When I was a kid, I used to wonder why my family never go home to a province during summer vacation. When school is back, my classmates were riped with stories of running in the fields, of cows, frogs, and roosters, of swimming in rivers and seas, of eating local delicacies, of life stripped off complications, worries, and modern technologies. I had none of these and so I’ve always had this feeling I might be missing something big. Maybe it’s one of the many reasons I love traveling in far-flung places; I’d been chasing a childhood fantasy.
Two weeks ago, I have been given a glimpse of the things I might have missed in the old summer days. It happened when I and four of my friends visited Casa San Pablo Bed & Breakfast.
Casa San Pablo is a Bed & Breakfast in San Pablo City, Laguna, about two to three hours travel from Manila. The place is owned by Boots Alcantara and his wife, An Alcantara. It has over 18 rooms and other amenities which include a swimming pool, dining area, function rooms, and a pavilion. The design and architecture is a marriage between old Filipino theme and modern perspective.
We were billeted at room 18, with one queen-size bed and an attic equipped with five mattresses. It has two bathrooms, two air condition units, flat-screen TV, chest cabinet, and a small closet. It even has its own veranda. Not only is our room clean, it also smells good. I soon found out that this is all true in all of their rooms.
Casa San Pablo is what the young people would describe as “instagrammable”. There are so many beautiful things to see, it’s hard not to raise your camera to point and shoot. You must know I had a hard time selecting and limiting the photos to post on this blog. If I’m not mistaken, I’d taken over 500 photos. I can show them all to you but it is better if you just go and see the place for yourself.
I love the beautiful and well-decorated rooms, some are so big you’d feel like you’re renting a house.
For those in want of a dip, there is a big swimming pool at Casa Pablo, blue and glistening under the morning light.
Want to catch up on your reading, they have books that guests are free to use. You can just lie on one of the hammocks in the lawn and forget about the rest of the world. They also have a playground, with the swing and the see-saw, where you’re free to unleash the kid in you.
Casa San Pablo is an ideal place for team building. In fact, they have a Junk Garden perfect for such requirement. The Junk Garden promotes upcycling, or the art of transforming junk materials into products of higher value than its original form. There you can find old junks, such as used bottles, an old rice cooker, tires, etc. repurposed as decors and art pieces.
At Casa San Pablo, thou shall never be hungry. Whether you stay overnight or just go on a day tour, you will be fed. They have a restaurant with a big dining that can seat big groups. The place can be convertible into a bedroom for those times that they need to accommodate more guests.
They take the hassle of choosing tables out of your hair. Each table is already reserved, you just have to find which one bears the name tag of your group.
Because the place is beautiful I’ve had high expectations when it comes to their food. I wasn’t disappointed. Eating at Casa San Pablo would remind you of a barrio fiesta setting. Food came in abundance; our table was overflowing with foods that I had a difficult time choosing which one to stuff in my mouth first. For lunch, we had Nilagang Tahong (braised mussels), Lumpiang Hubad (no wrap spring rolls), Lechon, Grilled Tilapia, and for dessert, Ube Halaya.
And this I have to make a special mention of, my absolute favorite out of all the food that we had, a local dish called, Pipian, it’s basically kare-kare but they used chicken instead of pork. According to Ms. An, this was created with the kids in mind, because most kids cannot appreciate the regular kare-kare. Come dinner we were treated to another round of feast. We had Nilagang Baboy (braised pork), Chicken Adobo with turmeric powder, Steamed shrimp meal and Liempo. By the way, the Ensaladang Pako (native fern salad) is for the win!
The next morning, even our breakfast did not disappoint. We had longganisa, danggit, sunny side up eggs, some fruits, and pandesal with choices of fruit jams.
I think I gained a few pounds for a day of staying there, I love their food so much I could not stop myself from eating.
I found that the urge to wax poetic was intense when I was in Casa San Pablo. Those lush of greens, those things rusted in time, those candles in hanging jars that grow resplendent in the night, had me reacquainted with that person who likes to string words that rhyme. The place seems to hold the key for locked creativity. You go there and you will find yourself reconnected with your talents. The time we’d been given was quite short but our hostess, Ms. An Alcantara, made sure that it’s maximized. You don’t just sleep and run at Casa San Pablo, there are tons of things to do and we had a taste of it all in our overnight stay. I will try my best to present them all to you today.
There are many things you can do when you book your stay at Casa San Pablo, one of which is to learn how to cook local delicacies. In our case, we were taught us how to cook Pinaltok by Ms. An herself. It’s San Pablo’s version of ginataang halo-halo, or the answer to a bilu-bilo (sticky rice ball) killer’s prayer. It’s easy to make and only require a few ingredients. Pinaltok is a local term means “throw in”. When you put the sticky rice balls into the pan you have to throw it in, one by one to prevent the balls from sticking together. Pinaltok is best served with suman.
Suddenly I was a kid all over again. There are bicycles that guests are free to use so we used them. We reached a clearing that has a playground, surrounded by rose apple and mango trees. We parked our bicycles, got busy picking and munching on those makopas, we played on the swing and the see-saw, laughed like there’s no tomorrow, and even shared to one another our fun childhood memories.
One of the things that you will notice at Casa San Pablo is the Storyteller Dolls. These dolls are inspired by Cochiti Pueblo storyteller dolls, which is an Andrean folk art in boxes. The dolls are made of terra-cotta clay, which Ms. An patiently creates herself, with the help of some women from the neighborhood. Ms. An wants to promote the Filipino culture through her storyteller dolls hence, the themes of her clay figures. During our stay, Ms. An showed us how she makes those dolls. We all gathered around her like grade schoolers completely amazed by our teacher.
You can purchase and take home some of these dolls. They are displayed in the lobby of Casa San Pablo. I went home with a doll of my own, a listener doll for only 50 bucks.
Before I put this Casa San Pablo experience into writing, I went through an inner struggle to select what and what not to share, and I do not just mean the photos. In truth, I found it difficult to sum up the beauty of this magnificent experience into two, let alone one post. I am profoundly grateful to my friend Athan, for inviting us to this event, and to Ms. An for making it possible. It was something unexpected, something too beautiful, that still puts a smile on my face every time I look at our pictures.
We had a day bereft of worries and concerns. It’s a gift considering that in this day and age, peace of mind is so hard to achieve it is almost a luxury. I may not be as fortunate as my classmates for having a province to go home to. But I am grateful for some little blessings, of places that could at least, give a taste or a clue of what I had missed. Yes, I do not have those summertime stories, but I have Casa San Pablo memories. It’s good enough for me.
Casa San Pablo
Brgy. San Roque,
San Pablo City, Laguna
Telephone nos: (632) 211-2132/0920-9675277/0917-8126687