A no-occasion staycation in Tagaytay City: Our Tagaytay trip
Standing on a ridge that rises 2,080 feet above sea level, Tagaytay City enjoys an invigorating climate, a thriving local food culture, and multiple vantage points to marvel at the scenic Taal lake and volcano. At roughly two hours from Manila and boasting a weather that is moderately cooler than scorching capital’s, Tagaytay is often described as a closer alternative to the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City. That’s true, to a certain extent. Temperatures in Cavite’s prime holiday town do warrant sweaters and hoodies in the generally milder months of December and January. There’s ample green space and breathtaking promontories to serve as scenic backgrounds for your selfies. But Baguio City it ain’t. I’m writing this not to undermine the favorite staycation destination of hot and harried Metro Manila dwellers. I’m writing this to atone for my overselling the “cool climate” bit to my son, whom I’d gotten worked up about the prospect of strutting around in his hoodies without literally breaking a sweat in our Tagaytay trip.
We reached Tagaytay City at half-past twelve noon after an hour and a half ride on a DLTB bus that had started from the Gil Puyat terminal. It was the first week of March and felt like 32 degrees in the shade. Inside the McDonald’s at Plaza, the air-conditioning unit was fighting a losing battle against the incipient summer heat. My son, who had bought into the promise of a chilly weather just like Baguio’s, wanted to be sure if we were already in Tagaytay. My affirmative reply was met with disappointment. “But how come it is so hot?!,” Motito complained. It would get much cooler in the evenings, I swore, while reminding him to start on his hot-fudge sundae before it completely melted. Not exactly a pleasant start for our Tagaytay trip.
With lunch finished, we took a tricycle to Keni Po, a modestly-priced inn located right next to the Ina ng Laking Saklolo Church on Calamba Road. For P1200-a-night on weekdays, guests at Keni Po can get a double room with a balcony, cable TV, wifi Internet, air-conditioning, personal fridge and mini-bar, and access to the hotel’s lovely swimming pool and garden and surprisingly “inclusive” DVD movie library. Our room was spotless, and I was especially chuffed that the mini-bar items were sold at regular market prices. No more running to the nearest convenience store for munchies and cold drinks to avoid having to pay the ridiculous markup that hotels normally charge for stale chips and flat soda. Though Keni Po hotel lacks a restaurant, it has a quick and easy room service. We ordered breakfast for two days, and I implore you to give their mouth-watering tapsilog (marinated beef, fried rice and sunny-side-up egg) a try.
In the afternoon, we headed for the People’s Park in the Sky, where one can see what remains of an unfinished mountaintop mansion that was started by the Marcos administration in 1981. Rumor had it that construction of the palatial residence was accelerated in order to have it ready for the announced visit of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The state visit didn’t materialize, and construction work on the mansion subsequently ceased. Recounting that Motito had asked me what the term “white elephant” meant, I pointed out that the abandoned Palace in the Sky was a prime example of one and went further by explaining that the Marcos government had left us with several white elephants all over the country.
For a P30 entry fee, one gets to walk up to the dank, mossy remnants of the doomed mansion. Except for the crumbling walls and foundations, there was nothing left to appreciate of the incomplete structure. The panoramic views of Taal Volcano and lake somehow made up for the let-down, while an amphitheater and overpriced picnic tables round out the experience. Park visitors stopped and said a little prayer at the shrine of Our Lady, Mother of Fair Love. Kiosks hawking souvenirs and snacks were everywhere. While wandering the area, we espied a doppler weather radar operated by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). For the first time in our Tagaytay trip, Motito saw it fitting to don his blue hoodie.
The next day we took the jeepney to the Mahogany Market, foolishly hoping I could get Motito to sample the local fare during our Tagaytay trip. Mahogany Market is market complex comprising three main buildings. One is a wet and dry goods section selling fruits and vegetables, coffee and native delicacies. Outside are makeshift stalls offering myriad varieties of herbs, flowering plants, and fruit trees. If you’ve never had a green thumb, the sight of so much potted flora might just bring out the gardener in you.
Inside the Mahogany Market complex is a narrow strip where one can buy all kinds of smoked and dried fish. The biggest crowd-drawer has to be the Tagaytay Mahogany Beef Market & Bulahohan, a two-story building where one can find two things quintessentially Tagaytay: fresh beef and bulalo (beef bone marrow soup). On the ground floor, freshly harvested beef carcasses hang from hooks at several meat stalls. A kilo of fresh Tagaytay beef costs about P230, about half of the price in Metro Manila markets.
On the build’s second story beckons a row of restaurants all offering their own versions of the famed Tagaytay bulalo and other Filipino specialties. As you pass each restaurant, you will be relentlessly dogged by the wait staff urging you to try their eatery. I don’t know how we managed it, but we got out of there without succumbing to the persistent touting. As expected Motito only wanted the familiar comfort of a McDonald’s meal. In our Tagaytay trip, this market visit made me rue not having a private vehicle. I was not keen on lugging potted plants and 4 kilos of bloody beef around using public transport. With barely suppressed SUV envy, I watched people load the trunks of their cars with beef by the metric ton. But I was not about to leave Mahogany Market empty-handed. Wanting to satisfy an urge to grab a bargain, I purchased one kilogram of Kapeng Barako (a coffee bean variety native to Batangas and Cavite) for P260. That’s roughly P500 in savings compared to Kapeng Barako sold in supermarkets.
After lunch we went back to Keni Po to wait out the hottest its part of the day. Next, we left the hotel at 4:30PM to visit the Picnic Grove, a 13-hectare public park with panoramic views of the Taal volcano and lake, horse riding area, zip line, cable car, and mini-zoo. Entry is P50 per individual. Picnic huts and pavilions fetch anywhere from P100 to P500, depending on seating capacity and proximity to the spectacular views. We were eager to visit the Kinder Zoo Adventure Jungle, as I had purchased two vouchers from the Metrodeal website. For P100 (current down to P96) instead of the usual P200, the Kinder Zoo Adventure Jungle voucher entitles the holder to a whole-day entrance pass to the mini-zoo and to interact with the animals in their care, including a python and baby crocodile. I’m not quite sure we got ourselves a real deal with the Metrodeal voucher, as one can see the sign outside announcing a P100 entry fee otherwise.
The mini-zoo shelters cockatoos, macaws, tortoises, a donkey, a gibbon, a python, and a baby crocodile. What the zoo lacks in variety, it makes up for in up-close and personal experiences with the fascinating fauna. My son refused to even go near the fearsome predators. Only after being reassured that the python and crocodile’s mouths were taped shut and couldn’t possibly harm him did Motito muster the courage to pose for photos with the animals. Oh, how he grimaced in the photos, probably scared senseless and expecting the python to coil around his neck and the small crocodile to clamp its jaws on his arm any time. When it was all over, he proudly beamed that he had been a brave boy. I couldn’t argue with that.
We wandered through the Picnic Grove until 6PM, taking selfies from different overlook points. We would be leaving the next day, but not before making a quick stop at Loumar’s Pies & Tarts to procure some pasalubongs (souvenirs, often food) to bring home. When it comes to buko pies (pie made from tender coconut) and fruit tarts, every person has his favorite. Many pie gourmets swear by Collette’s, while others wouldn’t touch a buko pie if it’s not from Rowena’s. As per Pepper.ph’s taste test, Loumar’s came out tops among the three. I picked up 3 boxes of assorted fruit tarts and a buko pie from Loumar’s because it happened to be on the way to Olivarez Plaza from where we would be riding a bus back to Manila. After having a taste of Loumar’s pies and tarts, I can say they deserve the thumbs-up from Pepper.ph, as well as their P200 per box price tag.
(Note: In a rare instance of monumental stupidity, I’d accidentally deleted many precious photos of this Tagaytay trip, including those I’ve taken of Loumar’s store and their scrumptious pies. So there won’t be any in this post).