April 17, 2012

On leaving the comforts of home

(At Sitio de Amor, I had this lovely infinity pool all to myself!)

I COULD never understand why my father, when he was still alive, detested going on trips, no matter how near or short these were. He was the only person who I knew had never gone abroad, despite the many opportunities he had in his youth, according to Mama.

Toward the sunset of his life, he also got a bit prickly about motoring even just to go to my sister’s home down south, or going on vacation in Subic. I now understand why.

The older we get, the more it becomes a pain to pack a suitcase and leave the comforts of home.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been excited to go off and visit new places and make new friends—I do have a mole on the heel of my right foot, which according to folklore means I’m prone to be layas. But, yes, sometimes it’s just a whole lot of trouble to plan what to wear, how many footwear to bring, and the sort of amenities one needs when one goes off on a trip.

Also letting go of the familiar sights and sounds of one’s home can throw off one’s vacation, no matter how lovely the destination one is in.

For instance, I have a quite a few family members and friends who simply can’t empty their bowels no matter how luxurious their bathroom is in their five-star accommodation. Heated toilet seat or not, the namamahay phenomenon afflicts a huge number of Pinoy travelers (no idea if it happens to foreigners too). I think there ought to be a scientific explanation for it, you know, like bangungot? I, on the other hand, am a wake-up-and-go kind of person, no matter what tourist destination, hotel, resort, or home I am in. Ugh. TMI.

(Mrs. Bondad prepared a hearty bulalo for lunch, among other yummy dishes!)

But I do harbor some basic standards in tourist accommodations.

Like the bathroom cannot be too far from my bed, otherwise it just f**ks up my sleep pattern. I drink a lot of water during the day, so I usually go to the bathroom at least two times at night, and most especially when the air conditioner is just blasting freezing winter.

So much to my regret, as I learned from a recent trip, I can no longer “rough it up” and sleep in a loft when the bathroom is miles away downstairs. It was just too damned difficult creeping around in the dark and padding around with only my socks on. (I didn’t want to wake my friends by switching on the stairwell light and wearing my sandals that could create noise as I crept down each step).

I also need at least three pillows for sleeping and a mildly thick blanket to keep me warm. So whenever I go on a roadtrip these days, I bring at least one pillow with me, as most hotels and resorts these days already provide a pair for each guest. (Why three pillows? One goes under the head, another under the back of my knees to support my bad back, and the last one rests on my neck to protect me from Dracula’s teeth. Blame this on the Christopher Lee retrospectives of my youth!)

I also confess to packing junk snacks, canned chicken Vienna sausages, and 250 ml cartons of soymilk in my suitcase, just to satiate the hunger pangs which may gnaw at my tummy after midnight. I’ve been to enough hotels with super-expensive or otherwise bleah-tasting food that don’t justify that room-service call. (And sometimes it’s just too much trouble to pick up the phone, say your order, and wait for 30 to 45 minutes for the dish you want. It’s so much faster to pop open a can of meat or tear open one’s favorite chichiria—talk about instant gratification.)

Then of course, I never go anywhere without my beloved soft-on-the-tushie three-ply toilet paper. I’ve just had too many unfortunate experiences in so-called luxury hotels and resorts that bust the bank for the best interiors, furniture and food, yet scrimp on TP. One-ply TP in a five-star international establishment is just...well, cheap. Not to mention unbearable.

(WIth love and care, the Bondads have managed to grow a number of lush trees, shrubs, and flowering plants on their property.)

If you think that’s weird, I know someone who brings her ratty blanket wherever she goes—yes, the same one she’s had as a child. And she is 50+! Oh and travel buddy Ms. RP doesn’t leave home without her iPod, the speaker, and a tiny nightlamp for her reading. She’s also the one I can usually persuade to squeeze the red wine bottle in her suitcase, hehehe.

Leaving one’s cozy home can be distressing. You can never be sure that the destination you’re traveling to would be equally restful and comfortable. And just the packing, then unpacking after you come home, can be a bitch.

Needless to say, I manage to compensate and overcome such distress by lugging around a huge suitcase with, yes, almost my entire house. And you wonder why I have a bad back. Tch.

* * * *

BUT stuff my suitcase I did when the gang and I went off to San Pablo, Laguna, for the Holy Weekend. We were there to watch the traditional Good Friday procession around the town plaza which features lavish carozas owned by some of the oldest families in San Pablo and in Tiaong, Quezon.

This was my second trip there, but this time I was staying in a different establishment. I found Sitio de Amor Farm Resort quite by accident, as I was Googling for other possible places to stay, as my go-to B&B was already fully booked that weekend.

The photos on Sitio’s web site looked interesting, and Miggy did say it had more “character” than another place we were considering. It was reasonably-priced as well.

Even if the resort did point out there was no Wi-Fi and TV, it didn’t matter so much since we were used to talking up a storm among ourselves. And, well, it was Holy Week after all; if we couldn’t abstain from eating meat, we could at least give up the TV, Facebook and Twitter.

Sitio de Amor is a 5-hectare property with only a few casitas, thus ensuring the privacy and quiet for its guests. We were served a sincere, home-cooked lunch consisting of bulalo, grilled blue marlin, ginataang langka, and sweet chicken marinated in soy sauce. It was such a hearty meal that had our tummies happily toiling away.
(Isn't it wonderful to just sit around and do nothing?)

While there were some issues with the fluctuating electricity which kept the air conditioners from running smoothly, and cobwebs in the ceiling of our bathroom, we had quite a pleasant stay. It has pocket spaces for meditation, a wonderful array of flora, and a few animals on the property. Oh, I couldn’t resist swimming in their lovely infinity pool, which I had all to myself! (Canned evil witch laughter here.)

The owners—Amor and Jorge Bondad—were ever so helpful and hospitable. The bright and cheery Mrs. Bondad was definitely the culinary expert and foodie, who even served up a seriously mouthwatering suman sa latik from Liliw for breakfast the next day. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t persuade her to part with some for me to take home, even if I did offer to pay for them.) I liked her the minute I spoke with her on the phone as I finalized our reservation.

Mr. Bondad regaled us with stories of how they had rehabilitated the property into the lush green gem it now is, far from the rather empty lot with logged-over coconut trees that it once was. Right now, he is rebuilding an old resthouse of Don Tomas Morato Sr. from Caluag right on the property, to serve as another guesthouse. Mr. Bondad is the inveterate “picker” who manages to discover really good finds among old houses, or what appear to be junk just by the roadside. They use all of these recovered items on their property.

So the upside of traveling away from the comforts of one’s home? It’s meeting fascinating, genuine people with loads of entertaining stories to share.

* Sitio de Amor is along Km. 88.8 Maharlika Highway, Barangay San Vicente, San Pablo, Laguna. For inquiries, visit www.sitiodeamor.com.

(This piece was originally published on April 13, 2012, in Something Like Life, my weekly column in the BusinessMirror. All rights reserved for these photos.)

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