Tiaong, Quezon is best known as the home of Mt. Banahaw. It is said that this mystical mountain is what keeps the quiet lazy town that it is. In nearby San Pablo, Laguna after all, an SM mall has sprouted up; likewise in the other direction towards Lucena. While Tayabas is known for its wonderful old houses that have recently been renovated and refurbished, Lucban for its marvelous church and food products, Tiaong is known as an entry point, for the stretch of Maharlika Highway that runs through it on the way to Quezon Province proper.
But there is much here that we don't know, and maybe part of its charm is its quiet. While development is slowly coming to Tiaong with the redevelopment of Villa Escudero, which is on the border of Tiaong and San Pablo, the rest of the town remains relatively untouched. Here, there is fresh coffee for brewing available in the palengke and native bread called pan de tubo-bite-size sweet pan de sal. There's the possibility of finding the native kalamay hati--a version of the native cake that means not cooking the standard kalamay to its end, so you only get a gooey white lump of white surrounded by liquid brown sugar. And who can forget lambanog, a Quezon favorite also found here in Tiaong. There's a small parish in the centre of town, currently a hideous pink color, but hiding within it wonderful examples of Tiaong wood craftsmanship.
Tiaong is also home to Pulang Lupa of the Pulang Lupa Foundation, which sends provincial kids to school, the brainchild of artist G.Stuart. A complex of white structures in the middle of what is still mostly untouched land filled with coconut trees and wild forest, Pulang Lupa sits atop a hill on one of the highest points in Tiaong. It has rooms with bathrooms, and even a bunker for bigger groups. Pulang Lupa might not be a resort in the conventional way, but there are many things to do here. Hiking through the forests around it, bird watching during the day and stargazing at night, and doing some plant research are all possibilities, as is a round of billiards. There's also the Pulang Lupa Art Gallery which offers endless options for fun, and a chapel for introspection, that is, if that view of Mt. Banahaw and the smaller mountains in the towns of Atisan and Ayusan isn't enough to fascinate you.
Tiaong Gubat Sanctuary
Want to rough it up a little more and live away from concrete structures that are reminders of the city? Tiaong Gubat Sanctuary is a clearing in the middle of the forest filled with possibilities. A space for reggae camps and concerts (that unfortunately happen too few and far between), the structures here are still bahay kubo inspired, though with a little more imagination. The main house is a standard kubo that opens up into the forest in front of it, the interior and exterior naturally melding into each other. There's a papag that closes into a room for guests and a small working kitchen. Another structure boasts a loft to accommodate small groups, and three separate sleeping areas on its first floor. Ah, but the best thing about roughing it in Tiaong Gubat Sanctuary? It doesn't mean having provincial and old school bathrooms: this one's got a separate structure for bath and toilet that's dreamy in this context; you almost forget you're in the middle of Tiaong, Quezon.
Ugu Bigyan Workshop and the Tiaong Paper Exchange
When looking for activities here, there's always Ugu Bigyan's workshop to visit, and the well-kept secret that is the Tiaong Paper Exchange, one of the first places to make handmade paper products in the country, that has remained true to its promise of 100% natural cogon grass paper. Employing and raising a small Tiaong community, the designs on Tiaong Paper Workshop products are all solar prints, that is, the sun is used to leave imprints of chosen leaves and flowers, a test of patience more than anything else. Papermaking workshops may be held here for small groups, though on a good sunny day it's possible to chance upon the wonder of old school papermaking with good ol' Pinoy hands and artistry.
This experience of Tiaong, Quezon is one that I love. It might not be the conventional party vacation, or the one that has the view of a beach, but it is as quiet as I want it, the better to reflect and read and write with. These spaces I know and have lived in make up my haven away from the city, and offer an escape that only the calm and quiet of an underdeveloped lazy town can give.
Tiaong, Quezon is 98 kilometers from Manila and a two-hour drive to the South. Travel early in the morning. Go on the South Luzon Expressway to its end, and take the Lucena Legaspi Batangas exit. When you hit Sto.Tomas Junction, turn left and go through the cities of Alaminos (Pangasinan) and San Pablo (Laguna) before you see the Quezon Arch. Tiaong is the first town when you enter Quezon.
Tiaong Gubat Sanctuary
Phone: (+63905) 354-1901 / (+63920) 849-2878
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Tiaong Paper Workshop
Ugu Bigyan's Workshop
Phone: (+6342) 545-9144
All meals for all these spaces must be arranged in advance.
The Pulang Lupa Art Gallery is part of the complex of buildings that is owned by a foundation with the same name.
A game of palo cebo is possible at the Tiaong Paper Exchange's workshop grounds, with its untouched wild forests, and an endless path to the sky. And look at that view from within the greenery!