New adventures in old Pansol
MANILA – Visitors to Calamba, Laguna not only can visit the house where Jose Rizal was born, they can also bathe in the hot spring once frequented by the country’s national hero in his youth.
This little fact, shared by business columnist Wilson Lee Flores, who owns the Neruda Hotspring Resort in Pansol, amply suggests the long history of this barangay, which has become the Philippines’ hot spring capital.
Historical accounts dating back to the early years of Spanish colonial rule have already mentioned the hot baths in the area, which is not unusual given that nearby Mount Makiling is actually a dormant volcano.
In 1590, the Spanish missionary Fr. Pedro Bautista (who later became a saint) supposedly set up public baths after discovering that the waters in the hot springs had medicinal value. He was also credited for renaming the nearby town Los Banos, which translates to “the baths.”
But Flores laments that today’s Filipinos seem to have forgotten the medicinal benefits of soaking in Pansol’s hot springs.
Instead, Pansol has become famous as an inexpensive excursion destination for budget-conscious Manila residents, which gained momentum in the 1970s.
“They have something unique about that place na hindi nila mina-maximize, which is the health benefit,” Flores said. “Karamihan they don’t know the medicinal benefits of the hot spring.”
Benefits to health and wellness
It was in the 1970s when former senator Jovito Salonga decided to build a country home in Pansol, which Flores, who is a real-estate broker by profession, bought recently.
“We listened to the advice of my rehabilitation doctor, Dr. Antonio Periquet, who said that wading and swimming in a warm spring pool would be good for my damaged nerves. After the construction, we made it a point to invite some of our friends to enjoy the waters of Pansol during weekends. My doctors apparently enjoyed the yearly event, exchanging reminiscences and listening to the love songs of well-known artists, before and after the anniversary luncheon,” Salonga wrote in his 2001 book “A Journey of Struggle and Hope.”
According to Flores, Salonga’s weekly visits to Pansol helped him recover from the Aug. 21, 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing which had originally confined him to the wheelchair. It was his recovery from soaking in the area’s hot springs that prodded Salonga to build his Pansol home in 1974.
Flores said he plans to restore this 1,027-sq.m. property with two bungalows and a swimming pool as a place for physical and spiritual wellness, seminars and celebrations.
(Users of the ABS-CBN News mobile app can view this slideshow via an Internet browser.)
Another Pansol property that had its beginnings in the 1970s is the La Vista Pansol resort complex. Its general manager, Nicolas Donato III, recalled that at the time Pansol residents started using fresh spring water for their swimming pools and opened them up for day-trippers and group outings.
Donato said his father, who was a doctor, was given a small lot in Pansol as payment for medical bills by a patient. The family then built a summer house with a pool.
“Siguro mga 1970,” the younger Donato recalled. “‘Yung pasyente niya wala nang masyadong pambayad, so he offered the place for a very cheap price. Pero maliit lang siya, portion lang. ‘Yan na ‘yung original vacation house namin, tamang-tama lang sa amin.”
Donato said guests would drive to Pansol and literally knock on their door during summer, asking if they can use their pool when resorts in the area would get fully booked.
“During summer, kapag puno sila, wala nang mapag-swimmingan ‘yung ibang guests. So may mga iba nagbabakasakali. They go here kasi alam nilang may pool kami. Magsasabi ‘yung mga guests, ‘Pwede kaming mag-swimming? We’ll pay you P1 per head.’”
It was later proposed to just convert their home to a resort so they bought the adjacent lots in the area to expand their property.
“Little by little, we developed it by buying properties and nag-loan din kami from the bank and unti-unti naming na-develop ‘yung resort. From siguro 1,000 square meters, umabot na siya ng eight hectares,” Donato said.
Today, La Vista Pansol offers numerous swimming pools in different sizes, with slides and water playgrounds, with one even having a roof over it. The Bukal, which used to be the longest pool in Calamba back in the 1980s, is undergoing renovations and will be transformed into the area’s first wave pool.
“Naunahan na tayo ng Bulacan at Cavite, sila lahat may mga wave pool. Dito, iisa pa lang. So sabi namin let’s upgrade. I proposed sa board na i-push through ‘yung wave pool,” Donato said.
Donato said guests come back to the resort because unlike their competitors, La Vista Pansol offers more than just swimming pools. “Yung mga regular guests namin, they like it here dahil unang-una, malaki ‘yung place. Marami silang nagagawa, We have complete facilities -- basketball, volleyball, pools, playground,” he said, adding that it just started to offer extreme sports like paintball, mud karts and a zipline, which are popular for team-building.
Apart from tourist activities, the resort even has the Wildlife and Rescue Center for rescued animals initiated by veterinarian Nielsen Donato.
But large resort operations like La Vista Pansol are exceptions, not the rule, as far as the area’s tourism development is concerned, stressed Flores, noting that the vast majority of establishments in Pansol are still small, private resort types – not much different from the 1970s.
“Everybody built their own. Every house, may sariling private resort,” Flores said. “It is still popular for birthdays, parties and team building but it’s a very seasonal business -- summer lang siya and minsan Pasko.
“It’s still the nearest area for excursions for most people and very affordable,” he added.
While Flores said this strategy isn’t necessarily wrong, he noted that in Japan, hot spring resorts or onsens can charge high rates because of their therapeutic positioning.
‘”Yun sana ang gawin ng gobyerno, i-push ‘yung medical tourism. Pansol could be a major tourist spot sa Pilipinas,” Flores said. – Report from Fidea Encarnacion, photos and videos by Fernando G. Sepe, Jr. and old photos courtesy of Donato Family