WOW,  JEEPNEY  TOURS!

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 29, 2008 (STAR) RENDEZVOUZ By Christine S. Dayrit - It isn’t every day that you discover a sanctuary where you are greeted with a loving “welcome home” by a well-wisher you have just met. Nor is it every day that you get to experience the beauty of the Philippines aboard a luxurious, bright-yellow, air-conditioned jeepney.

At this rustic lifestyle destination nestled at the foot of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga, the late great restaurateur Larry Cruz has created a heritage haven, a treasure trove of indigenous pride and cultural identity called Abe’s Farm named after his father E. Aguilar Cruz. This was the predominant insight that prevailed as gracious couple Cathy and Mike Turvill, Larry’s business partners, shared how the latter envisioned his last legacy. They toured us around the lush surroundings of the four-hectare property, dotted with mango, santol, gmelina and star apple trees. It is a weekend country home inspired by bahay kubo (nipa hut) concept with precious antiques, woodwork and bamboo, a landscaped pond and swimming pool. Three charming air-conditioned Ifugao huts with comfortable matresses on the rustic floors provide alternative accomodations for guests. We had a delightful lunch of local delicacies of sinigang na bangus sa bayabas, sizzling sisig (the perfect blend of pork, garlic and spices), deep-fried fish with burong hipon and mustasa, and the sweetest sensation of banana turon with piping-hot sticky ube and langka melting in your mouth.

Cathy shared with us the wonderful organic lemongrass products like body mist, shower gel and massage oils concocted by Mike, an organic chemist. These lemongrass extracts are obtained from the lush fields in Mambugsay, Cauayan, three hours away from Bacolod; the thriving industry supports the community. After savoring the pleasantly intoxicating fragrances, we were ushered into their spa offering Kapampangan treatments for healing and rejuvenation. A trailblazing pioneer in the Philippine spa industry, the Nurture Spa chain — with branches in Tagaytay City, Buri Resort in Puerto Galera and now in Abe’s Farm in Magalang, Pamapanga — is accredited by the Department of Tourism.

As you walk into the Spa, a temple of harmony and wellness, your senses are embraced by the fragrance of specially blended oils, herbs and spices. In recent years, Filipino traditional healing has experienced a revival, a renaissance of sorts with an interesting trend like the emergence of innovative new therapies based on ancient lore. I tried the Panulo, a Nurture Spa original, a glorious testimony to this art of healing. The application of heat to the skin enhances the healing effects of herbs. Round cotton bundles wrapped in banana leaves containing herbal mixtures of camphor, lemongrass, turmeric, prai, kaffir lime and more are steamed and gently pressed all over the body. The heat relaxes the muscles, helps open pores, allowing for better absorption of the herbal flavors. As the heat penetrates the sore muscles, stress and tension are eased away beneath the healing, kneading hands of the masseuse.

From Abe’s Farm, we proceeded to the Clark Flying Club, just a stone’s throw away. The Angeles City Flying Club is the premiere sport aircraft flying club in Asia and operates from Woodland’s Air Park’s certified 450-meter grass runway. The Club offers complete aviation facilities, including flight training, aircraft rental, assembly, maintenance and hangar storage. You can have an introductory flying session for 20 minutes aboard the ultra-light plane with a fully licensed and qualified instructor, just as I did. Truly exhillarating, my pilot, chief flight instructor Boy Guevarra, took me 800 meters above the lush green fields of Clark and gave me a splendid aerial tour over the emerald green rice granaries and fishponds of Central Luzon from San Roque, halfway between Gapan, Nueva Ecija, and San Miguel, Bulacan. Next time, I would like to fly over the dramatic 2.5-km crater, towering lahar canyons, sulfur pools and cascading waterfalls of Mt. Pinatubo which you can also trek. You can either simply be a delighted passenger or learn to fly the planes.

What better way to end the day than having sunset cocktails then dinner at the legendary Yats Grill Room Restaurant at the Mimosa Leisure Estate in Clark? It is where gracious chef Philip John Golding shares Clark’s best kept gastronomic secrets. It is also home to the fabled 35,000-bottle wine collection offered at reasonable prices. Exquisite value-for-money wine is paired with chef’s specials including thyme-roasted Argentinean sirloin rosted on the bone with croquette potatoes and roasted root vegetables served with a carafe of high-tide merlot from Isla Negra Chile; a duo of pan-fried Norwegian salmon and barracuda fillet with steamed seasoned rice, tomato vinaigrette and grilled eggplant is served with a sauvignon blanc semillon from Bordeaux; and pan-fried duck liver sautéed with wild mushrooms and walnut raspberry vinaigrette is perfect with a sweet riesling or sautern wine.

For a weekend sojourn, check out the “Glamping” experience which is how Tourism Undersecretary Edu Jarque refers to “glamour camping” at the nearby Clearwater Country Club where deluxe air-conditioned tented suites, family-inn rooms, log cabin lakeside lodges, swimming pools, lush gardens and fun activities for the kids abound. This unique concept epitomizes the new stress-free lifestyle emerging in this progressive Clark Freeport Zone. And if those aren’t enough, check out the Duty Free shopping just nearby.

I always believe that, as important as the destination, is the way we reach it. On this particular sojourn, my traveling partners led by my dear friend and Colors magazine publisher Clang Garcia and I embarked on a delightful airconditioned jeepney tour. You will simply fall in love this bright-yellow, custom-made, stainless steel, aircon vehicle with comfortable leather seats and tour facilitator in a Filipiniana outfit. It even has a videoke system with a WOW Philippines Magic Sing video showing our country’s best tourist attractions on its huge flatscreen TV and has a fully stocked beverage and refreshment bar.

Aboard the jeep on the expressway from Clark to Manila, Noah Manarang and Colors magazine staffers Angeli de Rivera, Angelo Concepcion and Kristine Villaflor sang to their hearts’ content and merrily celebrated the beauty of our country. I will never forget admiring the full moon that hovered above us that magical evening, as we passed around Holland mooncake with lotus cream. “The gift is as precious as the giver,” I whispered to myself.

The Jeepney Tours project is the brainchild of Clang. Her perseverance and dedication have certainly paid off as several embassies and government officials rent the jeepney for their visitor functions and local tours. Clang presently has three of these luxury jeeps and is preparing the updated version with reclining seats and foot massage devices. Jeepney Tours can take you sightseeing around Manila, Tagaytay and now offers day trips to Pampanga.

“You cannot say that you’ve been to the Philippines if you haven’t experienced riding a jeepney!” Clang advocates. “Despite all the challenges, our profound commitment to the industry fueled us to develop a major tourism infrastructure that allows tourists to experience cultural learning and beautiful memories that will make them remember the Philippines at its best.”

Travel via “Wow Jeepney Tours” and discover the best of our country. Welcome home!

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Jeepney Tours plies to Manila, Tagaytay and Pampanga. Please call 638-6644 or e-mail to info@jeepneytours.com. You may also log on to www.jeepneytours.co. Tours can also be booked at the Travel Café in Greenbelt 5. For reservations at Yats Grill Room Restaurant, call chef Philip Golding at 0917-8179441 or e-mail philip@yats-international.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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