Starweek Magazine

Valley High: Discovering nature’s farm-acy

Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - I never knew I could visit Mount Kanla-on and its environs for two days and cover so much ground. After our coffee trips to Mailum and La Carlota, Nicky our host agrees to accompany us to Don Salvador Benedicto, to a place called Rapha Valley.

But first, the requisite tourist photos. We drive from Bacolod City, to Murcia and agree to make a quick stop at Malatan-og Falls despite having already seen two tarp billboards of directions to Rapha Valley. Here, at a viewpoint,  you can see the natural water wonder, untouched by humans, and simply a sight to see and behold.

We also pass a “Doc J’s” restaurant on the highway, which even if confusingly similar to Dr. Jo’s name, I know is NOT it yet. There even is a Lion’s Head viewpoint, much smaller than Baguio’s Kennon Road icon, but sponsored by the international group Lions Club just the same. So it is a pleasant drive to about 700 meters above sea level, where the winding road takes you to this quaint town, now also known as Negros Occidental’s answer to Tagaytay.

Tucked 1,200 meters from the highway, you traverse this bumpy dirt road that will soon take you to a little paradise called Rapha Valley. We are greeted by the Master – Dr. Albert Jo, a real medical doctor who always wanted to be a chef, but gave in to his parents’ wishes of tucking a medical degree under his belt. Like a dutiful son, he did finish Medicine and  now practices what Hippocrates says: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.”

We are welcomed with an energizing snack of black rice puto (rice cake), on which you spread one or both spreads – a vegan dinuguan (blood stew) made from carob and a hummus-like cheese spread. He also prepared, for this visit, carrot and langka (jackfruit) juice, or whatever is in season.

After refreshing ourselves with a cold face towel and the light healthy snack, he starts the tour around the terraced herb and vegetable plots.

You will need a video recorder to remember everything he says. Like a true scientist with a passion for food, he snips away at herbs and makes us sample them and guess, if we could, what it is. I guessed the stevia plant (now popularly used as a sugar substitute) while my friends went “ooh” and “aah” over the smell and taste of asparagus, sweet basil, lemon basil, oregano, rosemary, gotu kola, and many, many more.

Each experience will be different as there is a random selection of herbs that Dr. Jo chooses, maybe also tailored to the profile of his visitors. We were with two friends who are certified meat lovers, and one on maintenance medicine after two stents had been placed in his heart. The other with a recurring eye condition, which he claims is a simple allergic reaction to coffee and rice dust. We shall see how they take all this information in.

The almost 45-minute tour exposes one to many cures and remedies that Nature has given us. From gout to hypertension, from diabetes to Alzheimers, there is a plant or herb that Nature has provided. We only need to see beyond the pharmacy to Nature’s “Farm-acy,” as Dr. Albert and wife Marilou Soriano-Jo fondly call their farm.

Along the winding terraced plots, we come across weeds, plants growing out of hanging sacks, plants in jute sacks, bamboo racks, lots of plastic and wine bottles that have seen a second life as a container for yet another herb, plant or lettuce.

I have never seen so many edible flowers! Lantana, or baho-baho, periwinkle or chichirica, and many other flowers and buds that Dr. Jo snips and hands over to us to taste and smell.

You might ask, how do I take all of these good stuff everyday? Well, we will soon find out as we head to the tent where lunch will be served. What greets us as we enter is an herb salad with everything we tasted on the “farm-acy” trail, with sides of diced yakon, diced pineapple, shavings of cucumber and two kinds of dressing. All vegetarian, all healthy and now, all familiar to us.

That is just for starters. Next will be a side fish dish (that you have to eat with the salad), two pasta sauce choices and two desserts. All served with cold hibiscus (roselle) tea, and finished off with a small cup of tarragon tea or a robust cup of brewed organic Negros coffee.

The lunch is a happy instant reunion for Bacolod classmates of our friend Nicky and a new discovery meal for the whole group from Manila. And if you have not had enough of Kanlaon’s view, you can stay for a night, go on a “detox and reenergize” trip for two days and stay in Rapha valley’s casitas. Meals included, and unlimited views and fresh air, the package will surely be worth every cent.

I was there just for a few hours and what I got was surely what you would call a valley high.

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