P.D.C. Spa Town: My Very First Spa Experience (Capas, Tarlac)

Volcanic Ash Spa Treatment

After our visibly tiring and tiring Pinatubo trek, a late (4 PM), a 5-course Filipino lunch awaited this visibly spent and famished bunch of media men, travel bloggers, camera crew and NPVB/MNTC personnel at P.D.C. (Pinatubo Development Corp.) Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac, also the jump-off point for our early morning Pinatubo trek.  Also awaiting our tired bodies and aching muscles was a relaxing and rejuvenating series of spa treatments unique to Pinatubo in a first-of-a-kind model in fitness therapy and well being. 

Mud Pack Treatment (L-R, Me, Dandi Galvez, Gabby 
Malvar and Art Villasanta)

But first, we had to shower away the dirt and grime of the trail hike from our tired bodies.  I, and the rest of the guys  (Dandi Galvez, Art Villasanta, Karlo de Leon, Frank Dizon, Gabby Malvar, Ivan ManDy) as well as some of the ladies (Nina Fuentes, Izah Morales, Isabel Malvar and Melissa Dizon), opted to try out first the volcanic ash spa treatment (I don’t know if we availed of the sulfur or salt treatment) while others were having their soothing signature massage in the 100-pax massage parlor.  Here, we were buried for 30 mins. in a relaxing body wrap with heated, sulfur-laden volcanic ash to remove body wastes by drawing out toxins and impurities that are embedded deep within the skin’s pores. Volcanic ash is said to be high in sulfur which not only helps our body not only to resist bacteria but actually to destroy it. It is also said to lessen body cholesterol.   

The Signature Pina-Thai-Tsu Massage

Next was a facial and body mud pack. When applied to our skin’s surface, the soothing wet clay lifts, firms and exfoliates, softening and stretching our skin to make us look revitalized and healthier with a more youthful looking complexion.  After a while, we took to the showers again to remove the dried up clay.  Our final pampering, to improve blood circulation and relax our tired muscles and joints, was the Spa’s 1 hour and 20 minute signature massage – the “Pina-thai-tsu,” a unique combination of a traditional Thai and Shiatsu massage, with a few local massage techniques (hilot) added in.  There’s nothing like an ideal series of treatments to soothe our tired muscles and joints, improve our blood circulation and invigorate our body after a long and punishing day of trekking, making the most of this fantastic Philippine experience that is Pinatubo.  The whole 3-course spa treatment costs PhP1,500 per person or PhP500 per treatment   

P.D.C. Spa Town: Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac c/o Pull Travel Destination Corporation, Clark Office: G/F Oxford Hotel, MA Roxas St. cor N. Aquino Ave., Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 499-0629, 493-0031 and 615-0454. Email: pdcspatown@yahoo.com. Website: www.pinatubospatown.com.

Pinatubo: Scratch This from my Bucket List (Zambales)

Our 4 x 4s  traversing dry lahar fields and small streams

Mt. Pinatubo was prominent in my Bucket List of places to visit and I readily joined the 5-day, North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) and Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2 Tour as it figured prominently in the itinerary.  We were now in the third day of the tour and we left Microtel Inn & Suites Luisita  (Tarlac) very early in the morning, eating our packed breakfast on our special Victory Liner bus along the way.  By 7 AM, we arrived at our jump-off point for the trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s 2.5-km. wide Crater Lake – P.D.C. (Pull Travel Destination Corp.)  Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas in Tarlac.

The Trek Begins….

Normally, trekking via the Capas Trail (the easiest route to Mt. Pinatubo), passing by lahar deserts, would have taken us a grueling 6-8 hours on foot. However, five 4 x 4, 5-pax (including our driver) all-terrain vehicles, a mix of short wheelbase land cruisers and homemade jeeps, were made available for our use.  These were to negotiate some of the watery and rocky paths across Crow Valley, unreachable by other kinds of vehicles.  The drive through the valley, though at times bumpy, was exhilarating, with spectacular views of the Cabusilan Mountain Range.   After an hour, we arrived at the base of the mountain, the jump-off point of our trek.  From here, it was to be all 2-3 hours (dependent on our fitness and ability and the size of our group) of footwork, through the valley and up a mountain path, to the Crater Lake. Normally, a very hot trek, especially during the summer months (when the light gray volcanic ash reflect the rays of the sun), we were fortunate this day as it obviously rained the day before and it was quite windy.  Just the same I applied sun block lotion and wore a cap, shorts, sturdy rubber  sandals, plus my a comfortable light blue and white MNTC-supplied T-shirt.  

A surreal but serene landscape

The trek, though very tiring, was truly exhilarating as we traversed sometimes fairly flat and dry lahar riverbeds and oftentimes rocky ground and crossed numerous small creeks and rivers by jumping from boulder to boulder or, in my case, I just getting my feet wet under the cold water (truly a different kind of experience).  After a short, final hurdle up paved steps, we reached our destination – viewpoint for observing the magnificent crater and it turquoise-colored lake created during the 1991 Pinatubo eruption.  The viewpoint was developed to cater to us tourists.

Boating at the Crater Lake

After a few minutes of rest and quietly admiring the beautiful scenery set before us, most of us went down the paved steps down to the lake where a number of us rode boats, in two trips, and were rowed to the other side of the lake by an Aeta boatman.  The others, including me, contented themselves with dipping our feet in the cool lake waters while two others (Karlo de Leon and Melissa Dizon) took to swimming its deep water. Upon the arrival of the second boat load, we all made our way back up to the rest area, bade farewell to this magnificent creation of nature’s fury and made our way back to our respective vehicles.  The return hike was easier and done in half the time it took to get there as it was mostly downhill. The uphill climb to our vehicle’s parking area was the most strenuous.  As soon as everyone was accounted for, we all returned to our assigned 4 x 4s, too tired to even take pictures, and made our way back to P.D.C. Spa Town.

Microtel Inn and Suites (Tarlac City, Tarlac)

After our visit to the Manaoag Shrine, our media group proceeded to Tarlac City where we were invited by representatives of the Tarlac Convention and Visitors Bureau (TCVB) for dinner at Fisherman’s Diner.  Their crispy pata was really good.  Also here, after dinner, we had a ball singing our hearts out during the videoke challenge (won by Gabby Malvar).
Microtel Inn and Suites Tarlac

It was now late and we arrived at the Microtel Inn and Suites by 2 AM for a little shuteye prior to our very early morning departure for Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac, our jump-off point for our Mt.Pinatubo  trek.

Our double queen room

We stayed in one of the hotel’s 50 airconditioned rooms with bath, fridge, IDD/NDD phone, internet-ready data port, electronic key card entry system  and cable TV (single/double queen and suites, PhP2,106-3,861).  The hotel also has a 20-pax meeting room and offers wi-fi access (at lobby), safety deposit boxes (at lobby), currency exchange, mailing and fax services. 

Tarlac Convention and Visitors Bureau (TCVB): TCVB Pasalubong Center, Robinsons Luisita, San Miguel, Tarlac City, Tarlac.  Mobile number: (0917) 514-3619.  E-mail: tarlac_cvb@yahoo.com.ph.
Fisherman’s Diner:  Sitio Mannga 2, Brgy. Matatalaib, Tarlac City, Tarlac.
Microtel Inn & Suites Tarlac: Luisita, Brgy. San Miguel, Tarlac City, Tarlac 2301.  Tel: (045) 985-1770 (trunkline) & 985-1974.  . Fax: (45) 985-1975. E-mail: tarlac@microtel.ph.  Website: www.microtelinn.comManila sales and reservation office: 2/F, PHINMA Bldg., 166 Salcedo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 810-9526, 813-7523 & 813-8553.  Fax: (632) 817-3942.  Domestic toll-free: 1-800-1888-7171. 

A Good Friday Roadside Scene (Tarlac)

On our way back to Manila from our Holy Week vacation at Lingayen (Pamgasinan) with my kids Jandy and Cheska, we encountered, along the highway in Camiling, a group of barefoot Filipino men  marching along the road, one carrying a heavy wooden cross while others were whipping their already bloody backs.  Curious, we stopped and parked our Toyota Revo along the road to join the crowd of onlookers observing this annual, gory Good Friday religious ritual.

A gory Good Friday roadside staple

During the Lenten season, many Filipino devotees (including some women), as a form of worship and supplication, perform religious penance during the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  However, these practices, widely believed by devotees to cleanse sin, cure illnesses and even grant wishes, are discouraged by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines who describe them as “inappropriate.”  However, these practices cannot be easily relinquished as it is already embedded in local culture and tradition. 

The man with the cross

Normally, those carrying the cross wear a maroon robe but the man we observed was, like the others, just naked from the waist up.  His face, also like the others, was covered by a piece of cloth with a crown of leaves on their head.  Bloody gashes, from the repeated strikes of their whips, could be seen on the backs of the flagellants who believe that their sacrifice would, somehow, grant salvation for their sins.

The self-flagellants

The self-flagellation ritual starts with the tying of ropes around the arms and legs of the flagellants (the one carrying the cross was similarly tied).  Then, with a blades, wounds are inflicted on their backs.  They then march, under the scorching heat of the sun, for about 4 to 5 hours.  Every 500 m. or so, they stop to rest.

Fresh Catch Isdaan (Gerona, Tarlac)

Jandy and I, together with United Tourist Promotions (makers of EZ Maps) employees Bernard Gonzales and Rodel Vivas, were on our way to Baguio City when nighttime caught up with us in Gerona in Tarlac.  Already hungry, we decided to stop at Fresh Catch Isdaan for dinner.  This open restaurant was one huge koi-filled fishpond with “floating” (actually on stilts) cabanas with tables for diners, all connected by bamboo walkways.  All over the place are huge, eye-catching statues of Buddhas, mermaids, monkeys, dinosaurs and crocodiles; Disney characters; noted Filipinos (Corazon Aquino, Joseph Estrada, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Ninoy Aquino, etc.)  as well as Marvel comic characters such as Batman, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk.

Fresh Catch Isdaan

Food served here was mostly Filipino, the restaurant being part of the Barrio Fiesta Restaurant Group.  Its signature dishes include chicken tinupig, sisig, adobong pusit, bulalo, manok sa gata, kare-kare, sinampalukan, sizzling tanigue, hototai (mixed vegetable soup), Bicol Express, pinakbet, inihaw na liempo, buko pandan, binagoongang baboy, sinigang na hipon, lumpiang shaghai, fried chicken or porkchop, lechon kawali, among others.  While waiting for our order to arrived, I went about exploring the place.  There were subli dancers as well as roaming singers with guitars serenading guests, all dressed in approapriate Filipiniana attire.  

Koi-filled fishpond
Tacsiyapo Wall

One big surprise was Tacsiyapo Wall, a cool and neat though not original idea which is bound to bring tourists, looking for stress relief, to this place.  Here, you can release your anger by throwing crockery such as cups (PhP15), bowls (PhP18), plates (PhP35), pitchers (PhP100), vases or even a broken TV (PhP2,000) at a wall.   According to the attendant, to get the feel of it, you need to shout “tacsiyapo!” (A Kapampangan word meaning, at best, “shame on you” or, at worst, similar to the Tagalog P…I….).  Before throwing, you can choose at a  selection of targets on the wall such as “Taksil!,” “Sip-sip!,” “Bolero!,” “Bolera!,””Ingitera!,” “Tsismosa!,” etc.  

Fresh Catch Isdaan: MacArthur Highway, Brgy. Salapungan, Gerona, 2302 Tarlac.  Tel: (045) 931-2196.