Friday, February 02, 2007

Mundane Pleasures at the Foot of the Mystic Mountain

Pilgrimage and tour to Mount Banahaw, considered mystical and sacred by many, may not be possible right now because the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has closed it off to visitors in order for the mountain and its ecology to recover, one can at least explore the springs and enjoy a stay in a quaint café in Dolores, a town in the province of Quezon at the foot of the mountain. It is a popular jump-off point of pilgrims and climbers.

We went there after a stay at the acclaimed The Farm at San Benito, where de detoxified and ate raw vegetarian food. We plunged into the bustle of Lipa proper and headed east to Dolores for Kinabuhayan Café Bed and Breakfast. It was an uneventful hour or so drive through the towns of Padre Garcia and San Antonio and entering Quezon province through Tiaong. Dolores was a quaint town with narrow, sloping roads.

On Dejarme Street in the quiet neighborhood of Barangay Bayanihan stood Kinabuhayan Café, equally quaint as the town, near a chapel and an elementary school. A big tamarind tree marked its location.

Opened in the Holy Week of 2003, Kinabuhyan Café is owned by buddies Jay Herrera, production designer, and Winston Baltasar, motoring journalist and former managing editor of Top Gear magazine. It stood on Herrera’s family property, which was before an empty lot with a garage. The two established this only bed-and-breakfast place in the area with Herrera designing and acting as chef. Herrera lives here while Baltasar goes home to Makati. The café is named after the barangay at the foot of Banahaw where some natural sacred shrines are located. The name means “place of resurrection.”

The café in white paint was charmingly accented with details like numerous different windows, which Herrera collected along the way. In the yard, there were two open-air, two-story huts as accommodation plus a nice three-level tree dwelling at the tamarind tree. The tree was in full bloom, thus anyone sleeping here would be sprinkled with tamarind blossoms upon waking up. The huts had bamboo slats flooring and an open-air bathroom at the side with its own garden. Each hut can accommodate two to eight persons. A bathroom and toilet with hot water are very welcome amenities in this part. Now, mountaineers, trekkers and pilgrims to Mount Banahaw can journey with relative ease. But Kinabuhayan café itself is fast becoming a destination.

In the café, you dine with their black, fat, laidback dogs lounging around. They were so people-oriented, that is, ultra friendly even to strangers and unmindful of the passing and going of people. The fattest was called Chongki. Herrera, who wore his salt-and-pepper hair long, liked telling us how, when calling the dog, some people would look up. A pregnant black cat also stalked the whole area. She was friendly too.

The food prepared here they call “Pinoy gourmet,” Filipino dishes with European touches. For lunch, we were served a large plate of treats: risotto with black mushroom, slices of singkamas and chayote, mung bean sprouts, fresh pako or young fern, and best of all, baked chili chicken. Dessert was sweet potato cooked in pandan and vanilla-flavored syrup, served on crisp open fried spring roll wrapper and topped with cream. This was concluded with cups of Quezon barako coffee flavored with pandan.

Winston told us that Jay grows a chesa tree in the backyard. I don’t know of anyone who likes chesa, that deep-yellow, heart-shaped fruit. Perhaps, Jay might be one. He makes samosas out of them stuffed with ground pork, chili and oyster sauce. He calls it “chesmosa.”

Along the way, I saw several angel’s trumpets, small trees with large, pendent, peach-colored flowers, which seems to have a fondness growing in mountainous areas. Sandy told me that the local name is talampunay and is said to be hallucinogenic. The leaves can be dried and made into cigarettes while the flowers can be boiled and drank as tea.

Jay and Winston like to tell a story about how musician Joey Ayala got stoned drinking a concoction made from angel’s trumpet flowers that he ended up putting his shoes inside the refrigerator.

But a more acceptable way to get high is with lambanog, which flows ceaselessly in this café during full moon nights. With the smoking and talks and intoxication, I wondered about the wellness aspect of this place. Most probably, it is the energy from Mount Banahaw, which Winston believes in and gushes about. He also said that the water that springs from the mountain is therapeutic.

Off we went to the mountain, about 15-minute drive from the café. We fetched our guide Minda Godoy, a sixty-ish Rizalist, in barangay Santa Lucia. We passed by the large compound of the Rosa Mistica religious group. Banahaw harbors multitudinous religious groups and cults. Kinabuhayan proper is a thriving community with a basketball court. Rows of stores selling fruits, vegetables, souvenirs and herbal cures lined the narrows steps towards the church of Tatlong Persona Solo Dios. A left turn would bring you to the foot of the mountain itself. Because of human traffic had taken its toll on the mountain, Banahaw, a declared protected area, is closed for five years, starting 1994 to be able to recuperate. We could go as far as the Kinabuhayan complex where the Kinabuhayn spring was with a large submerged stone bearing an imprint of a foot. The site is called Yapak ni Kristo (Christ’s footprint). We lighted some candles. Nearby was a cave with a stone and an image of Mary at the entrance. As we go inside the dark cave, our lit candles revealed many religious images, mostly those of Virgin Mary and Santo Ninos. Aling Minda was chanting as we went along. After visiting these sites, we wade into the gelid water. Winston filled his plastic containers with spring water. Around us, there are several religious images tucked in crevices. Also there were empty sachets of shampoo, wrappers and other garbage items. Serious mountaineers and religious members are okay, said Winston. It’s the jologs crowd that throngs the mountain and leaves heaps of trash including pornographic materials and bottles of liquor.

Body wearied but soul replenished, we sank into the comforts of our car seats as we headed home.

Prior booking in Kinabuyan Café is required. Contact Winston Balatasar through mobile phone numbers 0917-3271106 and 0917-5241106, or e-mail Visit its website até for more information, tour packages, pictures, detailed directions for going there and prices.

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