Mabuhay! This week’s flashback is about my travel to the Philippines in 2010. It was a funny story, I flew to Philippines to visit my Pinay (Filipino) friends, but my mother happened to be in Manila for a conference. So like most of good daughters I spent couple of days with Mum before I was off with my friends doing God-knows-what. Mum wanted to go sightseeing somewhere nearby Manila, where it was supposedly inexhaustible and practical.
So Tagaytay it was. Tagaytay is located around 2 hours drive north from Manila, and even more so I you take public transportation. It’s a highland nearby a lake, it reminded me of Puncak in West Java, Indonesia. Except Tagaytay was less commercialised and the architectures of most villas there were much better than Puncak. The main attraction in Tagaytay is Lake Taal. The reason why the lake is so famous is because it has a lake inside a lake. Taal volcano is located in the middle of Lake Taal, after a massive eruption ages ago the main crater became a small-sized lake and tourism started to grow around the area.
We reached the shore of the lake. The water was blue and there were rafts of ducks paddling nonchalantly on the water. Not far from the shore was a wooden structure shaped like a warehouse. There were loud noises came from the warehouse, liked people cheering. I asked the guide and he said “oh, it’s a cockfight” while shrugging. We rented a small boat to reach the volcano, which caused us 250 Pesos.
the tranquil Lake Taal
After fifteen really exciting minutes that included having lake water splashed into our faces (a thing that Mum dubbed as ‘natural acupressure’), we arrived in the volcano.
I was quite surprised to see the difference between conditions on the lake shore and on the volcano. The volcano has a small village that was stricken with poverty. The villagers made their living by being tour guides, renting ponies to go to the volcano’s peak, and selling packaged drinks for tourists.
To go to the peak from the village was not actually that far. It’d took around 15-20 minutes riding a pony, so perhaps around 30-40 minutes on foot. Both Mum and her colleague who came with us had silk shirts and strappy sandals on, so there was no way in the world these ladies would hike up. We had to rent a pony for each of us. For Mum and I it wasn’t hard to bargain with the locals since we were Indonesians and technically look like Filipinas. But for Mum’s friend who was Caucasian, it was a pretty intense bargaining session as the guides tried to milk money out of her up until one point where she chirped “I’m not going to buy the horse, I’m just gonna ride it to the top. That’s it!”. She finally got the price she wanted and we started riding up. By the way, my pony’s name was Junjun. She was scrawny and quiet and patiently carried tourists on her back for many times each day. I thank you, Junjun, and I hope your master spent the money he earned to treat you well.
We trekked on a dried dusty path. There were no lush vegetation around, only tall grasses and several small trees. In the middle of our trek our guide suddenly stopped our horses and turned to us, asking for 500 Pesos more. So totally each of us spent 800 Pesos to trek a supposedly 30 minutes journey. The ladies started chirping that next time when they decided to go sightseeing after a conference, they should change their wardrobe into proper outdoor attire first.
We reached the peak and it was full with local tourists, there was a big group of Japanese high school students as well. The crater was not that big; the water was black and smokes came from several spots on the crater, but there was no smell of sulfur, which was nice. It wasn’t breathtakingly magnificent, but it was nice. The wind was blowing, the sun shone softly, and the sky was the brightest of blue. There were dark clouds hanging at the far corner of the horizon.
the cliffs & the crater
the 2 unlikely tourists
We left Lake Taal before it got dark. On the way back to Manila we passed a place called Sonia’s Garden and decided to take a look. Sonia’s Garden is the brainchild of a lady named Sonia. Ms. Sonia loved gardening and decided to open her private garden to the public in exchange of a small fee. The garden had a restaurant and a gift shop that also sold slightly overpriced biscuits. The place was a quite popular wedding venue or a set for pre-wedding photo.
To me Sonia’s garden was more like a very well maintained private domain rather than a tourist spot. But I did find some interesting flowers such as these 2:
the flowers that smelled like melted butter…and….
living flowers that looked as if they were made of wax
So my experience in Tagaytay felt like the experience of a Jakartan going out from the city to the closest resort area. Tagaytay for Manilans perhaps was like Puncak to Jakartans or Hamptons for New Yorkers. It was close, not that expensive, and nice to look at. The similarity of Tagaytay to Puncak was overwhelming. Sure the area was nice and lush. The weather was calm and the air was fresh. But there were villas being built everywhere. In not too distant future I’m afraid there won’t be anything to see there besides man-made buildings and hopefully the lake.