Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lazing around in Laguna - Part 1

Lazing around turned out to be quite an epic sightseeing escapade this year for this history buff as I made it again to one of the most visited cradles of the country’s unforgettable historical moments—where else but Laguna! And I explored not just one but three of the province’s old and historic, not to mention, booming cities on two separate occasions: Calamba, the birthplace of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal; Los Baños, one of the hubs of  academic and scientific excellence in Luzon; and Sta. Rosa, considered as the Lion City of Southern Luzon. 

I’ve been to other parts of Laguna—Biñan, Cavinti, Pagsanjan, Pila, San Pablo and San Pedro—over the past several years, passing by Calamba quite a number of times. But it was only this year that I, together with some friends, was able to explore it to the hilt. Entering the city, I felt like I’ve somewhat travelled back in time as I roamed around one of the Philippines’ oldest towns. 
Rizal Shrine in Calamba

First on our itinerary was the visit to Rizal’s ancestral home in downtown Calamba, which was converted into the Rizal Shrine by virtue of former President Elpidio Quirino’s order way back in the 1950s. Destroyed during the last world war, the original house was restored under the supervision of the late Juan Nakpil, National Artist for Architecture.

Located next to St. John the Baptist Church (where Rizal was baptized in 1861), the shrine was teeming with students who were on an educational tour when we arrived there. The huge number, on a weekend at that, hardly surprised me. Every year, busloads of local and foreign tourists, averaging over 250,000, reportedly flock to Calamba to visit the shrine. 

Inside the ancestral house, we were amazed to see a number of vestiges from a bygone era—furniture and fixtures, books and photographs, utensils and artifacts used during Spanish times, to name a few. Strangely, it felt like we were back in the 1860s as we moved from one room to another. Truly, it was one unforgettable trip down memory lane for me and my friends.

The foothills of Mt. Makiling
Nestled some 54 km south of Manila, the city also boasts of numerous hot spring resorts found in the villages of Bucal and Pansol. With several hundreds of resorts scattered all over, it has earned the monicker, "Resort Capital of the Philippines." Indeed, a visit to Calamba isn’t complete without dropping by one of these hot spring resorts and spas so we headed for this tourist trap found along the highway leading to Los Baños.

Built at the foothills of legendary Mt. Makiling, the said hideaway has several outdoor pools which are fed by warm waters coming from the bowels of the earth. Surrounded by a well-maintained landscape and natural garden settings, it is the perfect getaway from the hubbub of urban life. Despite the steep prices of the food and accommodations, our group decided to have our lunch there. Mind you, the Korean fare was superb!

Even so, I’d think twice about promoting the said resort whose name I’d rather not mention lest I'd be giving them free media mileage and publicity they don't deserve. Truth be told, my colleagues and I have no plans of going back there. The owners may not be aware about it but the attitude of some of their staff, particularly the receptionist, sucks!

Before having our lunch, she told us point-blank that diners aren’t allowed to linger in the resort’s premises, much less roam around and take pictures. I found that a rather strange imposition since other resorts would spend so much just to get publicity through good customer feedback which they can use to their advantage. Maybe the arrogant, pea-brain receptionist hasn’t heard about the wonders of word-of-mouth advertising.

Fascinated by the resort’s natural charms, we lost track of time as we explored the place while taking snaps here, there and everywhere, forgetting what we had promised to the receptionist. We were having the time of our lives when another front desk staffer appeared, telling us that it was time to go since we earlier committed to do so right after dining. 

One of my friends, however, requested her to spare us a few more minutes. Instead of accommodating us, she threatened to charge us an additional fee if we stay a minute more. Feeling humiliated and irked by the staff’s inconsiderate behavior, my colleagues and I packed our stuff and left.

I wonder if the resort’s management had given their staff the basics of customer service. Have they forgotten that old cliché about the customer being always right?  A few minutes of picture-taking won’t cost them a thing. On the contrary, it would up their chances of getting more clients since a good word or two from us could bring in new customers, in droves at that.

Despite that unfortunate incident, I’d still love to come back to Calamba to take a dip in one of its numerous hot springs. But one thing is certain: stepping into that resort whose name spells one helluva double-digit hellhole would certainly be not part of my itinerary. LOL! 

The trip to Laguna this year also stirred nostalgia in me for I was able to step once again into one of the Philippines’ hub for academic and scientific excellence, that is, Los Baños. The so-called Nature and Science City itself has become almost synonymous with one of the most popular campuses of the country’s premier state university, the University of the Philippines. 

The Oblation in UPLB
Los Baños has changed so much since the first time I visited it while doing research work there—about two decades ago, if I’m not mistaken. It wasn’t a city then and there were only a few business establishments all over town. Nowadays, it has practically everything you can find in the big city—shopping malls,  restaurants, fast-food chains, hotels, convenience stores, to name a few.

As reflected in the annals of history, the city has played an important role in the lives of at least two of our heroes. Rizal mentioned the town in his book El Filibusterismo. Meanwhile, Mabini was said to have stayed there to seek the cure to his paralysis.

If there’s one thing I’d love to do if I have more time in Los Baños, it would be to scale the heights of mystical Mt. Makiling where many poets, writers and musicians have drawn inspiration for their work. Probably the city’s foremost natural attraction, the mountain offers numerous trails and destinations for hikers as well as camp sites and picnic ground for campers and picnickers.

Faced by the inroads of rapid urbanization, I can only wish that this “city in the mountain” would go to great lengths to make sure that its environment, particularly the biodiversity of its most famous natural attraction isn’t threatened by illegal logging, wildlife poaching and encroachment of settlers. 

To cap my Laguna escapade, I also made it a point to revisit the emerging hub of the Southern Luzon agri-industrial corridor: Sta. Rosa City. The newly-created city hardly impressed me the first time I saw it in 2005. That time, my friends and I were heading for Enchanted Kingdom, the popular local theme park found there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time then to go around the city because I had a plane to catch the same day that we were there.  Since I only had a few hours to spare, we just hang around the theme park.

That’s why this time, I suggested to my hosts that we drop by Sta. Rosa and take a peek at the recent wave of developments around the city, particularly the one they called Nuvali.  Imagine real estate leader Ayala Land putting together everything under one roof—technology, education, employment, food, arts and entertainment—within a sprawling area in Sta. Rosa. The result? Nuvali, a 1,600-hectare massive complex that’s considered the largest, master-planned boom town in the whole country.

En route to Tagaytay on a cold Saturday morning, we sneaked into this state-of-the-art enclave—which undoubtedly has placed the city of Sta. Rosa at the forefront of green development with functional living. Brief as it was, the visit to Nuvali boosted our spirits, turning us into nutty characters for a few hours. Ah, the things that stormy weather and Nuvali can do to free spirits—they bring out the nutty in you! LOL!

All told, Laguna amazed me with its sought-after sights and perfectly planned progress. Why, it comes as no surprise why many artists have drawn inspiration for their work from one of the Philippines’ historical and natural hotspots. :D

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