Saturday, April 12, 2014

Villa Escudero: Life at a Plantation

The last time we visited Villa Escudero, we were a family of three and Kevin was a little over two years old.  Fast forward to twelve years later, the prospect of visiting the famous hacienda-turned-resort seemed a good idea following my recent interests in plantation estates.  A few weeks prior to that, I have been voraciously reading about the history of Canlubang Sugar Estates of Laguna and was captivated by the nostalgia of a once prosperous town from the era of feudalism.

Villa Escudero's Labasin Lake
Villa Escudero was a coconut plantation in late 1880s and part of its land was converted and opened to the public as a resort featuring hacienda life.  This is easily accessible right off the highway following the arch between the San Pablo City, Laguna and Tiaong, Quezon boundary.  The dirt road leads to the main reception hall where you will be greeted by the receptionists and guest relations team garbed in baro at saya.  Enjoy the sights and sounds of Villa Escudero via day tour or overnight stay packages.

From the nipa hut style reception hall, you can walk directly to get a glimpse of the hacienda’s homestead. This was painted in pink and white and dutifully preserved the original architecture of what was once home to the hacienda owners.  When I was still a child, I learned from my maternal grandmother that while old houses used to have two floors, only what we technically recognize as the ‘second floor’ is habitable.  The area below it is usually an open space where the owners may choose to keep smaller livestock like chickens. The homestead of Villa Escudero was designed in the same fashion, where two opposite staircases lead to the veranda and main door. Most probably, there were two staircases because in the old world, men and women do not mingle intimately and rub elbows in such cramped areas, or any other area. The ground level of the house was enclosed though. The hacienda’s villa faces a sprawling garden with a fountain at the center. Unfortunately, the villa’s interior is not open for public viewing. 

View of Church-turned-Museum 

Carabao-Cart ride with Maganda
 Very close to the homestead is the museum, also painted in pink and white, which used to be a church for the plantation owners and their feudals. This is now housing the Escudero’s grand collection of religious collections and antiques not only from the Old Philippines but also from around the world which, as I have read, the owners acquired from their travels.  Actually, to say grand is an understatement! No one is allowed to take pictures inside the museum so I have to commit everything to memory.

I really encourage you to visit this museum when in Villa Escudero.  The first time I made my round, I was too busy chasing a two year old to make sure we don’t end up paying a broken-million-pesos-something. This time around, my culture-vulture self took its time to appreciate the collection. I was in awe of the sheer number of life-size statues of Jesus of Nazarene, Saints, and Santo Ninos.  It was amazing to see a full life-size collection of The Last Supper, imagining the effort and resources it took to get those. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour at the upper floor showcasing collection of more than a hundred dolls from around the world, fashionable garbs for the elite men and women of pre-modern world Philippines, old currencies, letters and correspondences and valuable knick knacks. Naturally, I gravitated towards the collection of abanicos, silver backed mirrors, paynetas, jewelries and medallions. One can almost imagine being transported back in time, living as a well-to-do daughter of a haciendero and being surrounded by old-rich splendor.

From the museum, you will be treated to a carabao-driven cart while serenaded by a manong. This will take you to the main pavillion and from there you can choose to pass the day by swimming (there are three pools close by), trying out the raft at the Labasin lake (it’s quite strenuous; make sure at least one of you really know how to properly maneuver the raft), or if you have enough patience (and skill), try fishing for only Php 100 for the cost of borrowing the fishing rod and the bait. My daughter Kyla thoroughly enjoyed this and spent the afternoon fishing with her Dad. Kyla caught a total of four fishes!  She promptly returned the fish back to the lake after the mandatory photo shoot every time she caught one.

One of the main attractions of Villa Escudero is lunch by the waterfalls. The man-made falls are run by the hacienda’s hydroelectric system. Tables upon rows of tables are set at the foot of the waterfalls where you can partake of the  buffet spread of Filipino dishes al fresco while your feet are submerged in ankle deep cool water from the falls. It is quite a unique treat!  I realized that the buffet has not really changed but nonetheless still appetizingly good -- Filipino style ensalada, pancit, grilled meats (pork, chicken) and fish, kaldereta, vegetable stews, fresh fruits and banana cue for dessert. 

Lunch Al Fresco by the Falls
We ate a bit late to avoid the mad rush and long queue

Alvin wore his 12-yr old Villa Escudero shirt
Her second of four catches for the day!
Patience is a virtue

The afternoon attraction is the cultural dance and rondalla presentation showcasing famous songs and dances from the diffferent regions of the Philippines, choregraphed by Ramon Obusan. The singers and presentors are actually from the employees and residents of the hacienda. When visiting the hacienda, stick around for the cultural show and I assure you that you won’t be disappointed!

Mano Po!

Cultural Show featuring Ifugao dance

I didnt really quite explain to her this scene...
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the grounds where you will find various life-like statues depicting life and traditions at the rural Philippines. There were scenes depicting pagmamano, harana, palo sebo, pag-aaro sa bukid, sabong and whole lot more. When my daughter studied in an IS, they had a whole semester studying about “life in the olden days” and this was a good show-and-tell learning opportunity to show her life at the barrios, although I must admit I deliberately left the details of pagliligawan (scenes depecting courtship) for a later phase.

"Uso pa ba ang harana?..."

Ready for farming
This is what I call Synchronized Swinging

Overall, it was a very relaxing and satisfying day! When in Philippines and in the Southern Tagalog region of Laguna-Quezon, do visit Villa Escudero for a glimpse of a life an an old world plantation, when life used to be unhurried and simpler.