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Food and Leisure

An escape to the city of dreams

- Heny Sison -
We live in a world where everything teeters, as though balancing itself on a spinning top. Everyone seems to be engaged in constant activities. It is commonplace for someone to juggle two or three things at a time. Multi-tasking, multi-purpose and multi-function are keywords to the success of any product … or any person for that matter. In this day and age, even our children are not spared. With the overload of information pouring in daily, children’s grades are affected because of the constantly changing curriculum. The young ones are continually fed with new data, when they have barely digested their previous lessons. At the height of such a tension, could you blame yourself for wishing that the world would just stop?

Well, the world isn’t cooked to be that way, thank goodness for that. In a profession where time and patience is everything, it would be a no-no to rush things. Cakes have to be patiently waited upon to make them rise. Molding fondant to intricate designs takes considerable patience for it to pass the grade. And with the bulk of orders in a busy season such as Christmas, orders have to be made in advance or else be turned down. You certainly would not want to sacrifice quality for profit.

Praise heavens for the holidays, which, in my thinking, were declared to make time stand still once in a while, moreso if they happen to fall on a long weekend. This is a good time to plan a great getaway from the routine one is normally tied down to.

The holidays bring to mind faraway exotic places, the stuff dreams and fantasies are made of. Well, I didn’t have to look so far away because right in the heart of the Orient Pearl lies this dream city come to life: Davao.

The queen of orchids, the waling-waling; the king of fruits, the durian; the lord of the mountains, Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak; and the majestic Philippine eagle, the country’s national bird, all find their home in Davao City, the premier tourist destination in southern Philippines.

Davao is a city of welcoming contrasts. On one end, it is one of the country’s most progressive and booming capitals, the hub of commerce and industry, and a flourishing metropolis. On the other end of the spectrum, it reflects a heritage steeped in centuries-old traditions, where ancestral tribes – the Bagobos, the Manobos and other ethnic tribes – roam free in the rural landscape. It is also sanctuary to a rich variety of flora and fauna.

It is this fusion of the old and new that gives Davao its allure. The mix of the indigenous and the modern never fails to charm even the most jaded tourist. It has certainly held me captive.

I have been to Davao more than twice, and every trip always recharged and refreshed my weary soul. Traditional yet thoroughly modern Davao, which is one of the world’s largest cities, now also houses what is considered the biggest entertainment hub in Asia – the Venue, a one-stop shop which features sports and recreation spots plus the biggest concert hall in the land.

Late last year, I had the privilege to do a baking demonstration there through the courtesy of Davao entrepreneur, the genial Rossina Bangayan, part-owner of the popular Linmar Suites. The pleasure was all mine, because I certainly wouldn’t miss the opportunity to revisit this fascinating city of a thousand and one surprises.

This time, my hostess took me to the famous Puentespina Orchids and Tropical Plants, Inc., located at the Baguio district in Davao City. From its humble beginnings as a modest backyard orchid enterprise in the early ’70s, the company has flourished and blossomed today into one of the country’s most diversified and dynamic floriculture companies. Owned and spearheaded by Charita Puentespina, this floral empire celebrates its 25th year as a leader in its field.

And what a field day I had, traipsing along a field of flowers. Everywhere I turned, as far as my gaze would take me, I was greeted and surrounded by every kind of flora imaginable, from my favorite, the hydrangeas, to a wide family of orchids, gerberas, mums, daisies and liliums. This is my idea of heaven – a burst of colors on a breezy sunny day and an intoxicating fragrance no imported cosmetic house could ever bottle!

I gamely posed for the camera, drinking in the scents and sights at their radiant best. I also enjoyed picking flowers and, much more, was fascinated by the meticulous process by which the blooms are cut and packed for delivery.

It was a welcome piece of information that imported flowers, such as hydrangeas, can be locally produced here. Bamboos commonly stand tall and proud, but have you ever seen creeping bamboo? Well, it thrives here aplenty at the Puentespina farm, and it’s such a novel sight to behold.

More than a profitable business, the Puentespinas’ serious passion for floriculture turned them into guardians committed to the conservation and preservation of nature’s gifts.

Last July, they spearheaded the Waling-Waling Forest Program at the Malagos Garden Resort. In this project, flowering waling-waling will be planted in lieu of old trees, where they can thrive undisturbed, a way of preventing the extinction of this postcard-pretty native flora.

I even chanced upon a unique hybrid of orchid, which turned out to be the Vanda Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a new variety of waling-waling, named rightfully after Madame President. It was officially accepted by the Royal Horticultural Society last March. Talk about flower power!

Joining me was my constant kachika and eternal friend, floral designer par excellence Ben Go, along with our guides Dr. Roberto and Olive Puentespina. Both blessed with the greenest of thumbs, they are also by profession veterinarians and help run the family-owned Malagos Garden Resort, a beauteous 12-hectare inland resort which boasts a bird park, a haven for endangered species, including the regal Philippine eagle, which is incidentally the world’s largest eagle. Other attractions include a butterfly sanctuary and a garden restaurant, which serves green salads and veggies freshly picked from the garden itself. For recreation, the resort offers horseback riding, calesa rides, pond fishing and mountain bikes, among others.

The Puentespinas shared with us a family recipe upon the request of Ben, who raved about the binagoongan they served us during our stay. Here it is:
Binagoongang Baboy
3 kilo pork pierna; if a more sinful result is desired, use bone-in liempo
1 kilo ripe tomatoes
200 grms. onions
150 grms. garlic


Put everything together in a heavy sauce pan. Boil, then simmer slowly until half-cooked. Add desired amount of Iloilo guinamos. Cook to desired tenderness. Enjoy.
* * *
Time is gold. Time is of the essence. A stitch in time saves nine. Worn-out, age-old quotations impress on us the value of time, stressing the importance of work in our daily lives.

But how about my favorite quotation on time: "Take time to smell the flowers." That I just did in a paradise where dreams flourish and thrive. It was certainly time well spent.

BEN GO

BINAGOONGANG BABOY

CHARITA PUENTESPINA

DAVAO

DAVAO CITY

DR. ROBERTO AND OLIVE PUENTESPINA

EVERYWHERE I

MALAGOS GARDEN RESORT

TIME

WALING

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