Rizal, swimming pools, buko pie, and the right combination of urbanity and nature – this is the city of Calamba. Popularly known as the birth place of the national hero of the Philippines, Calamba has grabbed the attention of many visitors, especially local and foreign tourists who want a change of scenery.

From the ordinary smog of Manila’s atmosphere to the usual garbage décor lining its streets, Calamba is green to the eyes. It is the gateway of Manila to the southern paradise of Laguna which is a province known for its hot springs, virgin forest, delicacies, and wood carving.

Aside from being the closest gateway to nature travellers and road trippers, Calamba is also a place for peaceful residency. The rural atmosphere of the barangays and subdivisions in Calamba ensures calm living. You will have kind neighbors, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the panoramic view of Mount Makiling, but Calamba is not all about just being in the country-side. The number of schools in Calamba, consisting elementary, high school, college, vocational, and even international schools, provides high quality education to young Filipinos. And for the working class, Calamba is also a place to be because of the booming number of manufacturing industries and technological plants. This city brags its clean industrial techno parks which have the biggest international and multinational companies and corporations in Laguna.

Calamba is also a target for class and family outings and reunions. Pansol, a baranggay in Calamba, is famous for its many hot springs and swimming pools that will suit your budget. It is also visited by many travellers because of its delicious buko pie products.

If you are a writer or journalist yearning for an inspiration, Calamba is rich in culture, folklore, and history that will spice up your imagination. Visit the town proper of Calamba and see the architecture of the town center originally thought by the Spaniards. Although the municipal hall of Calamba is moved to a new location, the old municipal building which now serves as a city college is still found in the town center. And at the heart of the town plaza is the old church where young Jose Rizal heard his first mass. You could also visit the ancient house of the Rizals and find out how the young Rizal learned how to be a scientist, artist, and writer. Aside from the Spanish architectural house of the Rizal family, some houses in Calamba have still retained the architecture of the Commonwealth era that will surely make you go back in time.

Calamba is the origin of much folklore which is produced mainly from the rich imagination of its inhabitants. Nature really is a great influence to the creative side of the Filipinos. Thus, travel south and extract your creative juices. Visit Calamba and experience urbanity without hustles. This city is the yinyang of nature and modernity.