I was feeling stressed because my friend was questioning why we traveled so late in the night. She was already at the venue of a music festival called, Banahaw Tugtugan in Quezon. She had company, but she was waiting for us, hoping to hang out. I told her that I wouldn’t leave my other friend; the only reason she was late was because she came from school and she traveled all the way from Quezon City. It was a Saturday night, did I mention how horrendous the traffic was? I’m not sure how long the festival would be, but if I have to base it on the music gigs that I’d been in the past, 11pm is young. The best bands tend to perform in the latter part of the show.
We took a bus at Buendia and traveled for over 3 hours to San Pablo, Laguna. The traffic was a thing of nightmares. My friend, Lou, asked me if it was safe to ride on the bus. I turned my gaze to her and saw the worried look on her face.
“It’s your first time to ride a bus?!” I asked in disbelief.
She nodded in confirmation. Lou comes from a well-off family and she looks the part, but she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I assured her that it’s safe; her paranoia is perfectly understandable. Incidentally, it was also her first camping trip. In my mind, I hoped I was being a good influence.
All in all, there were 6 of us. We met our 7th member at San Pablo and from there we hired a jeep. Bangkong Kahoy Valley can be found in Dolores, Quezon, about an hour away from San Pablo. As the name implies, it is a low area between the hills. Given how late it was, some jeepney drivers weren’t inclined to take the journey, but we managed to find one who was willing. We had to pay PHP 1,500 (USD 32.34), that’s about 214 pesos per head. I personally believe that it is overpriced, but we didn’t have much of a choice.
The driver, for some reason, took the wrong route because he didn’t know he was supposed to take us exactly to Bangkong Kahoy. Apparently, he thought he was taking us somewhere in Dolores. That’s about 30 minutes wasted and he even had the audacity to ask us for more money when we finally reached the destination. I told him that that’s all the money we had and we agreed on 1,500 pesos (USD 30.14) so that’s all he would get. It was his fault we got lost anyway so why should we give him additional payment?
We had to cover the rest of the way on foot because the jeep could no longer fit itself on the narrow path. In the city, when it’s dark, it’s really dark, but in the province, the moon is enough to illuminate the surroundings. My friends were impressed, even Cathy who was born and raised in Pangasinan. I remember having the same sense of awe the first time I experienced it in Romblon years ago.
We heard the music and we were drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It’s been a long time since I watched a gig so I was dying in anticipation. If there was one beautiful thing that an old flame brought into my life, it’s the Filipino indie music, and once I discovered them I was hooked. These artists veer away from the mainstream. They write and produce their own music and play them in obscure bars. Their music is poignant, unconstrained, and rebellious and they speak to me, I was naturally excited.
Do you know those times when you can literally feel the vibe flows through you the moment you step into a room? That’s what I experienced when we entered Bangkong Kahoy. Even my friends were in high spirit, completely taken by the ambiance. I previously attended another music festival in Puerto Galera, the Malasimbo Lights and Dance Festival where most people are noticeably young and wealthy. The Banahaw Tugtugan crowd is more simple and artistic; just my kind of people, I thought to myself.
After we paid our PHP 350 (USD 7.55) entrance fee, we had our super late dinner at the in-house cafe. Next point of business was pitching our tents, Cathy’s new friend, a towering British guy named, James, helped us with the task. Once we’re settled, we laid out our mat on the damp grass in front of the stage where the bands were playing.
We watched Talahib perform, an ethnic folk band with 9 members (yes, that many) and I was in a trance. They were dressed in clothing with ethnic elements and patterns, some members played traditional musical instruments like gangsa, djembe, and kubing, and the female vocalist has long wavy hair, which swayed ever so gently as she danced gracefully on the stage.
The sad thing is, I was exhausted and cold. It was in the middle of summer but Bangkong Kahoy seemed to be in a different place. It was as cold as Baguio in January. I retired to my tent ahead of my friends, the music lulled me into sleep.
The next day, we were up early and the beauty that was obscured at night greeted us in the morning light. We were enthralled.
We had our breakfast and soon after, took a walk to fully appreciate the place.
Pipay had been there before so she became our instant tour guide. We passed by a garden that grows raspberry. Nobody forbade us to pick some of them so that’s what we did. Pipay advised to pick those that are big and very red because those are the sweet ones, she was right.
The land that Bangkong Kahoy owns is huge and expansive, covered with plants and trees. We continued our way to a dirt road that led to this off-beaten path where we found an unfinished building that looks like a gazebo. We entered and there we spent almost two hours talking, taking pictures, and pretty much enjoying the beautiful view. It was one of my favorite moments at Bangkong Kahoy. The place offers a beautiful view of Mt. Banahaw and it could have been more had they finished its construction. On why they stopped building, I will never know, but even in its incomplete state, it was beautiful.
We returned to the cafe for lunch. Bangkong Kahoy offers mushroom burger and raspberry shake, both are made from the ingredients that they grow themselves. I was skeptical about buying the raspberry shake as I don’t really like sour drinks. But my friends were so impressed by it I just had to try it. And it was delicious! The sour taste I was dreading was minimal, it was sweet but not too much. It tastes more milky than anything else.
Leaving such a beautiful place is bittersweet and I think my friends and I shared the same feeling. We left Bangkong Kahoy sometime in the afternoon and had to walk the dirt path for over 20 minutes to ride a tricycle.
Next year I have two things to go back to, Banahaw Tugtugan and Bangkong Kahoy. If you too like great music set up in a lovely place, you might want to go there too.