Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fancy-free at the Farm Resorts of Davao City

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” So goes a quote I came across recently which I couldn’t agree more. Truly, treading over "paths of dirt" is a wonderful way of reclaiming parts of ourselves lost during the daily grind in the concrete jungle. This, I believe, includes occasional reunions with the bucolic as in the case of a farm.
A favorite hangout in GAP Farming Resort

Certain things about farms never fail to conjure serenity in me—the whining of beasts of burden, the murmuring of brooks that water rice fields, the twitter of feathered creatures, the rush of a cold breeze and the scent of early morning dew. All these conspire to create something that restores my equilibrium, deepening my perspectives about life and living.

Whenever I feel that urban life is knocking me down, I’d readily find time to flee from the fuss and flurry of the city. In a sanctuary far from the madding crowd, I try to summon up the most surreal images I’ve experienced during my fancy-free vacays in my grandmother’s farm. Almost always, I ended up rejuvenated by those short but sweet sojourns. 

Mind you, I need not travel far and wide to relive all that. This place I’ve been calling home for years now has its fair share of farm resorts where world-weary city slickers can recreate the simple joys of living in a farm. Davao, to my delight, has a number of rustic hideaways dotting its landscape. Here are three of them which I’ve visited:

GAP Farming Resort recreates the simple life in a farm

GAP Farming Resort.  Apparently the oldest and most accessible among Davao’s farm resorts, GAP became a favorite destination of DavaeoƱos when it opened its gates to the public in the early 1980s. Long before the slew of resorts scattered all over the city became buzzwords, the ten-hectare sprawling estate in Maa was the must-see tourist destination in town.

Located fifteen minutes away from the heart of the city, residents and visitors alike flocked there to relax, refresh and revitalize themselves during weekends, holidays and other special occasions. I can’t exactly recall how many times I’ve made it to GAP but one thing is certain: Not a few of my most unforgettable moments with family and friends happened there. 

Built at a time when malls were unheard of in Davao, people used to come in droves to GAP to spend time with their loved ones, that is, if they’re not heading for the cinemas, congregating at the plaza or trooping to the beach. But GAP wasn’t just a favorite destination for picnics; it was also a preferred venue for weddings, retreats, business parties, class reunions, meetings, etc.

One of the most distinctive features of GAP is the iconic, larger-than-life statue of a farmer astride a carabao (water buffalo) that seemingly welcomes visitors to the resort. From that vantage point, it’s hard to miss the huge letters that spell “Land of Promise” spread out on the resort’s sprawling expanse, providing visitors some sort of a prelude to what the city can offer to them. 
GAP Farm's iconic symbol

Being a farm, GAP’s massive landscape is planted with various species of flora, including exotic fruit-bearing trees like durian, rambutan, marang, mangosteen, all of which have become synonymous with Davao. Under the canopy of those cool shades are small cottages and benches providing visitors the perfect ambience for picnics and al fresco dining. 

Most of the farm resorts in Davao that I’ve visited have pools where guests can take a dip from sunup to sundown. And this holds true in the case of GAP, which has its own Olympic-size swimming pool where you can take a dip to your heart’s content. The entrance fee is affordable and you can bring your own food and drinks and have a splash in the pool all day. 

Arguably Davao’s unpretentious version of a theme park, GAP also boasts of a collection of statues featuring local heroes and presidents, tribes people and animals. Mind you, part of the assemblage are popular mythical characters such as ghosts, witches and other malevolent creatures that used to give me the creeps as a little boy.

Creatures of the night at GAP Farm

Want to have a face-off with these monsters in their “harmless” state? Why not drop by GAP right now? LOL! 

Gumamela Caverock Farm Resort.  Hidden in the outskirts of Matina Biao, in the district of Tugbok, is a remote resort that recreates the idyllic atmosphere I’ve experienced in the farm I’ve frequented as a child. Gumamela Caverock isn’t just a faraway inland resort, it’s also a quaint historical site and a lush botanical garden, too.

Gumamela Cave Rock Farm Resort

Once a World War II camp, the resort served as the last stand of the Japanese army against the advancing American soldiers. As its name suggests, it's home to several species of gumamela (hibiscus) which the owners bought from different parts of the world. Other blooms, ferns, shrubs and fruit trees are also found all over the resort’s two-hectare sprawl.

Dirt road leading to the resort
Driving for about an hour from downtown Davao along the Davao-Bukidnon Highway, I reached Gumamela Caverock after negotiating through a 10-kilometer interior road, which was mostly well-paved except for a few rough and rugged stretches.  It was quite a challenge for me since it was my first time to make it to that part of the city. 
Initially, I had no inkling how remote the resort was until houses became far and few between as I drove past fruit plantations, farmlands, quaint communities, and lush forestlands. There came a point when I thought I’d get lost along the way. Good thing, there are signages that point to the resort. The locals I met along the way were also very helpful.  

Reaching the place, visitors will be greeted by a modest yet well-kept resort. No well-manicured lawns and elaborate landscaping though; only fruit-bearing trees and plants lining the stone pathways which lead to the resort’s interiors. Several works of DavaoeƱo sculptor Kublai Milan adorn the simple confines of the bucolic hideaway.

Hibiscus galore at Gumamela Cave Rock


Instantly, I was drawn to one of Kublai’s creations which was touted as the “world’s tallest hibiscus sculpture.” And, indeed, it was! There’s also this man-made and mud-painted “cave” that turned out to be the resort’s restroom! The hideaway also has about eight cottages and cabanas that can accommodate as many as fifty people who’d want to stay there for the night. 

For me, it’s Gumamela Caverock’s cool pool that is its main attraction. Unlike most pools, the water there is warm because of the sandstone built underneath it, absorbing the sun’s heat and radiating it back to the pool. Near the pool is a stone stairway that leads to Mille Creek, a small body of water that serves as the area’s watershed.

Gumamela Cave Rock's swimming pool

From the resort’s staff, I found out that one of Gumamela Caverock’s thrilling attractions is a trek to the three Japanese caves located several meters away from the creek. For lack of time, I didn’t get to explore any of them. I’ll reserve that for the next visit.

Lantaw Bukid Farm Resort. Travelers passing through the Davao-Bukidnon Road would most likely notice a huge sign pointing to Lantaw Bukid, a must-see destination for weekend wanderers seeking a quick escape from the tedium of city life. Whenever I have time, I usually hie off to this secluded hideaway roughly 30 minutes away by car (or less depending on the traffic situation) from the downtown area.

Neatly tucked in Los Amigos, a village in the district of Tugbok, Lantaw Bukid, took its name from a combination of two local words lantaw, meaning “look” or “view” and bukid, meaning “farm”. Roughly, its name means “Farm View” in English. And rightly so because it’s surrounded by nature. Everywhere you look, there’s so much greenery to soothe your senses.   

Serenity rules at Lantaw Bukid

Whenever I yearn to get away from it all, the resort is one of those I’d readily consider given its accessibility.  Lantaw Bukid offers me the perfect sanctuary during those times when I crave for some “alone time”—a period for recovering a part of me I’ve lost in the rat race. Within the quiet comforts of the resort, I can indulge in one of my favorite pastimes—fishing. 
Lantaw Bukid’s most popular attractions are undoubtedly its fishponds where visitors can indulge in fishing and boating. There, you can free yourself from your share of sores and stresses, lazing around while waiting for your first catch of hito (catfish) populating the resort’s ponds. Now, that’s one stress-buster that would surely do wonders to flush out those toxins from a toxic workplace!            

A fishpond at Lantaw Bukid

The resort also has a swimming pool for adults and two kiddie pools with a fountain at the center. A stone’s throw away from the pools is a children’s playground complete with slides and rides. Adjacent to that are a row of huts, each fixed up with a hammock where you can swing yourself, soak up on a bestseller, snooze your idle hours or just stare at nature’s pulchritude.
Within walking distance is a cluster of aircon and non-aircon cottages that can accommodate between two to four people; an aircon resthouse, complete with its own living room and veranda, overlooking the fishponds and treats guests to a magnificent view of Mt. Apo; and aircon and non-aircon dormitory rooms that can provide shelter to as many as 60 people.

Davao may be better known for its marvelous mountain hideaways but there are also a few fascinating farm resorts like these three which weekend wanderers can explore. If you’re one of those looking for something different in the city, then paying a visit to these hideaways is definitely worth the effort. :-D