Growing up, I remember how Dad loved to take us for short drives out of Manila. We visited public markets and old churches and places where he liked to fish, in Cavite, Laguna and Batangas. We’d stop to eat at roadside restaurants and buy fresh fruits and vegetables along the way.
More than any place, however, we frequented Tagaytay, not only for its proximity but for its cool air and, yes, the awesome view of the volcano and the mirror-clear lake around it.
Every time I’m in Tagaytay, memories of meeting an American girl with long, wirey auburn hair named Maria and her horse come to mind. I met her at the picnic grove while waiting for my brother, who rode rented ponies.
Maria was about 15; I was 12. Her American parents had come and fallen in love with the city and became residents. I was so impressed that she had her own horse, a tall and handsome specimen with solid copper-reddish hair that had a silky sheen, as though Vaselined. It easily dwarfed and outclassed the native ponies.
Maria rode well and was quite frustrated that I showed no interest in learning to ride. Maybe I should have tried. But I did stroke and pat her horse firmly as she instructed me. I would look into its soulful, thick-lashed eyes, but one doesn’t really know a horse, nor a horse know one until one mounts it.
The mostly vicarious experience, in any case, enriched my enjoyment of every horse novel and movie I read and watched —from “National Velvet” and “Black Beauty” in my youth to “Seabiscuit” and “The Horse Whisperer” in my adulthood. My own romance with horses —as close to a romance as it is, anyway—started in Tagaytay.
For a long time, Taal Vista Lodge was the place to stay in Tagaytay. I recall one particular visit with cousins Sylvia and Ninit. We tagged along, as we liked to do, with Ninit’s mom and her barkada couples, who were fun even for us. We three preteen girls outnumbered one unfortunate preteen boy whom we teased and tortured as only immature brats could. I don’t think he ever forgave us, nor us ourselves, even after we had all grown up. Some things cannot be lived down, and my memory of that boy perhaps persists as a pique of conscience.
Sometime in the late 1980s, I bought a 600-sq m property, planted with African daisies, along the ridge. It offered a magnificent view of the volcano. I loved the idea of owning it, but didn’t know what to do with it. One day I asked an architect friend to have a look and let me know how much it would cost to build a simple house.
Because of the contour of the lot—it sloped down rather sharply—my architect estimated that the driveway alone would cost a million in those yet inexpensive times. It was a reality check. I didn’t need a vacation house. I abandoned the thought, and sold the property for double my investment.
Tinge of regret
But that wasn’t the end of that. Every time we drove by, my heart would sink with a tinge of regret. The property looked unchanged and undeveloped, and its price has gone up nearly five times since I sold it. Dad always said the only thing we’re sure to regret in life is selling real estate. Indeed, in time, land prices go nowhere but up.
When my youngest grandchild, only a few months old, arrived from the States, one of our first out-of-town trips was to Tagaytay. She loved it second only to Baguio. Because of her and the Vergel’s grandchildren, who were closer to her age, I entertained the idea of buying a share at the Highlands Country Club. They had a petting zoo and very good specialty restaurants.
But the practical and realist Vergel wasn’t delighted, in spite of the very reasonable share price. He was convinced we would hardly have the time to go there, not to say that the grandchildren would not stay children for long. He was right: Many friends are hard-pressed using up their consumables.
I once imagined buying a small farm in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, or in Lipa, Batangas, and often had what I thought was the right prospect. One was in a subdivision of small farms for weekend farmers. I loved the charming log cabin by its owner, a German who had gone back to his country and left it with a broker. Vergel couldn’t imagine me or him farming, but I could—that is, imagine. Well, I’m only so happy to have been talked out of it again.
And when Taal volcano erupted, it buried all my foolish dreams and regrets for good— but never my happy memories.