Laiya, San Juan, Batangas

Woke up early yesterday as my family were to spend a day at a resort in San Juan, Batangas. It’s a usual trip we take whenever we have a free day, and one of the best reasons to live in Lipa City.

The trip to the beach is a comfortable 2-hour drive (give or take 3 to 3 1/2 hours from Manila) through small towns and countryside. The scenery is a stark contrast to the urban palette of gray sky and drab concrete, and is often quite picturesque: long stretches of green fields, mango trees in uniform shapes that look like enlarged bonsai plants, and the occasional poblacion, which consists of houses, big and small, old and new, that line the sides of the main road.

A right turn from the San Juan poblacion leads one to the San Juan tourism zone, and at once it’s evident: you’re in a place a long way away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I put on Jason Mraz’s “No Stopping Us” on my iPod and enjoy the landscape: roads lined on both sides with plants bearing lovely pale pink flowers; even longer stretches of fields alternating with plantations of coconut trees. Occasionally there are houses and the traditional sari-sari store, and some weird signs. A rather out-of-place wooden sign that says “Fabulous Farm” always cracks me up when we pass by it.

The bicycle and the horse seem to be the usual mode of transportation – otherwise people travel on foot. Even the jeepney is a rare sight in this area. After a while the concrete road ends and the trip must continue through rough road – a sign that the beach is close at hand.

The resort we frequent has a separate white sand beach a few minutes drive from the main resort. It’s an empty stretch of beach with only two large huts, and most of the time we have the place to ourselves. An empty beach is my idea of tranquility, so it’s no surprise I enjoy it there. At around noon I would read a book and afterwards sleep under the sampaloc tree listening to Jack Johnson (“Better Together” is a beach favorite). Later into the day we’d sometimes hire a boat to take us out into the snorkeling area; otherwise I’d take a swim or just float around in the water and watch the sky. Before we leave the place I’d take a walk along the shore (Chungking’s “Following” on my iPod). There’s a spot along the beach where the sea meets the river – an estuary, is it? – and there I would sit by the shore and snap some pictures. After a while, it’d be time to go home.

The drive home is a moving exhibit of beautiful imagery – I’d put on Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” to accompany the sights. The landscape would be bathing under an orange-yellow sky, and around this time, the sleepy towns we passed by in the morning would come alive, as their residents would come out of their houses to congregate and socialize. They would sit on the wooden benches in front of their houses or hang around in the neighborhood sari-sari store; children would be riding their bikes; men from work would be walking home. Especially during summer, the fields would begin to look like a sea of pale orange, as the crops become ready to be harvested. The song ends and another one begins to play – this time, “Insomnio”, by CafĂ© Tacuba.

For a day I would fall in love with the simple life. There’s something to be admired about the sleepy towns in San Juan - they don’t possess the complexities and dangers of city life, and instead reflect a striking tranquility and effortless contentment. It makes me wonder why we have to pine for so much, why we have to force ourselves into already congested and highly polluted cities, why we feel the need to gather ridiculous amounts of wealth, and for what? To pay for the medical bills for when we get ill from all the smog.

One of these days I might just grab a backpack, take a bus, and leave everything behind.
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