January 23, 2017

Bataan Heartland

I had a wonderful, surreal Grave of the Fireflies experience at Bataan Heartland. The place is home to thousands of fireflies at night, making the place almost enchanting, magical, romantic. I fell in love, without even knowing it at first.

A serene and peaceful hideaway on the upland and outskirts of the city of Balanga, Heartland is a 10 acre hacienda, farm and garden situated amidst a lush forest and at the junction of three rivers, overlooking nearby hills and mountains of Bataan. It was a former family rest house of Sir Edmond Chan, who takes inspiration from nature and culture. He developed and expanded his place, incorporating some UNESCO World Heritage Site touches, and finally opened it for people who are also nature-lovers and want to take respite from the busy city life. I found his place via Airbnb, and he was very helpful in answering my queries and in giving directions going to his place despite my last minute booking. He even sent a two-day itinerary so that I could maximize and fully enjoy my short weekend getaway. Given the look and themes of Heartland, I think he is a well-seasoned traveller. I fully agree when he said that the key to an enjoyable trip is to enjoy what the place has to offer and not to dwell on the negative.

From Balanga City, it would take a 20 minute jeepney and tricyle ride to his place.

The moment I entered, I felt like I was transported to the world of Mary Lennox and her Secret Garden. The place is expansive, with an uneven topography divided into topside and lower riverside; predominantly green; trellises, pathways and pergolas are adorned with blooms and vines; trees and plants are practically everywhere, and often visited by birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

The warmth and hospitality of Sir Edmond and his staff, who welcomed me upon my arrival, add more charm to the place. 

There are six types of accommodation at Heartland. First is the Vigan House, a two storey villa with four rooms good for families and big groups. It has its own kitchen, sala and balcony. The house, though modern in architecture and amenities, is patterned after the ancestral houses or bahay na bato of Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Second is the Cave House. Circular in structure, it was named as such because its hall and dining area has an impressive mural of bulls and animals inspired from Lascaux Palaeolithic cave paintings of southwestern France. I was in awe upon seeing such hauntingly beautiful art masterpiece. It also has two rooms, and is ideal for groups who are celebrating small, intimate parties or gatherings.

Third is the Tree House. It may not be for the acrophobic, but it is the only room that offers 360 degree and bird’s eye view of the whole surroundings.

Fourth is the walk-in Aquarium. It is half submerged into a free-flowing fish pond with glass walls. Guests would definitely enjoy sleeping with the kois and other fishes.

Fifth is the Bahay Kubo. It is made from bamboo woods, very airy, and painted apple green to naturally blend with the color of trees surrounding it.

And lastly, the Ifugao Native House, where I stayed. The hut, which looks cozy and greatly insulated from heat and cold, contains a queen size mattress with mosquito net. Dining equipment and bath essentials were also provided, including towels. What is exceptional about the hut is the comfort room inside, which is usually lacking in authentic foloys. There’s an open outdoor shower, and a hammock under the hut for relaxation. There are three such native huts, each distinct with intricate native designs such as bulol wooden carvings and animal skulls. Staying overnight comes with a free hearty breakfast.

Though tranquil and laid back in vibe, there are several activities to do at Heartland, some not even for the faint hearted.

I took up the challenge and tried the giant swing that could reach up to the edge of the cliff. It was both thrilling and scary.

It’s a good idea to take a leisurely morning stroll in the hidden, riverside, or cliffside garden, name-guessing the more than 300 species of plants, including rare hardwood trees, exotic fruits, vegetables and scented flowers. I’ve seen fire tree, chico, banana, papaya, coconut, silk floss tree, hibiscus, water lotus, kalachuchi, yellow bells, traveller’s palm, pine tree, pomelo, duhat, New Guinea vine, jade vine, narra, pineapple, to name just a few. Honestly this place could pass as an arboretum. Interestingly, the walk path in the riverside glows in the dark come night time, as it is infused with pebble stone lights.   

A section of the garden was converted into an Easter Island Moai setting, where darker replicas of monolithic human figures or Moai statues from eastern Polynesia could be found.

Interaction with the farm animals such as wild pigs, guineafowls, and ram sheep is also fun and entertaining.

I tried swimming with the hippo in the river-fed swimming pool. I didn’t last long because the water was too cold. It was refreshing, nonetheless.  

Another delightful activity is communing with mother nature and savouring the sweeping panoramic views of Mt. Samat, Mt. Natib, Mt. Mariveles, Tanato River, and verdant rice terraces. I love spending time with nature. It’s not demanding; it doesn’t judge; and it’s free.

But the most unexpected, unforgettable experience I had at Heartland is the firefly watching. I almost missed it if not for the text reminder of Sir Edmond saying that “fireflies congregate by the poolside and peak viewing time is 7 pm.” I’ve seen fireflies before but it was my first time to witness thousands of them flashing synchronously and lighting up the bamboo tree. I felt euphoric watching the dazzling spectacle. It was like the feeling you feel in the early stages of falling in love.  

Too bad I didn’t bring my tripod; I can’t do long exposure with just my bare hands. Anyhow, it was one of those moments you can’t easily capture; and best remembered only in memory.

I’m a sunset person, but maybe I should also start embracing the night. Because sometimes, we need darkness for us to see and truly appreciate the light.

From Manila, Bataan Heartland can be reached via Balanga-bound Genesis or Bataan Transit buses (terminals in Cubao or Avenida). From Balanga bus terminal, take Cabog-Cabog jeepney or Bagac and Morong mini-buses. Tell the driver to drop you off at Tanato junction. From the junction, you may opt to walk (more than 1 km) or ride a tricyle going to Heartland. It is right across the Tanato River Park.

Bataan Heartland
Bgy. Dangcol, Balanga
Tel. No.: 0917-5372351
By reservation only
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