We’ve planned countless trips but none pushed through. So, it was a bit of a surprise to me that this one did. It almost didn’t, by the way, since the weekend we planned on going was the weekend after the heavy flooding of the metro.
Realizing that we do better with impromptu trips, we decided to just semi-plan this one. We got a discount voucher to Villa Escudero at Ensogo, picked a random long weekend, decided to extend the day trip to an overnight one, and got directions. To tell you the truth, a week before this weekend and we still weren’t sure if we’re going to the beach or not. It was only because of the gloomy weather forecast that we decided to skip the beach and go to the mountain (or volcano, if you want to get technical about it) instead.
So, let’s start.
Along the Straight-Yet-Strangely-Winding Road. Or When Waze Became Our Bestfriend.
We met up along C5 at around 9am. From there, we went directly to Villa Escudero via South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). We got off on the last exit and took the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, then got off at the Sto. Tomas exit. We then turned right at the Pan-Philippine/Maharlika Highway and just followed that road through the town of Sto. Tomas.
I think we turned left somewhere but the easiest instruction is to just basically follow the highway until you pass by the town of Alaminos and the city of San Pablo. Just keep going until you reach the arch of the province of Quezon. Upon reaching the arch, we immediately turned left and followed the dirt road.
Raymond has Waze on his phone so we pretty much just followed her (its) directions. And, what do you know, all are accurate. She (it) had us turning into sidestreets but we got where we wanted to go, at an earlier time than we expected.
A Taste (Glimpse, and Feel) of the Filipino Culture.
Villa Escudero is a working coconut plantation and is the site of the first working hydroelectric plant in the country. It was opened to the public in 1981 and is now a tourist destination for both local and foreign visitors who want to catch a glimpse of the Philippines’ heritage, culture, history, and cuisine.
We got there a little before 12nn. After a couple of minutes driving along a dirt road surrounded by coconut trees, we reached the reception area. We dropped by the registration/reception area where we got our welcome drinks of sago at gulaman and our ticket stubs, and walked through a garden and an open area of several installations on our way to the museum.
The big looming pink structure that looks like a church is the museum. It actually is an old converted church. Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to take pictures inside but I’ll describe some of the things we saw. When we entered, the first thing we saw were these larger-than-life religious statues, mostly scenes from the life of Jesus. Next are a wall of taxidermied animals, all of which are animals that can be found in the Philippines, as well as walls mounted with heads and horns of bulls, carabaos, and tamaraws.
On the other side, we saw tapestries, dioramas of early life in the country, and weapons early Filipinos used. On to the second floor, we saw utensils and other tools and items of early Filipinos including excavated gold jewelry, bathing tubs, and even burial items. There are also samples of paper money and coins over the years, the outfits in actual sizes of the Philippine Presidents during their inaugurations, and different Philippine combat attire.
What I found most interesting were the letters Arsenio Escudero, the owner, wrote to his wife, Rosario Adap. It made me realize just how romantic the Filipino language can be, when used properly.
We spent about an hour in the museum and when we got out, we were a bit hungry. So we went to the place where we caught our ride to the lunch area and main activity center.
Riding in Style. The Hacienda/Barrio Style.
It was a long walk from the museum to the lunch area so part of the day tour are free rides to and from the entrance. It was a fun, breezy ride with Madonna. Who is Madonna, you ask? Well, meet Madonna:
Madonna is the name of the surprisingly cute carabao that pulled our cart. Carabaos are traditionally used by Filipino farmers in plowing their fields before modern inventions became available to them. I’m not sure, but I think that there are still some farmers who use carabaos for field plowing, on top of transportation across large distances in fields and valleys of provinces.
What made the ride lovelier were this couple serenading us with Filipino songs. And by Filipino songs I mean the songs we learned back in Kindergarten like Paruparong Bukid and Ang Pipit (seriously, click those links if you want to hear these songs).
After a couple of minutes, we arrived at this place:
Afterwhich, is just a short walk to lunch. I’m really looking forward to this part.
The Tale of the Runaway (or Floataway) Slippers.
Well, this part really isn’t about a runaway slipper. However, my slipper really did get away from me because lunch was in a cool running river under a man-made waterfall.
Fare was Filipino food and just perfect for four hungry visitors who didn’t have breakfast (I’m not sure about them but I didn’t have breakfast).
First photo is a make-your-own salad offering. It has string beans, cucumber, cabbage, radish, and bean sprout around a pot of peanut sauce. The peanut sauce is delicious. I kinda skipped the salad and just drizzled the peanut sauce all over the rest of my food. Like a sauce. Or soup.
Other food available (as seen in second photo) are grilled pork, chicken inasal (barbeque), grilled fish, kaldereta (a type of beef stew), and soup.
Dessert is sago (balls of starch from sago palm trees, usually confused with tapioca balls) with coconut milk and latik (coco-butter syrup) to sweeten. I think all of us had seconds of this.
By the way, those clay pots in the photos are called palayok in the Philippines. We ate in rattan woven plates covered with banana leaves.
I gotta say, eating great food with your feet in cool running water and the sound of a waterfall? Marvelous.
Oh, also. Thank you, Raymond, for catching my slipper before it floated off into the abyss.
The Stressful Dance That Tells a Story.
After lunch, we hung around a bit to watch the cultural show. Luckily, the part that I’m interested in was the one we were able to see.
One of the attractions of Villa Escudero during weekends and holidays is the cultural show. The performers are the workers of the hacienda and their families. They were really talented. You can just imagine the amount of time and commitment they gave in their practices and performances.
The dance I’m talking about is the Singkil. Singkil is the dance of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao in Mindanao. It tells the story of a woman who escapes a demon king and who got lost in a forest where she will be found by a man.
Why is it stressful? The dancers step in and out of bamboo poles. And those bamboo poles ain’t stationary. There are people holding both ends of the poles and clapping them together to a beat. And as the story progresses, the clapping gets faster and faster and so should the dancers. Stressful because one wrong step and a dancer could get his/her ankle broken. And it just makes it more awesome that they could do it so gracefully.
Another thing to note are the percussionists. Ranging from middle aged to a ten-year-old kid, they provide music that crescendoes and a general feel of urgency to the performance.
The Row, Row, Row, Drift on Placid Water.
After the show, we went to the dock to get on bamboo rafts. There was a pretty long wait but, for the experience alone, I think it was worth it. The bamboo rafts are made of about ten bamboo poles tied together. They also have makeshift seats on them made of bamboo. We were given lifevests, wooden paddles for rowing, and a shove to send us on our way.
The cottages are the accommodations for those who want to stay overnight and on the other side are simply forest area. The water is around 30ft deep so swimming is not allowed, though fishing is. This type of rowing is interesting. It is very quiet, plus you can go to the deepest parts and the shallowest parts without worrying about getting grounded.
Up to the Bell Tower.
On our way out, we caught a ride on the motorized shuttle which stopped by the plantation’s chapel. The Chapel of the Ascension is found a couple of minutes ride away from the waterfall area. The entrance of the chapel was flanked by statues of St. Paul and inside, each of the columns hold statues of angels. We also went up to the bell tower.
We’re actually not sure if we’re allowed up on the bell tower. But we didn’t see any signs that said we weren’t and there was no one around to ask. But we probably weren’t. The stairs going up are pretty steep and we had to be really careful. Careful also, not to accidentally hold on to the rope of the bell and cause it to ring.
We got down, very carefully, and got on the shuttle that took us back to the entrance.
Up the Real Winding Road After Waze Gave Up On Us.
So, after that eventful visit to Villa Escudero, we went on to go to Tagaytay. We just drove back where we came from and from there, we had Waze take over. Seriously, I had no idea which roads we used.
I did research beforehand though and the idea was to get to the Talisay-Tanauan road. To get there, we had to get back to Pan-Philippine/Maharlika Highway, turn left to J.P. Laurel Highway, turning right to Mabini Ave (landmark: KFC Tanauan) then just following that road until we have to turn right again when we see Club Balai Isabel.
But we followed Waze and she took us into another route, using backroads. We had a bad moment when Raymond’s phone’s battery died and we were in the middle of a semi-rural backroad. The best course of action? Ask a tricycle driver. We saw one and he pointed us the right direction. Which was the way we were going. Waze was right all along.
When we got to the Talisay-Tanauan road, we were able to now see the Taal as it is close. Then the winding road going up to Tagaytay started. It was a twisty, curvy, and very steep road going up. The fog didn’t help. By this time we didn’t need directions because it’s the only road and we just followed it. We reached the top, made a left, and went into the driveway of the first likely-to-be-inexpensive hotel we found.
After settling our stuff, we had dinner of bulalo (a stew of beef shanks and bone marrow) and rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish) at RSM Restaurant, then went back to the hotel for a drink.
When We Didn’t Know What We Had and What Was Offered.
We were tired and we wanted to just drop off to sleep when we stopped drinking so we decided to just stay in our room. We have already checked out the following morning and was about to leave when we finally noticed that the place we stayed at actually had amenities other than an airconditioned room with toilet and bath.
They have a pool, with tables and kubos for groups where you can eat or drink or just lounge around. They also have a playground for kids and generally a place where kids and adults can run around.
The place is found near the picnic grove and when you go out, you can catch jeepneys to basically anywhere along the ridge.
A Brunch Turned Lunch Turned Breakfast.
We wanted to have brunch but woke up just in time for us to check out of our hotel. After packing up, we went to the branch of Bag of Beans that’s on the ridge. The one with the view of the lake. We got there around 1pm so that’s basically lunchtime.
Starving, yet picky, we each ordered our fare of large Filipino breakfasts of pork tocino, beef tapa, and lechon kawali. Plus shared chocolate chip pancakes that’s just frosting away from being a full blown cake, and bottomless kapeng barako (barako coffee) for the guys, hot chocolate batirol for me, and chocolate milkshake for Ces. Yep, our stomachs are still on breakfast time.
We weren’t able to get a table outside but it’s okay because it was cool and breezy where we were sitting and it was cloudy out.
After brunch/lunch, we went on our way back to Manila, a drive that took about an hour and a half via Nuvali, Greenfield exit into SLEX.
1. Waze is a very useful tool. However, it also is good to have a back up in case it doesn’t work. Before leaving, we researched roads, landmarks, and directions to our destination. Even without Waze, we had an idea of which exits and roads to take.
2. I know it’s kinda obvious but I will say this: make sure you have enough gas in your car. Also, that your tires have enough air.
3, There will be moderate to heavy traffic. It doesn’t matter what time, what day, what season you go. In the long drive, you will come across moderate to heavy traffic. It could be because of vehicle volume or a patron saint’s feast. Bring with you patience and a sense of humor.
4. Villa Escudero has rates for day tours as well as overnight stays. You can get more information on their website
5. Villa Escudero buffet closes at 2pm so it’s better to get there earlier. The day tour rate allows you to tour around the plantation from 8am-5pm. The earlier you get there, the more you can be able to enjoy the amenities
6. The hotel/apartelle we stayed at was called 5R. Their rooms vary from airconditioned to fan rooms, to rooms for two or group rooms. For rates and availability, you can contact them at +6346-483-4279. Look for Nanay Luming
7. Apart from eating, there are also other activities that can be enjoyed in Tagaytay City. There’s a boat ride to the volcano, horseback riding up to the crater lake, zipline, and other various attractions. Choose your poison.
8. Don’t forget to pack and use two very important things. The first is bug lotion/spray. Make sure that you apply this and reapply at least once. The second is sunscreen. Use this everyday, more so when you’re going to spend the day out in the sun. And yes, even when it’s gloomy out.
9. Bag of Beans is a popular restaurant in Tagaytay. Its original branch is larger than the one we went to and found on the other end of the ridge, nearer Taal Vista hotel. They have breakfast buffets during weekends, pies for dessert and coffee for dessert or snack, and you can also buy bread, coffee, beans, and other pastries to go.
10. For travel arrangements, you can contact Meego Travel Services at +632-346-1983 or +632-384-3516
11. As with anywhere else, follow rules, don’t litter, respect people and culture, and minimize human footprint