Pau Apilado finds food the main attraction at Larry Cruz’s Abe’s Farm hideaway at the foothills of Mt. Arayat in Pampanga
Location. Abe’s Farm is the late restaurateur Larry Cruz’s four-room countryside resort at the foothills of Mt. Arayat in Barangay Ayala in Magalang, Pampanga, about an hour's drive from Manila. Larry Cruz started the LJC group of restaurants, now with 11 brands and 17 outlets nationwide, including the famous Cafe Adriatico in Malate, catering to the bohemian and upmarket crowd.
First Impression. I didn’t know what to expect as I walked up the narrow stone steps leading to Abe’s Farm. The main house looked small from out front, like a hobbit’s house from The Lord of the Rings movie set. Once inside I was surprised by the spaciousness of this split-level “hut” made of bamboo, antique wood and adobe.
It was also airy and full of natural light. The main house consisted of a spacious game room/conference area, two big sleeping rooms, living, dining and bath rooms and on the upper floor, two guest rooms.
Local arts and craft and personal collections of Larry adorned the interiors: a wooden turtle with a woven basket for a carapace near the entrance, multi-pointed stars made of capiz used as light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, an old wooden box shaped like a transistor radio from the early half of the 20th century, the photo albums of the Aguilar-Cruz clan and an antique four-poster bed transformed into a comfy lounge sofa in the living room. Paintings of Filipino coastal and farm villages and Larry’s portraits hung in the hallway.
This, after all, was not just a resort but home to the late restaurateur and his wife Merle who collaborated closely with architect Agustin Goy in designing the farm.
Rooms. Accommodation here consists of three traditional ulogs (sturdy Ifugao huts made of hardwood, cogon and rattan, inspired by the tribal huts in the Northern Philippines’ Cordillera region) set in a garden of tropical plants and bamboo trees. Wooden steps lead you to the one-storey ulog with bamboo clad flooring and an eclectic array of woven rugs, blankets and mats. There was a spa bed in the middle of the room since the ulogs were designed as private spa huts, but traditional mattresses were also available.
Inside the room, floral batik fabrics, a banig or woven straw mat and bright orange Ifugao blanket with a deer pattern and zebra-stripe rugs lined the walls; fine white mesh cloth was draped from the roof; and from the ceiling hung an Ifugao warrior’s shield and two spears. Modern trappings included lamp baskets that filled the hut with soft, yellow light, an overhead swing fan and a Phillips digital cd player.
Underneath the ulog was an outdoor sitting area with two long hardwood seats, a table with a sungka, a traditional Filipino seashell table game, and two bulols or Ifugao rice gods sculpted in wood. In the Cordillera region, rice gods traditionally guarded the ulog or tribal family home.
On my first day at Abe’s Farm, I woke up refreshed from a rather long afternoon nap. It was easy falling into a restful sleep since my ulog was quite airy and located a short walk away from the main house and its hustle and bustle. On my last day there, I woke up to the trilling of maya-maya birds.
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The farm also has several animal residents, including the two friendly native dogs I often found sleeping under my ulog, Dagul, the tiny, playful monkey, hens and roosters clucking while roaming the property freely and goats noisily munching on grass beyond the wooden fence of the property.
One downside is the farm’s bath and toilet, located in a separate hut about 10 yards away, making the prospect of answering the call of nature in the middle of the night a not-too enticing proposition. A capiz-and-wooden door led to the bathroom made of adobe and the shower had a cement platform. The sink was a rough-cut adobe wash basin. It’s very spartan with no mirror or bath essentials so bring your own toiletries.
The rooms at the second and third floors of the main house had two to three double beds with mattresses or the traditional banig. In keeping with the simple Filipino country life, there’s also a mosquito net made of fine white mesh hanging from a circular rod above the beds. More exotic and dreamier than the second floor bedrooms, however, was the third floor sleep area formed by a trio of four-poster queen-size beds framed by diaphanous orange curtains. The soft yellow glow of overhead lamps made it a sight to behold at night.
My personal choice was the bedroom at the topmost floor of the main house, a narrow attic room that could fit only one queen size mattress, but had big open windows allowing the steady flow of cool air.
The Activity. Try the farm’s various treatments at its Nurture Spa. I arranged for an hour-long Aruga or Swedish massage inside my ulog and came out of it totally refreshed. House specialties include Seseng Ima (“nurturing caress of a mother” in Capampangan) massage and Dikdiking Ima, a traditional Capampangan head, scalp and neck massage. Other invigorating Nurture Spa treatments include Mutya Natural Facial, a refreshing all-natural cleansing treatment packed with vitamins A and C and the natural antioxidants in honey, almond, yogurt and cucumber; Hilot Kagalingan, a Filipino massage said to prevent and cure common like colds, sprains, fever and fatigue since the therapist tries to address your physical imbalance through massage and the use of coconut-infused herbs; and Hele Foot spa.
Another option is to go on a trek to Mt. Arayat (a guided four-hour hike) or fly an ultralight plane at the nearby Angeles City Flying Club (arrangements to be made with the Farm staff).
The Food. Abe’s Farm serves delicious Capampangan food. If you’re on a diet, you can ask LJC Group specialty chef Emmanuel Manansala or current resident chef Ernesto Francisco and head waiter Joey Duenas in Abe’s Farm to whip up something suitable. Joey, along with the other waiters, arranged small outdoor indulgences for me like my quiet candle-lit dinner and early morning breakfast by the pool.
I was served intriguing dishes like adobong puso ng saging or heart of banana stewed in palm vinegar and balo balo, also known as burong kanin, a Capampangan delicacy of salad rice and shrimp paste served alongside fried fish and mustasa leaves. It was, however, my plate of paco (fern) and tomato salad in a light vinaigrette and young catfish fried crisp with slices of green mango smothered in fermented shrimp paste which I wiped spotlessly clean. I’d also come back anytime to Abe’s Farm for its sugpo sa gata or prawns simmered in coconut milk and spices and pork sinigang in sampaloc or ultra-tender pork and native vegetables stewed in sour tamarind broth.
The Verdict. Abe’s Farm is a definite must-visit, if only for a day trip to sample its food, and experience a place that's been lovingly and thoughtfully planned.
Abe’s Farm, Mt. Arayat Rates & Packages
Abe's Farm is in Barangay Ayala, Magalang, Pampanga. An overnight stay at an Ifugao hut for two persons starts at Php2,990. Abe's Farm is also home to the E. Aguilar Cruz Museum. Visit www.abesfarm.com.ph. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. +6345/ 865 1930 or +63917 / 808 5187
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