At the dawn of Saturday me and Cathy were already at the JAC liner terminal in Buendia in Taft, waiting for our another traveling companion Abigail - who unknown to us that time was spent on a drinking spree a few hours before. Still, Abigail managed to be late only a few minutes after six am. It was my first time to meet her and soon awkwardness became like a familiarity, like we've known each other for quite some time, especially after she took out the Tanduay Rum from her bag when we're having breakfast at Cafe Lago.
Cathy was our unofficial person in charge for asking directions. She does it effortlessly using her charm and showing off her sweet smile. She was, according to her on an initial phase of backpacking training. I told her it is fun to get lost sometimes - but to make things easier lets go to nearby Laguna first, soon I expect her to be traveling by herself in faraway places like Mindanao, Batanes (hope I could tag along here) and Japan, a place she fell in love on a trip with her sister a year ago.
After three hours, the bus we're riding rolled down San Pablo City, we got off at the highway near San Pablo Medical Hospital, from there we took a tricycle ride going to San Pablo Cathedral. A wedding was being held inside so we were not able to go take a look inside, after a few minutes we took another tricycle ride going to Cafe Lago - a nice little garden restaurant that provides a stunning view of Lake Sampaloc.
I ordered Longsilog, while Cathy ordered "suman" and Abigail - being a vegetarian settled for garden salad and Rum Coke. While the ladies talked about Justin Beiber - kidding, I walked around the place and found a spot that shows a better view of Sampaloc Lake. I saw people fishing on the lake, people jogging by and others enjoying a quiet morning having a picnic with their family.
After breakfast we walked back to San Pablo Cathedral and took a jeepney bound for "Ilog" (you can also take a Liliw bound jeepney) and told the driver to drop us off at the road going to Lake Pandin in Baranggay Sto. Angel. Prior to our trip we already coordinated with Ate Siony (mobile number: 09299789565) - the head of the community tourism office at Lake Pandin. We reserved for a bamboo raft with lunch at around 360 pesos per person (180 pesos w/o lunch). When the driver dropped us by the highway, a lady was already waiting for us and she accompanied us through a short 10 minute hike to Lake Pandin.
I remember going down the slopes and upon seeing the lake, I was greeted with a sudden burst of excitement and energy that made me just wanna rip my shirt off exposing my six pack abs and just jump into the calm waters. Only to realize I do not know how to swim. Ate Siony greeted us with an infectious smile and soon we felt right at home. She introduced us to Ate Lisa and Janet - the two women assigned to paddle our bamboo raft. You see, the community surrounding Lake Pandin is very well organized in dealing with visitors. Women are tasked in doing most of the tourism-related jobs while their husbands concentrates on their normal jobs such as fishing and toiling lands. In this way, both head of the families earn additional income and the whole community as one is able to sustain itself with the help of the additional tourism-related incomes.
To travel is not only to discover new places, get to know new friends, amass new-found wisdom and knowledge. It is also an opportunity to help a community even in small ways, to uplift their living conditions through services like tour guiding, ordering lunch, buying locally made products. It helps empowers them and when that happens, they will be the first to make efforts to take care of their place and soon eco-tourism will be much easier to attain because the locals themselves will make sure everything is taken care off and nothing is abused.
Soon, the three of us were aboard the bamboo raft floating quietly but with ravenous delight at the calm waters of Lake Pandin, we barely touched our lunch consisting of fried tilapia, small shrimps, eggplant and pako (seaweed salad) not because we don't like it, but we're too caught up in the moment of being maddeningly encapsulated by the feeling of paddling towards the center of this 20 hectares lake, which has a maximum depth of 63 meters.
Every visitors are required to wear a lifevest, even if you're Aquaman you need to wear one. No complaints for this non-swimmer though. Abigail and I went first into the water, with Cathy opting to stay at the raft, saying she does not fear the open sea and surfing the big ass waves of Baler and La Union, but she fears lakes where she can't see the bottom. She may have a point there, because I could feel little fishes between my legs - a thought that could snowball into a scary scenario if you had seen movies such as "Lake Placid".
The surrounding green forests creates an impression of isolation. The lake water is clean and almost a bit colder than usual. It rained for a moment just enough to disturb the many species of creatures living in the forests, some of whom let out a shriek or a tweet to be heard from the stillness nature of the lake. Just behind Lake Pandin and accessible by a two minute hike is its twin, the Lake Yambo. The two lakes is only separated by a small hill.
The province of Laguna is very interesting from a traveler's perspective. I grew up experiencing summer trips to this province, but only on the usual places like swimming pool and hot springs resort. Now, I would want to explore more of this province like doing the "Viaje del Sol" trail, the almost unending queues of Spanish Colonial Churches that adorned each cities and towns in Laguna makes up a great attraction. Exploring Laguna is a no-brainer decision, It is a must-do, something we have started on this weekend trip. At around 2pm we packed out and headed to another destination in Laguna and off we brought our butts to Nagcarlan.