The bus bound to Zambales left Caloocan terminal at 5pm. Leaving Manila for a 5-hour bus ride, alone in the coming dark without really knowing my exact location, was quite a scary, daring act for me. After passing winding roads of Olongapo, I saw the middle of nowhere. Huge open spaces drowned in pitch black night separate small houses. I didn’t even know where the sea was. I was trying to piece the fragments of Google map I checked earlier that day, but they were still broken in my memory. All I knew was I must drop off the town called San Narciso, the location of this newly opened resort where my friends were now already having their dinner. One of our hosts, Sid, had been contacting me up to the time I arrived. A string of messages and a few calls from him assured me that I was nearing the town and, thankfully, I did not get lost.
I spotted the white van where Sid and his friend Ivy rode to pick me up near San Narciso bus stop. Warm and friendly, they immediately introduced themselves and asked how was my bus ride. It was so smooth, I told them. Though I found it to be very long, I had enjoyed the time of reflecting my thoughts and feelings, wondering about the resort that I only knew by name, yet the surprise, events and new people ahead were all beyond me.
The night never hindered me to see the trunks and brush-like leaves of pine trees along our way, as the van’s headlights cast upon them. During that 5 minute drive to our destination, I asked Sid and Ivy about its story and its characters. Matutuwa ka kay Rachel, Sid told me. He and Ivy briefly described Rachel Harrison and her beautiful reason behind putting up the resort. I always love authentic stories and writing about them, and that thrilled me enough to know more about the place, to meet Rachel and listen to her whole story.
We arrived at the place. On its outside wall mounted the resort’s name, white-painted bold letters on a slab of old wood. Zambawood has white walls from the outside, outlined with natural brown from its wooden entrance. The glow and shadows of dim moroccan lights blend with its façade into romantic tone. Sid and Ivy guided my way as we entered through its enormous wooden door, which reminded me the many majestic doors I saw in Bali. This place is not just a resort, I thought.
I saw Rachel with the rest of my friends and a group of guests at the dinner table. Rachel beamed with excitement, shook my hands right away and smiled so warmly that I never thought I would expect from an owner of a resort. In many resorts and hotels I stayed at, owners greet their guests because it is always about excellent customer service. Rachel, who reminded me of my spiritual friends her age, greeted me like she was meeting an old friend from another lifetime. She received me, radiating her genuine aura, and I presumed she did the same to my friends earlier that day. I never count first impressions; a person’s energy is far more accurate and trustworthy, like feeling a physical temperature (hence, the idiomatic warm and cold). Hers was a warmth you reserve only for family and closed friends. That was for me a wonderful clue to a story waiting to be told.
A bonfire was set up after dinner just a few feet away from the building. Everyone was trying to roast sticks of hotdog and marshmallows over crackling fire. The fire, as it did thousands of years ago among primitive human beings, always and never fails to spark storytelling. As a few of us gathered around the fire, Rachel and I also had a chance to exchange stories. What do you do, what’s your blog about, she asked. I write about Love, I replied. For a while, we had shared some thoughts about my passion on practicing Love and writing, and her personal reflections and life insights. It was enough for a story starter.
About 15 minutes people left the bonfire one by one, I included. It seemed that everyone was readying to rest, as others had just gone to bed. That night I was about to finish some writing tasks, so I switched on my PC, connected to a WiFi and continued with my work. I joined Rachel, as she was also working on her Mac at the table just next to Zambawood’s elegant kitchen. I told her some of my thoughts and asked her questions about her place. She shared one of her therapeutic habits at the resort – stargazing and moongazing. You are really into this, I told her. Metta! she enthused. I told her at the bonfire this Buddhist teaching of Love, which steered our conversation back again to Love.
I remembered my old hero Leo Buscaglia, who said if he is asked for a moment to choose between people and things, he would always choose people. Leo taught a radical way of living Love principles in the 70s and the 80s. For this kind of rare conversation, I always choose the way Leo had chosen. So without saying, I decided to stop the writing tasks and hibernated my pc. Rachel, on the other hand, decided to cancel her massage scheduled that night. When Ivy and Sid overheard our lively exchange, we invited them to join. Gio, Ivy and Sid’s friend, whom I hadn’t seen earlier, also joined us. Davis, who is part of the When in Manila group, and Martin, Zambawood’s chef and Rachel’s nephew, joined us too. We moved to the long table where we had had our dinner, just outside the glass door next to the infinity pool. We continued the conversation in a bigger group, this time we had a new bonfire – Love.
For the next 2 hours, we were enthusiastically sharing each other’s thoughts, insights and reflections about the many facets of Love, like relationships and happiness (Rachel: you have to be happy with yourself first, in order to be happy with others), and money (Gio: you don’t think of money, you think of abundance; Sid: You use money, but you Love people). We’d lost count of our aha moments on beauty and goodness, on daily struggles and understanding life in general, on work and time, on self-awareness and personal meaning.
Gio told us that this kind of conversation is something rare and tough to hold with other people. I agree, because a topic like Love is too hot to handle. It provokes so many, yet it evokes only few. Provoke, because many people view Love based only on usual romanticized notions. Evoke, because, for some inexplicable yet amazingly coincidental reasons, resonant people converge and converse on Love’s deeper dimensions. There are no judgments in this kinds of conversations, Sid said. I couldn’t agree more. Love is, in its most uncommon and unheard definition, thoughts and feelings minus judgment.
I again witnessed what Carl Jung termed as synchronicity – meaningful but wholly unrelated events. For me, it’s this connecting principle of Love, converging at some point of our experiences. When Sid told me he already read The Celestine Prophecy, that deepened my faith on this meeting. I always meet people outside my circle, but it was rare (only 2 people to be exact) to hear someone saying they read a book that I considered one of the most important life-changing text in my spiritual path. I only met Sid, Rachel and the rest of them for this particular occasion, privileged of responding to this invitation of the beautiful Zambawood. Synchronicities happen, nonetheless. They are blessings that connect people of unrelated timelines, worlds and worldviews. In hindsight, all those constellations of events are like dots finally threaded together. Kaya pala, Sid exclaimed.
We only spent 2 hours, yet the whole conversation was like a 4-hour worth. This is one magic of Love – its time is never the ticking of clocks or flipping of calendars; it collapses eternity in the beating of the heart.
I only had 2 hours of sleep, yet I woke up first. The rest of our group were still asleep in the long bedroom. (Here, no bed sheets are sterile white. Rachel has a taste for colors and patterns, and each bed has a unique set.) I opened up the glass window near my bed, and saw this part of Zambales’ slowly rising warm morning. Outside, I could see the pine trees, and the gray beach sand. Zambawood sits where pine trees tower around. I was told that they have grown abundant years after Mt. Pinatubo erupted.
A few meters away towards the west, I could hear the muffled sound of the waves. Claire and I had a short morning walk to the beach. We met a fisherman hauling by himself a huge net, which I first thought was for harvesting huge fishes. Another fisherman came and helped him. Then, their wives approached with a plastic basin and pail on their hands. As the kuyas came, the ates helped them grab the pail of seawater and poured its contents into the white basin. Using a plastic bowl, they scooped what seems to be tiny, invisible creatures. Looking closer, they were actually harvesting bangus fingerlings – small and transparent with two black pinpoint eyes, swimming wildly in what was otherwise clear seawater. Sold for about 50 centavos each, lucky fisherfolks can make as much as PhP3,000 in just one harvest. Husbands fish, wives gather. Huge nets, tiny fingerlings, big income. Indeed, a circle of life.
The sun was already up in the beach when my travel friends and I had a fun and lighthearted morning with the trio of Sid, Ivy and Gio. They shared stories of their friendship (of which includes Ken, the one who manages around at Zambawood), how they knew each other from the very start, poked fun at each other’s weakness, helped each other in their difficult days, and how, again, in the light of synchronicities, found themselves working together as events professionals and as best of friends. They are all giving their time and effort to introduce Zambawood to the world. And while they have the skills in marketing, social media, styling and managing projects, on top of everything are their souls knitted together by one simple vision: they all believe in Rachel and her Zambawood. Before I left Zambales, I finally understood why.
Rachel and her British husband Keith Harrison have 3 grown kids. Julyan is the middle child. A few years after giving birth to Julyan, some noticed that he was not as sociable as other babies. He kept hiding under the bed or playing alone, showing little emotion. Rachel never thought of anything unusual about him. To her, he seemed well like any other kids. But she grew suspicious and thought he might be mute, so they consulted a doctor to check his condition. It was then she discovered that Julyan has autism. Bumagsak talaga ang mundo ko, she said. She cried so hard. To confront the challenge, she devised her battle plan.
Even without the convenience of today’s internet in the early 90s, Rachel’s first instinct was to study autism. She took all the chance – she visited libraries and bookstores, read every material her hands could hold just to learn more about the condition that struck her little boy. When Keith was assigned In Switzerland, Rachel found it too difficult to adjust. Naturally kindhearted, he allowed Rachel to fly to California with Julyan. After a series of calls to several universities in Europe, Rachel received 5 graduating students who observed and treated 2-year old Julyan, spending 8 intensive therapy hours everyday.
I left no stones unturned, Rachel said. For 12 straight years, Julyan went under the hands of so many doctors and spent time on all available therapies in a period when autism barely reached mainstream awareness. The twelfth year was an ultimatum. Rachel eventually came into her senses. One of Julyan’s doctors saw her too wasted, drained and stressed. He advised her to just stop. More than Julyan, it was Rachel who broke down, suffered and almost lost herself to her son’s condition. Rachel heeded her doctor’s call, and began to save herself and her family from her imminent fall.
Julyan is a gift. Rachel’s tears rolled as she began this sentence. She was thrown back again to her past struggles. Twelve years of tough learning, of finally accepting Julyan and who he is. However, the journey did not end there. Now laughing at her eyeliner being messed up by her tears, she told me another phase of Julyan’s story, from the twelfth year and ahead. She was frustrated after bringing Julyan to Singapore, which at the time did not have facilities for children with special needs. Keith thought of bringing Julyan to the UK, but that was too much for her not to see her beloved son. She considered Singapore, but eventually thought Philippines. She revisited her parents’ old property here in Zambales, and planned to design a place where Julyan can be free. It was a place for him to play around, to learn more, and to grow well.
After those many years of moving around the world, Rachel and her family returned to Zambales and started to make it their new home. It brought her grounding and a deeper sense of family and inner peace. I learned from Sid that this part of the town is called Baranggay La Paz – Spanish for ‘peace’. There, in the middle of a pine forest by the sea, this place has encouraged Rachel more to bring the family together and bond with one another, for them to feel and be at home and to find this elusive peace that is all within her.
For some time the resort was rough and raw; Rachel’s challenge was to consistently monitor the whole construction since she occasionally comes to the Philippines, refining it within the last 3 years. Gusto ko lahat glass. Rachel wanted natural light to come in. With her flair for interior design, her architectural background and taste for arts, culture and wellness, her vision for Julyan has shaped their new home.
Within those years, a number of independent filmmakers frequented the area, seeing it as an ideal filming location. As an allusion to Hollywood, they christened the place Zambawood. Now, this vacation home-turned-resort remains Julyan’s playground and learning place. Here, Rachel becomes Julyan’s down-to-earth teacher, guide, tutor, therapist. Opening Zambawood to the public both as a high-end resort and as a healing hub for special children, Rachel wears her new hats as an entrepreneur, an advocate and a visionary. For these reasons, unrelated as they may seem to me as a writer, we got all in sync with this one inspiring network of possibilities – Rachel with her Love for Julyan, Sid and his friends with their friendship and event planning skills, my travel blogger-friends with their thrill as wanderlusts, and me with my Love for writing and Love.
This is not just a resort. I never doubted that insight. I told Rachel and Sid that Zambawood strikingly reminds me of Esalen Institute. Located in the rocky coast of Northern California, Esalen Institute, once home to American Native Indians, Esalen has become the birthplace of the Human Potential Movement (with big names like psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, philosophers Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley, as well as present-day spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra and Gary Zukav). It was in Esalen where the concepts of healing, meditation and spirituality started to become mainstream. It was a hub of conversation for transformative thinking that has now spread across the world. The conversations we had, a meeting of minds and hearts, makes me feel that Zambawood blooms like a little Esalen, giving birth to something that will change the country and the world. No one knows, but our spirits are open. Zambawood can do its magic in many ways.
Rachel’s journey with Julyan’s growing years is daring the dark and the middle-of-nowhere, a far cry from my 5-hour ride to Zambawood. She has arrived to where Zambawood continues to become – a home of healing and Love. I am grateful that through Rachel’s journey, I arrived too, to see Zambawood in its beautiful becoming, a place of stories and synchronicities, of meeting beautiful people and enjoying a weekend of meaning, bonding, and returning to spirit.
Zambawood has a lot to offer. Please check the following blog posts from my fellow bloggers:
Visit the website at Zambawood.com