Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tagaytay's Enduring Charm

By Yong Chavez

One of the most invigorating things I did last year was visit the Philippines. Though it was only for 10 days, the break did my weary body and mind a lot of good.

In October, I went straight from the airport to One Tagaytay Place, which was highly recommended by my friend and kababayan Manny Ilagan of the Philippine Tourism office in Los Angeles.

Like anyone who's traveled the fatiguing LAX to Manila flight, I was crabby and sore by the time I arrived at the hotel.

But as soon as our group (I was joined by my mom, sister and niece) arrived, the staff starting with the concierge put me at ease with the kind of hospitality that us Filipinos are known for.

Juday Aniceto, my contact at the hotel, greeted me like a long-lost friend even though we've only met through email when I was making the reservation back in Los Angeles.

Chatting with her reminded me why we Filipinos make it anywhere we go: we're naturally friendly and supportive of every kababayan we meet. In America,no matter where I am, I break into the widest smile whenever I hear someone speaking Tagalog or talking about anything remotely Filipino.

When we got into our room, a basket filled with local fruits and pineapple drinks artfully stored in the fruit itself were waiting for us. As a kid, I had enough warnings about not eating different fruits at the same time. Fruits sold in U.S. stores taste bland in comparison to the kinds grown in the Philippines so I was tempted to inhale the whole basket in one sitting. Thankfully, mom stopped me before a tummy ache could ruin my already too-short trip.

The room was tastefully decorated. It had modern features but the native touches were endearing. I loved the soft bed with pristine white sheets. It was perfect for what I had in mind at that moment: rest my jet lagged body.

After grabbing a two-hour sleep, I was ready for the day's activities. I made arrangements to interview the hotel's general manager to talk about tourism in Tagaytay and visit noteworthy places in the area.

Here's my chat with Karl:

After, Juday took us to a chapel, a zoo, and a bee farm.

At the chapel, I saw a counter where you can write down your prayers and drop it in a box. Putting personal thoughts down on anything that will be read by another person is usually a no-no for me. But there's something so peaceful about the place that allowed my usually cynical self to let go. Faith is a very personal thing to me - I never publicly discuss it. But in the presence of other supplicants, I found myself not just able but liberated to bare my soul. Afterwards, I quietly repeated what I wrote when I kneeled down in front of a Mother Mary statue.

We went to the zoo next. I've been to the Los Angeles zoo and I have to admit, this zoo was very small in comparison. But my visit to the LA zoo was missing a major component: I didn't go there with a child. I experienced the Tagaytay Zoo with my adorable niece, an urban girl whose dealings with animals are limited to cats and dogs. She was so ecstatic to see the animals up close that we jaded adults found ourselves enjoying the visit as well. The monkeys were especially entertaining as they gracefully swung and interacted with each other in their cage as if mounting a choreographed stage production.

Lastly we went to a bee farm where personal care products are made. Entering the simple shop, I'm reminded how much it differed from my favorite Bath and Body Works branch back home, but they share the same vibe and scent. They both offer simple bliss in a bottle. I bought several items and smelled lovely the whole time. I snuck a peek at their back area and saw young women happily chatting away while mixing ingredients.

On our way back to the hotel, I saw an image that for me encapsulates Tagaytay's appeal: an old woman with a makeshift cane casually walking into the woods like she probably has been doing all her life, oblivious to the hustle and noise of passing cars and the modern yet quaint hotels housing busy people just a few feet away from her. Through the years, Tagaytay has managed to retain its old-world charm yet it's able to provide world-class amenities for tourists.

Back at One Tagaytay, the final appointment in my packed arrival day schedule was waiting. I couldn't be happier. All day, as soon as I deplaned, I was aching for this: a full-body massage guaranteed to take away all the stress that I've put my body through.

After an hour of being kneaded by a pair of professional in-house massage therapists, I was boneless and satisfied. And extremely sleepy. The massage knocked me out faster than any sleeping aid I've ever had. But before I nodded off, I remember asking the therapists to come back with me to Los Angeles. We all laughed and I wished wasn't just kidding.

The following day, I woke up refreshed and hungry. Before we checked out, my family enjoyed the hotel's sumptuous breakfast buffet. I skipped the Continental breakfast selections and filled my plate with Filipino food. Sarap-to-the-bones. In all my years in the U.S., there's one part of me that will always be 100% Pinay - my tummy still belongs to Philippine food.

After, I said my reluctant goodbyes to the friendly staff. I wish I had a week, at least, to stay in the hotel but I had appointments to get to.

I don't know when I will be going home to the Philippines again, but this I know for sure: when I do, a stay at One Tagaytay Place is a must.

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