Sunday, June 26, 2011

Breathless over Bataan's Beautiful Houses

Something neatly tucked in Bataan will surely take your breath away if you're captivated by the historic and the epic. In one of its many towns lies a quaint village made up of twenty-plus old Filipino-Spanish heritage houses known as “bahay na bato”. The place? Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Much has been said and written about this privately-owned heritage resort located in Bagac, Bataan. Word has it that the owner who’s into real estate development has this passion for restoring old houses, which eventually inspired him to put up the resort. He bought whatever old house he could find in many parts of the country, tore them down piece by piece, and then had each of them reconstructed in his estate.

A frustrated architect and a history buff, I’m fascinated by vintage structures and antique art. Thus, when I learned about Acuzar’s resort from Juju, one of my Manila-based buddies who’s been there on numerous occasions, I kept egging him to take me to the resort whenever I’m in town. Geez, I got to see it, I told myself, silently hoping for a chance to visit that part of Central Luzon.

That rare chance finally came my way when I was sent to Manila middle of this year for some official business. On a sunny Saturday morning, I joined Juju and two other friends, Minnie and Luz, on a trip “back in time” to Bataan. Except for Juju, the three of us haven’t been to the resort so the prospect of seeing the ancestral houses thrilled us no end. 

One Saturday, we agreed to meet at the terminal for northbound buses in Quezon City. From there, it took us roughly three hours to reach Bataan via the NLEX. When we arrived in Balanga City, however, we didn’t immediately proceed to our ultimate destination as we deemed it wise to first drop by the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) in Mt. Samat. So, we hopped into one of the PUVs passing through the town of Pilar, the take-off point for the shrine.

After scaling the shrine in Mt. Samat and staying there for a few hours, we headed for Bagac and reached the resort less than an hour before noontime. We had ourselves registered and decided to have lunch first before we go house-hopping around the estate.

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Famished, we trooped to Casa Unisan, one of the heritage houses that serves as the resort’s café, where we treated ourselves to a sumptuous lunch consisting of typical Pinoy fare: bagnet, sinigang, binagoongang baboy and pritong manok. For dessert, we ordered turon with nangka and gabi ice cream. Sated, we were ready to roam around. Initially, Juju said that we should join the guided tour. Later, however, we sensed that we’re better off exploring the place to ourselves as we wanted more time for taking photos of the different houses. Hence, we broke away from the pack. 

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar amazed me with the grandness of its scale, shape and sceneries. Like an exclusive village for the affluent, the resort has its own piscina (swimming pool), a café, a hotel, two public squares, a plaza, a bridge with promenade, to name some. And it’s still a work in progress. A lot of house construction was ongoing. I heard from the tour guide that a church is in the works, too.

Going over the brochures given to us, I also found out that the heritages houses are up for rental to those who want to spend some time at the resort. The rates, however, were quite prohibitive, ranging from Php18,000 to Php45,000 per night, inclusive of the resort’s amenities, if I’m not mistaken. The resort, however, has a hotel named Paseo de Escolta, offering much lower prices than the guest houses, ranging from Php4,500 to Php8,500.

Of the 27 or so houses, we only managed to see about a dozen or so as far as I can recall, namely, Casa Unisan, Casa Vyzantina, Casa San Miguel, Casa Mexico, Casa Luna, Casa Jaen I, Case Jaen II, Casa Meycauyan, Casa Lubao, Casa Candaba, Casa Tondo and Casa Baliauag I. A number of houses were occupied that time so we were not able to go inside and check them out. 

Now, did I fail to mention Casa Hildalgo? This one happens to be a gem of a mansion because it used to be the first campus of the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts. Why, it was in the house’s mezzanine floor where the young Antonio Luna and Felix Hidalgo, two of the most esteemed masters of the country, used to train!
After seeing and snapping the vast assemblage of vintage homes and works of art found in them, my friends and I felt like we were really transported back to a bygone era. We weren’t exactly prepared to be amazed to the highest level. Thus, to say that the place took us by surprise would be an understatement. Now, I understand why GMA-7 chose to shoot its adaptation of “Zorro” in the resort despite its remote location.

Through this heritage resort in Bataan, history buffs like me who want to travel back in time and relive the age-old traditions unique to turn-of-the-century Philippines can now do so, without necessarily leaving the comforts of the modern age.

In retrospect, I couldn’t help but rue over our failure to bring along some costumes to the resort. It could have been the perfect time to wear something vintage, say an Indio’s getup. We could have blended well with the “ancient” surroundings during our photo ops. Geez, all these could-have-beens make me look forward to our next visit! :D

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Perky at Samal Island's Pearl Farm

Ah, it’s something beach-hungry folks like me yearn to find during the hot summer months: a nearby hideaway where one can get a healthy dose of sun, sea and sand. For Davaoeños like us, however, it's just a less-than-an-hour boat ride from Davao City—the ritzy Pearl Farm Beach Resort. 

Often thought as an exclusive sanctuary for the well-heeled, the world-class resort actually offers us lesser mortals the chance to feel “rich” even for a day, through their occasional marketing blitz.

Good thing, I heard about their day tour promo which cut the regular price by almost half! Wasting no time, I called on my cousins, selling them the idea of an instant summer reunion at the resort. And who would refuse a tempting offer to be at Pearl Farm? So, off we went to the resort, thanks to one of the best bargains I was able to clinch.

Nestled on the quiet side of Samal Island, which is part of Davao del Norte, this famous hideaway was once a real pearl farm where thousands of live oysters from the Sulu Sea were transported and then cultivated to produce those lustrous South Sea pearls.

The resort itself began operating in 1992, treating its guests to the iconic Samal houses designed after the stilt houses of the seafaring Samal tribe. These deluxe accommodations provide a clear view of crystal clear waters with schools of tropical fish and coral formations. 

Other rooms are located in the Balay houses with verandas overlooking the beach on a hilltop. Luxurious two-storey Muslim-inspired Samal suites are also located at the other end of the cove. For those who prefer their privacy to the hilt, the resort also offers luxurious villas located at the nearby exclusive island of Malipano, which we also visited during our tour.

So, what other perks did we enjoy in Pearl Farm? Emerald waters, powdery white-sand beach, cool sea breeze, and a whole lot more, aside of course from the splendid accommodation. 

Because we were a large group, the staff offered us one of the Mandaya houses free of charge! Then there’s the sumptuous lunch which consisted of many dishes and desserts that kept us coming back to the buffet table for more.

It was indeed one unforgettable summer at the resort for me, my cousins and their families. Not only did we get to bond with each other, swim to our hearts’ content and enjoy a hearty meal together, we also had the chance to do all of these things in one of the most fabulous resorts in the country. 

Now, with priceless perks like these, who wouldn't want to get perky at Pearl Farm? :D

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