Spontaneity won the day! It was a three-day weekend, and we had guests from France to take around. My niece and goddaughter Sam who lives in Sallanches in front of Mont Blanc came visiting with her French beau Sylvain Aubry. As my girls had a birthday party to attend Saturday and Niccolo was vacationing in Bacolod with his girlfriend Sam and her family, Andre and I agreed to take our guests around Tagaytay and Alfonso. My mom Dada joined us.
Since it was a long weekend and traffic Saturday morning would be horrendous, Andre suggested we leave Friday night. And so we did. The trip was a breeze.
On Sam and Sylvain’s bucket list were mountain climbing and swimming. Our two guests wanted to trek to the Taal Volcano. We had planned to stay in Alfonso overnight but while chatting in the car, we realized that Andre’s house in Tagaytay was closer to the jump off point to Taal than my Alfonso farm. And just like that we decided to stay at Tagaytay, knowing full well that the house had not been lived in for two years. Being a meticulous planner, poor Andre was apprehensive that there would be no running hot water, and that the air conditioners and ref would not work. We assured him that we were all Cowboys, and would adjust. Voila! Everything worked just fine.
Early the next morning, I checked the kitchen to cook breakfast. I got the gas burners working, and was puttering around when I spied two hideous looking ceramic chickens on the countertop glaring at me. I let out a huge scream, being deathly afraid of chickens. Sam kindly moved the offending chickens and covered them with a cloth.
After a sumptuous breakfast of piping hot coffee, corned beef, eggs and toasted pan de monay with guava and orange jams, we left for the Taal Yacht Club where we could arrange for a boat to bring our guests to Taal volcano. The second most active volcano in the Philippines and considered the smallest volcano in the world, Taal Volcano is a geologic wonder as it features a lake within an island within a lake within a larger island. It is part of the deadly Pacific Ring of Fire.
Accompanied by a guide, Sam and Sylvain took off on a motorized outrigger to take the secret trail to the volcano on horseback, and to go swimming in the lake within the volcano. As their trip would take four hours, we arranged lunch for them at the Yacht Club. Meanwhile, the oldies (Dada, Andre and I) went to Tagaytay Highlands where we had a delicious Chinese lunch of assorted dimsum, crispy seafood noodles, and a hotpot of eggplant and dried fish.
While waiting for Andre to park the car, ever impish Dada had fun posing with the huge lion at the entrance of Dynasty Restaurant, acting as if the lion bit her. Oh, Dada!
In the afternoon, we visited Alfonso. I planned to prepare a paella pobre for dinner, but since I did not have lemon and chicken, I convinced Andre to pass by Mahogany Market. Well, the promised five minutes stopover took much longer with the variety of fruits that were being sold. Spotting some ripe langka, I bought some, intending to make our favorite turon with saba. We loaded up on lemons, mangoes, and lanzones which were so sweet that Dada and Andre quickly finished it off.
Plants were on sale beside the fruit market, and I couldn’t help myself from approaching them. I went gaga over the potted herbs on sale, and picked up tarragon, basil, dill, mint, sevia, and thyme to plant in Alfonso. I also bought a lovely smelling creeper called yesterday, today and tomorrow because of its tri-colored flowers. Hopefully, this plant would thrive in SouthBay.
We then went to the meat section so I could buy the chicken. Normally, I buy only deboned and skinless chicken thighs and breasts at the supermarket, but this being the wet market, they only had whole chickens. Luckily, I didn’t have to hold the chicken myself. I remembered that we didn’t have lumpia wrappers for the turon so I had to run back to the vegetable section to get some.
Finally, we arrived at Alfonso just as the sun was beginning to set. I felt peace settle in my soul as I always do coming home to this retreat. The rambutan trees were in full bloom. I asked our caretaker to harvest rambutan and coconuts to bring home to SouthBay. After a quick walk around the farm, I started preparing the aioli and cooking the paella, while Dada taught Sam and Sylvain how to make turon. As I had to get an entire chicken at the market, it was left to our farm caretaker Bleng to cut the chicken into pieces and debone it for my paella and an adobo.
Our simple dinner of chistorras al ajillo, paella pobre, and chicken adobo paired with a Vin d’Alsace was superb. Even Andre announced that it was my best paella so far. From such a discerning gourmet, that was one great compliment. The turon, mangoes and pineapples were a sweet finale to the dinner.
During dinner, Sam and Sylvain regaled us with their adventures at Taal. The horses were tiny, she said, just like ponies and they were worried the horses would not be able to carry them up the mountain, and then down into the inside rim of the crater where the lake was. Apparently, no living thing, even bacteria, can thrive in the lake inside the Taal volcano because of its high sulfuric content. Besides, the water is too hot as evidenced by the steam rising from the lake. The guide explained that an egg could be boiled if left on the rocks to one side of the lake. The water on the lake’s other side, however, was not boiling, and Sam and Sylvain swam in it.
As we were eating, the skies opened up and cried a river. The sound of the heavy downpour was lulling us to sleep on the veranda, but we decided to drive back to Tagaytay while it was still early enough. Good thing we did because there was zero visibility on the road. The fog was so thick we could hardly see in front of us. Andre followed the white lines on the road but would be dazzled by oncoming cars using high beams. Our guardian angels must be working overtime as we got home safely.
Sunday morning, we enjoyed a breakfast of steamed rice, Connie’s Best tuyo with capers, scrambled organic eggs and chicken adobo. We then got into the car and drove to Terrazas de Punta Fuego in Nasugbu. Between weekenders going to the various destination restaurants along the Tagaytay Ridge and the faithful attending mass, traffic was heavy. It was almost noon by the time we arrived at Terrazas. Driving down to the beach, we were transported to the French Riviera. The view of the sea sparkling in the sun was simply spectacular.
Andre had reserved a cabana so we could go swimming. We agreed on a late lunch as breakfast had been heavy. After a refreshingly cold lychee shake, Dada, Sam and Sylvain headed for the beach to swim. The strong waves crashing on the shore got the better of them, and the young ones transferred to the swimming pool, while the not-so-young ones lounged at the cabana. Ravenous after the swim, we transferred to the clubhouse for lunch.
Soon, Pablum Lobregat, Eddie and Lita Legarda showed up to join us. Pablum is the cousin of Andre’s late wife Ito, and Eddie her younger brother. Conversation revolved around the best beaches that Sam and Sylvain could go to, like Honda Bay, Coron, Puerto Princesa and Mindoro.
Pablum and Andre started kidding each other, sharing funny stories. We learned about this hilarious incident involving what turned out to be a very expensive cheese pimiento sandwich which Pablum offered to Andre. Transferring from one boat named Cocoa to Pablum’s other boat where the sandwich was waiting, Andre had one foot on Cocoa and the other on the second boat when the two boats started to move away, forcing Andre to do an impromptu split. The boats drifted farther than farther apart until Andre fell into the water, and lost a brand new slipper. The next day, he was black and blue and had to go for a full check-up. He never forgot that pimiento sandwich.
After lunch, we all got onto Pablum’s sailboat. We got drenched walking to the boat and getting on to it as the waves kept beating us up. The waves carried off my hat when a huge wave washed over me. Luckily, Eddie saved it for me. My 81-year old mom climbed onto the boat, little knowing that it would be a turbulent ride. Poor Dada! She ended up with a severe case of seasickness. Except for Dada, we all had a wonderful time on the boat, with the wind in our hair, the sun warm on our skin, and the warm water splashing all over us.
It was my first time to go sailing, and I was curious about the unfurling of the sails. I clambered to the side and sat on the blue tarpaulin to the side of the boat. Lita kindly explained what was happening on the boat, as the crew got it working. I kept my head down for fear of being decapitated by the mast, and held on tight to the ropes for fear of sliding off. All my fears melted away as I marveled at the beauty of the sea from my perch. It was a glorious feeling! No wonder so many people love to sail. I understand now how they could fall in love with the sea.
The trip back to Tagaytay was tiring. Dada was asleep in the car, spent from the afternoon’s excursion. The fog was back in full force and so was traffic. Waze though helped us find a detour through the back roads of Tagaytay and Alfonso. Back in Tagaytay, I quickly prepared a capellini pasta with bottarga, anchovy, dried chilies, parsley, olive oil and lemon. It was our last night in Tagaytay and the sound of the rains was music to our ears as we chatted over dinner.
After breakfast Monday morning, we packed up everything and left for the farm so Sam and Sylvain could see what a hydroponic farm was. They were thoroughly impressed by the healthy produce at the farm. Andre gifted me with a giant yellow gumamela flower, along with a special message. Sam commented that the plants were all on steroids, seeing how large and healthy they all looked.
On the way home, we bought lanzones and more rambutan. We also stopped by LZM, which Andre swears has the best boneless bangus in town. I was relegated to going in to order the bangus, and as I write this blog, the delicious aroma of the fried bangus permeating the car Is tantalizing our senses. We’re all looking forward to lunch and being reunited with Bea and Niccolo.
All in, it was a most marvelous weekend spent with people I love. Special thanks to the warm hospitality of Pablum, Eddie and Lita for bringing us for a spin in the sailboat. I enjoyed meeting such wonderful friends and family of Andre. And I believe Andre enjoyed the time spent with my family as well. I am sure Sam and Sylvain will treasure the fun they had this weekend. After all, it is more fun in the Philippines.