Monday, October 20, 2008

Food and nature tripping in Kinabuhayan, Quezon

One of the many cascades at Kubli springs, right at the foothills of Mt. Banahaw.

What's there to do in Quezon? I used to ask this question. And why not, the province is not as famous as the other destinations in the country for more-than-the-usual natural wonders or man-made tourist attractions — well at least I wasn't aware of any, or probably no one hasn't really discovered them as of yet.

Save for the mystical Mt. Banahaw, I know Quezon province for the pahiyas festival, pancit habhab, and my uncle’s private beach resort tucked in the far-flung part of Infanta town.

But it's me and my underestimating self again, little did I know that the foothills of Mt. Banahaw itself has a lot to offer.

The option of exploring Dolores, Quezon surfaced when I came across an article written by another journalist friend of mine about Kinabuhayan Café and Bed and Breakfast.

The place is owned by the husband of one of our editors, and some of my colleagues said I would love it there since it’s a place that seemed to have been built specifically for the artsy-fartsy crowd.

But more than that, my curiosity was piqued by raving reviews at online fora and blogs — and of course the nice article written by my friend about portions of the so-called “Viaje del Sol.”

And so one fine day, when I got so stressed at work and needed a place that's secluded but not too far away, my friends and I decided to check out Kinabuhayan.

We were only commuting, and the directions stated at Kinabuhayan’s Multiply site was not at all hard to comprehend. One doesn’t even have to look at a map for reference.

We took a JAM bus bound to Lucena. The terminal is located at the corner of Gil Puyat (better known as Buendia) and Taft Avenues. It’s actually at the Buendia station of LRT 1 so it’s not actually hard to locate.

The fare up to the NEW Market of Tiaong was P157 per head. I asked the conductor to let us know if we’re already at the New Market of Tiaong. Take note that it’s NEW. The OLD market in Tiaong is a different thing.

The trip should be about 2 1/2 hours from Manila, including the perennial traffic at the South Luzon Expressway.

When we got to the market, I asked around for jeeps bound to Dolores. I sat beside the driver and told him to take us to Dejarme Street. Be forewarned, though, that there are no street signs. The marker would be a signage that says, “Paaralang Sentral ng Dolores.” If you’ve gone past the parish church, you’ve already missed the place.

From the signage, Kinabuhayan is the one in front of a Bayad Center. The place itself is marked by a porch, and next to it is a tree house.

The porch. See the purple flowers? They found their way to our salads come lunch time. Yum!

The jeepney trip is P20 per head, and lasted about 15-20 minutes from the New Tiaong market.

The Multiply site also said Barangay Kinabuhayan is quite far from Kinabuhayan Cafe so we were forewarned that if ever we're going to ask for directions, better not ask for Kinabuhayan. But why the name? Jay Herrera, the owner, later on told me that it's a nice name, and that it depicts of "new life" or whatever.

That was the intention of my weekend getaway, anyway — to empty myself out and get some sort of a new life and renewed vigor given the stress of daily deadlines and the global financial market turmoil that's already spilling on my personal concerns.

Upon entering, guests will be greeted by a billiards table, and several small tables with little trinkets. The wall to the left has traditional Filipino papier mache horses called taka, while a sungkaan — a traditional game common among Malaysians, Indonesians and Filipinos (I found lots of those when I went to Malacca, Malaysia. And I have one at home)rests at one of the tables.

The place is well-lit as natural light seeps through the glass ceiling.

But the structure with the porch is just the beginning.

Walking further and outside of the "main building," one will see several huts where guests can lounge, sleep, dine, emote, reflect, or do whatever they want.

One of the huts (please excuse the overexposure. Amateur fotog here).

Walking through the outdoors, one will be greeted by the other cast members of Kinabuhayan: a pot-bellied pig named Onion, who behaves like a dog when scratched; a Daschund named Muning; another dog named Chongki, who's too excited to greet guests as they arrive (if you're afraid of dogs, it doesn't bite but beware.); a cat named Tweety; a number of pigeons, hens and chicks; and other pets that I might have failed to meet during my stay. We were told later on there's a snake in an aquarium and 2 turtles under a hut.

The hut where we slept doesn't have four walls, so to speak, but guests keep their privacy given the abundance of plants around.

The hut's also got a hammock (must try!), a 14-inch cable TV, the owner's personal reads and some more trinkets.

The bathroom is open to the skies, but the owner assured that guests can still have privacy while doing their business.

The sleeping quarter is at the loft with a mattress and mosquito net. I missed the olden days when we have to set up the kulambo!

The side view of our hut.
Since we arrived a little before lunch time, our host immediately asked us to prepare to go to Kubli Springs for lunch. Be ready to get wet, he said.

The way to the Springs was a 5- to 10-minute jeepney ride. Jay took care of the jeepney rental.

As we descended to the stream, lo and behold: there was a bamboo dining table and benches submerged on the water, while adding to the ambience of the place was a portion of the cliff adorned with bamboo tubes where water spring water pass through.

The eating part was actually one of the most anticipated part of this trip as Kinabuhayan has been well-known for Jay's gourmet cooking.

For lunch, we had grilled liempo on top of a healthy serving of risotto rice with what looked like Shitake mushrooms. The side salad was made up of carrots and other sliced veggies that I didn't recognize, topped with purple mayana flowers (that I never thought was edible) and vinaigrette dressing. Yum!

I forgot what we had for dessert, but as far as I can remember, that's some sort of macapuno topped with dill. We also had barako coffee and lots of lambanog shots with orange and mango juice. Gourmet dining at the batis capped by Jay and his buddy Ralph's hilarious stories? Memorable.

And so afterwards we trekked the stream to check out the three falls. It was not really a difficult trek, except for the fact that the three of us had to float (if not swim) at some portions of the stream just to get from point A to B. Please take note also that we were a bit drunk, so it's a little bit more difficult. The water was kinda rough so I went home with some bruises.

Going to the three falls, the water was too deep that I had to leave my camera and camera phone somewhere just to get to the place. But I managed to get some shots along the way.

Ever wondered what it's like to be in a washing machine? Try having a dip below this cascade and see for yourself.

On our way back to the cafe, Jay picked up some herbs that later on graced our platters. I saw him pick up medicinal wild grass called pansit-pansitan, katuray, and some wild balimbing or star fruit.

He also showed us a tree that bore Philippine cherries, and picked some ripe fruits for us to try.

While Jay was preparing dinner, a masseuse came in and gave each one of us a relaxing massage. She said it was called "relaxing" massage, but whatever that is called, I really appreciated it compared to the kind of treatments that I'm getting in Manila.

Dinner was spectacular. The table was fabulously set with candle lights and simple flower arrangements. We were served with chicken (I don't know what it's called) again on top of rich risotto rice. Greens on the side were the pansit-pansitan, katuray, decorative but edible flowers called Impatience, among others. There was also tokwa't baboy on the side.

The dessert was ice cream with some herbs on top.

And of course, the evening ended with Jay and Ralph's stories of magic realist proportions.

The following morning, I woke up with the scent of dew, the smell of burning dried leaves, and the crow of birds and fowls in the area. It may sound annoying for someone like me who would rather sleep the whole morning, but that really gave me a sense of being so far away from Manila.

My friends and I had a stroll at the Our Lady of Sorrows Church, which was only two blocks away from the cafe. At the background was the scenic Mt. Cristobal. I've read somewhere that stained glass windows in this church discreetly bore the name of a certain Fr. Benjie, but I couldn't find it. Takes a magic eye to see them, maybe, or I wasn't actually paying attention since I was still sleepy at that time. Pupungas-pungas pa, as they say.

The verdict? I'd definitely come back there. Not because I still haven't seen Santa Lucia falls, but I want to experience that probinsya feel again, taste Jay's creative cooking and hear their incredible stories. Five stars.

For more information — prices, other testimonials (if you didn't believe me), contact numbers and some more photos, click here.


ika said...

kinacareer mo na talagang travel blog to no? ANG YAMAN NAMAN!!!