Taking some chances with a relatively unplanned family weekend brought us to some gems that completely surprised us. After we got lost
Words: Jennifer Dizon
Photos: Carl S. Cunanan
Travelling and taking chances while you’re at it may be something too risky for most but with a bit of memory work, (from trips we’ve done with our folks long, long ago as kids), and some research, you WILL find something awesome in the Philippines.
We took the chance last June and hopped around close to the city, end of summer for a last minute getaway.
Having left Manila mid-morning, breakfast sandwiches in the car gave us a care-free start. The 2-hour drive in a relatively compact SUV was a bit of a surprise. The mere fact that we drove through a busy Batangas town center didn’t feel that very long, and by noon, we were in Tiaong, Quezon. The ride of choice for this trip was a new, red, Mazda CX-5, somewhat of an old friend with some new life. It did add to the fun of an un-planned but carefully thought of trip.
The first stop of the day was somewhere we had always wanted to go for over a decade now: the Ugu Bigyan Pottery Garden. This property was thoughtfully and imaginatively planned through the years by the potter himself. An accountant by education and an artist by heart, Mr. Bigyan’s level of inventiveness and creativity make it clear that he is not just a numbers person. The food, prepared by the artist and his staff, was served in the different huts that dot the property, but all close enough that service was prompt. For starters, we had a local fern and prawn salad, followed by shellfish soup, then a variety of other seafood and meats. To end the meal was a refreshing bowl of coconut milk and sago topped with shaved ice. (I have to say though, that before you start your meal, digest all that you see first and relax. That gives you time to enjoy the place and the meal instead of doing it all at once in excitement.) If you plan on buying any of the potter’s works, do look for the little room behind for more selection, and ask Heidi (his sister) about the other pieces on display in the other cottages.
Our first night was at the Sulyap Gallery Café and Restaurant, one of those unknown quantities we had never heard of. In spite of the total lack of indication currently on the name, it actually does have rooms for you to stay in. Very large ones, in a very large old wooden and stone house. The restaurant is in another old house beside it, and they both face a large cement structure that was at one time probably a school and is now a museum. The whole place is quaint or spooky, depending on your mood at the time. The food was typical local, quite good, and the restaurant was a draw for people in the area. The delicacies of Quezon are one of the many things that bring people from surrounding provinces, balik bayans, but most especially from Metro Manila, to this wonderful place.
The following day was a big question mark. Although we had scheduled to leave for Mahayhay to see the Costales Farm and the Underground Cemetery in Laguna that day, the kids started slow and the weather was un-cooperative. So, we played it by ear and ventured into the unknown. We chose to travel not too far away to play safe and ended up at Villa Escudero. Yes, this was for the kids. It still looked the same after 30 or so years, but the view from the cottage (our room) by the river was such a sight to see, breathtaking even, the family agreed to stay the night. And it was so much fun! The two-inch fishes our son caught again and again made no meal for us but the whole experience was such a hit. Speaking of meals, don’t expect gourmet food here. Try the dessert, typical Quezon and that means yummy. And just that ending made our buffet a good meal.
Lunch the following day was at the water falls that flow down by releasing the water from the river. Wow, tons of Filipino travelers packed this place, we had to elbow ourselves around here. Despite that, the kids still had a happy, memorable experience of eating their meal on a banana leaf with their feet submerged in the flowing water.
Hesitant to leave that afternoon, still holding on to our fishing poles, we packed our bags and rode the Caritella drawn by the Carabao (water buffalo) back to the red Mazda CX-5. Making a vow to do our next, by chance trip… yes, we will do this again soon!
The new Mazda CX-5 AWD
The Mazda CX-5 AWD is, as we have said, a bit of an old friend. It has been around for a while, and the iteration we used was the latest refresh of the compact SUV. Many enthusiasts like this smaller SUV more than they like its larger brethren; they feel it has more of the DNA that they love about Mazda. On this trip, it provided ample space and access for a family of four including all the gear and the purchases along the way. You could argue that you could want more space and more power, but then that is why the larger CXs are on offer. You will lose out a bit on the fun and handling by going bigger though, but we will see how that changes as further refreshes come. The CX-5 could have used a bit more refinement and sound isolation (in particular the sport switch did increase performance on tap, but at certain rpm it seemed to increase sound more) but I guess this is where you have to decide if you want a purist vehicle like the Miata or a lux sedan like the 6. The CX-5 is kind of in the middle.
The surefootedness of the All-Wheel Drive was much appreciated when we went through some torrential downpours. Everything seems to fall right to hand with the new design touches in the interior. A multi-function commander is easy to use and the electric parking brake that now cleans up the console just above it. One thing: to me the parking switch was where the Sport Switch should have been and vice versa but that may be because I was always flicking sport mode on and off. In reality, the parking brake is right where your hand would go for a mechanical one so that is good. This probably gets to me because, as I said, I think sport mode could be more refined. I kept switching it on for certain areas and off immediately after. And I wasn’t doing this for concern of fuel mileage, I was doing it because I just didn’t like being in Sport Mode that much (never thought I would say that one). The system seems designed to maximize the standard mode the most, and that will suit most people most of the time.