Three Days in Cabuyao, Laguna: Life in the Philippine Countryside Series

Day 1 – Jan. 24, 2016 – (Sunday): The Call of Cabuyao, Laguna

Old habits are very hard to get rid of and two of mine are bicycling and swimming. These activities,  thankfully, had tempered the late effects of polio on my left leg- an affliction that I got when I was about 3 years old.

Laguna, particularly Barrio Pansol, had been my swimming locale of choice after I graduated from college and dropped-out of medical school.  My life was at a crossroad and I spent a great deal of time contemplating on the whys and what-ifs of life in the healing waters of Laguna Hot Springs.

Our van left Imus at about 10:30 AM on a cool yet another sunny day.  We traversed the newly-built connector roads between Cavite and Laguna, and so we were in Cabuyao in about an hour and a half, as we picked-up orders of “rellenong bangus” (grilled, stuffed milk fish) and “lechon manok” (roasted chicken) along the way.

New roads connect the province of Cavite with Laguna
From Dasmariñas, Cavite we used this new access road to Laguna
Jeepneys ply the national highway in Cabuyao, Laguna
We stopped to buy ‘Andok’s lechon manok’ (grilled chicken)

Cabuyao was once a sleepy town (now, a city) of Laguna that is about 27 miles southeast of Manila.  We used to cycle pass the town on our many cycling jaunts to Los Baños back during the days when the South Luzon Expressway, from Manila, went only as far as the municipality of Alabang and so we had to use the interiorly-located national highway to go further south.

Barrio Banay-Banay, Cabuyao is where my first cousin Carol and her husband, Arthur, found a second home after having spent most of their careers in Cavite.  The couple met at a company that dealt with industrial plastic products located along the national highway in Bacoor, Cavite.  After they got married, they had lived in nearby Imus but decided to move here after Arthur’s father passed away and left a self-made, bamboo hut on a piece of property located about half a mile east off the national highway.

We found Arthur roasting “pork liempo” (grilled, marinated pork belly) and “bangus” (grilled milk fish) on his improvised grill and also got accustomed to the incessant barking of their four (4) dogs – who are these people?

I had been to their place before – in late 2011 – and so I immediately noticed the changes. There was a new shed for the carport that Arthur had fabricated himself in his spare time using his rudimentary skills in the art of welding. They had also constructed an all-concrete, two-story structure with an open deck in the previously bare land at back of the bamboo hut.

Arthur and Carol's new car port shed
At Carol and Arthur’s place in Cabuyao, Laguna
Open roof deck - ideal for exercising the fighting cocks and drinking sprees
The couple’s simple roof deck in Cabuyao

Immediately after Carol arrived from the store, we began the impromptu luncheon party that consisted of what Arthur had prepared, our pick-up orders as well as a dish of “pinakbet” (an assortment of vegetables dressed in fermented shrimp or fish paste)  and “tinolang manok” (chicken soup with ginger and young papayas) that featured one of his native, organically grown chickens.

Carol’s father -my uncle-, Ricardo (fondly called, Kuya Ading) who is about to turn 95 in a few days, along with his care provider, Emma, also came for the visit as well as my three aunts —  Tita Yeyit, Ising and Nita. Rey, our driver, also acted as our unofficial tour guide as he had been to this same trip on several occasions in the past.

After lunch, the old soul in Kuya Ading easily got bored and requested the group to head back to Imus. I had informed Tita Yeyit several days before the trip that I would be staying in Cabuyao for a few days so that I could go and revisit my favorite resort in Barrio Pansol which was just a few kilometers south.

A few hours after the group departed, at about 3 PM, the trio of myself, Carol and Arthur went to the hot springs via the South Luzon expressway as traffic would be heavy along the national highway at that time of the day as the Arthur suggested.  We passed by the new and impressive city hall building complex  along the way and emerged at a less busy section of the national highway just a few kilometers from our destination.

Just like Cavite, several towns of Laguna that is close to Manila had seen a rapid phase in urbanization.  I felt nostalgic yet saddened to realize that some of the familiar spots that gave the place its rural appeal when I used to be here on my almost weekly swimming sorties several years ago had all but disappeared and were now replaced by concrete structures with commercial signs.

We parked the van on an empty lot that, in my honest recollection, used be a restaurant.  After we paid the entrance fee (PHP 80 or USD 1.70 per) and rented a dressing room (PHP 100 or USD 2), I was so excited to rediscover the place once again.  I immediately felt that I was on the same place as I had been more than two decades ago as I noted that nothing much had changed around the entire resort.

Back in the early 90s, I used to have long conversations with the late owner, Jesus Candelaria (or, Mang Jess as I used to call him), who had intimated to me how he had paid very little for the entire place that used to be a favorite spot of carabaos (Philippine water buffalos) to cool-off.  He had also informed me that most of his sons and daughters were living abroad and that his nieces were the ones that ran the place.

The marvelous waters flow from the north side of the slightly smaller than an Olympic-sized pool where several boulders – hidden by a wall – further filter them.  The water source is the legendary Mount Makiling and its still visible signs of volcanic activity in spite of it being declared as a dormant one.

We soaked in the healing waters for almost 5 hours, and stayed mostly in the area where the water comes out from the boulders and where there’s also a stainless-steel bench for the disabled hidden from view by the chest deep water.

The trip back to the house via the national highway was brief as it was almost 10 PM when we finally left the resort.  After we hanged our wet clothes and towels, showered and took a quick dinner of the leftovers from lunch, Arthur led me to the bamboo table and held up two liter bottles of San Miguel beer.

The beers, the greasy meat leftovers and good stories that reference the past are always the perfect ingredients for a good night sleep.  I was in bed at 12:30 am.

Day 2 – Jan. 25, 2016 – (Monday): A Surprise Visit to Barrio Mamatid

Still jet-lagged, I woke up at 4:30 AM and found Arthur already feeding his brood of animals – chickens, hens, roosters, fighting cocks, quail, ducks, geese, dogs, love birds and two pigs – and so I chatted with him for a while.

Like the typical Filipino male who lives in the province, Arthur is fighting cock aficionado.  He and his wife, Carol – a first cousin on my mother’s side – also operate a small store that primarily sells livestock feeds as well as other needs of the cockfight enthusiast, along the main highway that is about half a mile away from their house.

The open spaces adjacent to the newly-built house are where Arthur found his joys in life — his inner peace.  There, twice a day, he feeds all his farm animals with the same devotion and care a good father gives his children.

Awake before dawn, Arthur feeds his flock of chickens, ducks, hens, pigs, geese, dogs and quails.
Up before dawn, Arthur feeding his flock of animals
Carol and Arthur's room in the new house where I slept for two nights
My room in Cabuyao for 2 nights

At about 6:15, we had breakfast of “pan de sal,” fried eggs as well as the leftovers of fried ‘banguspork liempo’ and the ‘lechon manok’ from yesterday’s lunch party.

Two hours after Arthur left the house at around 6:45 aboard his Yamaha scooter, I decided to take a stroll around the surrounding areas and to look for a store where I can ‘load’ my cell phone.

In the Philippines, a mobile phone’s airtime is refilled with a wide array of ‘loads’ that span from one day to a year depending on your budget and need. ‘Loading’ kiosks had become a cottage industry in the entire islands as vendors get a small commission. I found a store right across the university funded by the city and opted for the 3-day “GOUNLI50.”  However, I found that most of the gimmicks pandered by all telecoms provider in country almost border on fraud.

Carol and I went to the store at about 11:30 aboard a ubiquitous ‘tricycle’.  It is the most common form of motorized transportation all over the country.  We ate lunch inside the store after I briefly chatted with Arthur’s elder brother who lives in a low-slung house located at the backmost part of the property owned by their family.

By 1:30 PM, and after we had attended to needs of store customers, Arthur and I boarded the trusty Yamaha scooter for the trip to Barrio Mamatid – about 6 kilometers southwest of Cabuyao.  We would be paying a visit to a coworker/friend of mine back in the early 80s when I worked in Saudi Arabia.

As fate would have it, I met Ernesto’s son, Ervin, by chance, in the healing waters of Laguna Hot Springs in Barrio Pansol last night.  We exchanged calls and text messages afterwards and decided that today would be the most opportune time for me and his father to see each other again after more than 30 years!

We spotted ‘Erning‘ (as Ernesto is more fondly called) sitting in his “pakwan” (watermelon) stall and yelled out his name. He immediately recognized me and we gave each other hugs like long-lost brothers. However, I felt the thug of that mixed feeling of joy and sadness after I saw him up close and realized that he had aged so much.

We were both in our 20s when we first met in that farm near an oasis in Al’Hair which was about 20 miles south of the capital, Riyadh.  Back then, the kingdom was a magnet for foreign contract workers as the country embarked on a massive modernization program that was funded by the world’s insatiable demand for oil.

Their house sits on a corner lot of about 500 square meters.  Part of the property had been turned into a computer rental place owned by one of his sons.  There were about 25 personal computers with LCD screens that operate on the same concept as jukeboxes of yester years  and called ‘PisoNet‘ (One Peso Internet).  Drop a peso into the slot and you can surf the net/use the PC for five (5) glorious minutes.

Ernesto handed me a few peso coins and I showed him some of our old pictures in Saudi Arabia that is on my website.  While at the computer shop,  I asked him if Laguna de Bay is nearby. He nodded and so the three of us walked the short distance of about 400 meters to the edge of the lake.

Ernesto and Bong near the edge of Laguna de Bay in Bo. Mamatid, Cabuyao, Laguna
Ernesto and Bong met in Bo. Mamatid — after 32 years
Bong and Arthur near the edge of Laguna de Bay in Bo. Mamatid, Cabuyao, Laguna
Bong and Arthur near Laguna Lake in Barrio Mamatid

Ernesto informed us that while fish can still be caught in the lake, the taste had been compromised and that you need to clean them very well as a result of urbanization on the fringes of the lake that had rendered the once clear waters to an almost light chocolate color.

All over the Philippines, much of the smaller towns that surround a big city had slowly lost their rural feel — all the farm lands had almost disappeared because of urban crawl.

Back inside the house, Ernesto served us “balut” (boiled 18-day fertilized duck eggs), slices of ‘pakwan and iced water while we reminisced our days in Saudi Arabia, about our families and, of course, local politics.

We bade our farewells to Erning and his wife at about 3 PM. We headed back to the house using the very same roads we took earlier.  We passed-by rice fields that were transformed into vegetable patches during the off-season, subdivisions, factories and small mounds of haphazardly-strewn garbage along the way.

Back at the house, I rested and showered away the heat while Arthur headed back to the store after he had fed his flock and had prepared a vegetable dish that featured “puso ng saging” (banana hearts or budding banana blossoms) . They arrived back from the store at about 6:30 PM and we had dinner of the same leftovers except for the vegetable dish with copious servings of white rice.

After dinner, Arthur hopped aboard his scooter to buy San Miguel beer in liter bottlesTonight, he informed me earlier, is one of those 2 days in a week where anyone of his friends would drop by their house and they would drink the night away.

He came back with three (3) bottles of the local brew and in the area adjacent to the car port where there is a set of low-slung table and two long benches all made of bamboo, we opened up the first bottle while we waited for his friend.  Arthur cracked opened all the balut’ that Erning had graciously allowed us to take home (together with a ‘pakwan’) to serve as our “pulutan” (appetizer).

We were halfway through the first bottle when his friend arrived in a nice-looking SUV.   He brought with him a plastic bag that contained an orange-colored fried dish called “okoy” (small shrimps with slivers of vegetables deep fried in batter).  Arthur had told me yesterday  that he is also the godfather of his friend’s – who’s an architect – older son and that on some occasions, both father and son would be present in their drinking sprees.

Having finished all three liters of beer by almost 11, I had to go to the bathroom thrice to relieve my bladder before I slept soundly way past the wee hours of the morning.

Day 3- Jan. 26, 2016 – (Tuesday): The Commute Back to Imus, Cavite

I woke up at 5:30 to prepare for the trip back to Imus, Cavite.  We had hotdogs, fried eggs and  big ‘pan de sals’ for breakfast that Carol had prepared earlier.  Afterwards, I took a few more pictures of their place before we left at about 8:00 that morning.

From their house,  Carol and I took a tricycle (PHP 10 or USD 0.21 per person) to their store where I bade farewell to Arthur. We hailed a ‘jeepney‘ to the bus terminal in Santa Rosa, where we waited for an air-conditioned van to fill-up passengers. For PHP 55 (USD 1.17), it took us to Pala-Pala, Cavite where we caught our final ride to Imus.

Arthur's trusty scooter
Arthur’s ride in the barrio
Two cute dogs man the gate
Two of the couple’s numerous pets

It was about an hour trip but travel time from Pala-Pala to Imus Toll Bridge (PHP 10.50 or USD 0.22) was about the same in spite of the shorter distance because of the traffic. Like Laguna, many a sleepy towns in Cavite, notably Imus,  had fallen victim to rapid urbanization that began in the early 80s.

I finally took another tricycle ride (solo for PHP 25 or USD 0.53, which I found to be an outrageous amount since the distance is just about 400 meters;  I should have just walked if not for my disability) back to the house. I was in Bayan Luma 3, Imus by 10:30.

Ate lunch of “chicken afritada” (chicken stewed in tomato sauce) and “menudo” (a variation of the Mexican version and not as soupy) at about 11:30 AM and took a hour nap afterwards on my Thermarest.

Ate Nene (wife of my aunt’s late first cousin, Rodolfo ‘Rudy’ del Rosario) dropped by at about 4 PM together with a husband and wife friend of hers. She was trying to sell a parcel of land owned by her late husband and brought with her a wood signage for the purpose.  The property is located at the back of my aunt’s house, some three houses away.

Tita Yeyit arrived from her shopping with Carol and Nelia in SM Bacoor by 7:00. And so, for dinner, I ate the piece of ‘Shakey’s‘ pizza that she had brought and slept at around 9 PM.

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