The Reluctant Stylista is a fashion and lifestyle blog written by Alex Lapa--the tomboy who suddenly discovered the joys and perks of dressing up. Original illustrations by Paolo Lazatin.
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My Turn Behind the Wheel
While this was not exactly my first roadtrip, this was the first time that I’d be driving myself. You see, even though I got my driver’s license when I was 16 waaaay back in the day, I only really started driving on my own last year. I used to be the youngest in the family, and we also had a driver, so most of the time, someone would be driving me around and I almost never got to use whatever I learned in driving school. As a result, I forgot most of it, though I did some rare driving in an automatic within our subdivision, and only once in Makati. And even that was years ago. Plus, everyone knows driving in the suburbs and driving in the business districts of Metro Manila have almost nothing in common. (Which is why when I enrolled in a refresher course, I made sure to do so in a school within the heart of excruciating traffic made more challenging by intimidating SUVs, rude jeepney and bus drivers: Makati. It’s easy to know how to start a car—but navigating the roads in a stickshift, while you’re slugging it out with a big bunch of bullies, is an entirely different matter.)
I was excited at the prospect of driving my first roadtrip because here’s the funny thing: I actually love driving. I’ve heard other designated drivers complain for years about being behind the wheel, and sure, because I only really drive stickshifts, I know it’s not exactly the loveliest thing during rush hour. And I’m not such an excellent driver, mind you (even my sister sometimes fears my driving attitude, as I tend to designate hit points to pedestrians when I’m bored. But don’t worry, it’s mostly just a joke). But there you go. I like driving in the wee hours of the morning or really late at night, especially on the skyway. I also like giving friends a lift; heck, I’d drive everyone, if fuel charges weren’t an issue. Surprising revelation from someone who usually likes sleeping in moving vehicles.
As I share driving this vehicle with men who are in the business of construction and engineering, my most common contribution in maintaining the car is providing the fresheners. And tissue. Hand sanitizers. And a monthly shampoo, inside and out.
The clock says 6:53. We needed to be in SLEX by 7am because the car’s plate is restricted from major roads on Mondays. Luckily, we were on our way out to Alabang by this time, and the clock was 15 minutes advanced.
I decided to bring our old Adventure for this trip. While we have newer and certainly faster cars, I thought I’d drive the one I use more often because I was also going to try (for the first time) high-performance fuel from Shell. If there would be any difference with the handling or the way the car was running, I wanted a familiar engine just in case I pick up on it. Although to be honest, I didn’t really expect a noob like me to pick up on anything—and not that I don’t believe high performance fuels are really better for engines in the long run, because I don’t doubt what the experts have to say about its purity and whatnot. But I thought it would be something maybe only mechanics notice, or car aficionados. Well, I was in for a couple of pleasant surprises.
Picking the Rest of the Party
Although I contemplated going on my own, as I was tempted to do many times before, alas, I couldn’t. To be honest, I don’t know that much about fixing cars so in case something happens, I wouldn’t know what to do (I don’t even know how to change tires). So I invited my best-friend-since-birth cousin, Rae, and her husband, Noel Salazar. They know zilch about fixing cars, too. But at least with the three of us, we had several cellphones, GPS devices, 3G as well as a couple of ideas to get us out of any common mishap.
Anyway, the two of them came straight from an out of town shoot so they were tired as hell when they got to my house. (Rae is a make-up artist and Noel is a photographer.) Unfortunately, I was using our family’s old Adventure, and it was on coding that day. As luck would have it, I also happen to frequent the only two cities in Metro Manila that don’t have windows for coding–Makati (where I go often for meetings) and Las Pinas (where I live), so we really had to get to Alabang or the SLEX before 7 am hit. They were late, being that they came straight from Nueva Ecija, and we were all worried we’d be stuck in a red zone. I’m usually a laidback driver, but in this instance, I was overtaking all other vehicles *ahem* within reason (I wouldn’t really speed inside a subdivision with a lot of speed bumps/humps y’know *coughcough*). We were all freelancers and we forgot that it was a holiday (we don’t operate with normal working hours, okay?). Turned out, early morning traffic was light within BF and on our way to SLEX because there was no school. But all my “safe” speeding/overtaking got me to notice that it was much easier to do compared to previous instances. Remember, this was my first time to use high performance fuel, Shell’s V-Power Nitro Diesel. So yes, I’m sorry that’s all I can offer, but it was the first thing a noob like me noticed. ”Yay, I can outrun these twerps blocking traffic!”
Yep. This plate number is coding on Mondays. But we got to SLEX safely at 7am.
Originally, I wanted this roadtrip to start in Taal, Batangas (the village, not the volcano) and end in Tagaytay. But I figured since we were all tired and were in urgent need of relaxation, we should all take our first day really slowly. We planned on stopping by Tagaytay first, checking in at our hotel, eating, resting, eating again, getting a massage and sleeping at least 8 hours. Tagaytay is built exactly for those kind of activities anyway, which is why there are plenty of retreat houses there.
Our first stop was Starbucks at Shell SLEX. We all neeeded the caffeine boost! As much as we wanted to start this trip exploring new stops, at that moment, we needed comfort food. Hojicha tea latte for me and Green tea latte for Rae.
I had a full tank of gas, but we stopped at Shell SLEX for our morning tea fix
Sunnies: a roadtrip and driving essential. This one was given to me by blogger Paul last BU4.
These two pairs were given to me by Noel Manapat. Since they’re pretty small, I keep them in the case with the other one. Rae remarked that I’m the only person she knows who carries three pairs of sunnies in one case. I usually rotate, because I have about five I’m actively using right now.
Rae and I were making sure we’d have Instagram/wifi available for this trip. Also a must!
Arya Stark is my wallpaper on Pepper Potts (my tab/second phone).
We can almost pass for a Starbucks ad. If I didn’t have a shaved head and didn’t look like a blind musician with my awesome round shades.
Green tea latte and Hojicha tea latte. I wish they’d make the latter a regular in the menu
First real stop in Tagaytay: Bag of Beans
Well, as you can see, our adventure started on the road well-traveled. Most people who go through Tagaytay usually find themselves ending up in Bag of Beans at some point, if they’re foodies. For me, it was just second breakfast, but Rae and Noel were also looking for their second coffee fix. So as soon as we got to Tagaytay, this was our first stop.
Bag of Beans is a favorite stop of passersby for a reason. It really is a beautiful place filled with greenery. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they serve delicious food. I am especially fond of their meat pies.
I think this is the same bird I’ve seen here for years. S/He talks back and can get annoying when s/he’s in an especially chatty mood.
This was during my salads phase. I would still be in this phase if greens weren’t so darn expensive. I really don’t understand it. Aren’t salads made up of plants that live with minimal love and supervision as compared to livestock?
Noel’s order. Chocolate pancaaaaakes!
I know I said I already had breakfast, but I couldn’t resist sneaking in a bite of those pancakes. Heh.
Stopping for rest
I followed Rae’s recommendation for accommodations. Because we really just needed a nice place to stay for one night, and Tagaytay Wingate Manor had a fabulous wellness package that included a massage. We were sold! It was super sulit, as the room we had was nice, comfortable and clean and the massage was very relaxing. Noel was disappointed we didn’t get the room with a view, though, but I guess it’s okay. They had a pool, and I really planned on doing some laps, but it was very windy that day and the bed was so inviting and…you can guess what happened.
I made sure to get a full 8 hours of sleep that night. I think I started sleeping at 8pm, but not before we had two more food stops. Yes, I know–all we did on the first day was pig out, get a massage and sleep. But I badly needed this short break, as I had been working non-stop even during the weekends. (This was during the planning of the 3rd Philippine Fashion Ball x The Men’s Show.)
You never leave Tagaytay without having some bulalo
We scheduled a massage for 5pm, and it was still pretty early. After a short nap at the Wingate Manor, we headed to the first thing on our minds since I decided on Taal, Batangas as our destination: we got ourselves some tasty beef shanks and marrow stew. Bulalo is probably my all-time favorite Filipino dish. When I went to Boracay last January and stayed there for 7 days, I ate this every single day at Smoke’s. That’s the trouble I get into when you make varieties of bulalo–of course I had to try crispy, fried with gravy, kansi and the regular kind.
Bulalo is my ultimate comfort food, and like most comfort food, it’s not exactly on top of any Weight Watcher’s diet. To the uninformed, the dish is made from hours of cooking beef shanks and bone marrow until the collagen and fat has melted into the stew. The result is tender meat and a rich, flavorful broth. My favorite part is scooping out the fat and the bone marrow, which fortunately for me, some people avoid because the stew alone is already high in calories. I can eat bulalo with at least 3 cups of white rice.
Plenty of stalls for bulalo along Tagaytay. I mean to try every one of them because my favorite, Diner’s, has been under construction for a long while now. I don’t like bulalo that tastes like ordinary nilagang baka (though I like that dish, too, and they do taste similar). I like my bulalo with loads of fat, marrow, and beef so tender it melts in your mouth, with onions and lots of pepper.
Rae and Noel couldn’t let the day go by without Tagaytay’s famous tawilis. You can eat this fish whole, bones and all.
Bulalo and I will be star-crossed lovers in the future. So far, I can eat it without immediate consequences (hindi pa sumasakit ang batok ko, which is surprising for the usual amount I eat), but I don’t know for how long.
The roadside bulalo place may not be all that impressive-looking but it did have delicious food and just look at the view!
We just stopped by one of the roadside stalls for bulalo, and it was VERY windy. Noel took the opportunity of capturing this moment with my “Because in Cambodia We Believe in Love” scarf (long story reserved for some other time).
I am nothing if not determined in the face of bulalo.
You think we’re done eating?
You can see the pattern now, and I blame Tagaytay for being such a foodie place. After pigging out on bulalo and tawilis, we went looking for dessert. We had a vague idea where Gourmet’s Cafe was, so that was our next target.
After much road deliberation and overtaking these huuuge construction trucks and buses, we finally found it along Aguinaldo highway. It’s a beautiful, quaint place, and you could see the kitchen was always busy and they were regularly churning out fresh bread.
Rae and Noel got blueberry cheesecake and another chocolate based one (I don’t know what it’s called). I got some hot chocolate because that’s my favorite kind of chocolate (reminds me that it was also Johnny Depp’s gypsy character in Chocolat’s favorite. Am I kilig we have that in common? No, you are not allowed to burst my bubble).
I also got myself some pinwheel cookies
After Gourmet’s Cafe, we were just in time for our massages back at the Wingate Manor. We wanted an early night (at least I did) because I meant for us to check out really early so we could head to Taal, Batangas right away the next day. I was excited because we were going to Taal Heritage Town, where some of our ancestors (Rae’s and mine–the Venturanzas, and Agoncillos) used to live.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Taal Roadtrip! Special thanks to Shell for sponsoring this trip for which I was especially excited to drive.Related posts: