Sometimes, you don’t have to travel far to see beautiful places. Some of these wonderful locations are tucked quietly in nearby towns waiting to be discovered. One weekend, we packed our gear (not much, just our wallets and a pair of comfortable walking shoes) and headed south through the WAY OF THE SUN.

February 5, 2007

I had a great weekend!!! Went on a road trip with my cousins – the Starex adventure group as we call ourselves (Jo-Ann and hubby Alfred, Jojo and wife Richel, Me and hubby Ariel, Alfred’s parents Tito Tony and Tita Cherry). Ariel and I almost didn’t go. We’ve both been very busy at work and we just wanted to have a relaxing weekend at home. Thankfully, we changed our mind and decided to join the group. The route we were to take was that of Viaje Del Sol or The Way of the Sun.
This route will take us south, to the artists and craftsmen of Laguna and Quezon. We read about it in a blog and we followed this blogger’s itinerary.

We started early on Saturday morning. We met at the Uy residence in Las Pinas at around 6:15am. We left for San Pablo just before 7am. Our first destination – the Patis Tesoro owned restaurant, Kusina Salud. By the time we pulled into the parking lot at around 9:30am, we were already famished and excited to try the sumptuous breakfast offerings. The guys ordered adobo flakes while the women went for longganisa except for Tita Cherry who opted for the omelette. I must admit that I had lofty expectations after seeing the pictures in the blogger’s website. The food was ok. Well, maybe I expected more for P215 a plate (including the coffee). They actually looked better in the picture but was pretty ordinary in reality. The adobo flakes weren’t really flaked, instead the meat was cut into bite-sized pieces. I’ve tasted better. The longganisa was average, though I liked the roasted tomatoes. The pickled papaya (atchara) was pretty good, too. The coffee (which was noted to be good by the blogger – I guess he is a better photographer than a judge of good coffee – no offense!) wasn’t so great, a bit bland for my taste (and my cousins agree). The hot chocolate was a bit watery and bland too. I thought I could do a better job with an Alfonso’s chocolate tablet (I’m sure my hubby would agree). Ok, so maybe breakfast wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. I savored every bite nonetheless. It was my first meal of the day, and I woke up at 5am! Next time, we’ll try the lunch menu.

What I found particularly endearing about Kusina Salud is the picture-worthy, rustic structure amidst a lush garden. I liked the soothing sound of the streaming waters at the nearby creek and the numerous water features around the garden as we enjoy quiet conversations. It felt like all the stress of a hectic workweek was washed away. It was only our first stop and I was already feeling so chirpy. Oh, and our photos look so good. Can’t wait to scrap them!

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Next stop, Kinabuhayan Cafe.

Kinabuhayan Cafe is another charming food destination in the South. It’s located in Dolores, Quezon, just a few minutes away from San Pablo. The place has a rustic feel and is modestly decorated. There are two huts behind the main café, each one furnished with a cushioned bamboo couch and a hammock on the slightly elevated first floor. There’s a bed covered in mosquito net on the second floor. The garden is not professionally landscaped but there are some fruit-bearing and ornamental plants all around. A multi-level (I think it has four floors total) tree house is built upon the mango tree beside the main café. It was a simple yet charming destination.

Since we were still full from breakfast, and we have a lunch reservation at noon in Tiaong Quezon, we decided to just take a quick peek and leave. My cousin Jo-Ann and I were first to enter the premises. We were greeted by a guy in shorts, oversized t-shirt and long graying hair. He looked like a local movie’s portrayal of an ermitanyo. He greeted us in straight English with an American accent. Our jaws might have dropped to the floor at that instant. It turned out Jay Herrera, the owner and chef, is an artist of sorts. Well, he worked in show business for years as a set designer before deciding to settle in Dolores. We were so charmed by his hospitality that we weren’t able to refuse when he asked us what we wanted to order. We decided to get a pot of coffee and Jay suggested a plate of chapatti (sorry, don’t really know how to spell it) to go with it. While the coffee and chapatti were being prepared, we were served with some welcome drinks – glasses of orange juice. After a few minutes, Jay came out of the kitchen all covered in flour, with our pot of coffee and a plate of freshly prepared chapatti. The coffee lightly flavored with pandan leaves was great and the chapatti paired with the eggplant dip even better. Jay never ran out of stories, and he was generous enough to share his recipes. Will surely try the chapatti and the eggplant dip at home!

The highlight of our visit though, in my opinion, was meeting Muning and Toothnik. It was love at first sight. I was totally enamored. Muning is 1 year old and Toothnik, still a baby at 3 months. They are the cutest, friendliest and most adorable dachshunds I’ve ever met. I got smothered with wet kisses the first time I held them. How sweet is that?!
Everything said and done, Kinabuhayan Café is one stop I wouldn’t miss the next time I find myself in the Viaje Del Sol route. Charming place, gracious host, great stories, special food and adorable pets. Oh, did I mention that we paid a measly P200 for everything? That’s P200 for all of us. P25 each. Real value for money. Who can ask for more?
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Lunch at Ugu Bigyan’s

I was so excited to go to Ugu (short for Augusto) Bigyan’s place. While I’ve heard great reviews about the food, I was more thrilled to finally get the chance to see his work up close. I’ve read so much about his pottery in home magazines so he is some kind of a celebrity in my book.

It was almost two in the afternoon when we pulled into the parking area. The place was huge, with a well-maintained garden, country inspired brick structures, and well-constructed wood and concrete huts.

We were briefly introduced to Ugu who made his way to the kitchen to personally prepare our lunch (found out later that he also bought the ingredients himself). We were directed to the biggest of the huts where we were to be served lunch. By that time, we were the only guests left so we were able to roam around a bit while lunch is being prepared. We went to his shop to check out the items for sale. Before long, lunch was served. It was a treat just to look at them. A plate of green paco (fern) salad with salted egg to start the meal. Then there was the banana heart in coconut cream, topped with edible purple flowers – yummy! One of my favorites was the crunchy deep-fried large fish (talakitok) with a sweet-tangy sauce made of cubed ripe mango. The calamares was one of the best I’ve tasted – perfectly crisp and tender, seasoned just right, and paired with a sweet and sour dip. The sautéed shrimp was really fresh and tasty with its light-flavored sauce. Lastly, the pork ribs were grilled to perfection, fork-tender, and very scrumptious. I skipped the rice to have more of the mouth-watering viands which we all devoured with gusto. Throughout our lunch, we were constantly refreshed with free-flowing icy buko juice. For dessert, we were served a platter of deliciously sweet fresh ripe mangoes, a perfect ending to our sumptuous gustatory experience. At P400 each, it was all worth every centavo. Ugu is as great a cook as he is a potter. We stayed for a bit more time, lounging around in the huts, taking pictures and checking out the rest of the place.
I met two dogs on our way out, two cute and friendly mini pinschers. I also took home a small souvenir – an Ugu Bigyan oil burner. We promised to come back in August for Ugu’s birthday sale – he’s turning 44 and he’s offering 44% off on most of his items. We all wished he would live to be 100 so he can gladly give his stuff away for free!

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Last stop, Carlito’s Workshop

I’ve never heard of Carlito Ortega. I’m not really part of Manila’s artistic crowd. But that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate art. All I knew is that Carlito’s workshop is a great destination because of his beautiful home and garden. I figured, our last stop can give us great photo opportunity before we drive back home. I was in for a big surprise.

As will all our stops, we called ahead to let Mr. Ortega know we are coming. Rightly so since we will be invading his private residence. It took some time to find his place as there were no perceivable landmarks (the directions said to look for a corner with tricycles!) and some locals we asked didn’t know his place (we asked a few hundred meters from his gate!). The entrance was a bit intimidating. The iron gate was gigantic, with a vine of variegated lilac bougainvillea in full bloom on the left side. The doorbell wasn’t working so we had to call him through our cellphone. We were led to an estate sitting on 1.5 hectares of land.

The garden was scenic with a mansion sitting right in the center. Carlito gave us a warm welcome and he led us to his workshop. He unselfishly demonstrated how he does his metal sculptures using sheets of brass, a blow torch, and several hammers. It was hard work! I’m not surprised that a small piece would sell for about P90,000 in the art gallery. A few minutes into the discussion of how he started and I am already a fan. He is a self-taught artist. He devoured anatomy books to hone his art. I liked the level of detail in his work – the intricate form of the human body, the characteristics of each muscle group, the detail in the hair, and most of all, the vividness of the facial expression. I also liked his horses and how realistic they looked even with metal as his medium.

We then proceeded to a small gazebo where afternoon snacks awaited us – ginatang halo-halo and brewed coffee. As we savored the tasty merienda, Carlito kept us entertained with his funny stories. We marveled at his plant collection – rare ferns (some he sold for P100,000 to interested celebrity guests!), palm trees and the biggest bromeliads I’ve ever seen. He even gave us tips to care for the bromeliads. Talk about multi-talented – engineer turned businessman, and now sculptor and gardening enthusiast. Before we knew it, the sun was already setting and we had to bid our host goodbye. It was another well-spent P100 for each of us.
This day turned out to be a wonderful surprise. What I thought was just a regular road trip with good food along the way ended up to be a far richer experience. We got to meet some of our talented artists and craftsmen, we tasted delectable dishes, enjoyed some scenic spots and took lots of pictures. To top it all off, we enjoyed each other’s company in yet another Starex adventure. Can’t wait for our next trip!

Written by Alby Laran

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