Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moving up to Negros Occidental's Mambukal Resort

Sitting at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon, the 24-hectare Mambukal Mountain Resort is considered the “it” hideaway in Negros Occidental since the ‘70s. It’s said that you haven’t been to the province if you didn’t make it to the resort. Nestled at 366 meters (1,200 ft) above sea level, anyone who visits this popular hideaway would surely have a great time bonding with Mother Nature.

So, what can nature lovers expect from this resort that’s just 45 minutes away from Bacolod City? I found the answer when I visited Sugarlandia recently. Together with friends from Manila, Davao and Bacolod, I moved up to Mambukal for a short but sweet visit, a welcome break from the hullabaloo of the festivities we attended in the City of Smiles.

From the city, our group composed of Juju, Jojo, Jim, Bobby, Minnie, Letty, Lily, Marisa and their kids drove all the way to the municipality of Murcia where the resort is located. En route to that town, we were treated to a picturesque vista of the countryside whose unspoiled images made me prouder of this country. It was a relief to see that there’s still so much rustic beauty in the countryside that is largely unscathed by the inroads of unbridled development. I just hope they’d remain that way for many more generations to appreciate.  

When we reached the resort, Mambukal was overflowing with people from all walks of life because of the long weekend break brought about by the celebration of the Masskara Festival. It was evident though that the resort can accommodate everyone because of the presence of several amenities such as picnic huts and cottages, a dormitory and lodge for those staying overnight and a camping ground for those who want to pitch their tents.

Since it was almost lunch time when we got there, the first thing we had in mind was food. It’s a good thing that the resort has its own canteen where you can order fresh meat, seafood and other delights and have them cooked anyway you want. With that taken care of, we went on exploring the resort.

Because of its proximity to one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes, Mambukal has a good number of sulfuric springs that are said to be therapeutic. In many of its rocky parts, sulfuric water gushes out naturally. To collect this water, the resort’s management laid pipes that channeled it to a huge pool where people can enjoy swimming in it.

Tourists are also lured to the resort because of the series of seven falls that supplies cool spring water to its swimming pool and boating lagoon. The water from the falls is said to be coming from a huge mountain stream that’s being fed by various water channels. Together with Juju, Letty and the girls, Ira,  Alyssa and Paola, we attempted to scale the seven falls of Mambukal, with the help of two guides whom Juju hired to assist us in our trek into the rainforest where the falls are located.
Going to the first waterfall was quite effortless. After that, the winding trail leading to each of the other six falls became challenging to negotiate. One false step and you could fall flat on your face in the narrow, slippery footpath. I think it was quite harder for me because I had to keep my balance what with all the backpack, camera and tripod I was carrying that time. Good thing, there are handrails that people could hold on to at some parts of the path.

Pressed for time, our group only managed to make it up to the third falls. Also, our guides discouraged us from climbing any further as the trail upward had become treacherous due to the heavy rains the night before. Even so, snapping at three of Mambukal’s lovely cascades was more than enough for me. The excursion really made my day.

pic courtesy of S. Paner
Aside from the sulfur swimming pool and seven falls, the resort has other tourist attractions that the adventurous would surely love: boating lagoon, slide for life, canopy walk with hanging bridges, rock climbing wall, to name some. For me, however, it’s the trek to the seven falls that I’d consider the definitive experience for anyone who goes to Mambukal.

Though we only spent a few hours in the resort, there’s something I learned about it which I’d treasure for a long time: whether you go swimming by the river, dipping into the sulfuric pool, trekking into the rainforest, taking pictures of the seven falls, or simply watching water rushing down the cliffs above you, Mambukal can give you the much-needed breathing space from the cares of the world. Or, in my case, a sought-after mental respite from the whirr and whirl of the workplace.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Carefree in Caleruega

If you could fall in love with a place, then I guess I could say this: I've fallen in love with Caleruega. Anybody who likes to be close to nature and closer to his Creator would surely feel the same way, too.

So, what’s with Caleruega to make me fall in love with her? As mentioned in the brochure handed out to its visitors, the place is a "house of prayer and renewal" catering to individuals and groups looking for the perfect venue to hold retreats, recollections, prayers, weddings, reunions, researches, trainings, seminars, workshops and the like.

Why, even filmmakers have found the place the perfect venue for shooting their movies! This is true in the case of the blockbuster, "Sukob", wherein one of the wedding scenes had the church in Caleruega as its setting.

Located in a secluded part of Nasugbu, Batangas, this sanctuary has become the latest buzz among those fond of making brief weekend trips in places near Metro Manila. One nippy weekend, Juju and Luz, two of my Manila-based friends, took me there to shield ourselves from the fury of an impending typhoon that was about to hit Northern Luzon, Quiel (internationally known as Nalgae), which came in the heels of a far more catastrophic one, Pedring (internationally known as Nesat).

For several carefree hours, I’ve never felt so safe and secured even as the biting cold assaulted the innermost core of our senses as we explored that ethereal sanctuary.

While the typhoon was raging up north, there we were, going here, there and everywhere Caleruega amidst the howling winds, taking pics as if it were just another ordinary day. Geez, I count that episode as one of the crazier things I’ve done so far…LOL!

Now that I’ve been smitten by her charms, it’s but natural to include Caleruega in my growing list of must-return places in the country. I just hope that the sun would be up when I get back there one of these days. :D

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thrilled to be in Tagaytay City

Sitting on a ridge 2,100 feet above sea level, Tagaytay never fails to turn on her numerous visitors, both foreign and local, who travel far and wide to bask in the beauty and serenity of this prime resort city in the province of Cavite. So near Manila—roughly 55 km or about an hour’s travel by car depending on the traffic—it provides a short but sweet escape for those wanting to take a breather from the heat, haze and humdrum of the metropolitan areas. 

Taal Lake and Volcano on a gloomy day
After Baguio, the city by the ridge is considered as “The Other Summer Capital of the Philippines” because of its year-long cool climate. The salubrious air that swathes Tagaytay is enough to lift your sagging spirits, taking you to a different kind of high in the highlands. With its fine breeze, fragrant blossoms, fresh fruits and veggies as well as fancy delicacies, the city is truly the ideal place for sight-seeing and staging outdoor activities such as horseback riding, zipping, camping, picnics and golf.

Way back in the 1990s, I first made it to the city by the ridge to attend a short training course on project planning and monitoring at the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). I have rather few and vague memories of my experiences there, with the exception of the exciting times I spent with fellow trainees while basking in the breathtaking beauty of Taal’s volcano and lake from our vantage point at the sprawling grounds of Picnic Grove, one of the more popular parks in the city.

Since that first visit, I’ve made many quick escapes to the city whenever I’m near Manila. Of all the times I’ve visited Tagaytay, it’s the recent sojourn I made with Juju and Luz, my two intrepid Manila-based friends,  that really left many indelible memories. That Typhoon Quiel, following closely in the heels of destructive Typhoon Pedring, was battering the rest of northern Luzon while we were there was enough to make it so thrillingly memorable!

Certified adventure junkies like me, the two were unperturbed even as dark skies and intermittent showers greeted us while passing through the slippery stretch of SLEX. We were adamant that time. Inclement weather didn’t stop us from forging ahead.
Even if he was pestered by howling winds, slight drizzles and thick fogs, Juju safely maneuvered his car towards the town of Nasugbu in Batangas where he took us to see the secluded Caleruega Transfiguration Chapel (For more about this interesting church, check my travel tale at  
Before heading towards our ultimate destination, however, we made several quick stops en route to Tagaytay. First on our list was Nuvali in Sta. Rosa City.  On impulse, we decided to sneak into the state-of-the-art enclave developed by real estate leader Ayala Land—which has placed the thriving city in Laguna at the forefront of green development with functional living.  All I can say is this: That stopover in Nuvali lifted our spirits, turning us into nutty characters for an hour or so. Ah, the things that stormy weather and Nuvali can do to free spirits—they bring out the nut in you! Need I say more? The pictures say it all! 

Ming's Garden
From Nuvali, Juju continued driving towards Tagaytay. Before reaching the city proper, we passed by Ming’s Garden and Coffee Shop, located just along the highway, where we pulled over for some quick merienda

Owned by former First Lady Amelita “Ming” Ramos, it’s truly a showcase of one of her well-known hobbies—horticulture. An avid plant lover, Ming has filled the entire complex with lots of interesting flowers and foliage. Many of the plants there, especially the bromeliads, are colorful. The ornamentals that are up for sale are reasonably priced.

While waiting for our orders, we scoured the place and took snaps of anything that fancied us.  Our attention was immediately drawn to a glass cabinet in one corner of the coffee shop—inside it was a large stock of golf balls. Must be FVR’s mementos from his tournaments, I thought. If you’re a golf aficionado, former President Fidel Ramos’ collection from various international competitions would surely catch your fancy. 

Overall, the homey, laid-back ambience of Ming’s Garden soothed our tired nerves and grumbling tummies as we partake of the suman sa latik (rice cake with coco syrup) and banana cake which we paired with  hot choco and kapeng barako. Geez, it’s veritably one of the simplest yet tastiest meriendas I’ve ever had in years!

Final impressions: The garden is lovely and well-kept, the food delightful and delicious, the restrooms spotlessly clean, the staff friendly and accommodating. I guess it’s like that because of Ming, who’s said to be fuzzy and fastidious to a fault. Too bad, we failed to meet up with her and the former president since they had left earlier that day for Manila.

At around 10:30 a.m., we went on with the trip towards the city center, reaching it by almost noon. Juju then said that we take lunch first before going all the way to Caleruega. He suggested Josephine’s Restaurant, one of Tagaytay’s renowned gustatory landmarks. By the time we got to Josephine’s, it was already packed with weekend wanderers but we managed to get seated. Since it was a Saturday, we availed of the buffet lunch that is offered only on weekends and holidays. 

Separated from the part of the resto where food is served ala carte, the buffet room was set up like an al fresco reception area for a garden wedding. We haven’t dined in the open air for quite some time so having lunch at Josephine’s was a pleasant experience we relished to the max. 

Though the food served at the buffet table wasn’t that extraordinary, it wasn’t bad either. Mind you, the choices in the resto by the ridge are varied and are kept hot and fresh, refilled every now and then so that you get to taste each cuisine, composed of typical Filipino fare, whether you go there late or early for buffet lunch. After eating, we roamed around Josephine’s before embarking on a brief city tour.  

Had the weather been fine, we would have proceeded to the Palace in the Sky, which offers probably the most sweeping view of Taal Lake and Volcano. Started during the reign of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, the palace, intended to be a presidential mansion and guest house for the late dictator and his wife, almost became a white elephant following the EDSA People Revolution which overthrew the Marcoses. Good thing, the Aquino administration converted it into the People’s Park in the Sky, a monument to the dictatorship’s whimsical extravagance, that’s been opened to the public. 

Revisited after so many years, Tagaytay overwhelmed me. I was so impressed with its newfound sense of aggressiveness and vitality. Signs of prosperity are strewn all over the place. Where vast tracts of lands used to lay idle, now stand shopping malls, multi-story condominiums and posh hotels, among others. I shouldn’t be surprised though. With its natural beauty and abundant resources, Tagaytay has what it takes to be the next big thing within the CALABARZON area.  

Truly, there are so many wonderful places to explore in this favorite weekend getaway of many Filipinos. But what really thrills me, and probably other tourists, is the city’s breathtaking visual treat—the fabulous panorama of the world’s smallest volcano and its seemingly serene lake. Recently, this popular tourist destination hugged the international limelight after it was discovered by geologists to have “the world’s largest island within a lake on an island located in a lake within an island!”

Whew! That’s quite a puzzler! But here’s a simple explanation I’ve read somewhere: Vulcan Point is a small volcanic island in Main Crater Lake, which is found on Volcano Island in Taal Lake in the island of Luzon.  Got that?

Geez, it’s already my nth time to be in this fast growing city but I can’t seem to get enough of her and her world-renowned visual treat. Rain or shine, it’s always a sight to behold. :D