FOR the first time in many years, I wake up to the sound of an orchestra playing. A thousand crickets are making beautiful rhythmic music at 5:30 in the morning.
In my spacious, tastefully-appointed, purple-themed casita, I lay quietly for a while before throwing off the purple wool blanket to thrust my feet into the purple rubber thongs and make my way outside for an early morning stroll.
It is frigid in the open and I chide myself for not bringing a coat. My eyes feast on the rolling terrain, the wildflowers wet with dew, the dissipating fog, the trees, and I take in the clean, pure oxygen into my city lungs. It’s a fine time to cuddle up to someone.
I am at Rapha Valley up there at Don Salvador Benedicto where the air is sweet. Just a kilometer on rough road from the highway at Brgy. Kumaliskis, this eight-hectare property is more well-known as a wellness center, thanks to the popularity of its owners Dr. Albert Jo and his gracious wife Marilou.
Rapha Valley is famous for its vegetarian cuisine and more - Dr. Jo brings guests around the herb and vegetable garden for a walking lecture on their health benefits. He is indefatigable and the perfect poster boy for such a lifestyle.
Ever had bloodless dinuguan to go with black rice puto? The puto is done the Manapla way (rice soaked overnight to ferment it), “dinuguan” is carob plus finely chopped mushrooms to give it a lumpy texture.
The day before, my friends and I had Pancit Negrense for lunch. Fresh egg noodles and sotanghon are given a sour twist with the use of batwan (!) and sambag leaves. Kadios, mushrooms, vegetables, and coconut cream sauce make a healthy combination. With scallops. Scallops! Dr. Jo discards the meat and uses the muscle that connects the meat to the shell. To accompany the dish is Twisted Herb Bread with a caper and sesame seed tapenade.
We have been good, so, we had Bulkan Kanlaon, a lava cake of gluten-free kamoteng kahoy and cacao tablea sprinkled with toasted cashew.
Dinner was meat, este, vegemeat cooked adobo style. Vegemeat is from Indian wheat which contains gluten but does not cause allergies because the wheat is non-GMO. The adobo comes with turmeric-infused red rice. This is a highly-recommended dish and an award-winning one at that. Years ago, this was Dr. Jo’s entry to the Adobo Festival in Silay City and this won the top prize.
How did a medical doctor end up being a cook? Cooking was Dr. Jo’s passion from the start. Yet, it was his bout with hypertension, asthma and a rheumatic heart that fueled his passion for healthy eating.
While sharing a table with him at the 30-seater Rapha Café, an afternoon with the good doctor is precious and life-changing. Dr. Jo tells us a lot of horror stories about people who live unhealthy lifestyles. The bottomline of all these stories is that age-old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
A weekend up there at Rapha Valley will do us good. Mountains have healing properties and have the life-giving environment one can get only amidst forests. Six casitas located on the gentle slopes of the property afford guests peaceful, quiet, and healthy staycations.
Only an hour away from Bacolod City, a staycation here can help calm frazzled nerves, strengthen family ties, and reignite passions cooling from the ennui of everyday living. An overnight stay is ideal for romance for February!
The air is so fresh that I tease Marilou that she can start a business bottling it. She does not take it as a joke but said that a short 15 minutes of deeply inhaling clean oxygen can revive anyone. So, I think, “How much more a whole day of clean air?”
The herbed and flowered salad I had included flowers and greens picked from the garden. Earlier that day, I nibbled on the florets I pulled out from French Kisses, the lipstick-colored flowers of an ornamental ginger plant that is both tart and sweet. That’s how unpolluted the atmosphere is - from bush to bouche.
If you stay the night, enjoy breakfast the next day. I recommend the turmeric-tanglad-cinnamon-ginger drink. This can take getting used to, but, this drink is vitamin-packed. Try the Rapha Eggs Benedict which is two organic poached eggs topped with asparagus spears, tomatoes, organic cheese, veggieham on herbed English muffins with herb cream sauce.
For the month of love, show you love by keeping healthy to live better and longer. Clean, healthy living is good for the heart.