Rediscover Los Banos this Summer


Smart Parenting Magazine

July 2006 Issue

Can’t seem to decide what to do with your kids this summer? Check-out this self-guided tour of Los Banos. Los Banos is accessible, affordable and full of surprises. Just an hour and a half from the Ortigas Center, this destination is easy to reach both by car and public transport. Los Banos is home to the nearest rain forest and National Park south of Metro Manila, making it an ideal destination for a weekend nature adventure.

Day 1:

7:30 AM Departure

9:00 AM ETA at La Vista Pansol in Pansol, Laguna.
La Vista Pansol is home to the Laguna Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (LWRRC). Along the National Highway in Pansol, watch out for the large La Vista Pansol sign to your left after Max’s restaurant, then turn left and follow the other directional signs. The rescue center is privately run by the Feathered Friends Foundation and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Nielsen Donato. The Feathered Friends Foundation used to be based on Corregidor Island, and holds the distinction of being one of only two organizations in the Philippines to successfully breed the Philippine Eagle in captivity. Here you will find endemic species of birds, small mammals and reptiles found in Laguna, such as raptors, wild boars, bear cats, civet cats, and macaques. The rescue center, in cooperation with the Protected Areas ad Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the DENR, is committed to rehabilitate these confiscated or surrendered wildlife, rehabilitate them, then release them back into the Makiling National Park. Entrance fee of P25 goes to supporting the activities of the center. The center also has a collection of exotic birds from South America, like parrots and cockatoos, that are well adapted to humans and visitor friendly. You may want to take a picture with these birds before proceeding to your next destination.

10:00AM Depart from La Vista Pansol

10:30 AM ETD Magnetic Hill, Los Banos.
Magnetic Hill is located along the PCARD/DOST access road, which is to your right along the National Highway just as you enter Los Banos. Look for the metal arch on the right side of the road with the sign “Magnetic Hill. The phenomenon starts at the bottom of this hill. The jury is still out on whether the magnetic force is real or just an illusion. The most interesting explanation I have heard, attributed to a psychic, is that a UFO landed on the spot, and consequently reversed the gravitational forces around the area where it landed! Go see for yourself. Make a full stop at the designated point, put your vehicle in neutral, release the brakes, and observe how your vehicle is seemingly pulled up an incline of about 100 meters. Bring an empty tin can to try on the road as well, and see how this can will roll up the hill. Then tell us what you think.

11:00AM ETA Makiling Arts Center
Further up the PCARD/DOST road will lead you inside the UPLB Campus. Just as you reach the Jamboree Site of the Boy’s Scouts of the Philippines, turn right to go up to the Makiling Arts Center. The Makiling Arts Center was one of Imelda Marcos’s grand projects. The Center continues to play host to the Makiling High School for the Arts, where national scholars from all over the Philippines are trained in the visual as well as performing arts. You pay a small fee per vehicle to enter the compound, but it is well worth it. Make sure you have your camera ready for this stop. Halfway up the mountain, spend a few minutes appreciating what may be the most beautiful garden chapel in the country. The hanging roof, the giant crucifix, the fern covered pews, the panoramic view, and the surrounding forest trees create such a romantic ambience and picture perfect setting, you wonder why not too many weddings are held in this chapel. Throw a coin into the wishing well in front of the altar before you leave. Drive further up until you reach the multi-purpose hall at the top of the mountain. Park and gaze at the best panoramic view of Laguna Lake. From this vantage point directly overlooking the hot spring resorts of Pansol, you will marvel at how large and expansive the lake is, little wonder why the residents of the lakeshore towns refer to the lake as “dagat”. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Alabang.

11:30 AM Depart from Makiling Arts Center

11:45 AM: ETA The Forest Club
The Forest Club is a hot spring resort that is set amidst a 3 hectare nature sanctuary in Bay, Laguna. 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. Nestled in between the mystic mountains of Mt. Makiling and Mt. Banahaw, the natural beauty of the Forest Club -- the tropical flowers in bloom, the fluttering butterflies, the melodic singing of robins, the colorful plumes of kingfishers, the soothing sounds of clear water streams, the majesty of towering forest trees, the fireflies that illuminate the night sky, the fragrance of Ilang-ilang trees -- all contribute to a deeper appreciation of Mother Nature. The accommodations are very comfortable. You may choose to stay at any of the four native cottages that can fit as many as 8 people per cottage, or at the family suite rooms that can house as many as 20.

12:00 Lunch at the Forest Club
Lunch is a sumptuous buffet of Laguna specialties, pre-arranged when you book your stay – fresh fish from the Tilapia farms of Bay, barbecued meats, organic vegetables from the gardens of the Forest Club, fresh fruit juices, and fresh fruits in generous servings.

1:00 Rest/Sleep

2:00 Walking Tour of the Forest Club
Take a few minutes to walk off the heavy lunch. Explore the Forest Club nature sanctuary that includes:

  • Medicinal Herb Garden: medicinal herbs and plants such as acapulco, lagundi, sambong, takip-kuhol or goto kola, sabila or aloe vera, kataka-taka, makahiya, oregano, mint, menthol, lemon grass
  • Organic Vegetable Garden: Vegetables and spices that are a staple in all Filipino cooking such as sitaw, talong, gabi, okra, patola, pechay, kangkong, siling labuyo
  • Salad Garden: Salad greens such as lettuce, plus our own local salad ingredients pako, pancit-pancitan, talinum
  • Forest Garden: 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; 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.)
  • Palm Garden: palm trees like Bismarck, Pacific, Alexander, Madagascar, Mac Arthur, champagne, foxtail, oil, date, spindle, bottle brush, princess, red, golden, and the rare lastellana;
  • Flower Garden: flower shrubs including the Centennial Gumamela (new hybrids in spectacular colors developed to mark the centennial of the republic in 1998);
  • White Garden: A collections of white varigated ornamental plants and white flowering plants
  • Rice Garden: half a hectare of rice paddies, planted with gourmet rice from India and Japan;
  • Spirulina Fountain: Spirulina is considered by many as the world's healthiest food. This tiny aquatic plant offers 60% all-vegetable protein, essential vitamins and phytonutrients such as the antioxidant beta carotene, the rare essential fatty acid GLA, sulfolipids, glycolipids and polysaccharides. Its deep green color comes from its rainbow of natural pigments - chlorophyll (green), phycocyanin (blue) and carotenoids (orange) - that harvest the sun's energy. Easy-to-digest so nutrients are absorbed quickly.

3:00 Dip into the Mineral Hot Spring Pool
Dip into the mineral hot-spring pool and Jacuzzi. The Forest Club lies along the Bay Fault, and is thus blessed by natural hot spring water from a volcanic source. The water temperature is not as hot as the pools in Pansol, but is warm enough to be quite soothing. A swim in a hot water pool works just like a sauna. It helps your body perspire and shed of unwanted toxins. You may choose to either play and bond with the kids in the pool, or indulge in 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.

4:30 Fishing and bird-watching at the lagoon
Bird watching is the fastest growing hobby in the world, and the Forest Club is host to a wide range of bird species such as the Cinnamon Bittern, Zebra Dove, White-collared Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Oriental magpie-robin, Golden-bellied Flyeater, Large-billed Crow, Olive-backed Sunbird, Chestnut Munia, Cattle Egret, Barred rail, Black-crowned Night-heron, White-eared Brown Dove, Spotted Dove, Island-collared Dove, Asian Palm Swiftlet, Black-naped Oriole, Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Fantail. Owners of the resort are members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, so you may borrow a set of binoculars and a field guide to help you identify the birds. Seeing caged birds in zoos is one thing, but observing them in their natural habitat fills you with a sense of awe and wonder at the beautiful creatures that share this world with us.

You may also borrow fishing rods and teach the kids how to fish by the lagoon that overlooks Mt. Banahaw. The pond is filled with tilapia and hito. If your catch is big enough, you may request the cook to include your catch in the evening menu.

7:00PM Dinner at the Forest Club
Dinner is another buffet of local delicacies, such as sinigang na hito sa miso and kalderetang kambing, according to what you have pre-arranged in Manila prior to your visit.

8:00PM Bonfire
After dinner, you may arrange to have a bonfire lit on the open grass field and exchange stories and relive wonderful memories under the clear, starlit night. This is also the best time to walk towards the bamboo grove and watch hundreds of fireflies as they imitate the stars in the sky.

9:00PM Night swimming
Kids may be ready to hit the bed at this time. The adults in the group, however, may choose to extend the evening in the pool. The warm water of the mineral hoi springs make the pool ideal for night swimming. Guests typically stay and enjoy the pool until way past midnight.

Day 2:

8:00AM Breakfast at the Forest Club. Check-out

9:00AM Depart for the sulphuric mud springs of Mt. Makiling.

9:20 AM ETA UPLB College of Forestry, Mt. Makiling Entrance
The trails of Mt. Makiling start at the entrance of the Makiling Forest Reserve right at the UPLB College of Forestry. The road up the mountain is accessible only to 4x4 vehicles, AUVs or pick-ups. Expect a rough 30 minute ride up Mt. Makiling, and a short hike from the roadside to the boiling volcanic mud springs. The ride up the mountain is an adventure in itself, and the 750 meter hike along a narrow dirt trail adds to the thrill. The mud springs at the end of the trail are a sure fire way of waking up the imaginations of children about quicksand and ancient fossils that may be found beneath the boiling mud.

12:00 Lunch at Los Banos Square
Los Banos Square is a large garden plaza surrounded by food stalls selling a great variety of food and drinks at student friendly prices. Sizzling plates and barbecues that are the standard fare of food plazas are the staple her. But you will also be surprised at exotic choices such as Thai, Arabian and Japanese food. Meals are served on garden table settings under the cool shade of large mango trees.

1:00PM Depart for the Makiling Botanical Gardens
The easiest way to see and appreciate the centuries old forest trees that make up the Makiling Forest Reserve is to pay a visit to the Makiling Botanical Gardens where you can gaze at pristine lowland forest trees that tower up to 40 meters high. Within the Makiling Botanical Gardens is the Philippine Center for Raptors (birds of prey, thank you) which is another rescue center run by the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. The center is home to dozens of raptors, among them the majestic Philippine Eagle. Getting to the center is approximately a kilometer and a half hike on a well paved but steep trail. Kids will find the trail challenging, and the forest environment can get very humid, so bring plenty of drinking water and extra shirts for the kids.

3:30PM Pasalubong shopping before heading home
Of course, no out of town trip would be complete without pasalubong shopping. The UPLB Dairy Bar continues to sell dairy products like fresh milk and white cheese. The Carabao Center beside it also sells carabao based dairy products. Supplies are irregular, though, so you have to take your chances. Nearby Hacienda de Makalawan in Calauan also produces and sells first class fresh dairy products. The Hacienda was started many years ago by Don Andres Soriano.

The best buko pie is produced by, you guessed it, D’ Original Buko Pie! This place is notorious for producing long waiting lines and minor traffic jams of loyal fans. The word around town is that they are the only place where pies are already sold, even if they are not yet cooked. But if like most people, you don’t appreciate long queues, Sheila’s buko pie is an excellent alternative. Buy your pies early, though, as stocks quickly disappear in the afternoon. If you like espasol, try the flat round ones at Elvie’s.

Wawel Mercado
April 2006

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