Friday, November 7, 2008

Paete, Laguna

Laguna one more time

My family and I used to go to Laguna during weekends and the hot spring resorts and Mount Makiling are what I remember most from those trips. The province is located just outside Metro Manila, making it a frequent destination of urban dwellers. There are many places of attraction: Hidden Valley, Mount Banahaw, the seven lakes around San Pablo, and Pagsanjan Falls, to name a few.

My fascination for Laguna waned after I visited Ifugao and Zambales provinces and certain parts of Mindanao. Not even a few days' stay at the Los Ba¤os Forest Club at Bay a few years ago rekindled my enthusiasm-until recently when the monsoon rains made Metro Manila a truly bleak place to live in. Dennis had invited me to a trip to Paete. I wasn't very excited, thinking there was nothing new to expect. I was wrong.

Somewhere between the Sierra Madre lies the town of Paete. When we arrived the dark clouds overhead made the mountain range look more imposing. A couple of tricycles took us to Exotik, a restaurant situated on a slope and a perfect spot to appreciate the municipality. The area includes multiple open-air cottages of various sizes (from the topmost cottage, one can view the landscape around Laguna de Bay and the old church bell tower that some residents claim was built during the Spanish era), an artificial waterfall with a stream below that cascades into a lovely pond, lush flora, and assorted animals (check the crowd-drawer-an Indian python named Samantha).

The restaurant is famous for its food (for example: fried breaded frog legs that taste like crisp chicken). I became hooked on the mango juice and told owner Roi Ema so.

But it is Exotik's gorgeous wood designs that show what Paete is most known for. The name of the town comes from the Spanish word "paet" (for "chisel"). The roadsides abound with woodcarving shops and souvenir stores, and even the churches feature carvings that tell stories about the town's heritage.

The stories reveal wood as the soul of Paete, but our visit was anything but wooden. One realizes, of course, that our wood supply is finite. The townsfolk, however, make use of other materials for their carving expertise, and we witnessed it one unpredictable morning.

The clouds indicated that rain was likely but the humidity was quite unbearable when we traversed a narrow road leading to a basketball court hemmed in by a roofed stage and the town hall. Blocks of ice rising to nearly four feet were lined on the court ground, carvers in white T-shirts were gathered around them, and spectators circled the scene. A brief rain shower had many of them dashing to the nearest shelter but they returned shortly afterward. And the Ukit (Carve) Festival began.

Jude busily moved around taking pictures while we stayed put right below the stage to avoid the stifling heat. It was amazing how vigorously the contestants applied themselves to carving those ice blocks under less than ideal conditions. Nearly an hour later we inspected the assorted figures, delighting in the artwork.

We weren't quite through when another batch of contestants began to chip away at new ice blocks.
But nature wasn't kind. A heavy rain fell, dispersing the people from the court area and leaving only a few watching from the stage. Nonetheless, the contestants' determination didn't waver and they were nearly through by the time the sun shone again.

The judging of the entries was marked by intermittent rain. As we expected, the figures of Pegasus and an Indian warrior took top honors.

The next day Inier insisted that we visit Lake Caliraya rain or shine before heading home. We rode past rain-soaked slopes covered by coconut trees and a small bridge nearly inundated by a raging river. The driver of our van might've been so absorbed by our conversation that he overlooked the lake. We arrived at an almost deserted resort and walked on the brick-red soil toward the lake.

Caliraya is man-made, which makes it impressive. I had no idea how huge it actually is. I admired the sight of the pine trees on our left side.

Raymond explored the area east of the resort while we enjoyed the view from one of the sheds close to the shore. Not one of us seemed willing to leave, with no signs of sunny weather ahead and Jude telling us a bittersweet story about someone he knew. If it weren't for the security guard who reminded us that the sheds were off-limits to visitors, we might've stayed longer.

It was raining hard when we dropped in on Mayor Elmoise Afurong preparatory to leaving Paete. The terrace is the best feature in the house. It offers an excellent view of Laguna de Bay, as well as the water lilies below and the mountain range on one side.

The mayor invited us to stay for lunch but we demurred. One of his visitors urged us not to leave, citing reports he had heard that parts of Metro Manila were flooded. We said we would have loved to stay but that we weren't on vacation...

The van was about to enter the South Superhighway again when I wondered what was the most lasting image of our trip. I could not decide if it was Samantha, the Sierra Madre, or the mango juice. Then I remembered our last night at Exotik. The lights put a spark to the place but it was the full moon close to the top of the slope that made the moment sumptuous. How unfortunate that my camera was unable to capture it.

(First published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on December 11, 2002)

1 comment:

Kirstz @ ayala land Laguna said...

It was a really nice place; I really want to go in this kind of place for pleasure and for relaxing also. The trip to this kind of place in Laguna is giving refreshment to us. This is the place also that we can be proud off. Thanks for sharing your wonderful moment.