Nowhere but at Sonya’s Garden…

14 03 2010

Based on the descriptions shared by a colleague way back then – salad of greens and petals, eating area amidst enchanting garden, no walk-ins but reservations only – I was certain that I was going to like the Sonya’s Secret Garden.   So after our overnight stay and pampering moments at the Nurture Spa in December 2005, I and two friends stopped over for lunch and from there the brief introduction to this once secret garden started.  We inquired if we can take a look at one of the rooms.  The staff took us then on a walk-through of one of the big cottages and the restaurant area.  There we decided to have our relaxation vacation the following year in Sonya’s. 

It didn’t happen in 2006 and the following years not because we chose another destination, but because we had conflicting schedules.  

I finally had a chance last January with my balikbayan (Philippine nationals who are permanently residing abroad or those of Filipino descent who acquired foreign citizenship and permanent status abroad) relatives. They had to attend a wedding in Tagaytay so I suggested to spend a night at Sonya’s, not because it is situated in Tagaytay (only a few know that it is located in Alfonso, Cavite) but because it is very close to Tagaytay.  

The frontage and parking area had the same look, as far as I can recall, plain rocks laid down on an uncemented ground, no landscapings.  At the back of my mind, there was this line of speech for my companions, “No, please don’t get discouraged yet.  There are many beautiful surprises to redeem this lack of interesting scenery.”  I was right. My sis-in-law’s mother was sort of disappointed but remained silent about it until we got into our cottage. Here, the old adage, “First impressions last.”, didn’t apply.  Later, she described Sonya’s Garden as more beautiful than the Butchart Gardens of Vancouver, Canada. 

To go to the  reception area, we walked down the pathway of wood planks and stones amidst fire trees, butter bushes, then, lo and behold, a wooden huge gate.  Countless flowering plants of all sorts abound in the unmanicured lawns along the way and then chimes of various shapes and sizes hanged in either the trees or verandas with those relaxing tones and…

 stone bowls of different sizes with colorful petals afloat welcomed us.  

Our admiration of the place increased as we were ushered to our respective cottages, named after herbs – with an ante-room and furnished with wood furniture, big beds clothed with crisp white sheets complemented with soft white pillows in embroidered cases. Moroccan glass lanterns hanging so freely in the high ceilings provide a more relaxing ambience.  What I liked the most in the cottages is the spacious bath area of pebbled flooring with huge flat river stones to step on, equipped with shower head of the rain-dome type, adorned with an arrangement of floating petals in a stone bowl.  Fresh-smelling toiletries made exclusively by Ilog Maria are arranged in a receptacle.  Next to the bath area, I also liked the nook where two soft white pillows await its occupant.  This place which is overlooking (in our cottages) the small wilderness is an ideal place to read a good book or just curl up and relax.  Other items of interest are mirrors set in Indonesian woodcarvings mounted on the wall, gauzy white cloth that serve as a shower curtain, shell-beaded curtains and bits & pieces of antiques.   

After we settled our things in the cottage, we went out to explore the area and there we met the owner, Ms. Sonya Garcia.  So we walked with her toward the location of the Panaderia (local bakery) and Country Store and we passed again through the pathway of wooden planks and stone.  From that spot, she let us smell a huge pink flower and asked how it smelled.  “Does it not smell butter?” So we learned that it’s called butter bush.  Actually it is a tree bearing that baby pink-colored flower.  

Then dinner came.  It was truly filling with fresh greens (lettuce only, no arugula, nor fennels and parsley as described by others) and an assortment of toppings e.g. cheese, corn, cucumber, boiled egg, pineapple, mango and toasted broad beans with two kinds of dressing to choose from – Sonya’s secret dressing or vinaigrette; freshly baked bread from the Panaderia with various dips such as basil pesto, white cheese, anchovies, bruschetta tomato toppings, mushroom pate, black olive tapinade and fresh green peppercorn in olive oil; and pasta with two kinds of sauces – sun dried tomato and chicken cream – and salmon belly.  If the salmon was not too oily, we would have consumed it all but it was redeemed by the entire hearty experience.  For the sweet ending, we had glazed sweet potato, banana rolls with sesame & jackfruit and a small slice of chocolate cake from the Panaderia.  Everyone enjoyed the drinks – refillable freshly squeezed dalandan (local orange) juice and the ender of all enders the tarragon tea, which tasted like hot rootbeer. 

Is there a better way to end the day than to spoil your senses?  So the ladies had the Magnolia Package which is a complete head-to-toe, two-hour pampering rituals, consisting of aromatherapy steam bath, foot spa, manicure and pedicure and Sonya’s Signature Massage.  My brother delighted himself in the Bentosa with Hilot Massage (an ancient hilot technique which utilizes tiny pieces of a local herb called damong maria that are burned in air tight glass cups. This creates heat and suction as the cups are applied to nerve points of the back. The treatment, combined with Filipino hilot techniques on the back and legs, promotes balanced blood flow, stimulates circulation, removes toxins and dissipates cold spots) 

The following morning, we joined Ms. Sonya for the basic yoga session which we arranged upon our check-in.  We just did a few sun salutation poses.  It was such a very personal encounter with her.  Initially, I and my brother were the only present but my sis-in-law joined after a while. After the session, we took a leisurely walk in the garden and there she showed us some unique and very colorful flowers which are often the subject of artists then toured us in her greenhouse of mostly herbs.  She let us taste the stevia, a substitute for sugar, and the others, of which the names we could no longer remember. 

And for our last meal, breakfast that is, we had her version of adobo, fried boneless bangus and omelet, paired with her fried rice (has similarity with bagoong rice), mango salsa, thick hot chocolate drink (there’s coffee for coffee lovers).  To our request, her staff also generously served us again her freshly-baked wheat bread. 

I still would want to visit this place maybe during the firefly mating season co’z during this time fireflies come out and light the place even in the darkest of nights. So firefly watching!  It will be another interesting experience, nowhere but at Sonya’s.


Awesome Coron and Busuanga! – Part II

20 02 2010

Days 2 and 3: Island Hopping and Banana Island Overnight

Island hopping is one real thrilling and unforgettable experience in Busuanga.  But you must really be a little daring and adventuresome especially when you go from late December to January, when the waters get rougher and the wind blows stronger.  The roof of our outrigger boat had to be rolled to make our sailing easier (and get a tan faster for that matter).  At times, the wind and water conditions can even go that worse as what we experienced on the 23rd of December as we sailed back to Coron’s town proper after an overnight stay in Banana Island.  Although a wave alert is available at DIYCoron site (owned by Owen, our tour service provider), you must be prepared to any change in conditions during the amihan (the season dominated by the trade winds) period.                                      

What a big disappointment co’z  we didn’t get a chance to stop by and snorkel in Siete Pecados, a marine sanctuary.  It was still low tide when we passed by on Day 2 so the boat couldn’t come nearer or it would destroy the corals.  On Day 3, the water was not calm enough to deal with. 

So our first stop was in Kayangan Lake, dubbed as the cleanest lake in the country for several consecutive years.   The view as we approached the bay was already amazingly beautiful.

Everyone was excited to see what lies above.  It was another challenging but more exciting 15-minute climb through the rocks to get to the spot to capture the famous postcard view. 

Then we had to manage another steep descent to reach the blue lagoon.  Only about three small groups were in there and one was about to leave so by the time we took our plunge, only a few were left.  After a short while, the lagoon was all ours (an advantage when you go during non-peak season).  It was paradise-like,  surrounded by limestone cliffs with the blue water calm and clear. 

Breathtaking scenery! I wish I knew how to really swim (thanks to my life vest that I can snorkel around).  Just a little below the water surface, near the rocks we saw some tiny friendly fish (visitors don’t seem to bother them at all).  No signs of big fish in the area.  We didn’t notice the passing of time co’z the whole experience was awesome.  I think it was almost 1 p.m. when we decided to leave and have our lunch back down in one of the picnic huts fronting the dock area.

We skipped Barracuda Lake.  According to the boatman, the climb to get to the lake could be treacherous – jagged limestone cliffs.  Sigh!

Twin Lagoons came next.  Our boat anchored on the first lagoon where the water is warm and blue. We snorkeled our way to the next lagoon thru a small edged opening underneath a hanging jagged limestone cliff, which was visible at that time co’z it was low tide, otherwise, we would need to climb up the makeshift ladder and dive. 

I was not too comfortable in the second lagoon which has colder water and is surrounded by grayish cliffs.  Water visibility and temperature are distorted due to what the divers term as thermocline.  At one part, the water was warm and suddenly in one part cold.   All these make for an unforgettable adventure.

Off to our next stop, Banol Beach, a popular stop-over for lunch.  Here we were welcomed by a small shoreline surrounded with limestone cliffs.  This powdery-white sand beach is literally small but fortunate we were that there was only one small group of visitors that time.  The sand is white.  The water is turquoise and pristine – a good spot for snorkeling and also kayaking.  A perfect place to get a good nap under the open huts with the sounds of the wilds and waves, but we couldn’t afford.  The water was more inviting for a swim even when the sun is still up.  We wanted to stay longer but there were other spots to see…

Then to the Skeleton Wreck… The skeleton of the bow (forward part of the boat or ship) was an eerie sight.  I and my sis-in-law felt the same way.  It was unexplainable.  But, we still managed to take a longer look.  It was a rare opportunity, anyway…  So the boat which was about 25 meters long was beached 12 meters from the shores of Coron Island.  This allows the snorkelers to see a good view of the wreck. Another unforgettable exploration of the island….

Our final destination for the day, the Banana Island, for an overnight stay… We had to leave early as the water got rougher.   Estimated travel time was an hour and a half.  By the time we reached the island, it was almost sunset. The water was cold as we disembark.  Two dogs – a black and a white – and the owner welcomed us.  We stayed in the beach for about an hour to enjoy the view, bury our feet under the sand and watch the sunset. 

When the wind was getting stronger and colder to the skin, we decided to leave the beach and proceed to our rented thatch-roofed cabana.  We were told that electricity here is sourced both from generator and solar lights.  

The water was a little calmer that morning as compared with last night’s.  Everyone had a hard time falling asleep co’z of the sounds of the strong waves – our cottage was just about 20 meters away from the shoreline.   

After breakfast, we decided to explore the whole stretch of the island. Between the sandbar and shore of the island, a few corals and colorful clams embedded in a coral can be found sitting in the above-ankle-deep water.  At first, we thought the clams were corals until our boatman, who followed us, told that they were clams.  We stood there dumbfounded.  Stunning! 

A little farther, our boatman showed us a small dwelling of three clown anemonefish (a.k.a. clown fish), then one surprisingly came out. 

We headed to Bulog Dos Island after lunch.  Just a few minutes away from Banana Island, the shoreline is even smaller than Banol’s.  The sand is also powdery-white.  This is a good place to snorkel.   

We didn’t notice that we had gone quite farther exploring the water – lots of fish – big and small – and sea urchins.   The boatman who guided me on my swim back to our boat even showed me a giant squid.  Our snorkeling didn’t last that long co’z there were still a number of islands, in our itinerary, to see.

Malcapuya Island was next.  “Puya” is Cuyonon for “girl,” so Malcapuya literally translates into “You’re bad, girl.”.  This is said to be the Boracay of Palawan.  We took the back side to dock our boat and then walk up the hill past some coconut trees and huts to go to the beach.   The main strip is the widest among the island beaches, a half-kilometer stretch of white-powdery sand.  

From the view cliff on one side, you can see another magnificent view of the water and the other islands.   How I wished we had enough time to swim in the crystal-blue water. It was such a brief encounter!  I’ll definitely return to this place…

The waves were getting bigger as we sailed farther toward Coron’s town proper.  We were hoping to see Siete Pecados and CYC but it was no longer a good idea.  Our return cruise was at its most challenging situation.  The wind was whipping harder, the water was rougher.  The young boatman was really good to be able to maneuver the boat.   Each tried to put on a brave face that time.   We were all dripping wet.  We failed to take our snack.  But we didn’t mind anymore.   All we wanted was to safely reach our destination the soonest.   We never had the chance to see Siete Pecados and CYC Island but we were grateful for another beautiful sight – the sunset

… and the safe arrival.   It took us more than 3 hours.   

Hasta la vista, Coron and Busuanga!

Awesome Coron and Busuanga! – Part I

Awesome Coron and Busuanga!

20 02 2010

Who wouldn’t get excited with Busuanga and Coron?  If you’re a real nature-tripper or lover, these islands will surely be in your list of must-see places and once you set foot in these awesome places, you would love to go back and appreciate their beauties over and over again.  I, myself, would love to explore again these places.  One visit is not enough to complete the islands experience.   Each spot has its own beauty to offer that I wouldn’t want to miss, not even one.  I can proudly say, “The Philippines is rich indeed in natural wonders.”

Day 1:  Inland Tour and Maquinit Hot Springs

After a brief visit to the municipality hall via trike (three-wheeled motor vehicle), we proceeded to the Lambingan Bridge.  The bridge itself was not a sight to behold but the view starting from near the end – view of the vast bay and the distant mountain cliffs. 

At first, we thought Mt. Tapyas was an easy climb.  Under the still scorching sun, at past 3 p.m., almost 2 hours earlier than our schedule, we took our first step of the more than 700 steps.  We didn’t stop in the first few resting sheds co’z we still had the energy until up higher and became thirsty and drenched in sweat.  My brother went topless when past halfway up.  We planned to time our climb and count the steps but forgot all about them co’z of the stops (and rests) and sightseeing (and picture takings). 

The sight was well worth the arduous climb. Stayed for more than an hour to enjoy the panoramic view of the rolling hills, Coron Bay and the adjoining islands… and catch the sunset.  

The descent was quite easier sans the sun and along the way down, we caught a glimpse of a tiny animal running fast towards the bushes (I and my sis-in-law was quite sure that it was not a rat, mostly likely a bird).  According to the trike driver it must have been a quail co’z there are quails in the area.

A dip in the 40o Celsius Maquinit Hot Springs, said to be the only known saltwater spring in the country, was the best way to end the day, to soothe our sore legs and tired bodies.  The about 30-minute ride along the bumpy and dark road, with only the trike headlight illuminating our way, was part of the excitement.  Sitting amidst trees, Maquinit is truly an enchanting and relaxing place.  I guess there are two reasons why it is best to go from dusk to evening – the temperature may be unbearable when the sun is still up and you might be turned off with the slippery bottom due to algae (and think the water is unclean as I thought).  

Awesome Coron and Busuanga! – Days 2 and 3: Island Hopping and Banana Island Overnight

Truffettes de France latest promo…

15 01 2010

I just got an SMS message from TdF Glorietta 4 outlet exactly 2 hours ago about its ongoing promo.  For every purchase of 2 boxes of 250-gm orange truffles at Php1,000, one gets a free box of toffee truffles.

Go indulge!  Promo runs until supplies last.  I will skip this time co’z I still have a box of 2-pounder courtesy of my brod from Canada who came for a vacation last month.

Coron countdown starts…

14 12 2009


The famous angle on the way to the Kayangan Lake. Photo taken by Ferdz Decena.

Coron is just a few more night sleeps away.  As my brother from Canada and his wife count the remaining nights to their Philippines vacation (just two nights away as of this writing), I also do my own countdown.  Exactly a week from now, I’ll be seeing the Island of Coron and I’m sure life will never be the same again.

A Taste of the Magic of Disney

8 12 2009


There’s nothing like Disneyland.  I think if there would be any chance, everyone – young and young at hearts – should go and see Disneyland.   The whole experience was truly amazing and unforgettable.    

Our Disney fever started from the time we arrived at the airport because we knew that in less than an hour, we would be heading for the Disney’s Hollywood Hotel, our temporary residence for two days.  After we got off the tourist bus, we took turns to have a few snapshots of ourselves in front of the hotel.  Then, after checking in, a quick lunch and freshening up, off we went to the park via the Disney bus.  Couldn’t delay any longer… 

Not far from the drop-off point, the Disneyland arch came in sight.  The main entrance, however, was about 10 minutes away.  Inside, we saw everyone with a map and guide in hand.  So we were all overwhelmed with the panoramic view as we entered the gate that no one took notice of the stand with the free map and Park Times Guide.  Anyway, I had my copies provided by the hotel’s front desk staff so that made me the tour navigator.  We headed first for the Adventureland at the left side entrance because that’s where the Festival of the Lion King is located.  The stage show was scheduled at 12:00 noon.  Along the way, as I checked the map, it indicated that there’s one “Magical Pressed Coin Machine” inside that toy store in my left so I made a very quick scanning while waiting for the “oldies” who were a little slow in their pacing.  Had a good chance to collect two (2) right then and there for HKD20.  “Oh, it’s exciting!”  I knew I wouldn’t content myself with just a few coins.  We were about 30 minutes late so we missed the show.  The door closed 15 minutes before the appointed time.  I suggested that we go back for the next show later in the afternoon so we proceeded to the Tarzan’s Treehouse instead, aboard the log rafts.  The kids and the not-so-young enjoyed the more than 50-step climb.  From there, we queued for the Jungle River Cruise which offered more thrilling surprises like fire in the waters, “almost real” images of animals, etc.  After finishing the ride, we were met by one of the Pirates of the Caribbean and had some snapshots.  Before we left the Adventureland and head for the Main Street, U.S.A, I excused myself for about a minute to check on the pressed coin machine near the toilet area.  I was smiling deep within.  I was enjoying making the coins.  “Successful”!  I collected two (2) or three (3) more designs, couldn’t remember.  Then, it was time to get a good place to witness the parade.  We gathered around the Times Square at the Main Street to have the best view.  Amazing giant floats led by a huge Mickey Mouse statue with lots of street dancing.  Everyone was in awe capturing each character in either pictures or videos.  I was trying to save my memory card.  I should have brought one with bigger capacity.  Anyway, I think I had captured enough to refresh our memories of the whole scene later.  Next in our itinerary was the Festival of the Lion King.  We were quite early and had to wait for about 15 minutes before we were allowed entrance.  It was a very colorful, lively and sparkling show.   The next destination was at the Sleeping Beauty Castle exiting to the Fantasyland section where the kids and again the young at hearts rode the Cinderella Carousel and Dumbo – The Flying Elephant.   I also got a chance to check on the pressed coins machines in that area, however, one was not working at that time.  After the two (2) rides, we head for the nearest dining place in that section of the park, the Clopin’s Festival of Foods.  I was amazed with the kids – they can eat Hongkong foods!  The highlight of our first day was the “Disney in the Stars Fireworks” where almost everyone gathered and sat on the sidewalk and ground fronting the castle to witness the fireworks show.  It was a stunning evening spectacle.   As we returned to the hotel, before we went up to our rooms, I and my nieces checked on the pressed coin machine inside.  I let them make the coins that time…. 

The second day was equally exciting.  After we checked out, we scanned the rest of the hotel grounds, the pool, the two (2) vintage cars in the garden and toy stores then we head for the Disney Park again.  That time we knew better the shows we were going to watch.  We also didn’t miss to grab the Park Times Guides and map.  What we failed to do was to take some photos of us at the main entrance with Mickey’s landscaped face.  As we traversed the Main Street, U.S.A., we spotted the long queue for the Mickey and Minnie photo session.  That shouldn’t be missed.  While in line, we saw Pluto and Goofy at the Art of Animation side.  The queue was very short so I and my nieces decided to spare a few minutes but we were told that the photo op will be temporarily stopped and will be resumed at exactly 12:00 noon. “Oh no!  Please… It was already 11:47 a.m.!   It was so illogical for me but the park staff was firm so we opted to return to our line for Mickey.  While still in the midst of waiting, I saw Goofy sans Pluto returning to the spot (I kinda figured out the reason for the break.) so again we detached ourselves from the Mickey queue and had a photo op with Goofy.  After we finished with Mickey and Minnie, we decided to have lunch.  On our way to Clopin’s, we met Woody and Jessie, had another photo op.  We were about to finish our lunch when I spotted Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter Teacups.  We really had lots of photo shoots with the Disney characters that day.  When it was “The High School Musical Show” time, right after lunch, we headed for the castle for the scheduled 1:30 p.m. show, then for the Tomorrowland where we rode the Orbitron and Autopia.  We had another photo session – with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in that section. Of course, I didn’t fail to check the remaining coin machines.  We also tried to bring home some souvenir items – a set of Mickey and Minnie watches for the kids and a coin album for my collections.  We didn’t have much time left, but we still got a chance to watch the Mickey’s PhilharMagic 3-D show with Mickey, Donald Duck and friends.  Where else could one get the best entertainment but in the Magical Disneyland?

Life’s Irony

2 12 2009

I wanna laugh at myself…  Everyone is dying to date and have me but because I’m really too picky, not everyone gets a chance.  Many have been matchmaking for my benefit but never worked either.  Then there came a few who caught my fancy but never even noticed my presence.  Life is indeed so ironic…  Ahhhh, life! 

Hahahaha, just want a release… of this bad feeling I’m having right now.  I don’t have much to do today… As the cliché goes – The idle mind will sometimes fall into contemplations that serve for nothing but to ruin the health, destroy good humor, hasten old age and wrinkles, and bring on a habitual melancholy. 

Don’t take this too seriously….