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andoy castellano
Works at home, internet-based.
Lives in Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines
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Casa San Pablo: Old Wood and Refreshing Juices

Casa San Pablo calls itself a bread and breakfast, an events place, as well as a team-building site. Casa San Pablo is more than that. It is a place which compels you to forget the rest of the world as you relax, or you can zone out and work, at your own leisurely pace.
Efforts have been made to make this place as idyllic and bucolic as possible. The place smells musty at times, and old. It does not reek, but it has a scent of greens and old wood. The wood used in most of the buildings were recycled from even older houses elsewhere which have been demolished. Take a look at the wooden walls, doors, the terrace and the steps. You can see where the joints are, where the dovetails were, and sometimes you can see large bolts still embedded in the old dried lumber.

This is a hotel. The rooms feel cozy, like a tight blanket which is almost claustrophobic sometimes. This is the first place I have been to where each room has a lot of beds (2 bunk beds, and 3 singles) and two toilet and baths, all crammed in one “room”. I have six siblings, and we would love to sleep in these rooms. Of course, there are dormitory type rooms, with rows of bunk beds. For larger parties, or corporate events.

This is a place which is quiet. It is quiet even if there were boisterous kids running around the grounds. Every so often you can hear the loud horns from vehicles plying the main road. It is along the highway, in the city proper of San Pablo City. Even the farthest rooms are just 200-250 meters from the main gate. Back in the city, it would be loud with the sound of cars and jeeps. What makes the place quiet is the greenery. The place is in many shades of green. If you live in the city, you forget that there are multiple shades of green, from the dark bluish green, to pale yellow green, and that was describing only the natural foliage and flora. The plant life in Casa San Pablo is diverse, and it can be surprising.

White anthuriums (is that an anthurium?), at the odd corner, yellow pea-like flowers near the pool, pink lotus flowers, bougainvilles, dot the place. These are not the high maintenance flowers you would expect from a resort. Rather, these are the low maintenance plants you would expect from your favorite aunt’s provincial retreat.

There is an audible sigh to the place. Like the sigh two people make in unison when they hold hands while walking along dim pathways under the shade of old houses. This is a place for lovers. There are too many nooks and crannies for lovers to hide in, and that is jus in the room they are lodging for their stay. It is a hotel, and you can order room service. But why? When there is a lot to see and to experience within the compound. Except for the rooms, they call you to bed.

The rooms! The rooms are enchanting. As enchanting as the clay artwork, and the wooden statues or the statuettes which look like they are made from Pinatubo lahar. The little touches add up and make sense in a silly child-like way. Not Dr. Seuss, but closer to Oscar Wilde’s short stories for children. The wooden lamb, the clay lechon diorama, the spoon displays on the walls, the naked Rubenesque piece at the office, all make sense as a whole.

This is a place for families, as well as for corporate events. The dormitory rooms are roomy, and light passes through from glass panes acting as walls. This is a working activity center. Perfect for small corporate events, training and planning sessions. It has WiFi in the common areas.

If there was a weird way to describe Casa San Pablo, it would be “shouting discreetly.” The place seems like it is in a state of constant repair and improvement. It is always under construction, but only behind the scenes. Like Chapterhouse Dune, where seas are left to dry, there are structures which look as if they are being left out of the renovations. Until you realize that those are not priorities. Too late, you realize that listening to a violin play in the evening, or an outdoor film-showing would have more meaning than a pavilion.

Sadly, I was not able to attend the very promisingly entertaining evening. Though I did taste the food. It is to die for. And the diningy room. It has to have its own exclamation point.

The dining room was roomy. Very roomy, airy, with a light air, and a sweet tinkle in the sound of the spoon and fork, against the china. What was missing is the strict yaya telling her ward to keep the elbows off the table.

The dining room tries to look old, but the kitchen disagrees. The menu is a modern take on traditional Filipino cuisine. The food begs to have a family member critique it till the last spoonful is finished. Syrupy, sweet and sour words, against the spoon, but only the tummy vote counts when it comes to food. That was not fish with tausi. It was fish with black beans, not salted black beans. The bagnet was okay, but the mongo with lechon was totally unexpected. It was soupy, not thick, with small bits of crispy pork, not the melted, soggy, chicharon you cook at home. You wonder how the pork was crispy while floating in the relatively thin consistency of the mongo. You wonder how the chef made it creamy without mashing the mung beans. The guinataang halo-halo is syrupy sweet as expected, just right for dessert. That was a heavy dessert.

The goto is something to note, that it has to have its own paragraph. Goto is so pedestrian, that people forget how hard it is to make good goto. Goto is goto, where you have sticky rice, and tripe, usually for morning or afternoon snack. How hard is it to cook? This goto is like any other goto. Except for the tripe. It does not have any residue or hint of that offal taste that stomach lining usually has. This is smooth as silk, melts in your mouth goodness. This goto is so good, you just do not notice, and go on as you were, until you reach the bottom of the bowl, and ask for more.

The drinks. That was not flavored iced tea. That green liquid in a pitcher is pandan juice. That reddish pink liquid in the another pitcher is camote-top juice. Juice or tea, a drink by any other name, would still taste of pandan or camote-tops. There is always that one thing on the table which the palate remembers. Here, the pandan juice was worth the price of admission.

I am not a critic, though I can give a critical eye on Casa San Pablo, the flaws, the blemishes. However, these are like a favorite uncle’s liver spots. Or of a favorite grandaunt’s wrinkled words drawling softly in your ear in a language that is alien, yet familiar, having grown up with it echoing round the house. It adds character, almost kitschy at times, almost formulaic. Reminds me of Norman Rockwell paintings, or old copies of Reader’s Digest, or black and white Life Magazine pictures. Nonoy Marcelo and Larry Alcala would enjoy drawing this place. Theatrical at times, but for the layer of patina, the fading sheen, the weathered wood, and the scent of an old home. You ask yourself, what do you remember. The remembrance forces itself onto your consciousness. This is what a wooden staircase smells like. This is what a house beside a kamalig feels like.

It has the touch of melancholy, in the rusting charcoal-fired flat-iron on the small table on the terrace. It has reminders everywhere, like the Harry Potter books on the side-table beside the divan so wide you thought it was a low table. Books are everywhere. Garrison Keillor on the bookshelf by the bed. This is the place where rooms have souls – all the rooms.

There must be something to the realization that you hurry to get to Casa San Pablo. The staff would even send you a text message on the best way to get there (via STAR, exit Balete, passing by the outskirts of Lipa City, on to a new highway meandering through gentle curves hugging the mountains, connecting to Maharlika Highway and Alaminos, on to San Pablo City, left on the fork, and there you see the sign which says Casa San Pablo). However, you tarry when leaving. Just one more picture, and then another, and one more. Finally out the gates, and you are already planning a return.

[originally posted at Tumblr]
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Work
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Social media practitioner. IT consultant.
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  • home, internet-based.
    SEO practitioner, 2008 - present
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Social Media Management Consultant, SEO Practitioner, Freelance Writer, Photographer
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I have a minimalist approach to surviving. Where others would only work using the latest, the largest, the fastest piece of equipment, I can and do work with whatever's available. I can make a 3 yr old PC work more productively than most anyone can do with a new PC.
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Currently
Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines
Previously
Marikina City, Metro Manila, Philippines - UPLB, Laguna, Philippines