Three days, three nights in Albay

(Today’s column)

Our Lenten trip started with an early morning flight on Holy Wednesday. I’ve been to a lot of airports but it was the first time I spent such a long time perspiring inside one. Passengers on our flight were assigned to Gate 116 and it was an oven in there. I would have entertained myself by surfing with my iPhone but there was no free Wifi. The only signal we could capture was the locked Wifi service of Cebu Pacific. So much for modernity and international airport standards.

We arrived at the Legazpi Airport at 7.00 a.m. and proceeded to Tabaco City in a rented van. We checked in at the Ogma Balinese Rest House inside the Dhio Endheka resort. I found Ogma through a write-up at Click the City (clickthecity.com), saw the photos, read a lot of positive comments and got in touch with the owner. I made inquiries, asked about the place and the services, made the reservation and paid the down payment. The price was P5500 pesos per day plus food for the days we wouldn’t be going out.

Over and above the board and lodging, we were obliged to pay an additional P2400 – that’s P200 per head per day – as entrance fee at Dhio Endheka. See, Ogma is inside Dhio Endheka and there is no way to get there except through Dhio Endheka. During the negotiation period, I complained that we would be checking in only once so the daily entrance fee was unreasonable. But, according to the Ogma owner, the Dhio Endheka owner had already lowered the price and that was that. Besides, she said, the entrance fee entitled us to the use of Dhio Endheka’s facilities.

Neither the Click the City article nor the owner mentioned that to get to the rest house, we would have to go down some 120 steps on foot. Sure, there were porters to carry the big bags but it would have been more honest if the article writer and the owner had mentioned the stairs. Still, we were glad to have finally reached out destination. I noted the huge tarpaulin sign at the top of the stairs that said Ogma services included a chef and uniformed staff, and a masseuse.

Because I could not gauge the size of the house by the photos in the Click the City article, even before I made the reservation, I asked the owner how many people Ogma could accommodate. Fifteen people, I was told. Since there were only eight of us in the group, and two were small children, I was expecting something spacious. I mean, you bring eight people to a place meant for fifteen and that’s twice as much space for every single person.

When we reached the rest house, I was shocked. It wasn’t exactly a house. The only walls were the folding doors around the bedrooms and the tiny bathrooms inside. After we placed our bags on the small space around the bed, there was hardly any room to walk on inside the bedroom. There was no spacious activity area and the dining table could comfortably sit eight. What happened to the assurance that the place was big enough for fifteen? The TV and DVD player, both part of the package we were paying for, weren’t working. And there was no chef and uniformed staff – there was a Manang and her assistant to serve the meals. There was no masseuse on call either.

casaveneracion.com adobo and laing

The Manang and her assistant were nice and friendly locals but their cooking skills weren’t exactly to drool over. Lunch was undercooked pork adobo and too-salty laing (above — and, yes, that’s it for eight people). Dessert was three mangoes for eight people, sliced in such a way that the cheeks were thin and the stones were thick. Like, instead of everyone getting a mango cheek, some would have to settle for the stones and the flesh around them (see photo below). Together with a pitcher of iced tea, lunch was priced at P150 per head. Overpriced would be a mild way of putting it.

casaveneracion.com sliced-mangoes

(Addendum on April 15, 2009 @ 11.59 p.m. At P150 per head multiplied by eight, that was a P1200 lunch. Compare that with our P1500 lunch at Waway Restaurant in Legazpi City.)

Our friend, PJ Juinio, goodnaturedly said we should just make the most of it. He took his eight-year-old son, Joshua, to Dhio Endheka to play billiards but they were back a mere few minutes later. Use of the billiard tables wasn’t free, he said, and I wondered what the P2400 payment to Dhio Endheka included. Free use of the pools, apparently, but why would we want to use them when we had our private pool in Ogma?

casaveneracion.com mountain spring pool

The mountain spring pool, I have no complaint about. The water was cool and free flowing and dipping in it was relaxing. No lapping definitely because if fifteen people were in it all at the same time, they would only be able to stand a move a few steps around. Not a big pool, obviously.

casaveneracion.com cobwebs

It was the nights that we really found trying. Except in the bathrooms, there was no ceiling. When the lights were on, thick webs wrapped around the beams were visible (above) and you don’t have to strain to see. Bugs inhabiting the grass roofing excreted all night long and their droppings were all over us. There was a canopy like mosquito net overhead but it only covered a third of the bed. By morning, the droppings were one-inch apart on the mattress. Were the beddings changed everyday? No, they weren’t.

So, was the Albay trip a disaster entirely? No, it wasn’t. We spent the next two days exploring Tabaco City, Legazpi City and the surrounding areas. Granted that going up some 120 steps on both mornings wasn’t exactly fun, we did have our fill of Mayon, pili nuts, Bicol Express and laing. I’ll tell you about the rest of the trip in a while.