April 25, 2017

Le Petit Souffle

And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name Valrhona grand crus and yourself?

Cold matcha latte with matcha softee   

French toast

Chicken pomodoro

Porc bourguignon

Squid-ink rice

Valrhona grand crus

Le Petit Souffle  
Century City Mall, Kalayaan Ave.
Makati City
Tel. No.: 886-3056

April 20, 2017

Birdland Beach Club, Bolinao

“Birds? I hate birds. They always poop on my car!”
- Michael Parayno

It all started out in Berkeley, from love of jazz, old fence turned bird houses, a dream house, and some political statement on housing; but perhaps Michael Parayno and Joanna Ledesma really know by heart why the caged birds sing.

That’s just the short origins of Birdland, the first neo-eco boutique resort in Bolinao, Pangasinan; a sanctuary not only for humans but also for birds. Though originally meant to be the home or nesting place of the couple and their two children (after relocating from the US and settling for good in their hometown), Birdland is now open to anybody who longs for a serene and unique kind of weekend getaway in the far North.

It takes about 6-7 hours from Manila via commute to reach Birdland. In Bolinao town proper, there are conspicuous wooden signage of the resort along with Joanna’s mobile no.

The resort is located in a quiet and secluded Brgy. Arnedo, far away from Patar and the madding crowd.

Practically everywhere, along the pathway towards the resort and some hanging on the trees, are 400 or so hand crafted wooden birdhouses of different style. They were designed and made by Michael, a former lecturer at UC Berkeley, owner of the Birdland Jazzista Social Club in the San Franciso Bay area, and a birdhouse-maker under Berkeley Rustic Birdhouse label. Michael started making and designing birdhouses from distressed recycled wood, metals and local driftwood. Each birdhouse has a circular hole for birds to enter and build their nests. They even have a birdhouse-inspired Christmas tree in the resort, truly an ingenious work of art. I wonder if there are birds that really live on them, especially during night time.

The first thing I did after being welcomed by the friendly and happy couple, was to lie down on a hammock in an open nipa hut cottage and simply enjoy the magnificent and stress-melting view of the West Philippine Sea. This is the kind of relaxation I constantly yearn for.

Interestingly, the whole resort is situated on a cliff and sitting on a bed of coral rock formations. The rawness and rugged natural beauty of this place was impressively preserved by the couple, who only did little changes in developing the resort.

There are three minimalist white villas with a total of four rooms named after jazz singers and musicians Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan Duodectet. They could accommodate families, barkadas and big groups. They are complete with comfy queen-size or king size bed (with beautifully designed headboard made by Michael), cable-installed LCD screen, refrigerator, private bathroom. Most of the rooms have clear glass windows with a view of the sea.

I stayed at Miles Davis Kubo, the tallest native structure in the resort. It is open but have roll-on tarpaulins for privacy. It is also equipped with futons, pillows and an electric fan. It is very comfortable staying in the kubo, especially at night when the sea breeze is cooler and the waves gentler sounding like a lullaby.

The in-house restaurant of Birdland is Papayeah Café, named so because of the countless papaya trees that have sprouted within the resort. Joanna is the master chef who can whip a good gourmet meal, mostly sourced from the fruits and vegetables growing in her own backyard garden. She also produces healthy organic, non GMO dehydrated fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood, which would make a good pasalubong. These products, commercially known as Simone’s Original Snacks (named after her eldest daughter), are sold all over the country. Joanna is quite a mompreneur.

Birds aren’t the only animal living in Birdland. It is also home to dogs, cats, peacocks, ducks, and chickens freely roaming within the resort. Mostly, I enjoyed playing with the adorable puppies, I found hiding on the crevices of coral rocks, which they have made their very own dog house.

The resort may have a chill-out vibes but guests can use for free their floating white cottage, inner tubes, life vests and snorkelling gears. It was fun wading towards the balsa, feeling the sea grass caressing my feet and legs, and finally to just laze in what feels like the middle of the sea.

There is an open stage on the edge of the resort, which was the venue of the historic 1st West Philippine Sea Jazz and Blues Festival, held in April 2016. The event conceptualized by Michael, was the first of its kind in the Philippines and the biggest gathering of renowned jazz and blues artists in the country. The 2nd Festival happened last March 2017.

The hospitality of the owners and the resort staff is top notch. Just like the Bolinao sunset. I had a great time viewing it from the new nipa hut they are still constructing along the coastline.

Birdland isn’t just a typical resort… it’s a one of a kind experience that involves nature, environmental stewardship, wood art, jazz music, good food and culture. A truly rustic, ideal place to recharge and be inspired all over again. Trust me, even aliens would say it’s a nest like no other.

From Manila, Birdland can be reached via commute by taking a bus bound for Bolinao (bus terminal in Cubao). In Bolinao town proper, take a tricycle (P40.00) going to the resort.

Birdland Beach Club
Long Beach St., Brgy. Arnedo
Bolinao, Pangasinan
Tel. No.: 0917-7919643

April 10, 2017

Mt. Kupapey, Maligcong Rice Terraces

Don’t be scared to walk alone. Don’t be scared to like it.

Maligcong is a picturesque, rugged village in Bontoc, Mt. Province. I remember many years ago, Jec, Jen and I had merienda cena at Goldfish Café in Bontoc town proper. The name of the café was intriguing, given that it is right at the very heart of a mountainous province. Nope there weren’t aquariums nor a live gold fish inside, but there hanging on its wall was a large monochromatic photo of a breathtaking rice terraces. Our server said that it is the Maligcong Rice Terraces. And that its beauty could rival that of Banaue’s. The terraces is known for its stone walls which make them sturdy and withstand erosion. I never expected that one day, I’ll get the chance to see it for real.

It takes almost 10 hours by bus to reach Bontoc from Manila, and another 20 minutes by jeepney to get to Maligcong. The highland is a wonderful place for those seeking a hiking adventure with friends or a quiet “me” time away from the tiring and busy city life. I would have loved to have a company to do this adventure, but since this was another spur of a moment gala, I ended up being with myself. Again.

Maligcong was named after the word “ligcong” which means to level land for a rice field. And true enough, anywhere and everywhere I look, I see rice fields and terraces.

There are three homestays in Maligcong – all of them just a stone’s throw away from each other. I chose to stay at Suzette’s Homestay. Why? Well its veranda overlooks an amazing view of greenery. And Ate Suzzette is known in the area for her yummylicious freshly baked squash muffins and freshly brewed Maligcong coffee, aside from being warm and so maalaga with her visitors. I was even surprised to find out during our chitchat that she was a black belter during her younger days (so better not mess with this woman who can still give anyone a good flying kick).

After having brunch, I explored the rice terraces and the nearby village. While walking, I realized someone was following me. It was Kunig, the pet dog of Ate Suzette. He eventually led the way, serving as my tour guide. And I was just happy to follow him as he brought me to the elementary school in Fang-orao and Favarey where the original settlement of Maligcong and the church is located. In Favarey, tombs are scattered everywhere, practically next to the houses, giving an impression that the place is somewhat a cemetery village. During daytime, where most of the people are out working in the rice fields, the village is almost deserted and seem like a ghost town. I got scared a little but thankfully Kunig was with me, and never left my side.

In the afternoon, I tried climbing Mt. Fato upon the suggestion of Ate Suzette. She said that the trail was already established and that I would surely find the right way going to the summit. Kunig was already accompanying the other guests who arrived, so I was left on my own. And because I wasn’t familiar with the terrain, I got lost not once but twice. To make the story short, I never reached my destination. Worse it started to rain. Kung kasama ko lang sana si Kunig, he could have led me to the right way. Pero di naman ako nalungkot masyado, because my inaccurate sense of direction took me to surprisingly scenic off the beaten path. I saw more rice terraces, forest of pine trees and a rainbow after the rain. It was a happy misadventure after all.   

The highlight of my trip - the trek to Mt. Kupapey (also known as Mt. Kofafey or Mt. Antungfaw) happened the next day. The mountain is known for having the best vantage point to view Maligcong Rice Terraces. Ate Suzette got me a guide – Ate Tina. This time though I have two companions – fellow guests from the homestay. Plus Kunig. We started trekking as early as 3:30 am so we could also witness daybreak. Even in pitch darkness, Ate Tina knows the trail like the back of her hand.

It usually takes almost two hours to reach the summit but we made it in just an hour. We were that swift because my companions were all fit, at medyo na-pressure ako na bilisan kahit deep inside gusto ko lang sana a walk in the park.

Buti na lang it wasn’t freezing cold at the summit, as often the case. And while waiting for sunrise, we were gifted with a mesmerizing view similar to the one I saw at Goldfish Café. We get to admire the sky changing colors and the fog partly shrouding the mountains and the terraces. Only one word came out of my mouth: Wow. It was like a surreal painting, a masterpiece adeptly made by the hands of nature.  

I love the serenity of the moment. Andami sumasagi sa isip ko. Like Pain is also a good motivator. Every time you take someone for granted, you’re teaching them to live without you. And I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

From Manila, take a night trip Bontoc-bound bus (Coda Bus Line in Banaue, Quezon City). Get off in Bontoc town proper, early morning the next day. Ride a jeepney going to Maligcong (first trip starts at 7:30 am, last trip is 4:30 pm). Ate Suzzette’s homestay (0915-5463557) is just along the road, a few meters before the final stop. Tip: get a guide when trekking to Mt. Kupapey and Mt. Fato. Guide fee is P500 for a group of 4.