Above all else, more than the food, I am thrilled by the thought of spending a night in a treehouse–a fulfillment of a childhood dream. It brings me back to one summer in childhood where I and my playmates, armed with our amateur carpentry skills, successfully built a platform on top of a huge Kakawate tree in front of our house. Back in the days, Kakawate trunks are commonly utilized as sturdy posts for bamboo fences. It is very easy to grow, so you have a fence and a growing tree right where you lodged it. An ecologically sound practice of propagating an endemic plant.
That summer was one of the most cherished since we spent most of our days in our makeshift treehouse on top of Kakawate tree. What made it more special was an added feature of passion fruit vine coiling around the same tree. So we had a house, a fruiting vine, a summer-full of unmatched adventures, and an enduring memory of that wonderful season.
Fast forward to almost three decades, here I am feeling giddy and can’t contain my excitement — for real, I am spending a night in a treehouse right at the foot of Mt. Banahaw! Just as when life is about to scream boredom in all caps on my face, some extraordinary kind of ordinary whisked it away with an ear to ear grin. How extraordinary this ordinary is? Let me count the ways.
1. Treehouse. Yes you’re looking at a five-storey treehouse up on an old, huge sampaloc (tamarind) tree! How could that be? Once you get inside, you’ll figure.
Important: The treehouse is equipped with clean toilet and bath.
2. Jay Herrera. The owner of the treehouse and our personal chef. I was a bit skeptical at first if this hippie could really whip up a meal. All reviews I read are positive. In fact, his B & B has been included in the Top 10 restaurants in the Philippines by the USA Today. (There must be some wizardry going on hahaha.)
3. First meal. Lunch is:
chicken cordon bleu
side salad in vinaigrette dressing: a medley of singkamas (jicama), sayote, carrot, pansit-pansitan (shiny bush) and impatiens (I call it everyday because it blooms everyday no matter what the weather is!).
It’s my first time to eat pansit-pansitan, which is an herbal plant. The taste has a hint of black pepper. I see it grow specially in places near a water source but it never crossed my mind that I could put it in my salad. One thing more, impatiens, which I see everywhere, can actually make a salad more enticing.
I looked at the food on my plate, I saw mystery staring back at me. When I took my first bite, no words. All I ever felt was spurts of pleasantness in all forms, bursting like fireworks making its way to my soul.
The hippie is a no-nonsense cuisinier. There must be some magic tucked away in that salt & pepper hair!
The dessert is mango float modified. Instead of using crushed grahams Jay used baraha. Baraha is a bread that can be bought in every classic panaderia. I paired it with hot freshly- brewed coffee.
4. Afternoon sky. No photoshop. No filter. 100% nature.
5. Backdrop. The place is constantly evolving. Since the owner decided to run the business in his treehouse, the main café and the two small cottages on the ground have been left idle hence nature seems to have started taking over. Nowadays, the place has a forest-like ambiance.
The old café in indefinite interlude.
6. Details all throughout. There’s always an element of surprise and fancy here and there.
A peek to the now defunct kitchen.
7. Nearby river. There’s a river that’s just a good 15-minute walk away. It reminds me so much of Amorsolo‘s batis paintings. A scene that is rarely seen these days, people still do their laundry by the river. The heartbreaking thing is, despite the resolute clean and green campaign of both the private and government sectors, people in this part of the world unabashedly throw detergent and fabric softener packaging in the river. How could one enjoy swimming in a place such as this? A cool foot bath was the least I could give myself.
Jay being a theatre artist and environmental activist himself has been running an ecological campaign by creating his own theatre group and staging plays that tackle environmental issues such as this. When will you ever learn people of Dolores?
8. Makeshift Patio. On the roof of the old main café structure is this makeshift patio that has it’s unique artsy fartsy character. It’s perfect for lazing around in the afternoon– just being there feeling the rural vibe.
That’s playful and amiable Mjörnell on the foreground. Jay would sing his name to the tune of Blue Moon. There’s also lethargic Chongki, Jay’s loyal companion since the birth of the café.
9. Supper: fried lapulapu on a bed of seafood curry rice with prawns. The fish is fried to perfection and garnished with papaya chutney (achara), peanuts, cilantro, parsley, scallions, and red bell pepper. Side dishes are baba ganoush-stuffed tomato and singkamas (jicama) & tamarind bloom salad in vinaigrette dressing.
While I was lying on the hammock that afternoon, I saw Jay’s assistant reaching for tamarind blooms from the tree. That night, laid right before my eyes was a tamarind bloom-bedecked salad. It was a sweet surprise and fascinating first.
You pretty blooms, I’ll never look at you in the same way ever again!
Dessert came in the name of rum pudding. The presentation is so festive. Just like how I enjoy all the food laid on the table on Christmas eve, I totally caved in to my sweet, sweet tooth and consumed it with wild abandon.
Dinner was capped off with a pot of genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice).
The supper was a superstar on its own. Oblivious of the calories, I reveled in each and every mouthful like it’s the last sumptuous meal I would ever have in my life.
10. Night at the treehouse. Jay never ran out of stories, which kept us awake while sipping our tea. I was fighting the feeling of giving in to food coma. It could be the rum calling me to crawl into bed. At 10 p.m. we called it a night. I was glad that the bed was comfortable and the sheets were crisp and clean. I slept soundly like I was in the comfort of my own home.
Bamboo leaves saying good morning.
A vision of Mt. Banahaw from the bedroom window.
11. Breakfast. Our last meal at the treehouse (supposedly). At 10 o’clock in the morning, Jay called us to the dining area for breakfast. It’s an enormous serving of french toast with gumamela (hibiscus) and mulberry syrup.
My childhood memory of gumamela was squeezing the juice in a mixture of laundry detergent + water and, voila, a homemade blowing bubble solution! Finding out that it was added in the syrup brought back a beautiful childhood memory of blowing bubbles in lazy summer afternoons.
Gumamela doesn’t have a distinct taste but the slime made the syrup delightfully unusual. Breakfast was eaten slow up to the last bite, brought to perfection with a cup of brewed coffee.
12. A Bonus of Chicken Arroz Caldo. The gracious host must have loved our company that he made us stay till afternoon with a promise of a bowl of chicken arroz caldo. So we stayed a little longer and waited for the arroz caldo to be ready. Rain fell right before the rice started to swell, so Jay had to cut the cooking short before the makeshift kitchen got drenched in the sudden downpour.
Peppered with rainwater and just a minute shy of a swell, the arroz caldo was just as appetizing as it should be. More stories were shared in between spoonfuls of this hearty truly Pinoy congee.
It’s not where we travel but who we travel with. I am quite blessed to have a handful of friends who share my kind of craziness and adventure. For this trip, I thank this woman.
Kinabuhayan Café Bed & Breakfast
PHP 2,500 per person inclusive of 3 full meals and an overnight stay at the treehouse
118 Dejarme St., Barangay Bayanihan, Dolores, Quezon Province
Call Jay Herrera at +63 916 221 5791 or visit the Facebook page for details and directions.
Warning: If you have serious doubts on your artsy fartsy element, this place is not for you. Not for the faint of heart.