Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mt. Iglit National Park

This jungle reserve is well worth a visit for all nature lovers. The journey there takes a little over an hour on a motorbike from San Jose, but the bumps on the 'bitumen' will make it feel twice as long. It's best to hire a guide once you get there, as townships turn to jungle before your very eyes, quickly too. It's also a great way to experience the way of life of Mindoro's indigenous Mangyan people.

Our guide is named Paulo, and upon meeting him, he introduces us to his wife and eight children, who giggle and gawk at me, smiling their adorable smiles. We are invited to a banquet meal before our arduous bout of jungle bashing, where only local ingredients are used. The small fish are caught from a nearby mountain stream, the rice is freshly harvested from a neighboring paddy field and all the vegetables are grown within the homestead. All eyes are on me as I chow down on a delicious plate of rice and veggies, as Paulo informs me that his children have never seen a white man before. His youngest son illustrates this point, by pulling the hair on my leg and barking at me like a dog.

After finishing our meal, we say thanks and bid farewell to our gracious hosts. Paulo warns me that the length of our proposed hike is four hours up and four hours down. Surrounded by such pristine beauty, I think only of the wonders that lay ahead, and not the turmoil it will cause for my body.

Our journey starts on a well trodden path, wide enough for two people to walk abreast. The weather is hot and clammy, the air humid and heavy, so when it starts to rain - it's with great relief on my part. I embrace is with arms outstretched, Jesus Christ style. My guide chooses instead to wait it out beneath a makeshift shelter of banana leafs, looking at me meekly from time to time, between puffs on his menthol cigarette, all the while shaking his head in disbelief.

The rain ceases momentarily and we trudge on, slipping and sliding in the mud that has engulfed our trail. The pathway has been reduced to the width of a bicycle tyre, and the constant battle through sharp bushes makes me reconsider my choice of short pants. Paulo runs ahead, undaunted by any obstacle we cross.
"I am here everyday, for hunting purposes," he says. "I am chasing the wild pigs, deer as well."
The national park is also home to the tamaraw, a subspecies of Buffalo endemic to Mindoro.

Alas, Paulo finally stops ahead of us and disappears into the jungle. Thinking perhaps he has gone to relieve himself, he returns instead clutching bananas in one hand and a jackfruit (lanca) in the other. The bananas are different to others I have tried, with a floury texture and slightly bitter aftertaste. The jackfruit on the other hand, is perfectly sweet and delectable - if a little alien-like. Prizing it open with a few swift motions of his machete, we feast on the sticky fruit, which tastes like a cross between mango and banana. The texture is strange, both chewy and soft at the same time.

When we finally do reach the peak of Mt. Iglit, we have only a few moments to catch our breath and stand in awe of our surroundings. It has taken us close to four hours to scale the summit, but nightfall is soon approaching and we must beat it down to the bottom of the mountain. Prior to descent, I spot the rice fields in the distance and fondly gaze at that psychedelic shade of green. A pulsating spectacle, found only beneath an Asian sun.

Due to a mudslide earlier in the day, our downward path is even more difficult than anticipated. I fall so many times that my once blue t-shirt, is now the color of the Earth. I decide a swim in the muddy banks isn't entirely out of the question. The river is fed by a mountain stream and thankfully, is refreshingly cold. I shed away six hours of jungle sweating by situating myself between rocks, letting the constant slap of water cascade on my back.

Nearing the end of our journey, we pass a water hose used for the surrounding rice paddies. Without so much as a second thought, I drop to my knees and direct the stream of water inward. It is muddy in color, and grainy in texture, but I don't give a damn. Overcome with elation, I soak myself from head to toe for the second time that day. It's only then, laying sprawled on my back, that I comprehend the magnitude of what has just happened.

I'm by no means a mountaineer, and before Mt. Iglit, I hadn't so much as scaled a small hill. I didn't find the elusive Tamaraw, but I found the utmost respect for the Mangyan people who call this place home. Walking away from Paulo's house and to our awaiting motorbike, my legs have been transformed into two strands of overcooked spaghetti. Paulo however appears not to have even broken a sweat. Clamoring up and around these peaks on a daily basis surely has benefits.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Corner Tree Cafe


Vegetarians rejoice!

Finally there is somewhere we can go to enjoy a meat-free menu in Manila =)

This simple and understated cafe in Makati, has a definite European vibe. The waiting lounge for takeaway orders, highlights the laid-back charm of the place, with comfy couches and magazines making you feel like you're at a friend's house. The clientele is a 50/50 mix of Filipinos and Westerners, but most importantly - the food is delicious. Everything is vegetarian or vegan, from the salads which are more than an afterthought, to the downright decadent desserts on offer.

The cuisine is Mediterranean inspired, with more than a little Middle Eastern Fusion. It's all prepared fresh, and the ingredients are only pure vegetables, with no mock meat. The best sellers are the Baked Tofu Walnut Burger, and the oozing cheesy goodness of the Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna.

I opt to start out with a Sicilian Tomato Soup, which is quite possibly the best I have ever tasted. Whole wheat bread is added to the soup, which adds texture and depth of flavor. The vegan option contains no cream, but I go for the vegetarian choice and the result is fantastic. For a main course, I just can't help myself. I go with a classic kid's choice and pick the Grilled Cheese. The sourdough rye is both flaky and crusty, and perfectly complimented by olive oil. The juicy roma tomatoes mix well with the basil leaves, and the overall result leaves me more than satisfied.

Athan, staff member, had a few thoughts on what makes Corner Tree Cafe stand out.
"We use only vegetables. We don't use old recipes with meat-free substitutions - that's boring," he says.

It works too. This hidden gem of a restaurant, does steady business in a meat lover's environment, winning awards along the way. In 2010, it was nominated for 'Best Specialty Restaurant' in Manila, and was added to the Miele Guide, which lists Asia's finest restaurants. In PETA's list of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country, Corner Tree Cafe ranked 3rd.

Open for two years now and going strong, manager Chiqui Mabanta, has thoughts of expansion for the future, with plans for a branch in Quezon City to be opened within the next two years. Open everyday except for Mondays, you should check it out now before it becomes a household name.

Address: 150 Jupiter Street, Bel-Air Village, Makati
Phone: (0917) 848-1004