Saturday, April 26, 2014

Villa Escudero (San Pablo, Laguna)

Villa Escudero Plantations and Resort
San Pablo, Laguna, Philippines
(632) 5210830; (632) 5230392
(632) 5232944

The travel

After a relatively traffic free drive, we arrived at Villa Escudero pass 1:00 p.m. –“relatively” as there were pockets of traffic approaching the now opened SM San Pablo and somewhere in Alaminos. The arch indicating that we have reached Quezon is the prelude leading to Villa Escudero on the left.  After the entrance sign to the villa, a vast tract of land devoted mostly to coconut trees greeted us.  Perhaps, a “hacienda” or a colonial plantation during the Spanish times may have looked like this, I thought.

After passing through a non-concreted road amidst endless rows of coconut trees and green scenery, we arrived at a free parking area that appears to be secure enough. From the number of cars and vans, it is safe to assume that there are several guests ahead of us currently enjoying Villa Escudero.

As we got out of our vehicle, I immediately felt the pains and joy of summer. Pain because it was hot despite the coconut trees.  Joy, because we are somewhat far from where we used to be. As I look around, I felt relieved. When greens are more abundant than concrete, it somehow lessens the effects of climate change.

As this is only a “day tour”, I kept thinking that we should have left Quezon City much earlier. How can we enjoy a “day tour” if it is already half a day? Leaving Quezon City after 10 am with a plan of traveling to Villa Escudero on the following route, as described in the resort’s website:

How to get to Villa Escudero

“Take the South Luzon Superhighway exit at 50A (Lucena, Legaspi, Batangas Exit). Turn left at the Santo Tomas junction. Head straight down, bypassing the town of Alaminos, San Pablo City proper. Slow down upon seeing Quezon arch and turn left immediately after.”

- is no guarantee you will arrive before lunch. It is not actually a “two-hour pleasant drive through a scenic countryside”. Thus, if I were to visit Villa Escudero again, I would speed up the morning rituals and leave not later than 8 in the morning; I will always pray for a safe journey, and not take Starbucks at the gasoline station ahead of breakfast.

At the reception

Villa Escudero’s reception area or hall is a huge resemblance of, what immediately came to my mind, the Coconut Palace in Roxas Boulevard along the CCP complex, though I have yet to visit the place. It is made of or designed with, local materials. The high ceiling gives a feeling of grandiose but rustic elegance. Wood and bamboo, or a combination of both, and carvings made of either, decorated the whole reception area. A souvenir shop can be found at this huge reception hall. For want of time or money or interest to check the souvenirs, we just moved ahead to the reception desk.

An old but young looking guy, as he was dressed in traditional Filipino attire just like the rest of them, answered our queries.  Feigning ignorance on how much the “day tour” costs, I asked how much? Thereafter, I queried about the location of the comfort room. After he answered both, I hurried to the comfort room located at the far right corner of the hall from the reception desk. I think it was Starbucks.

Near the CR entrance, on the left side, was a display about birds endemic to the Philippines or I presume can be found in Villa Escudero. Likewise near the CR entrance, but this time on the right side, are photos I think of the owner, and a certificate certifying how great it is to visit the resort.  The comfort room is well ventilated, clean but can benefit from some repairs.  

After doing the ritual to gain that much-needed comfort, I proceeded back to the reception desk. I made sure I washed my hands with soap. Here, we paid Php 1,400.00 for the “day tour” – inclusive of the famous lunch buffet at the Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant, a tour of the AERA Memorial Museum, cultural show and bamboo rafting.

Waterfalls Restaurant

I know we are already late for lunch. At the reception area, we were informed that lunch at the waterfalls is from 11 am 2 pm only, which means that we have barely an hour to enjoy this “unique feature of Villa Escudero” – an ominous signal for us to hurry up, move, or lose lunch.

A Carabao drawn-cart, but without the accompanying singers and musicians, driven by someone dressed in Filipino attire just like the rest of them, carried us to the entrance of the resort proper.  I enjoyed the ride but it was not a leisurely one obviously due to the fact that I skipped breakfast and took a Frappuccino along the way. The ride on this cart is, of course, slow but it gave a glimpse of the whole villa and how life was during those early days. We saw several statuettes depicting the life on the villa during those early days and permanently reminding everyone how good and simple that life was.

We then arrived at the entrance of the resort. The ride in the Carabao drawn cart was brief, not boring and probably great for tourists. After the now customary taking of photos with the cart, and the Carabao, and sometimes with the driver of the cart, we headed to the falls.  

The usual precautionary signs can be seen at the entrance – the falls can be slippery and that management is not liable for any accident. There is an area near the entrance where visitors can leave their bags but not their valuables. I have not left my bag though the only valuable in it is my mini Ipad.

Lunch at this man-made waterfalls is served on bamboo dining tables with metallic aluminum frames above the cool and clear cascading waters.  It is a buffet of Filipino cuisine comprising of, but only as far as I can recall, rice, chicken, roasted meat, vegetables, fruits and “bagoong” or that salty shrimp relish, perfect for the mangoes, but whose smell is disdained by some foreigners.

Lunch at this waterfall is the centerpiece of the day tour. As we savored the food, clear water from the falls is running under our feet. It was almost 2 pm but the sun’s rays continue to cast its spell unto the dining tables.  It was almost 2 pm and thank God food has not been removed yet. Since it was almost 2 pm, vacant tables are plenty and we easily found a cooler spot. To complete the experience, we ordered coconut juice. It was Php 40.00 per coconut fruit, opened and served with a straw. I find the price of the coconut expensive considering we are in the middle of a vast coconut plantation. Yet, I still find the price of the coconut much cheaper compared to those posh restaurants where a small umbrella decorates the shell.

Though it is common to see photos where the glittering waterfall is the setting for a photo shoot, we still did the same. Perhaps no one leaves this place without a photo where the waterfalls serve as a backdrop. I can no longer recall how many photos we took at that spot.

Cultural Show

It was a holiday. It was Easter Sunday. Hence, after lunch, we had the opportunity to watch a “cultural show” but not after taking more photos “at” and “of” the falls including the hydroelectric plant.

The cultural show has already started when we arrived at the venue just a few meters away from the waterfalls restaurant. It was a series of dance showcasing the Philippines’ rich culture and ethnicity, or in other words - the performers wore Filipino inspired costumes. It was a well-performed dance accompanied by the resort’s own rondalla ensemble and musicians.

I enjoyed the show. My eyes, however, were already on the river.

Bamboo Rafting

I often see, mostly on websites, guests at Villa Escudero paddling bamboo rafts on a lake or river. It was almost 3 pm and yet the sun’s heat still manifests but already bearable.

After two guests came from the far end of the river or lake, roasted and tired from paddling, we knew we are next. An employee helped us with our lifejackets and we are ready to paddle.

We paddled our way through this lake under the direct but bearable sun’s rays. We never paddled a bamboo raft before, or even a canoe, yet somehow we enjoyed the experience. For a few hours, I enjoyed the placid lake and the rich vegetation along the banks but not the sunrays. In a few moments of liberation, we saw birds colored yellow and blue. I do not know about the yellow bird, but I think the blue one is a kingfisher.

We paddled and then we stopped, to escape the sun’s rays, sometimes to catch our breath but often to take photos. I had with me a bag, not waterproof, inside was an Ipad, and now a cellphone, and a camera. If somehow, either by accident or due to our ignorance in navigating the raft, the raft sinks we definitely lose everything.  In our desire however, to take photos of ourselves, the raft, the trees, the environment and everything there is, we took the risk in taking pictures. I was thankful the raft did well through the whole ordeal.

After almost an hour, we decided to head back and give others a chance to experience bamboo rafting while hoping not to get roasted under the sun. As we paddled back, we appreciated the beauty of the whole lake, Mother Nature herself and the houses or cottages for rent found near the riverbanks.

Museum Tour

It was past 4 pm and the museum closes at 5. Again, a Carabao drawn cart, with the driver in a similar uniform or costume, hurled us to the museum. On the way, he pointed to us the house of the owner, colored pink and white, with a bust, and a description of the place. Here it was clarified that the senator with the actress is not, nor even a part owner, of the resort.

As the cart moved along, an old airplane, a tank, guns, a statue of a Japanese soldier, and other things related to the last world war, said hello. What are they doing here? We learned later that those were “authentic”, except the soldier, from the last world war.

At the booth, the entrance of the museum, I left my bag and given a number to reclaim it.

The museum appears to be an old church, also colored pink and white. Photos and videos are prohibited inside this “AERA Memorial Museum”. As we walked along its corridors, we appreciated, or inspected, or viewed, taxidermy, a lifetime collection of colonial religious art, altars, old carrozas, old coins, old pieces of furniture, old money used in the Philippines, money not from the Philippines, embroidered vestments, carved and ivory made images, unearthed ceramics, costumes, garments used during the Spanish era, garments worn on another era, weaponry including a Japanese sword, a replica or not of a knight’s armor from the middle ages, a photo of Rizal and his girls, and other things I can no longer recall.

After a few minutes, our museum tour, without anyone guiding us was complete.

End of the Day Tour

After I reclaimed my bag, we took photos of the museum’s facade. Admired the beauty of the place. Posed and took photos, either with or without, of the house in pink and white still being constructed, the fountain, the tank, the airplane, the guns, and the soldier. After which and finally, it is time to bid goodbye.

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