We needed to get out of town and fast. Having spent the past several weeks housebound with an injured back, I was twitching and the walls were closing in on me. SB was going to fly out to America on the Sunday and that left us with just Saturday to get out and try something new.
The entire week I had spent planning to head somewhere which turned out to be a dead end. Friday night we were busy trowling the internet to find somewhere – anywhere with water, no more than three hours drive away and a place that would feel peaceful and serene. As we were turning out the lights we agreed, we would go down to Laguna and check out the Seven Lakes of San Pablo.
It seemed that the universe wanted us to get the hell out of Manila too because we woke to a sunny blue-skied world and the traffic was a breeze. We were out of the metro within the shortest timeframe ever recorded by us. Once more there was a Carpenters mash-up on the radio, and you know every time I hear them sing from now on memories will flood back of our time here. Saint Thomas was banked up, something was going on and that held us back a while, so the total travel time ended up being as predicted – about two and a half hours.
The Seven Lakes are actually volcano craters. Pretty cool. There is a hiking trail between the lakes and that was what I wanted to do. However things do not always go to plan. We drove past the lovely Lake Palakpakin, stopping to take photographs of the fish and shrimp farms sitting like patchwork on glass top water. I had hoped there would be legends attached to these lakes and I was not disappointed. Lake Palakpakin is where tiny shrimp are farmed; when they are cooked they turn bright red. The legend goes that the village proper was known for having a large ancient tree with a hollow trunk. On moonlit nights locals would see a beautiful woman washing her long red hair in the hollow tree trunk, which she used as her basin. On those same nights in a nearby river a giant red fish would appear that no one could ever catch. One day a stranger came to the village and decided to find out who this woman was. On a moonlit night she appeared and as the stranger walked towards her there was thunder and lightning, the earth shook and the river swelled into the lake. From that time onwards the shrimp would grow in the lake and they have become the major source of income for the local area.
It was getting late and the children were restless so we decided we would just head to Lake Pandin, the lake where you can head out on bamboo rafts and swim. Finding Lake Pandin was a bit tricky as there really isn’t any signage. We slowly drove up and down the street Waze had led us to and asked locals as we went along. Finally some young boys directed us to park the car and for a small fee of fifty peso each, two of these lads led us down a dirt track, on a walk lasting about ten minutes to the lake. We walked past a local horse stud and farming land. Coconut trees bulging with fruit hung overhead and the sun seemed to be targeting us with a ferocity that took me by surprise.
Hot and sweaty when we arrived at the base of the lake, we found a hub of activity. Sari-saris selling halo-halo, buko juice and snacks lay around. A small shop selling souvenirs was tricky to get to over uneven ground. Undercover tables are set up for visitors to hang out and wait until the rafts are ready for boarding and the ground is really muddy. There is an old water pump up a small hill for washing yourself off and to the far right a small flat patch of grass near the local resident’s huts, served as a camp ground.
We booked seats on a raft and were told to wait until enough visitors were available to go. The rafts are bamboo and really long. In the middle is a table with bench seating down each side, covered with a roof to keep the sun off. When it came time to board we took our seats and food was laid out. Fern salad, which is made with what I believe to be one of a few kinds of edible ferns here in the Philippines. Fiddlehead Fern seems most likely. It was mixed with tomato, onion and what looked like Quezon Puti, a local cheese similar to ricotta cheese. It was topped with salted egg. We were served St Peters Fish, a local fish that lives in the lakes of the area. It was grilled whole and is an easy to eat fish, as it isn’t too ‘fishy’ in flavour. Bowls of Palakpakin Shrimp were spread out and we had balls of rice wrapped in banana leaves which you unwrap and then the meal is eaten with your hands using the banana leaves as plates. This method of eating is called Kamayan and is usually done when there is a banquet.
Pop music blared from speakers in one of the bamboo huts on the river side and the still waters lapped gently on the raft as we slowly drifted out into the deep. Two men, one each end used old worn paddles and rope strung from end to end of the lake to guide the raft and we sat back in our seats and felt a gentle breeze on our faces. The gentle lapping of water filled our ears and the blaring music finally became dull. Looking around us we saw nothing but forest. Tall lush green rainforest trees with vines hanging off them and the sounds of rainforest birds started to seep into our ears. Once more that symphony of caressing water and nature engulfed me and I felt at peace. Finally.
After a short ride we had crossed the river. After finishing our meals, during which our BB lost his first tooth (another story about how a mother grieves her babies growing up too fast) we stepped off the raft and climbed a very steep accent. SB had FB who was in her element adventuring away. I had BB who was, rightfully so a little terrified of this muddy, slippery, red ant covered pathway. However we made it to the top and overlooked the absolutely gorgeous Yambu Lake.
Here is the story of the Twin lakes- Pandin and Yambu. Pandin was a beautiful woman cursed to never step on the earth otherwise something terrible would happen to her. She fell in love with Yambu who did not know about the curse and made her step on the earth (can I just say, nobody can make you do anything, that is entirely on her that she chose to take that risk and good on her for challenging such a stupid and cruel curse! Shame it ended badly), anyway there was a loud noise and the earth cracked and a heavy downpour turned the area into twin lakes, separated from each other by a bare strip of land. That strip of land is a bitch to climb when it is muddy but we did it and the view is beautiful. There was a barangay Police Officer at the top and he offered to carry BB back down. That was very helpful as I was not sure how I would get us down without sliding on our arses.
Back down at Pandin Lake, everyone who wanted to swim had to wear a life jacket. Here is why. This lake is 20.5 hectares in size and 63 feet deep…that’s pretty big and deep so if you went under, chances are you’d just stay there. I did wonder about any river monsters lurking in the depths and as I watched my small children frolic in the waters I hoped my imagination was just running wild…which it usually does so no harm done…I haven’t found any urban myths on the lake regarding monsters…yet…
SB was swimming with the children, splashing and sounds of laughter and giggles were in the air. I did not fancy a swim; rather I sat back in the shade with my feet in the water and took long, slow, deep breaths. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the serenity. I chatted a bit to one of the other guests Maria who was trying to spend weekends out and about as much as possible until she moved to America with her new husband. Like us, she had spent her life not venturing out to explore her homeland, now the end of her time here is near she realises she has not seen as much as she would have liked. I understand that. We are the same with our home back in Australia.
Eventually it was time to head back across the lake. The children had made a new friend and splashed around together in the lapping waters on the raft edge.
That was a perfect day out for us. It refueled me with the energy I need to battle the normalcy of day to day life in Manila. Fresh air, cool waters and new memories made. I remember watching the children play with their new friend and feeling so happy that we have taken this chance to give them these wonderful experiences. Experiences that are so normal to local life here, yet for us still are, and will continue to be, an exciting adventure.
Where: Lake Pandin, San Pablo, Laguna
How: Take the expressway. Waze and Google Maps will help you find your way. The entry is not signed so ask locals and check out the pictures here showing you some landmarks.
Cost: We paid 920peso for two adults and two kids under 6, that got us on a raft with lunch. We paid two kids 50peso each to show us the way to the lake, and we paid some other kids about 20 peso each to watch our car. That may not have been necessary but it brought joy to little lives.
Extra: If you have issues trying new foods, perhaps pack a lot of snacks. Water is available but just be sure to pack enough water for your trip. Be sure to take sunblock and hats. If you have life vests for your children, take those as the ones provided are big and they do not have child sized jackets. Life jackets are a requirement for entry into the lake.