Tanay, Rizal Province, the Philippines
October 6, 2013
What could be better than sleeping in on a Sunday morning? An early morning road trip, if you were my friend Ki. Though it didn’t feel that way as I was dragging myself out of bed, the vistas of mountains and valleys of the Sierra Madre Range were worth waking up early for. With the light weekend traffic, it took less than an hour to reach the highlands of Rizal Province. The gentle mountain breeze rippling through olive green cogon-covered slopes whispered in our ears, the tranquility broken only by the vrooming convoys of motorcycles that zipped past us.
This stretch of Marcos Highway was popular to weekend cyclists for its proximity, undulating terrain, cool climes, and panoramic views. Groups of cyclists gathered to rest and replenish supplies at a familiar pit stop at the foot of Mt. Tarangka. Ki and I were relieved that not much had changed. Cherry’s Store, which also went by the name Mt. Tarangka Coffee Shop, was as rustic as we had seen it five years before: a wooden sari-sari store and carinderia, except for the addition of several thatch-roofed bamboo cottages overlooking the rolling hills beyond.
The mom-and-pop store was unusually crowded. A media crew was packing up the location shoot of SEAOIL’s TV commercial, the one with a car racing down a zigzag highway. It was a wrap, and soon we were taking in pastoral peace along with our coffee, meat loaf from the sari-sari store, and rice from the carinderia. A sunny-side up topping would’ve completed our no-frills brekky.
The backdrop of our brekky was a hill dotted with dalandan (Philippine orange) trees neatly arranged into cornrows. We were just unprepared for both the crisp mountain air (no jacket) and the spectacular countryside view (no camera). I made do with my Samsung Galaxy Pocket. The hillside orchard, we later learned, belonged to the same family that owned the pit stop.
Ki struck a conversation with some guys who happened to be members of the Gud family that owned Mt. Tarangka Coffee Shop. Their elderly parents had served us our brekky earlier. They said generations of their clan had called this hinterland their home – hectares of land so remote and cut off from the nearest town until the government built the Marikina-Infanta highway that cut through Mt. Tarangka in the 1990s. The family fortune must have changed with a lifeline opening up for their produce and opportunities beyond agriculture, hence the store-cum-coffee shop.
But how much longer could this scenic highland hold out before it became another over-developed Tagaytay? And how many more generations of the Gud family could continue to lead such idyllic lives in the land handed down from their ancestors? Residential subdivisions and resorts had already invaded the foothills of Sierra Madre. The highway that brought accessibility to this otherwise remote sitio could also change it beyond recognition. Pretty soon, faceless corporations might take over, and Mt. Tarangka Coffee Shop might give way to Starbucks. At least Ki and I had not only basked in the Sierra Madre sun, but had met her sons. And it was all Gud.