Inspiration for the Body, Mind and Soul

Here's an ideal "quick weekend getaway" scenario.

You wake up to the sweet songs of birds and the soft morning breeze that's crisp with the aroma of earth, leaves and flowers. Then you and your loved ones share a sumptuous breakfast of fresh fruits in season, a healthy cup of tea, freshly-baked bread or fiber-rich cereal topped with honey and more sweet fruits. And to achieve that healthy flush, you later engage in a game of basketball, tennis or badminton.

Lunch is a feast, complete with fiber-rich unpolished rice and fresh vegetables, grown from the Forest Club's own organic vegetable garden; kanduli and tilapia caught fresh from the fishponds of Laguna Lake, and cooked to your liking; healthy refreshments of lemon grass tea or fresh buko juice; and for desert, fresh fruits in season grown and picked from the many fruit orchards that Laguna is famous for.

The afternoon is more quiet, reserved for bird-watching, reading by the lotus pond, or taking a long walk under the green canopy of forest tree leaves. And finally, just before supper, a dip in the mineral hot-spring pool and Jacuzzi, to prepare your body for a therapeutic massage by a traditional "hilot", who not only has almost three decades of therapeutic massage experience behind him, but also an impressive track record of patients miraculously cured from various pains and ailments, such as strokes and paralysis. These will surely soothe the muscles and inspire the spirit, not to mention prepare the body for sleep that is as peaceful as fireflies twinkling in the quiet night.

Where else but in the Forest Club

This is not just a lovely dream, because you can actually do all these, and more, at the Forest Club – a natural sanctuary for health and wellness located in Barrio Puypuy, Bay, Laguna. The Forest Club is just a one and a half hour drive from Manila via the SLEX highway. On one hand, the club is an enchanting forest that was created around a natural ecosystem where rare flora and fauna thrive. On the other hand, it is also a club equipped with facilities necessary for family-oriented outings, business-related functions, and spiritual retreats. What you will appreciate most about the Forest Club is its quiet, secluded privacy. The owners of the resort take great pains to articulate the rules of the place to all guests, thereby ensuring that the atmosphere of solemnity is maintained by all who come here to seek a place of quiet. You are therefore assured that no loud karaoke music, from guests staying at an adjacent cottage, will spoil your weekend of tranquillity. Additionally, the resort strictly controls the total number of guests who may visit the place at any given time, making sure that no over crowding happens. This leaves you with the sense that you have the place all to yourself.

The Forest Club has two conference halls, a large dining room, several break-out areas, outdoor garden rooms, two large sleeping suites, and four cottage bedrooms. It also has basketball and tennis courts, and two therapeutic mineral hot spring pools and a Jacuzzi.

How to build a forest

It was Antonio Roa Mercado who created the Forest Club. Tony, as he was fondly called, was a busy executive who, in his late 50's, decided to buy a patch of rice farm as adjunctive therapy to address his heart ailment. Together with his wife Monina Allarey, the two discovered and bought a farm property in Puypuy, near the outskirts of Los Banˇos, Laguna, in 1993. After that, Tony began a new life and started to create his great masterpiece—his very own garden and forest, his hide-out and secret haven.

He created a winding brook that poured out into twin lagoons teeming with fish and resplendent with pink lotus. Tony then planted different kinds of trees, including full grown narra trees which attracted the fireflies. Assisted by good soil, good rainfall and tree experts from the UP Los Baños campus, everything in Forest Club grew abundantly. After only three years, the rice field was magically transformed into a young and verdant mini-forest.

Diverse flora and fauna

Nature lovers will be thrilled to find a manifold collection of trees, herbs, flowers, and plants growing within the club's 2.5 hectare premises. These include the following:

  • Philippine hardwood trees such as kamagong, molave, guijo, ipil, bitaog, mahogany, and narra;
  • flowering trees such as caballero, saracca, Palawan cherry, ilang ilang, and white santan;
  • backyard trees found in traditional Filipino homes such as rimas, kamias, langka, aratiles, guyabano, papaya, kamansi, and bayabas;
  • bamboos, such as the Buddha and black bamboo;
  • palm trees like Bismarck, Pacific, Alexander, Madagascar, Mac Arthur, champagne, foxtail, oil, date, spindle, bottle brush, princess, red, golden, and the rare lastellana;
  • medicinal herbs and plants such as acapulco, lagundi, sambong, aloe vera, mint, menthol, lemon grass, and goto kola
  • half a hectare of rice paddies, planted with gourmet rice from India and Japan;
  • flower shrubs including the Centennial Gumamela (new hybrids in spectacular colors developed to mark the centennial of the republic in 1998); and
  • some newly introduced trees like neem and acacia crassicarpa, a fast growing hard wood, which Tony Mercado grew from seed that he ordered from Australia in 1996. (Tony loved this tree for its silvery green leaves, its red veined trunk, and because it grows so fast. He gave the tree its local name, Growfast.)

Different kinds of birds and butterflies can be sighted in the Forest Club. Both the Haribon Foundation and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines consider the Forest Club as an important bird sanctuary. Some of the more frequent bird visitors are the herons, egrets, munias, doves, sun birds, rails, swifts, robins, and sparrows.

All the plants in Forest Cub are fertilized by compost made from dried leaves and tree cuttings, primary waste materials of the club itself. A thriving vermiculture compost production within the premises provides adequate organic fertilizers.

Balm for tired bodies, weary souls

This private paradise was opened to visitors in 1996. Tony and his family decided to "share the serenity, the unbelievable contentment, and the peace of mind that the place so generously provides." Today, five years after Tony passed on, the Forest Club, under the care of his sons Wawel and Robbi Mercado, has been transformed once more into a complete recreation area. It is the perfect alternative to far-away weekend destinations because it provides the same luxury and privacy, without the unnecessary hassles.

Imelda Morales Aznar
February 2006

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