In a native-inspired restaurant called Luljetta Hanging Gardens, our host Ramon Mariñas welcomed me and my friends to sit together for dinner. We found our spot at the low but wide wooden tables covered with runners of colorful native patterns. The girls in our group sat on small leather cushions, while the boys on small wooden chairs, each has a pair of kissing fishes carved on its surface. While we waited for our dinner, we warmed up in this cozy and cool place, a hidden yet amazing spot in the great Antipolo.
I felt at home with Ramon’s place, perhaps because of subtle indigenous and natural ambiance – pillars and furniture pieces made of solid wood, and walls and balusters made of bamboo. In some of my encounters last year with various indigenous people, and the years of interaction with cultural advocates, the colors and smells of Earth that the place reminded me were all so familiar, the same sensuous flavors that I relished in an indigenous-inspired place. Ramon has designed it to capture that exotic and tropical feel that guests can enjoy even an hour away from the city.
Over our dinner of thick egg soup, fresh greens with sweet balsamic vinaigrette, and a huge plate of tuna pesto pasta, Ramon engaged us in a conversation. He asked us to share something about ourselves, what we do and what we blog. Though I have known my companions by their names, it was also my first time to learn more about what makes them busy by the day and what excites them as they travel and blog. After a round of sharing, we were full, not only because we had a sumptuous dinner, but we also had a huge serving of laughter and unforgettable funny moments.
Ramon was so gracious that even though we only met that day, he welcomed us like long-time friends. It was a sort of reunion of travel bloggers I met last February in the eve of Chinese New Year. Led by the dynamic Dong Ho, the group has been in many adventures within the first half of 2013. Claire, my partner, has joined with them many times, and though I am yet to join their next adventure, I have heard and cherished their travel stories together through her. When they don’t have to go too far, like this opportunity, I can hang around with them, and bond with them like seeing old classmates and childhood friends.
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Just a few hours ago while the sun was nearly setting, Ramon led us to a guided tour within their family resort, Loreland. “My mom’s name is Lolita and my dad is Renato, which is why it’s Loreland,” Ramon said. All along we thought that it was spoken as the English word lore, until I learned that interesting history. While the resort is pronounced as lo-re, the magic of their place is like a lore worth telling.
I noticed that the resort has a number of interesting details. Ramon said it was once a huge farm of mango and cashew trees. He also pointed three small pine trees that have grown in the middle of the resort; their seeds, Ramon shared, came all the way from Baguio. They are not as high and huge as those in the north, but they have grown well in Antipolo’s cool weather. Just on the other side near the pine trees was a structure that resembled a yatch built beside a pool, which Ramon called Aplaya, a Spanish word for “beach”. From there, we walked over the resort’s higher edge, and we passed by a small chapel of the Virgin Mary. We found Ramon’s mom sat in the middle facing the icon, then stood up as she just finished her praying when we arrived. I have found chapels in hospitals and airports, but a chapel in a resort like this is a rare find. Though I haven’t asked Ramon about it, I can feel that spirituality is still in the core of their family business.
Ramon brought us to a high deck overlooking the southwestern panorama of Rizal – the art capital Angono by the lakeside on the left (which reminds me of a February art walk ended in its park by the bay called Wawa, where I and another group of adventurers saw a scenic sunset), and the smoggy view of Makati and Ortigas on the right. Such view was a striking contrast of the rustic past of Filipino’s artistic spirit and this current urban amnesia in favor of the impermanent man-made progress. It’s ironic to see such interesting picture of reality, especially for Antipolo as a vantage point.
Ramon made me realized that Antipolo is some sort of a forgotten land – a place so accessible to city yet left behind like an undiscovered sanctuary. The neighboring provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and Quezon all have their own strong tourism identity, but Rizal, where Antipolo is, has yet to boost its own. Despite this challenge, Antipolo remains in touch with nature, continuously nourished by the living force of Sierra Madre’s tail. Ramon envisions Antipolo as travelers’ refuge, where locals and foreigners would find themselves transported to the cradle of paradise just two hours away from the hustle and bustle of the Metro. Learning business as early as 10, Ramon is now in the forefront of their family business and he wants to begin this vision with their place, the closest to his heart. He invited us for that reason as a first step to his dreams.
After two generations of harvesting mangoes and cashews, Loreland is where Ramon will soon harvest sweet stories of Antipolo from guests, tourists and travelers. More than the awesome night of cold dip in the infinity pool and a relaxing spa massage, Ramon opened the doors of Loreland for me and the rest of our friends to a warm blend of sharing and bonding. It was a seed we all planted in this beautiful ground, where water springs, friendships blooms and stories like this one I’m writing leave a lingering sweetness in the heart.