A Taste of Kapangpangan Country Life (unedited)
Edited Version published on Expat Newspaper Nov 9- 22 Issue
Text and Photos by Loraine Balita
Thanks to my uncontrollable curiosity and short attention span I didn’t even find out who Abe was until I left the place and read the short write up. Throughout the tour and yes, while we were all supposedly listening to the guide, I was roaming around popping my head in and out of rooms, opening doors, getting lost and finding my way back behind the group. It’s hard to concentrate on the tour when you’re surrounded by interesting antiques and trinkets contained in an equally amusing farm.
Abe’s Farm located in Magalang Pampanga offers a window to the Kapangpangan country life to city dwellers and an engrossing experience to city slickers who, like me, are easily amused. It’s like a day in the national museum only here you get to experience Kapangpangan cuisine, get a massage and dip in the pool, take a hike or sleep in one of the artifacts.
Right after passing through the wooden sign that welcomed us we were given a prelude to the whole country life experience with a wood plough sans the Carabao pulling it accenting the manicured lawn. After entering the main guest house I was taken aback by the huge carabao skull hanging right above the main entrance “So that’s what happened to the carabao”, I thought to myself. Like a girl from the province feeling out of place in Makati city, I felt like an urbanite out of place in the country. Our cameras and cell phones and even we, in our jeans, looked odd amidst the rustic background.
Wooden posts and bamboo railings line the veranda that is wrapped around the entire house. Antique chairs and huge wooden tables are scattered all throughout, the rustic design extends up to the rooms and even up to the bathroom. A winding staircase made of wood leads up to the second floor with four beds divided only by curtains. Not exactly the type for honeymooners but could be perfect for a family of four or a group of friends who would like to chat untill they fall asleep. After going farther up the staircase I was led to the attic which offers visitors a real taste of country life. And when I say real I mean bamboo lining the floor and wall and no air conditioning system just windows that invite fresh air in and afford a view of the garden the lawn and the greenery outside. Another staircase leads down to the basement which is off limits to guests and is reserved for the owner’s family. After going around the main guest house we were taken out to explore the rest of this four hectare property.
It was not the pool that caught my attention but the small huts surrounding it. I was told that these are called Ulog, traditional Ifugao huts brought here from the Mt. Province. And if you think seeing these huts up close is already thrilling trying sleeping in it. Guests can rent these huts that can accommodate up to two people. A sign which states the obvious reminds guests not to smoke inside the Ifugao huts. There are three Ulogs in Abe’s farm that can be rented by guests. All with authentic artifacts attached on the sides, proof of the ways of living of the Filipinos up north. Stuck onto the sides of these huts are wooden spears with pointed metal blades, Ifugao head ornaments wrapped in feathers and weaved cloth and my favorite item—Ifugao Samsonite. These water-proof backpacks are made of woven rattan covered with extracted plant fibers that look like fur. Some call it sangi others call it pasiking but in most Ifugao regions it is commonly called bango.
Just when I thought I could finally listen to the guide a monkey stole my attention. Yes, a monkey named Dagul is kept here. The small primate seemed gentle enough so I came closer. Dagul on the other hand seemed eager to pose for my camera. Just as I was about to head back to join the group and listen we were called back to the main house to have a taste of Kapangpangan cuisine Abe’s Farm have prepared for us.
The sumptuous dishes were all good. Although the Paco Fern Salad was a bit too fresh for me, the smell and texture reminded me of the Ferns we brought to school for our Biology class. It could need some getting used to for people with a fast food trained palate, but it could be perfect for vegans and those looking for a healthy way to experience Kapangpangan cuisine.
After finishing the gastronomic treats we were off to another section of the farm. Abe’s Farm has teemed up with Nature Spa. The latter has huts located within the vicinity where you can get your massage. What makes Nature Spa in Abe’s Farm different here is the signature Kapangpangan Spa Treatments. Tumayla for example is a relaxing Kapangpangan massage reminiscent of a mother’s caress done to the melody of a Kapangpangan lullaby. Hilot on the other hand involves techniques practiced by grandmothers to cure common ailments like colds, sprains, and fever. These signature treatments are created by incorporating local massage methods done by Kapangpangans with other techniques. Guests can also stay in one of Nature Spa’s huts and avail of packages that include accommodation, meals and spa treatments.
A section of the farm can also be rented for events and occasions. If you need a place to detoxify and recharge your employees for the next team building sessions or you have always dreamt of a nature themed wedding, then Abe’s Farm could be a good option.
After getting a sample of Nature Spa’s Sese ng Ima, a traditional Kapangpangan head massage, which almost lulled me to sleep we headed back to the main house and spent the afternoon chatting over merienda. Because I was too sleepy after the massage, too full after munching on the sinfully good merienda treats and was too preoccupied with the trinkets and interesting pieces scattered all throughout the farm it was only after we left that I realized how ungrateful a guest I was. I forgot to ask who the man behind Abe’s Farm really is. It was only after I read a write up that I found out that the late artist and writer Emilio “Abe” Aguilar Cruz is the man behind this place. His artworks adorn the walls and trinkets which amazed me all through out my visit there are some of the memorabilia he collected from his travels here and abroad. And his son, the late restaurateur Lary J. Cruz of LJC Group of Restaurants, is the one who started this events village.