Paradise around the corner
Who would ever think that a rice field could be a tourist attraction? The late Antonio Mercado apparently did when he began building the Los Baños Forest Club at Bay, Laguna in the nineties.
The place is located between barangays Puypuy and Masaya in Bay, Laguna, about two hours drive from Metro Manila. Despite its proximity to the city, this pocket paradise has been a well-kept secret for years, just like Laguna’s other concealed wonder, the Hidden Valley in Alaminos.
“My father was advised to take it easy after a quintuple bypass so he transformed this patch of rice field into a place where he can retreat and rest,” recalled Robbi Mercado, Antonio’s son and managing director of ARM Holding Inc., of which the Forest Club is a division. But as most good secrets go, this one couldn’t stay hush-hush for long.
Today, the club is open as a venue for corporate seminars and spiritual retreats.
Undoubtedly, the best feature of this two-and-a-half hectare club is the awesome sight of the Calauan mountain range. If the day is bright enough, visitors can even get a glimpse of Mount Banahaw. The sight of mountains soothes the weary soul.
Close to the entrance are recreation facilities such as a swimming pool that uses water from the hot springs. A two-story conference hall is intended for groups doing team-building activities.
There is also dining hall nearby that accommodates 100 people. With fare consisting of meat and mountains of vegetables during our visit, I did not hear any of the guests complaining.
Finally, less than 100 meters away are cottages where the balcony is conducive to meditation.
Before reaching the paddies, visitors can linger by the lagoon and open hut where they can view the sunrise and sunset, times when the spot can be most enchanting.
What remains of the rice paddies are today lined with walkways. Inspired by the Garden of Monet in Paris, the elderly Mercado covered the walkways with arched trellises and adorned them with gumamela flowers. What better way to enjoy the scenery than to stroll under it?
All around, the club teems with indigenous trees such as narra and palms, of which Antonio Mercado was fond. Some trees have been labeled to educate visitors.
Such thought to visitors are similarly given in privacy and space considerations. So if you think Laguna has nothing more to offer beyond the hot springs, check the Forest Club and change your mind.
(First published in Manila Times on January 14, 2005)