If you ever get the chance to drive 10 hours across Luzon, don’t.
Unless The Farm is waiting for you at the end.
Until now, the longest drive I’d ever logged was 14 hours to Alabama, but even that was split fairly evenly with Alana. Since Sarah didn’t have her license, I felt weird letting her drive. I know that sounds overly paranoid, but early in the trip, she brought it up while she was driving.
“So, if I get into an accident or hit somebody, I’m giving them your name, right? Since you have the license and the car is in your name?”
I took over from her shortly after.
I don’t mind a good, long drive. With the right company, good music, and a bit of scenery, it passes pretty quickly.
Not in the Philippines.
Google Maps promised that we were driving on a highway, but we weren’t. Again, we found ourselves turning around because Google Maps had mis-marked a road, or chugging along behind slow trikes and jeepneys down winding roads, unable to see far enough ahead to overtake them.
On the occasions when the road opened up and took us outside of barangays and winding, crowded streets, I relaxed a little, but the bulk of the ten hours was spent rather white-knuckled and impatiently.
At one point, stuck behind two large trucks that had stopped on the road, I swore and sped around them – and found myself face to face with an oncoming truck. There was roadwork ahead and they were simply stopped as asked. I had to cut in front of both trucks to avoid the oncoming one. I felt like a jerk, but also I’d gotten in front of the trucks so…winning.
About 7 hours into the journey, I was starting to zone out. I think we stopped at a McDonalds. As we took the Old Zigzag Road through the mountains, Sarah cranked up Macklemore and I felt a little energized.
It didn’t help that the sky was gray and overcast the entire time, and we occasionally found ourselves drenched in downpour.
At one point, we pulled off to a gas station where I bought two Cokes for 45 pesos. I’d given 60, and he’d given me back 5 pesos. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t had to use the bathroom, which charged 10 pesos. Two children sat in front of the ladies’ room, spitting on the ground.
By the time we hit the last stretch of long road to The Farm, I was desperate for it. My knee was cramped – is that even possible? – and I felt achy from sitting for so long. We weren’t sure if Google Maps was actually taking us to the Farm at San Benito, and as we turned down narrow side streets marked with signs for “Blessed Farm,” we felt less convinced.
I hoped that G-Maps was right for a change – and it was!
We pulled up in front of the reception area, where Sarah ran in to ask about our room. They immediately sent someone out to valet the car – yes! – and bring our stuff to our room.
I sat down to a chilly glass of iced tea and a warm towel. We were famished, so we went straight to the restaurant, which offered tasty vegan cuisine and a sylvan ambiance, enhanced by the open screen windows and chirping insects. It was rainy, and all matters of life were about, croaking and flapping around (the latter refers to a large, dying cockroach I found in the open air bathroom).
After dinner – which included two much-needed glasses of wine – we were shown to our room. The Palmera Glass suite boasted walls of windows overlooking dripping, verdant plants and fluttering moth-like insects battering themselves against the lights. A little pot of incense burned outside our front door. The best part wasn’t even the bed – it was the shower.
The bathroom included a toilet and sink, a spacious little area, and then a sliding glass door that led to an outdoor shower. Protected partly by an awning, the shower was large and offered a spectacular view of the stars – or it probably did. It rained the whole time. But who cares? There’s something equally spectacular about a steamy shower and the cool night air.
Plus, The Farm stocked our shower with goodies: lemongrass salt scrub, coconut oil, and natural shampoo and conditioner. I wanted to use all of it, so I did. Did I need to? No. Have I used the word “glorious” enough in this series of posts? Probably not. The outdoor shower was a highlight of the trip for this perpetually grimy gal.
After my refreshing shower, Sarah and I slip-slid up the pebbly path, past the Tibetan Steam Lounge, to the Healing Sanctuary. I cannot stress enough how sprawling and awe-inspiring this place was.
The Healing Sanctuary welcomed us with open doors leading out onto a wooden patio, which included a weepy tree whose flowers dripped off the branches and into the glittering infinity pool. Majestic. It was here that I had my 5-minute head and foot massage to prepare for my full-body aromatherapy.
This is the sort of place where everyone is super-chill and breezy, with the masseuse whispering into my ear, “Allow yourself to relax. All is well.”
All is well, even if I had to sacrifice a quarter of my paycheck to achieve this wellness.
After our massages, we were treated to more mint tea in the reception. It was pouring outside, and a swarm of moth-flying ant creatures were flapping around the lights by the main doorway. We were given two parachute-sized umbrellas to take back to our suite – protection from the rain and those insects.
I slept well that night.
In the morning, we’d planned on participating in the free yoga class at 7am in the amphitheater across the path, but we slept instead. Or I did. Sarah was probably up at 5am doing her own sun salutations. Or showering.
Breakfast was a tasty three-course meal, served to us at 8:30. Unfortunately, this was smack in the middle of the Oil of Life Tour, one of the day’s free activities that educated participants about all the uses of coconut.
Seriously. You splash a lot of cash at The Farm, but you could keep yourself busy there for a week. Each day is jam packed with activities from dawn to dusk – all inclusive: yoga, boot camp, coconut oil classes, cooking classes, meditation. Sprinkle in a few meals and massages, and you’ve got a pretty enviable itinerary. We had to come back.
Between breakfast and our scheduled foot massages, we explored the premises. A sprawling estate, The Farm features lavish accommodations, an organic herb garden, waterfalls, an orchidarium, and enough lagoons to warrant one being named “Main Lagoon.”
We perambulated about, occasionally pausing to scrape our jaws off the ground. From time to time, a peacock would emerge from the hedges and walk beside us or regard us warily as we sat meditatively in a small cabana in the Main Lagoon. It rained on and off, but that didn’t stop us. Frogs hopped in the grass and massive toads struggled to heave their thick bodies up off the sidewalk.
I took another shower before heading back to the Healing Sanctuary, where we dipped our feet in pearly-white coconut milk scattered with bright purple flowers. As they massaged my legs with peppermint scrub, a peacock and its baby wandered out of the reception and sat and watched.
Believe me when I tell you that it was with great reluctance that we left The Farm to head back to Manila. The only thing really propelling me forward was knowing that we’d watch Game of Thrones later.
The drive back to Manila was everything I’d envisioned our road trip as being: long stretches of speedy, uncongested highway, punctuated with rest stops featuring Starbucks every so often.
Once we hit Makati traffic, the stress returned a bit, especially as we approached long lines facing a toll plaza.
“There’s no one in the ETC lanes,” Sarah pointed out.
“What do you think that stands for? Oh! Probably “exact toll change.” Let’s go there.”
It was only as we approached that I realized ETC stood for something like “electronic toll carnage” or something. Whatever it was, we didn’t have it, and so again I found myself cutting in front of a line of traffic.
I was close to the toll, but apparently the small space in front of me was enough to convince a giant bus it could cut in. I used the horn properly for the first time on the trip. Sarah was proud.
It was also with pride that I announce we made it back to Manila without having to use bribe money, the 24-hour roadside assistance, or the number for security at the school. When the rental car was picked up from Forbestown and our deposit returned, I felt like we’d passed some kind of Philippines driving initiation.
To celebrate, I packed for the airport, watched Game of Thrones at Sarah’s, and dined, fittingly at a place called The Farm.
I am embarrassed for every bad stories a visitor goes through here in the Phils. As well as elated for the bright side of their adventures. Manila, is of course, a jungle for driving.
We had a great time exploring. The Philippines is such a beautiful country!