We read somewhere that this was going to be an incredibly amazing experience. Maybe we expected too much--or maybe the blog posts on previous experiences were just a bit too gushing. Although it was really a unique experience and exciting for the kids, we had to think awhile before it dawned on us why this was supposed to be one of the best dining experiences in the Viaje del Sol.
Kinabuhayan Cafe has an unassuming frontage and no sign. Inside we were greeted by Jay, who among many other things, was a production designer in a previous life (he thought we looked familiar, and when I jokingly said he must've seen us on TV or in the movies, he started asking which ones!) He now lives a much more relaxed and simple life. He offers very rustic lodgings for free, as long as you have all your meals at his cafe. He has space I think for 6 people, maybe more. Two of the huts are the local version of a canopy bed. Just take a look...
This "cottage" sleeps two on an elevated platform
There's a tree house, and 3 other nipa pavilions with bamboo slat flooring. One of the huts was his living room. It had a tv and an online laptop. The huts had roman shades for privacy, but no doors.
We were supposed to "check in" with him here and then go somewhere for a swim and lunch. Some of us weren't that prepared since you have to be in footwear that can get wet, and no way my Fit Flops were getting dunked in water. We had someone buy rubber slippers at the palengke which was two minutes away by tricycle and then we were good to go.
This is Onion, Jay's pet pig
Jay counted us, accepted the balance of our payment and then we were off. 12 minutes away by car from the Kinabuhayan Cafe is Kubli Springs. I read somewhere that this is still part of Jay's property, but I'm not sure. The spring is potable mineral water from below the ground (spring nga!). We drank the water flowing from the bamboo poles, and definitely not from the stream in which people were swimming.
Cool mineral water direct from the source at Kubli Springs
When we got to the stream, the whole barangay seemed to be spending their Good Friday there too (hey, we did Stations of the Cross in the morning, so we weren't feeling to guilty about having a "restful swim by the stream"). It was a little embarrassing to be invading their local watering hole, and after walking through the crowd, we were able to find some rocks to park ourselves on. Unfortunately, someone in our group cut his foot on a rock (or most probably broken glass) and we had to administer first aid and compress the wound so that it would stop bleeding. We kept it bandaged with a torn towel the whole time and figured a couple of hours without medical attention wouldn't hurt. I know the kids would've wailed if we had to abort the whole plan. (The cut foot eventually had to be stitched. Luckily, just 2 minutes from Casa San Pablo is a medical center. My friend was impressed--he treated promptly and professionally--on Good Friday at that!)
The kids immediately jumped into the stream and had a good time soaking and cooling off. I could imagine the local people thinking--of all the places you people can go, you come pa here to our local "swimming pool"! My driver, probably also wondering the same thing even said "mam, yung ganito sa amin, mas maganda kaysa dito". But we were here and it was going to be a first for all of us promdis. (promidisiti!)
An hour and a half hour later, Jay arrives with lunch. He is carrying a wok of mushroom risotto. His two guys set out round wooden table tops on the rocks, laid out the spread. Menu consisted of a shredded carrot and cucumber salad with a pesto dressing, the warm mushroom risotto in the wok, an eggplant parmigiana and a small portion of roast pork. It was carbo-overload, but his dishes were all good. After lunch our group figured that this was the most unique part--getting served sosyal food in this Amorsolo-esque setting. Had we been served grilled tilapia and kamatis, it might have been a regular picnic in the batis--altho that would still be something unique for us too!
Jay's Kinabuhayan Cafe gets a lot of foreign backpackers as well as locals on an adventure. For P750, it is an interesting local experience. A bit pricey compared to the meal we had at Ugu's (500 each) and also at the newly opened Sulyap (average check was 500 per person). But for a foreigner, $14.00 is worth every penny for the experience he will get. How for example, is a foreigner ever going to find his way to a stream and feel safe to swim surrounded by local strangers? Two of Jay's guys were constantly with us, keeping watch over our things, our kids, and just being all-around helpful.
Bring aquasox if you plan to go make your way down to the spring. It might look odd compared to the locals who are so skilled at balancing on the rocks as well as avoiding whatever sharp objects are between them. Also, since everyone was swimming in shorts and t-shirts, the locals might get shocked if you show up in a sexy bikini. Lastly, go when it is a quiet weekend. When the crowds left (after soaping and rinsing themselves in the 'natural shower' made of bamboo poles) the place was quiet, serene and actually quite magical.
I think it would have been a very different experience for us had we had the place all to ourselves. But even with the crowd, we all agreed it was a unique adventure--most specially for the guy who got himself stitched.