Breathing in the great outdoors

Breathing in the great outdoors
Cinematic scenery with Mt Banahaw in the horizon. —PHOTO BY JOJIE LACERNA

Cooped up in our Metro Manila home for three pandemic years, we finally ventured on a getaway trip southward for a much-needed dose of fresh air.

Our “rescue” from “Kyusi,” the city, to the province of Quezon was facilitated by my husband Sonny’s Lucena-based sisters (among 13 siblings) spearheaded by Dr. Ceres Romano and Jojie Lacerna. It was to serve as treatment for ailments that come with age and health issues exacerbated by the long lockdown.

Bukid Amara

For our first stop, family tour guide Jojie takes us to this extraordinary Bukid in Lucban boasting blooms in the ‘ber months that channel Monet, Van Gogh and O’Keeffe canvases.

Nestled at the foot of majestic Mount Banahaw, one of the last remaining rainforests in the country, Bukid Amara is a vegetable and flower farm transformed into farm recreation for tourists; there is a greenhouse facility to promote sustainable farming for the larger community in partnership with government agricultural agencies.

For a minimal entrance fee, you can savor and consume the view with the farm-to-fork menu of edible flower toppings for your pancit or salad, or as sidings for your silog dish. You can chase down the whole lot with freshly picked herbal tea infusions.

Flower power at Bukid Amara. —PHOTO BY LAVILLARIBA

The cinematic scenery generates abundant aahs and wows in rhythm with our breathing. Imagine Banahaw coming into view behind a curtain of rain clouds in the horizon, providing a long depth of field to two countryside explorers from the metropolitan jungle.

It is a perfect demonstration of the symbiotic cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Simply put, plants provide the oxygen that animals and other living things need to survive; animals and other living things provide the carbon dioxide that plants need to make their own food. 


Next we visit Graceland (not in Elvis’ Memphis but in Quezon’s Tayabas). We wear our UP vibes in the sprawling country club estate built around a huge lagoon, reminiscent of “Quezon City’s last lung” in Diliman.

It’s far from our campus “pasyalan sa lagoon in Kyusi,” but the tropical palm landscape lets us know that Graceland is located in the largest coconut-producing province of Quezon.

Graceland named its Cafe Memphis Garden as a copycat’s tribute to Elvisland. There, overlooking the lake, we sip barako coffee and refresh ourselves on the Halo-Halo Special, the better to enjoy our green interlude. 

There’s nothing like a breath of fresh air to lift a grey November in your soul. When the cool oxygen-dense breeze kisses your cheeks and embraces you, it is an instant mood-changer: You’re given leeway to toss your cares to the wind, clear your mind, get a high. It’s what’s bruited about as serotonin, or a feel-good trigger, or an oxytocin moment when you feel the love of God: The soul rises and the body begins to heal. 

Our nature stop at this private 11-hectare enclave comes courtesy of Doc Ceres, Lucena’s well-known dermatologist, who is a card-carrying club member. Driver Duding, whom we call “Do-Ding” for his AA (all-around) capabilities, serves as our competent tour guide, photographer and bodyguard.

Banahaw view deck

Then there’s the matter of the mountain. 

Ascent to Banahaw’s southside by car through a narrow road from the Sariaya national highway gets us halfway to the peak. Good enough for a view at 2,000 feet, at safe oxygen levels of Lucena-Pagbilao in 24⁰ C weather (which feels like 20⁰ to this Metro Manila resident). 

Reaching the view deck requires a 36-minute drive on 19 kilometers from Lucena City via Sariaya, the last 8 km uphill on a tight treacherous road winding through small barangays on the southern ascent. It gets tricky when two SUVs from opposite directions meet on a single-lane road, so you go inch by inch, with one side treading the edge of a canal.

The covered view deck is full on a Sunday afternoon, and we have to content ourselves with the lower park view picnic grounds—which is actually much better and quieter; you can listen to the wind and relish a fantastic panoramic view of the flatland south of Banahaw. 

Coming from 36⁰ C weather, we lowlanders are so unprepared for the drop in temperature (even my sister-in-law is wearing shorts). I give my parka to my older, cold-sensitive partner, so I shiver in the cold wind while posing for photographs with a frozen smile. But the wind blowing on my face works like botox! 

Woman contemplating the vast expanse of God’s creation. —PHOTO BY JOJIE LACERNA

The nearest photo op we can have of Banahaw—at 7,120 feet the highest in Calabarzon—is at the parking lot. And the peak comes within reach of my fingers—so near yet still so far!

It’s the highest climb our senior legs, albeit sitting in a car, can get us to. But then we are here for our lungs, not for our legs.

The sun setting and the moon rising on the southwestern slope of Banahaw. Nadine Romano captures the moment.

Facing the sunset to get some warmth in the cool weather lifts my spirits; it’s akin to having a religious experience when the Almighty puts the moon and the sun to meet in a kaleidoscope burst of blue changing to orange and then to golden yellow.

Before heading back, our Villariba-Romano fivesome (including my sister-in-law Doc Ceres as the planner, brother-in-law Ray the SUV driver, and niece, junior Doc Nadine, the navigator) enjoy coffee, piping hot turon saba, fried veggie lumpia for the vegans, and burgers for the rest. 

So nice to be freeloaders this time.

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