Caleruega Retreat Center (Nasugbu, Batangas)

Dominicum (Caleruega Retreat Center)

After a filling lunch at Josephine’s Restaurant in Tagaytay City, Mark, Jandy, Vicky, Marc, Bryan and I opted to go on a sightseeing trip.  Back on Mark’s Starex van, we traveled a further 15.7 kms. (25 mins.) to the town of Nasugbu, in the adjoining province of Batangas, where we were to visit the much hyped up retreat center and wedding venue called Caleruega. Designed by Arch. Yolanda D. Reyes (Dean of UST’s College of Architecture) and built in 1995, Caleruega was set up as a venue for retreats and seminars of the Dominican institutions.

Mark (center) and Vicky (right) exploring the grounds

 

The much-publicized wedding of Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong gave Caleruega its early exposure and, today, it is a lovely setting for an out of town wedding for brides and grooms.  Even movies and television ads producers have taken notice.

United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) 1996 Design Award in Architecture

From the highway, we turned into of a long, rough, bumpy and isolated road, at the end of which is the sprawling, 8-hectare property owned by the Dominican Fathers. We parked our van just outside.  Past brick-paved rotunda and fountain is the Dominicum (which we mistook to be a chapel), the receiving hall for visitors and those having their retreats at the place.

Perched atop an elevation with a 21 steps leading up to it, its two level Moorish and Spanish-style facade has a segmental arched main entrance flanked by square pilasters and niches with statues of Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Sienna, both doctors of the church, at the ground level.

Stairway leading up to the Dominicum

The main entrance is topped, at the second level, by a semicircular arched window with the stained glass image of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order.  This window is flanked by smaller semicircular arched windows with stained glass images of his father’s coat-of-arms on the left and his mother’s coat-of-arms on the right.

Stained glass window depicting St. Dominic

The four square pilasters (two reaching up to the pediment) are topped by pineapple (probably hinting at its proximity to Tagaytay)-shaped finials.  The undulating pediment has a bell-gable (espadana) at the center.

Grand stairway

Inside is a grand, elegantly curving staircase (unfortunately, off limits to visitors), a gift house (where one can buy souvenir shirts, trinkets and religious items) on the left, a mess hall on the right and a corridor that leads to the gardens.

Mess hall

From the Dominicum, pathways, following the natural curves and slope of the hill, lead us into a garden bursting with color and life. It was easy to fall in love with the serenity and beauty of this gorgeous retreat sanctuary with its abundant and colorful varieties of flowers, lush plants and trees and walking paths.

In the comforting company of nature, one can sit on solitary park benches, found in niches, and gaze at the 180-degree view of cobalt-blue skies,  the rolling, verdant hills and mountains and the plains. Caleruega’s tag line, “Closer to Nature, Closer to God,” is a fitting description of this nourishing sanctuary.

Lining the pathway are functional dormitories, cottages and overnight guests plus an interesting gazekubo, a conference hall that mixes the elements of a gazebo and a bahay kubo, with adobe stone walls roof made with once brown pawid (now green with small plant growth).

Gazekubo

The many signs and symbols of the Dominicans were abundantly integrated into the architecture.  The motif of the Dominican star (Joanna of Aza, St. Dominic’s mother, saw a star on her son’s forehead, a sign that he would eventually spread light to the world), as well as the sun, can be consistently seen in the refreshing fountain on the driveway, capiz windows, grilles and even inside cottages in the retreat center.

There were also viewing decks where one can witness the stunning show and the magical moment of the sun setting between the two rugged peaks of Batulao (incidentally, the name Batulao is derived from the words bato, meaning “stone,” and “ilaw or “light”), creating the perfect mood for love. St. Dominic’s Point, another beautiful vantage point, has a statue of St. Dominic, his feet lined with a star formation of fuchsia plants.  Rosary Lane, framed by the rolling hills of Mt. Batulao, has a statue of the Mother and Child sitting in prayer, each clutching a rosary.

At the peak was the famed, stunning and quaint Transfiguration Chapel with its Moorish-style facade done in red brick and painted concrete. When we arrived, a wedding was ongoing inside the chapel.  Patterned after the original Caleruega Chapel in Spain, it can fit only 150 people.  Its door has a brass sculpture of seven grapevines (symbolizing the Seven Sacraments).

Transfiguration Chapel

The chapel’s interior, finished with varnished wood and painted concrete, has a lectern with Biblical images of the mustard seed while the tabernacle has a burning bush design.  The altar, made from a carved tree trunk, signifies the Stem of Jesse in the Book of Isaiah. The birds, at the communion table, symbolize God’s providence.

The chapel interior with its centerpiece stained glass window featuring the Transfiguration – Moses on the left, Jesus at center and the prophet Elijah at the right

The stained glass windows of the chapel, giving a very soft and warm glow to the interior (an atmosphere conducive for prayers and reflections), were impressive. On the facade is the seal of the Dominican Province of the Philippines. Inside is the centerpiece of the church floor to ceiling stained glass of the figures of Transfiguration (Jesus, Moses and Elijah).

The author at the Transfiguration Chapel

In front of the chapel is “Thy Will Be Done,” a metal sculpture with arms outstretched done by Baguio City artist Benhur Villanueva. Surrounding the chapel are carefully selected plants and trees (the planted pine trees even mimic the Mediterranean setting where St. Dominic was born in 1170 in Caleruega in Old Castile).

Thy Will Be Done (Benhur Villanueva)

Caleruega is a lovely, quiet and soothing addition to the 39 Catholic houses (retreat houses, formation houses, seminaries and contemplative groups) tucked along Tagaytay Ridge as well as over a dozen Christian lay communities and prayer houses.

Caleruega Retreat Center: Bgry. Kaylaway, Batulao, Nasugbu, Batangas.  Mobile number: (0921) 270-9890 and (0921) 830-4226.  E-mail: caleruega_philippines@yahoo.com. Open daily, 8 AM – 12 noon and 1 – 5 PM. A mass is held every Sunday at 11 AM.

How to Get There:
Coming from Tagaytay City, board a Nasugbu bound bus and ask the driver to drop you off at Evercrest where there’s a tricycle station.  Here, you can hire a tricycle for a two-way trip to Caleruega.

Ang Museo Ni San Juan Nepomuceno (San Juan, Batangas)

Ang Museo Ni San Juan Nepomuceno

Ang Museo Ni San Juan Nepomuceno

This church museum, inaugurated last October 2, 2015, is located at the second floor of the old parish convent built in 1894 by Recollect Father Celestino Yoldi.

The museum interior

The museum interior

The convent's grand stairway

The convent’s grand stairway

Prominently displayed here are a collection of images of saints (St. Mary Magdalene, St. Veronica, St. Martha, St. Salome, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, etc.) as well as statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Virgin of Sorrows, the Pieta, Christ Entry into Jerusalem, the Crowning of Thorns and the Risen Christ.

Collection of images of saints

Collection of images of saints

It also houses a collection of old church artifacts, episcopal paraphernalia, ecclesiastical vestments (chasubles, stoles, etc.), , altar silver utensils (censer & boat, chalices, altar candle sticks, etc.), altar balusters, nails used in the construction of the old convent as well as pews and benches, and others.

Collection of old church artifacts

Collection of old church artifacts

Vestments

Vestments of priests

There’s also a collection of photos of the town’s church, old ancestral houses, assigned priests (under the Oblates of St. Joseph) and the town’s tourist attractions.

Church of St. John Nepomucene (San Juan, Batangas)

 

Church of St. John Nepomucene (10)

First built with bamboo and thatch in 1843 in San Juan de Bocboc (now called Brgy. Pinagbayanan), it was rebuilt in stone in 1855 by Fr. Damaso Mojica but was destroyed by floods in 1883.

The Church of St. John Nepomucene

The Church of St. John Nepomucene

In 1894, the church and convent was transferred to its present site by Recollect Fr. Celestino Yoldi. Fr. Bernardo Pena made some notable repairs on the church and convent between 1922 and 1925.  Between 1928 and 1935, a bell tower was added by Fr. Domingo Carceller.

Plaque installed by the National Historical Institute (NHI)

Plaque installed by the National Historical Institute (NHI)

Fr. Carceller also built the baptistery in the first floor of the bell tower.  Fr. Inocencio Pena repaired the convent from 1958 to 1959.  In 1959, Fr. Daniel Ayucar renovated the sacristy and widened the presbytery in order to accommodate five new altars.

Church of St. John Nepomucene (6) - Copy

The church’s two-level pseudo-Baroque façade, divided into three horizontal levels, has a semicircular arched main entrance fronted by a porte cochere (a later addition).  It is flanked by square pilasters on rectangular pedestals, dividing the façade into three vertical parts, and pedimented semicircular arched windows.

The church interior

The church interior

Church of St. John Nepomucene (11)

The second level has a rose window flanked by two smaller circular windows.  Above the circular windows is an arch cornice. The undulating pediment, which forms as the third level, is given emphasis by the curvilinear lines of the side walls. Its statued niche, also flanked by square piers, relieves the plain wall of the second level while its circular window relieves the plainness of the tympanum.

The church's bell tower

The church’s bell tower

The square bell tower, on the church’s right, designed in the High Renaissance style, has cantons at its corners and semicircular arched windows (pedimented at the lower level).   Its uppermost level is octagonal in plan and is topped by a spire.

Spiral stairs leading to choir loft

Spiral stairs leading to choir loft

Church of St. John Nepomucene (4)

Church of St. John Nepomucene: Tel: (043) 575–3118 and (043) 575-3994. Feast of St. John Nepomucene: May 16.

How to Get There: San Juan is located 119 kilometers (a 3-hr. drive) from Manila and 43 kilometers from Batangas City.

Church of St. James the Apostle (Ibaan, Batangas)

Church of St. James the Apostle

Church of St. James the Apostle

The town’s church and convent was first built in May 1817 by Fr. Barcelona, with Don Eustacio Macatangay provided the finishing touches on the church. The first lines for the current church, with its cruciform plan, were drawn by Arch. Luciano Oliver and its founding stones were laid down, in 1853, by Fr. Manuel Diez Gonzales, O.S.A. In 1869, Fr. Bruno Laredo, O.S.A., completed the facade and roofing.  The twin towers were started in 1865 by Fr. Laredo and completed in 1876 by Fr. Vicente Maril (who also rebuilt the façade).  Damaged during the July 18, 1880 earthquake, it was repaired from 1891 to 1896 by Fr. Francisco Alvarez.

The church's Neo-Classical facade

The church’s Neo-Classical facade

The church’s simple Neo-Classical facade has a recently-attached front portico, wooden doors with geometrical carvings and round Ionic columns mounted on rectangular pedestals.  The triangular pediment, with its rose window, is flanked by two square “abortive” belfries.  The choir loft is indicated by arched openings with a floreated wreath below it.

Church of St. James the Apostle (3)

Church of St. James the Greater: Provincial Road, Poblacion. Tel: (043) 311–1251. Feast of St. James the Greater: December 30.

How to Get There: Ibaan is located 96.3 kilometers (a two-hour drive) from Manila an 13.4 kilometers (a 30-minute drive) from Batangas City.

Church of St. Francis Xavier (Nasugbu, Batangas)

Nasugbu’s Church of St. Francis Xavier is a relatively new edifice as much of its construction happened only during the 1990’s.  The Nasugbu parish, once under the jurisdiction of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception in Balayan, underwent a sad and dark turn of events in the past.  Its first chapel, as well as a convent for the parish priest, was built in Brgy. Looc.

Church of St. Francis Xavier

Church of St. Francis Xavier

Later, the town transferred to its present location. In 1852, a church was dedicated to the Nuestra Seňora Virgen de le Escalera and St. Francis Xavier. In 1896, after the people of Nasugbu rose against the Spanish colonial regime, Spanish troops locked up almost 500 men, women and children inside the church and then set the church on fire.

The 4-storey bell tower

The 4-storey bell tower

Another simple, wooden parish church was built on its present site. Eventually, the town’s growing population necessitated the construction of the much larger, present church which was started in the early 1990’s. During the Centennial Celebration of the Archdiocese of Lipa, the church was declared as a Pilgrimage Church.

Antique bell

Antique bell

AUTHOR’S NOTES:

The church has a Romanesque-style façade with a portico over the driveway supported by fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, on top of which is an entablature and a triangular pediment. The façade’s second level, also topped by a triangular pediment, has a large, centrally located rose window flanked by two smaller circular windows.

In front of the main entrance is the church’s antique bell, forged in Spain and bearing the king’s royal seal. 

The church's interior

The church’s interior

The interior has a magnificent barrel vaulted ceiling painted in the trompe-l’œil style. The main altar, above which is a dome, features expensive hardwood carvings.  It has an antique, larger-than-life restored crucifix. The Immaculate Conception is enthroned on the Gospel side while that of St. Joseph, the patron of Batangas, is placed on the Epistle side. Underneath an antique carving of the Most Blessed Holy Trinity is an image of St. Francis Xavier surmounting the top arch.  The central focus of the magnificent altar is the Tabernacle of the Most Holy Sacrament. Beneath the altar of the church is an ossuarium.

Choir loft

Choir loft

The octagonal, 4-storey bell tower, on the church’s right, is topped by a cupola.  It can be reached by 200 steps in 3 spiral stairways and two wooden ladders. On November 21, 2006, a whole set of 18 carillon bells (the biggest weighed 320 kilos while the smallest weighed 55 kilos) from Paccard-Fonderie de Cloches of Annecy in France, costing PhP4.4 million, were installed at the tower.

Main altar

Main altar

The carillon plays in two musical scales of 18 bells, three are swinging big bells (moving to and fro and making sounds in each movement) and 15 are fixed (do not move and are struck by clappers outside), each producing a distinct tone set by its manufacturer in France. Thus, 18 bells mean 18 notes.

Trompe l'oeil ceiling

Trompe l’oeil ceiling

Church of St. Francis Xavier: J.P. Laurel St., Nasugbu, Batangas. Tel: (043) 931 – 5186.

Munting Buhangin Beach Camp (Nasugbu, Batangas)

Munting Buhangin Beach

Munting Buhangin Beach

From the very crowded Interlink Beach, we again continued on our quest to find a suitable beach resort for overnight camping.  Canyon Cove was out of the question (PhP800/pax just for a day tour) so we moved on. Then I saw the sign for Munting Buhangin Beach Camp and, remembering my past overnight stay there, decided to check it out.

Munting Buhangin in the evening

Munting Buhangin in the evening

Just past the members only Terrazas de Punta Fuego, we turned left into the gate of the resort and inquired about the rates from the security guards.   From here, it’s a 1-km. and very steep downhill drive.  As it was the peak season, we had to park our car some distance from the resort.  We decided to leave the heavy camping gear inside the car and walk the rest of the way down.  Then we had to go down a very long flight of stairs, with some 100 steps, to get to the reception area.

The long flight of stairs

The long flight of stairs

Reception and information area

Reception and information area

Our total bill for our overnight camping, which we promptly paid, came up to PhP3,400 which included entrance fees, camping fee and breakfast the next day for the 5 of us.  I regretted not bringing our gear with us. Oh well.

Melissa and Almira inside our Coleman tent

Melissa and daughter Almira inside the Coleman tent

Jandy and Albert

My son Jandy and Albert

Anyway, my son Jandy and Melissa’s children Almira and Albert volunteered to return with all our stuff, making the arduous climb up the stairs and the steep driveway to get to the car and then return, this time heavily laden, with all the heavy camping gear, backpacks and provisions.  Thank God for children.

Kainan sa Beach Camp

Kainan sa Beach Camp

The convenience store

The convenience store

The 24-hectare Munting Buhangin Beach Camp is backpacker and camper-friendly and just perfect as I brought along my 5-pax Coleman tent.  This we pitched under a shady tree and beside a convenient long table with benches, all monobloc.  Kainan sa Beach Camp, its restaurant, as well as the information and reception area (with its all-important convenience store where we bought our bottled water, ice cream and snacks) and a common grilling area were nearby.

Airconditioned concrete cottages

Airconditioned concrete cottages

Airconditioned bamboo cottages

Airconditioned bamboo cottages

A treehouse

A treehouse

The resort also has a variety of accommodation choices, from airconditioned cottages, 2 and 4-pax family rooms, the always popular 10-pax treehouses to tents for rent.  They also have conference rooms for seminars and team building activities. Their comfort rooms and shower areas, quite a long walk away, were not well-maintained, with sand all over the floor.

Comfort room and shower area

Comfort room and shower area

We didn’t sleep much inside our tents as our noisy neighbors were up all night and into the wee hours of the morning.  With no sea breeze, it was also uncomfortably hot that night.  Our packed breakfast the next day, ordered the night before, wasn’t much – scrambled egg and a cup of steamed rice with a choice of either tocino, beef tapa or longanisa.

Bamboo and nipa picnic huts

Bamboo and nipa picnic huts

Monobloc picnic table and benches

Monobloc picnic table and benches

A plus for the resort is their clean and wide beach front, on a captivating cove, which has clear and shallow water (not so during the rainy season though) with fine, light brown sand (no shells or sharp rocks) and not much waves, just right for giving lessons to a city dweller like Melissa on how to float. In spite of it being Holy Week and summer, the beach wasn’t overflowing with bodies.  They also offer beach volleyball, tug-of-war, high rope, watersports (kayaking, banana boats, jetskis, aqua glide, speedboats, etc.).

Beach volleyball action

Beach volleyball action

Melissa (third from right) joining the tug-of-war

Melissa (third from right) joining the tug-of-war

The High Rope

The High Rope

There is nothing super special about this resort.  However, if you’re just a backpacker, camper or simply a typical traveler just looking for some relaxation, a nice beach and a family picnic (you can bring your own food) under some shady trees while watching a beautiful sunset, then this is a good choice.

Dusk at Munting Buhangin

Dusk at Munting Buhangin

The author with Almira

The author with Almira

Munting Buhangin Beach Camp: Brgy. Natiunan, Nasugbu, Batangas.  Metro Manila booking office: 7/F Makati Executive Center. 114 L.P. Leviste cor. V.A. Rufino Sts., Salcedo Village, Makati City.  Tel: 818-1975, 818-4798, 812-5448 and 818-2083 local 122. Fax: (632) 892-3649.  Mobile number: (0922) 887-4131.  E-mail: muntingbuhangin@gmail.com and muntingbuhangin@yahoo.com. Website: www.muntingbuhangin.ph.

Interlink Beach (Nasugbu, Batangas)

When I was still a young man, a lot of our Holy Week family vacations were held at Interlink Resort where my father bought some shares (Check out a past Interlink Resort promotional video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD3mf7LkrJw).  The resort was located on a hilltop within a private peninsula which could only be accessed by boat from Wawa Port.

Interlink Beach with Fortune Island seen from afar

Interlink Beach with Fortune Island seen from afar

The suicide cliff with a sea-sculpted cave below

The suicide cliff with a sea-sculpted cave below

Back then, the resort had non-airconditioned duplex cottages with airy verandas, a restaurant, small swimming pool, tennis court and a putting green.  From the resort, a regular shuttle would transport guests down to the brown sand beach.  The nearby cliff was said to have been the site where desperate Japanese soldiers jumped to their death during World War II.  I remember that a shrine was installed to mark the event.

Posing beside one of Interlink Resort's duplex cottages

Posing beside one of Interlink Resort’s duplex cottages

Posing with my Mom and siblingswith the cliff in the background

Posing with my Mom and siblings with the peninsula and cliff in the background. On the far left is Wawa Port

Author (right) with sisters Tellie and Salve.  In the background is Payong-Payong Point

Author (right) with sisters Tellie and Salve. In the background is Payong-Payong Point

The beach, though nothing like Boracay, with more coral reef than sand, was still a sight to behold as, a short distance from the beach, one could behold the well known Payong-Payong Point, a towering, offshore rock formation carved by wind, rain and the smashing waves.

Camping at Interlink Beach

Camping at Interlink Beach

Sunset at the beach

Sunset at the beach

This place is also very familiar to some landscape photographers who love taking photographs of the beautiful sunset with Payong-Payong Point as backdrop. This scenery was also featured in the 2000 movie Pedrong Palad (Starring Joonee Gamboa, Chin Chin Gutierrez and Jaclyn Jose) and the January to May 2011 fantateleserye Mutya.

Wawa Port

Wawa Port

The beach was somehow created when the developer bulldozed some of the coral away during low tide. During low tide, one could even walk, among the coral, all the way up to the rock formation, climb it and watch the fiery sunset from there.  Here, the coral reef drops dramatically into the dark depths.  From afar, you can also make out Fortune Island, 14 kms. away. My last visit to the still operating resort was sometime in 1982 or 1983.  Some years later, the resort closed down.

Waiting for our banca at Wawa Port

Waiting for our banca at Wawa Port

I next visited the place on March 29-30, 2002, another long Holy Week end, camping on the hilltop with my son Jandy, daughter Cheska and Jandy’s Jesu-Mariae School teachers Erwin Vizcarra, Joel Fatlaunag and Vener Trillo.  The resort back then was already abandoned and in ruins.  The evening was very cold and, during the night, we woke up to cows grazing around us.  Thoughts of Japanese ghosts in our midst were always in my mind.  Some evening it turned out to be.

Crossing over to Interlink Beach

Crossing over to Interlink Beach

Holy Week of 2015 again brought me and Jandy there, with friend Melissa Tinonas and her children Almira and Albert.   After a 1.5-hour trip via SLEX from Shell Magallanes, we arrived at Wawa Port by 11 AM.  There were many cars parked at the port and, from the looks of it, there were many beachcombers also coming for a visit. We all boarded a banca to take us to the other side (PhP10 per person).  From the breakwater, you could already see the great number of people who went there for a free swim.

Payong-Payong Point seen from Interlink Beach

Payong-Payong Point seen from Interlink Beach

Part of the beach now had some nipa picnic cottages said to be owned by a certain Nanay Precy Morales whose family lives near the Payong-Payong Point.  Half of the beach was now cordoned off, off limits to beachcombers as it was now private property. Going up the hill, I talked to the security guard on duty.  The hill was now cleared of the ruins of the now defunct Interlink Resort as well as the resident coconut trees and new villas were being built in their place.  Well, so much for camping here in the future.

The new villas being built

The new villas being built

Whatever becomes of the place, memories of Holy Weeks past in the former Interlink Resort will forever live in my mind.

Why Do I Travel?

Why do I travel? Over three decades ago, you wouldn’t imagine me traveling the way I do now. Even during my Holy Week school break, when just about everybody was out in the provinces having a great 4-day vacation, I was spending mine at home.  So why do I do it? For many, it’s to fulfill a dream of seeing the world, for others it’s for education, earning a living, to prove to oneself you can do it or simply just for the hell of it.

Father and son on Mt. Makulot

Father and son bonding on Mt. Makulot

I did so when I was already married, and a father to boot, and I did it for the most fatherly of reasons – to show my autistic son Jandy the beauty of this country and world, through travel and immersion, and not imprison him to the confines of a home, school or, worse, a mental institution.

Contemplating my future on the Rockies of Mt. Makulot.  Who would Have thought I would be a writer?

Contemplating my future on the Rockies of Mt. Makulot. Who would have thought I would be a writer much less an author?

October 27 to 29, 1999 would be one of the few times father and son would be traveling alone, this time on a 3-day odyssey to circumnavigate Taal Lake, visit the Southern Luzon heritage town of Taal and culminate it with a climb up the 1,145 meter high Mt. Makulot, Batangas’ highest mountain.

Mt. Makulot, Batangas' highest mountain.  The campsite is on the mountain's shoulder on the left

Mt. Makulot, Batangas’ highest mountain. The campsite is on the mountain’s shoulder on the left

Being an architect, first and foremost, our visit to Taal town brought me, up close and personal, with some of the country’s Spanish and American-era vernacular architecture (churches, ancestral houses, historical buildings, etc.) and the need to preserve them as part of the country’s patrimony so that future generations would live to see and feel them the way we see and feel them today.  I also got to experience, firsthand, the deep religiosity of the Filipinos.

Taal's Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, the largest in the Far East

Taal’s Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, the largest in the Far East

A somewhat scary experience was our overnight stay in the town’s Casa Punzalan, an ancestral house converted into an inn.  We were the only boarders that night and the caretaker left early because he was feeling sick and locked us within for security, with our permission, of course.   That wasn’t the scary part.  The ghosts of Taal’s past being where we were was.   Thus, it was a great relief when the sun came out that morning and the caretaker unlocked the inn’s main entrance.

Jandy in front of the Chapel of Our Lady of Caysasay

Jandy in front of Taal town’s Chapel of Our Lady of Caysasay

The climb up the campsite on the Mt. Makulot’s shoulder, on the other hand, introduced us to the joys of mountaineering and camping.  It also showed me how unfit I was, huffing and puffing, as we went up the mountain, more so when I saw a woman carrying a heavy load of long bamboo stems and a man laden with two backpacks and an icebox full of soft drinks, all slung on a pick.  We never made it, past the campsite, to the peak that day, it already being very late in the day to do so.  However, we did so, four months later, on another climb with Jandy plus four other companions.

Casa Punzalan.  We stayed at the second floor corner room.  We survived the night.

Casa Punzalan. We stayed at the second floor corner room and survived the night here.

Barely three months after this memorable trip, I decided to write about this unique father and son bonding experience and sent the drafts of two articles to Ms. Rosario “Chato” Garcellano, travel editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI). On January 20, 2000, a memorable day for me, my first article “Makulot Beckons” came out on newsprint.  I have become a travel writer!!! This was followed three months later, on April 2, by “Taal: The Grande Dame of Batangas.”

Jandy at our room in Casa Punzalan

Jandy at our room in Casa Punzalan

After two more PDI articles, I had a much longer stint as a travel writer for TODAY (now Manila Standard TODAY).  It was during this time that I decided to raise the bar a little higher and add additional feathers on my hat by becoming an author – compiling my four published PDI and 28 TODAY travel articles into a book entitled “A Philippine Odyssey: A Collection of Featured Travel Articles,” published by New Day Publishers in 2005.

A framed copy of "Makulot Beckons" - my first published article (PDI)

A framed copy of “Makulot Beckons” – my first published article (Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 20, 2000).  That’s Jandy on the upper left corner of the article

From all these firsts, came four more travel books on Boracay and Philippine churches (a favorite topic of mine), national shrines and museums; copy editing stints with two publishing houses; development of a travel website (Biyahero: A Philippine Travel Portal, www.biyahero.net) with 3 other friends, my own travel blog (B.L.A.S.T. – Benjie Layug: Adventures of a Savvy Traveler, www.benjielayug.com), more travel writing stints with different newspapers (I’m now with the Business Mirror) and magazines (COLORS, Business Day and 7107 Islands Magazine); lots of media invitations to cover and promote Philippine travel destinations; and now, an urge to travel, here and abroad, when the opportunity presents itself.

My first book “A Philippine Odyssey: A Collection of Featured Travel Articles.”  That's me with daughter Cheska on cover

My first book “A Philippine Odyssey: A Collection of Featured Travel Articles.” That’s me with daughter Cheska on cover

A love for churches awakened by my visit to Taal town inspired me to write this book

A love for old Philippine churches, awakened by my visit to Taal town’s two churches, inspired me to write this book

All these because a concerned father wanted to see his son break out of the prison we call autism.  At such a young age at that time, my son has packed in more adventure than what most people would experience in their lifetime. Today, though still classified as autistic, my wife and I have seen him graduate, one small step at a time, from grade school, high school and, finally, college where he finished two degrees – Multi-media Arts and Tourism Management.  He sometimes joins me in media familiarization tours as my photographer.

With my family at the launching of my fourth book, September 18, 2010, at SMX Convention Center

With my family at the launching of my fourth book, September 18, 2010, at SMX Convention Center

Talking about a life-changing experience, that 3-day moment in time when a father bonded with his son changed my life forever.  Today, Holy Weeks are no longer stay-at-home experiences.

Winchsurfing at Virgin Beach Resort (San Juan, Batangas)

Joey winchsurfing

Mr. Joey Cuerdo of Powerup Gym invited me and fellow travel writer Joselito”Lito” Cinco to join him and his kids (daughters Frankie and Kitkat and son Kobe) as guests of Mr. Butch Campos, owner of Virgin Beach Resort along Laiya Beach in San Juan, Batangas.  To record the moment, I brought along my daughter Cheska, a photography buff.   Laiya Beach is located along the coast of Sigayan Bay (one of the cleanest bays in the country) and Verde Island Passage.

The resort’s white sand beach

Normally, the trip, via South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Star Tollway, even on a Saturday (the day we left) was just 2.5 to 3 hrs. but hey it was the eve of the May 10 elections and last-ditch efforts by candidates to woo voters, via rallies and miting de avance, was the rule and not the exception, causing long traffic waits.  We left early in the morning but only arrived at the resort just in time for lunch.  Still, we were lucky.  Other invited guests, skim boarders from Nasugbu who left after lunch, arrived at the resort at 7 PM.

The Balinese-style restaurant

It being noon, the more than 7 km,. long, slightly coarse sand beach at the resort was at its whitest and, as lunch was still being prepared, we took time to explore the place. Very noticeable was its high level of cleanliness which sets it apart from the others. Mr. Campos, our host, sees to it that it remains such, personally picking up trash and cigarette butts and depositing them at ashtrays and trash receptacles provided specifically for food, and non-food items.  This 40-hectare (6 hectares developed) Class “A” resort, opened in 2005, is also noted for the oversized proportions and sprawled layout of its facilities.  The majestic Mt. Lobo serves as a tranquil backdrop to its beautiful beachfront area, truly a combination of land, sea and sky.

The Parasols

After this guided tour by Mr. Campos, we all walked back to the huge Balinese-style restaurant/pavilion were a scrumptious set lunch of salad, soup, main course (with a choice of chicken, beef or pork and seafood) and dessert awaited us.

After lunch, Joey then proceeded to set up the resort’s newest attraction: winchskating.  This is not new to the country as Camarines Watersports (Naga City, Camarines Sur) and Lago de Oro (Calatagan, Batangas)  offer cable wakeboarding, wake skating and water skiing in manmade, freshwater lakes.  However, this will the first time that that cable wakeboarding and wake skating is being done along a seashore and this resort will be the first to offer such.
Joey instructing Cheska

This recent concept is simpler but safer and more affordable, using a U.S. made, 9 HP, 4-stroke portable, lightweight wakeboard winch (manufactured by Ridiculous Winches and distributed here in the country by Outward Bound Gear), anchored and held stationary by stakes on a sand spit, to pull, using variable speeds, a wakeboarder via a sturdy, 200-ft. long rope along the shallow seashore.  Joey, a professional surfer, took first crack at it initially using his own surf board and, finally, a wakeboard (more suitable because of its shorter fins).  Soon, he riding the waves of the shore like the professional that he is.  Mr. Campos, Frankie and Cheska took unsuccessful cracks at it.  Joey hopes, that with the introduction of this winch, the wakeboarding domain will be revolutionized to some extent and more venues will be opened as wakeboard winches have made wake skating accessible to a large number of spectators as one can fix them anywhere.

Virgin Beach Resort: Brgy. Hugom, San Juan, Batangas.  Tel: (632) 815-2584, 815-2587, 759-2020 and 759-2828. Fax: (632)817-6334 Mobile number: (0917) 813-1301. Email: sunkisd@pldtdsl.net.  Website: www.virginbeachresort.com.

Hobie Cat Sailing at Taal Lake Yacht Club (Talisay, Batangas)

Taal Lake Yacht Club

After our Taal Volcano hike and press conference at Club Balai Isabel, Bernard and I dropped by, on the way home, at the Taal Lake Yacht Club (TLYC), the “Sailing Mecca of the Philippines,” to try some Hobie Cat sailing, a first for me.  Hobie Cats are small, twin-hulled  sailing catamarans manufactured by the Hobie Cat company.  The club is dedicated to the promotion of sailing through its learn to sail program, and the creation of its Hobie 16 one design racing program.  At TLYC, Bernard introduced me to Commodore Peter Capotosto, TLYC owner, Mr. Joe Hagedorn, Sailing Manager/Membership Coordinator.  TLYC grants memberships to accomplished sailors and rowers.

TLYC, established in 1996 and located on the northern shore of Taal lake, started to build up a successful and competitive Hobie 16 fleet and, today, has over 50 privately-owned or TLYC-owned Hobie 16s that form the core of several events that are undertaken throughout the year.   Hobie Cat 16 is the most popular catamaran ever made and the most competitive catamaran class in the world. The first Hobie 16 National Championship was held at TLYC in early February of 1997 and was held  every first weekend in February till 2003 when it was changed to the end of January to accommodate the Philippine Hobie Challenge dates.  The club’s monthly races take place every second Sunday of every month while the Round Taal Volcano Regatta is held annually  at the end of November..

A Hobie Cat 21SC

The club has a very competitive Hobie 16 fleet and 8 Topper class dinghies for training and recreation.  Topper regattas, held every second Sunday of the month, are open to all.  TLYC is also considered one of the best campgrounds within 1 hour from Metro Manila, with open cabanas and toilets available for member and their guests.  Campers here also have a fantastic view of Taal Lake.  TLYC also offers windsurfing (October-April), kitesurfing, keelboats, sunfishes, lazers, optimists, Hobie 21s (good for groups of 7) and ocean kayaks.  They also offer trips to Taal Volcano.

Sailing away

As the wind was good, Peter allowed Bernard and I used a 21-ft. long, 8.5-ft. wide Hobie Cat 21SC (Sports Cruiser) operated by a sailing instructor.  A lady guest also joined us.  This spacious catamaran, intended for casual sailing,  has a front trampoline, wings, an outboard motor mount and a unique built-in, 68-quart marine grade cooler.  It also has 29-ft. mast and 222 sq. ft. (21 sq. m.) of sail.  The cruise, though short, was exhilarating as we sailed to the cool Taal Lake breeze.  Another “must experience” item scratched from my Bucket List.  This has been a fruitful day.

Taal Lake Yacht Club: Talisay, Batangas.  Tel: (043) 773-0192. Mobile number: (0917) 838-3726.  Manila reservation office: Corinthian Plaza, Paseo de Roxas, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 811-3183 or 811-3283.  Fax: (632) 811-3236.  Website:  www.sailing.org.ph/tlyc and www.tlyc.com. E-mail: peter@sailing.org.ph, peter@tlyc.com or sailphi@i-manila.com.ph.