quick escape back home

July 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Tired of the usual Batangas trip as one of the nearest options from Manila, I decided to explore the things to do in the Laguna and Quezon area.  This was the first trip for leisure that we took as a family ever since Inay passed away.  And since the task of planning itineraries for family trips was always done by our mom, this time I had to do it.

Upon picking me up from the airport, Mamow, Fubz and I headed straight to our accommodation in San Pablo (Laguna) – known for its seven lakes.  I chose our hotel from Google Maps because it was the only one sitting right beside a lake.

IMG_2222Tahanan ni Aling Meding


Tahanan ni Aling Meding is actually an ancestral home converted into a hotel because all but one of the 11 siiblings who funded it are based in the USA.  Instead of wasting away the property, they decided to have people rent it instead so that at least the maintenance cost for the place will be covered.  One of the owners, Mr. Wilson Borja, lives there and we had the pleasure of meeting him during our stay.  He told us about their family as well and how they all together migrated to San Francisco as a family back in the day.  I guess comparing other options in the area, this was the better choice.  But being a house to begin with, the facilities weren’t that great – specifically the low water pressure in the shower.  Breakfast was bare minimum also.  But the saving grace of the place is the really nice owner and staff, as well as the unobstructed view of Sampaloc lake (which wasn’t as good as I expected since they’ve been raising tilapia in the lake and the perimeter is congested with houses).  After dropping off our things, we headed to our first stop: Lake Pandin.

IMG_2224walking to Lake Pandin






Lake Pandin is one of the seven lakes in San Pablo, where they offer the option of having lunch on a bamboo raft.  It was a 15 minute drive from Tahanan.  The lake is not that big, but it was well maintained thanks to the cooperative of women operators who see to it that they keep the beauty of their surroundings.  We left our car in the parking lot and had to walk 15 minutes to reach the lake.  Upon reaching the main shore, we were greeted by the serene view of the lake.  Several bamboo rafts floated by the shore, and the local people politely invited us to take a seat as we waited for them to prepare our raft.  They move the bamboo rafts by pulling ropes they have tied from one end of the lake to the other.  At the opposite end of the lake, there is a grotto where a small spring also produces fresh water.  We we’re lucky as there was no one else when we arrived and so we had the lake to ourselves.  The food was also excellent provincial food – pako salad (my favorite!), ginataang small shrimps (really good except for the fact that the shrimp heads were scary to eat as I felt they might pierce my tongue or throat), and grilled tilapia (not a fan of tilapia, but I missed this).  The shrimps and tilapia are raised in Lake Pandin itself, but the pako is bought from the market.  People can also swim in the lake, but the water is cloudy and you can’t really see the bottom.  It was daunting to get in, but since my brother went in, I also followed suit.  I tried to placate my fears of suddenly getting attacked by some lake monster from below and lasted around 15 minutes in the water.     Ate and Kuya who manned our raft were also very pleasant, always reminding us to be careful of slipping in the bamboo raft, and not to swim too far out (as if I would even dare).  There was a cool breeze in the lake, and after an hour idling at the far end of the lake, we decided to go back to the hotel.  The rest of the afternoon was spent sleeping, and we had dinner at a nearby restaurant, Clyde & Josh Grill & Restaurant, which was also by the perimeter of Sampaloc Lake.  Since I missed gata a lot, we opted for ginataang kuhol, and this traditional ginataang tilapia recipe in the area which I forgot what they called.  We also had ensaladang talong and Gab wanted grilled squid.  The food was good and the staff were very polite.  We were the only ones again in the restaurant since we woke up late for dinner.  They closed soon after we left.  On the way home, I noticed that the area around the lake wasn’t that clean to be honest, owing to the fact that it was full of establishments and houses.  But it wasn’t that dirty either – signifying they’re probably implementing a cleanliness scheme which, although prevents total chaos, can be made better.  Gab ate balot on the way home.  I, on the other hand, waited until we reached the hotel wherein I ate a kilo of ripe mangoes by myself.  Philippine mango heaven. :3

The next day, we left around 9am for Tiaong, Quezon.  The goal was to go to Ugu Bigyan’s Secret Pottery Garden – a place my mother had always wanted to go to.






I had only ever heard of Ugu Bigyan from her, but apparently Ugu is a renowned potter.  The place lived up to its name of being “secret” as there was not a single sign pointing to it.  Thank goodness for Google Maps.  We reached Ugu Bigyan’s secret enclave after a two hour drive and we’re very much delighted at the beauty of the entire area.  There was something to adore in every little corner, and I especially loved the embedded ceramic fishes on the pavement.  Ugu Bigyan’s store was situated inside, and there we were greeted by Ugu’s sister, Heidi.  I bought a blue ceramic coaster for myself, while my brother got a mug.  Then we choose this pretty plate with fishes in memory of my mom.  After that, my dad suddenly went into a shopping spree for our relatives since it was very hard to go to Ugu’s place and the novelty and pride in owning an Ugu Bigyan piece was also something to take pride on.  It’s just tricky to know if people will appreciate it though since pottery can come across as something abstract and commonplace to some.  Especially if they’re not aware of how it’s made and how long it takes to make.  We got to see Mr. Ugu Bigyan himself on the way out as there was a delivery guy looking for him.

After Ugu Bigyan’s, I checked the map and suggested to my dad that we can either return the same way, or complete the circle around Mt. Banahaw and pass by Kamay ni Hesus on the way home.  There was also this dampa-style restaurant, Kamayan sa Palaisdaan, that I wanted to try near that area.  Since we weren’t rushing and everyone was in a mood for a road trip anyway, we took the longer route circling Mt. Banahaw.

IMG_2346Kamayan sa Palaisdaan – where I ate Pako salad once again


Gab, at the peak of Kamay ni Hesus – sadly, the place was too commercialized to be a sacred place.  It was more of a tourist place already.  

We passed along the main national highway for the most part of the trip, and the fact that it had one lane for each direction was both frustrating (traffic was a procession), but also a good deterrent from commercialization of the provincial beauty.  The lack of proper and correct road signs was completely annoying though.  There was one point we encountered a sign saying “to Manila”, and thanks to Google Maps (once again), I saw it led to Lipa which led even farther away.  We got home around 9 in the evening, and I was once again able to sleep in my own room.  The rest of my 5 day vacation was a whirlwind, and I left Manila missing my family even more.  Nevertheless, it was 5 days well spent with people who matter.

P.S. Oh, I should also mention here that since I took Tiger Air this time, which meant having to go to NAIA Terminal 1, we went into this place called Salem Complex where we found this carinderia which served lutong bahay food.  Since I wanted to eat vegetables, I opted for that rather than the other fastfood restaurants in the area.  I ate 4 pieces of tortang talong, bopis and tortang ampalaya – and my dad was rather happy that I ate a lot. haha.  Gab had grilled pusit again, it seems like he has a fixation for that these past few days.  We just paid 235 for 5 different viands – oh how I miss the cost of living in the Philippines.


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