Nicky is leaving for Canada in a few days and one of his requests is for the gang to go on an out-of-town trip. Over the years, we have always wanted to go out of Manila but schedules, budget, personal differences and other circumstances hindered us from doing so. With the looming separation, we decided to push a trip, any trip, at all costs. The gods were with us because during our time of desperation, I saw a voucher for an overnight stay at Villa Escudero in one of the group buying sites I frequent. There were five of us and minimum vouchers to be purchased was, yes, five. Need I say more? Anyway, I wouldn’t bore you with the challenges and many postponements we encountered because at 6 AM on June 16, we were on our way to San Pablo, Laguna via Jac Liner!
Just tell the driver that you’re destination is Villa Escudero and he will drop you at the jump off point of the resort. From the highway, the place is still 1 km away. There are tricycles available but we opted to burn some calories.
After we checked in (which went smoothly, btw), we roamed around AERA museum. My companions were somewhat bored by the tour but I enjoyed myself because I have a thing for anything old. The place was a room full of knick knacks of all kinds, from religious statues to old coins, Filipino costumes worn by famous people to SCUBA gear from World War II, taxidermied animals to burial pots. Anything unique the Escuderos could find. Too bad cameras weren’t allowed inside. After that we roamed around the vicinity while waiting for the Carabao that would bring us to the resort. I saw the Philippine National Anthem in three different languages on the flag pole and remembered that a friend wasn’t aware of the English version.
During the ride, kuya serenaded us with Tagalog folk songs like Magtanim ay di biro and I found myself smiling because the music, the fresh air and the scenery reminded me of simpler days. I was instantly transported back to my elementary classroom where in unison, we sang
Mama, mama, namamangka
Pasakayin yaring bata.
Pagdating sa Maynila
Ipagpalit ng manika.
The reception area. At this point I was already in love with this place. I realized my father would, too, since it’s his dream to live in the middle of a rice field and every square inch of the plantation is a depiction of the rural setting in the Philippines.
According to the voucher, check in time was 11 AM and we were there at around 9. I thought we would be asked to wait for two hours but the kind lady at the reception said she’ll check if the room is already available.
And it was. Hello to our sanctuary for two days, Rosal. When I bought the package, I read that our accommodation would be at the Long house garden units and I learned from Google searches that it’s the cheapest and the room is not air-conditioned. And so I was prepared for the worst.
And I was so wrong. I don’t know how the deluxe or suite rooms look like but I LOVE (all caps for added drama) Longhouse! First off, the place is huge it can house up to 9 persons and we had the space all to ourselves. And who needs an air conditioning unit when fresh air is abundant? None of us dropped a single sweat during our stay in the resort. And don’t let me start on how lovely the unit looked, bed with curtains, open windows, concrete floors turned red thanks to floor wax, stairs and walls made of bamboo and many more. Plus, we had a mini-veranda. I wanted to stay for a day or two more. Just hole up in the unit and come out only for meals, if possible.
And I have to commend the service of the staff. Everyone was kind and helpful and always smiling (plus, they wore traditional Filipino costumes) it makes me want to hug them tightly. The kind of kindness you only encounter in the province. They were ALL so nice the five of us concluded that the management of the plantation is either very scary or very accommodating to their workers (we gravitated towards the latter). It takes more than high wages for the kind of service we experienced.
The meal was buffet style and the offerings included local dishes like Caldereta, Inihaw na baboy, and Ginataang Kalabasa (I was so giddy when I saw this). There was also a table for appetizers like Bagoong, green mangoes, onions and tomatoes, perfect for concocting your own Ensaladang Manga. Dessert was Banana cue and fresh pineapple. The food was average but the experience of eating familiar dishes bare handed with a pseudo-waterfall in the background and cool running water on your feet is definitely awesome.
Nicky pointed out that the place is recommended for foreigners and perfect for Balikbayans who miss the Pinoy country life. True enough, we saw many foreigners and westernized Filipinos (Fil-Ams and such) during lunch.
To stay true to the country feels, we had siesta in our beloved cottage while waiting for the 2 PM cultural show. Unfortunately, our beds were so comfortable the alarm did not wake us up. Not only did we fail to catch good seats for the show but we missed the first performances, probably the ones with “banga”.
The dances were choreographed by the late National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, performed by resort employees and accompanied by the resort’s own musicians and rondalla ensemble. The name of the dances were narrated but I wasn’t able to take notes because Cza and I were in a fit of nostalgia. She, of her days as a member of the dance troupe back in high school and their many performances, and me, of my dream to be half as graceful in performing our folk dances. I remember seeing Tinikling, Pandango sa Ilaw, Maglalatik and Jota but my favorite easily goes to Singkil. Grabe, the presentation isn’t even as grand as the ones produced in the Cultural Center of the Philippines but it was enough to give me chills. Helps you appreciate our culture and heritage more. Hands down Villa Escudero! (get started and watch these two videos performed by Bayanihan Dance Company: part 1, part 2).
Since it’s the lean season, only a handful of guests are left by late afternoon. I assume most of the population during lunch only availed of the day tour (too bad for them). Good thing for us because we only shared the swimming pool with five other people.
First off, the food were all great. The soup was delicious, pork ribs were tender, the fish tasteful, the bacon in the pasta generous and to top it all off, they served my favorite viand, Chicken Curry! Even the banana bread for dessert was moist. I came back to the buffet spread three times and if not for the limited space in my stomach, I would have come back for more.
Second, the place was very intimate, with candle lights and all. During dinner we became a bit melancholic because of the ambiance and one of us even shed a tear (not telling who). This meal alone was worth the 1,900 pesos we paid for the whole trip. It’s a bit formal but not constricting. There were boisterous laughter on other tables but the acoustics of the place turned them into something not irritating to other diners. You know the feeling that nothing can go wrong with this day? You’re right.
And third, we were serenaded by the melodious voice of the employees who sang Filipino songs like “Kahit Maputi na Ang Buhok Ko”, my parents’ theme song. The singer’s voice echoed in the huge pavilion until it mixed and died with the wind (yes, I just wrote that).
Check-out time was 10 AM but I had to leave early, as in 3 AM early because I had a training to attend. This sudden change in schedule irritated me because I was looking forward to this trip with my HS loves but after spending a whole day in Villa Escudero, my mood already improved (that’s why one needs to get away from the city every once in a while). Besides, even if I miss breakfast, I have already exhausted the value for my money (much much more, actually). Back to leaving in the wee hours, I decided to not sleep because alarms always fail to wake me up especially during critical times. The solution? Coffee (though its effect on me is questionable). Peppermint and Chocnut Frappe were pretty decent.
We spent the night on the mezzanine because the bed on the ground floor couldn’t accommodate all five of us and we wanted to sleep together. Actually, the four of them slept while I surfed the net using Nicky’s phone.
When I asked the receptionist that morning if I could leave at 3 AM, she said I just have to call out at the store and someone would be there to assist me. At 3:30, I woke up this kuya and without a hint of irritation, he drove me to the highway using one of the buses of the resort. And here I will rave again about the service I experienced from the employees of the resort.
The sound of the motor of the vehicle woke up the security guard stationed at the guard house near the highway and he helped me stop buses with this red light. Another simple act of kindness that swelled my heart.
Villa Escudero reminded me of Dudee because she was the first person I invited to come visit the place with me. I wrote about it in my secret blog (which only she knows the URL to then) and she commented on my post. It was in 2009 and group buying sites were unheard of. We went to as far as booking in their Manila office at Estrada street, Malate. And then unfortunate things happened.