When was the last time you went to a place to do nothing?
In the past, I’d try to pack in as many activities as possible to maximize trips and travel constantly, but the pandemic forced me stay put, settle down with a regular work routine, and appreciate slow travel a lot more.
With post-pandemic travel back in full swing, there's been a mad rush to revisit destinations that have reopened and make up for all the lost time during the two-year lockdowns. Those suffering from travel FOMO may find that planning getaways can be so stressful that they need a vacation after taking a vacation.
Kapusod, a lakeside getaway located along the borders of the towns of Balete and Mataas na Kahoy in Batangas invites guests to just take it slow and commune with nature. Located right next door to the Pusod Conservation Center, the place aims to be a model of sustainable living and is all about establishing a connection with Mother Nature.
Kapusod is the private property of broadcast journalist Howie Severino and environmental lawyer Ipat Luna, who wanted a place to enjoy slow and sustainable living with their family away from Metro Manila. The main structure here is made mainly of recycled wood from an old house and bamboo. The establishment is also partially solar powered.
In his I-Witness documentary titled 'Malakas at Maganda', Howie shared how the house came about, saying that as a long-time fanatic of bamboo, he always wanted to make a house using it as the main building material.
"Ang kawayan ay isang ancient building material. Pag nagpagawa ka ng kahit anong bagay na gawa sa kawayan, parang tinutularan mo yung mga ninuno natin na matagal na wala sa mundo," he said.
"Classical tropical design itong ginawa namin, pero it turns out that it's also the perfect design for a pandemic kung saan napaka-importante ng ventilation na number one para ma-prevent yung COVID sa mga indoor space," he added in the video.
No metal nails were used in the building's construction. Instead, it makes use of bamboo pegs, string, and other native materials.
While it was initially privately owned, they eventually opened Kapusod as an Airbnb back in 2015. The airy al fresco reception and dining room are located right below their vacation house, where they spent most of their early days during the pandemic, according to the property's caretaker.
The lakeside retreat now offers several unique accommodations including an Earth Dome, a Treehouse room, a sustainably-built cottage, and a few garden cabanas where tourists can get a taste of glamping within secure grounds and a serene view of the lake.
The place also has a small natural water-fed garden pool where guests can swim with dragonflies and an in-house garden restaurant that serves local and organic food even to guests who aren’t checked in, making it a good dining destination even for day trips.
To really get a feel of Kapusod for ourselves, we booked an overnight stay in the Earth Dome, the newest and the most unique "room" on the property.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience living in a hobbit hole or sleeping comfortably in a cave, this comes pretty close. The Earth Dome is a cozy structure made of soil with curved walls adorned with soil paintings by artists Rosa Mirasol, with the help of Yano Quijano, Ron Sabolboro, Danica Coruno, and Elyza S. David.
All the soil paintings feature endemic or native species from around the Philippines including the Philippine Spotted Deer, Kalaw (Visayan Hornbill), Pawikan (Marine Turtle), Palawan Horned Frog, Mabitang (Panay Monitor Lizard), Buwaya (Phil. Crocodile), Agila (Philippine Eagle) and Visayan Warty Pig. You can also spot the endemic plant Rafflesia, the largest flower on the planet.
While we spent most of our time outdoors in the garden and pool area, the Earth Dome offered cozy, well-ventilated sleeping quarters for the night. In fact, the breeze got cooler during the night.
The highlight was the water garden pool right in front of the Earth Dome. The pool has no chlorine and incorporates plants and natural stones. Even the common bathroom brings guests close to nature, as the outdoor restroom has a showerhead hidden in plants with natural stone floors.
As part of their efforts for sustainability, Kapusod recycles the water in their CR hut for gardening, uses biodegradable soap, practices composting, and aims to be zero waste.
The original room at Kapusod is the Treehouse, which provides a view of Taal Lake. Constructed in 2013, this sturdy structure is a survivor of the Taal eruption, typhoons, multiple earthquakes, and the pandemic.
Plantitos and plantitas will feel immediately at home here, as the gardens surrounding the treehouse have gotten lusher with plants. If you're a nature lover who has always wanted to stay in a treehouse when you were a kid, this introvert-friendly room guarded by resident cats will suit your liking.
Don't expect a TV or fancy digs during your stay. I suggest you go for a full digital detox and just soak in all the serenity and nature while you can.
For those who need easy access to a restroom at night, this might not be the best option though, as you still have to go up and down a ladder and walk to the garden to get there. And while Kapusod does not allow loud music or karaoke, guests sleeping here may still hear music from other nearby establishments and residences.
In case the Earth Dome and Treehouse rooms are too small for your group, the Karakoa cottage might be a better option. It offers two bedrooms good for up to 10 pax and has a kitchenette and its own restroom.
According to a sign on the site, this cottage is an experiment in sustainable shelter. The structure of the cottage itself is made of soil stuffed in sacks while the roof was made with anahaw. The stairs were built using kawayan and abaca. The cottage also contains a stone art toilet by sculptor Sajid Imao.
For spillover guests, Kapusod also has a couple of garden cabanas with privacy curtains for rent.
We stayed on a Friday night and ended up having the whole place to ourselves. After a 2.5-hour drive from Manila through SLEX and Star Tollway, we spent the afternoon just sitting in the garden while drinking Kape Barako, watching boats, and the sunset.
Our dinner was a simple, yet comforting home-cooked meal of Garlic Butter Shrimp (P450) and Ensaladang Pako at Itlog na Maalat (P250). The restaurant serves local and organic food, with main courses good for two like Grilled Liempo, Bulalo with Fried Tawilis, Sinampalukang Native na Manok, and more.
After a couple of beers by the lakeside surrounded by fireflies, we took a dip in the garden pool. The water felt incredibly cold at night, but once you get used to the temperature, just soaking in and relaxing amidst the plants offered a relaxing experience. After chilling out (literally), I easily fell asleep in the Earth Dome that night.
It was pretty quiet and peaceful at night, but we found out that Kapusod is popular with families and big bikers on road trips for breakfast and lunch rides, as the lakeside spot offers a refreshing getaway for weekend rides.
A group of big bikers arrived in the morning, snapping selfies by the lake while having breakfast. Based on photos of previous guests, the lakeside retreat offers a great pit stop for cyclists as well.
For breakfast, we tried the Fried Tawilis (fish found only in Taal Lake) with fried rice, egg, vegetable salad, and kapeng barako (P350/plate). The serving was quite large and was good enough for sharing for two people.
After breakfast, we took a refreshing dip again in the pool, before checking out and driving to Basil & Tomato, a nearby restaurant in Mataas na Kahoy for lunch. Since we drove back on a Saturday, the ride back to Manila was fast and we managed to get back to the city by 3:00 p.m. However, we did see the long line of cars at the tollgates on their to Tagaytay and Batangas, so you might want to factor that in if you plan to visit.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that travel doesn’t always have to involve plane rides and faraway exotic destinations. Sometimes it’s these simple getaways to overlooked destinations near Manila that can help you recharge and face another workweek back in the city.
How to get there
We tried two different routes going to Kapusod and back from Manila: the Malvar exit and the Balete/Lipa exit. While the Malvar exit looks nearer on the maps and is faster, it's less scenic and the streets are narrower. I recommend taking the Balete/Lipa exit instead.
On Waze or Google Maps, find Kapusod. Drive until the end of SLEX and take Star Tollway until the Balete/Lipa exit. Turn south from Balete Exit of Startoll and turn right downhill towards Balete. Drive about 8km to Balete town until you reach a market area with a view of the lake. Turn left and go 800m past a high steel bridge leading towards Mataas na Kahoy. The gate to Kapusod will be on the right. You'll see a small windmill and a small marker with Kapusod on it.
EARTH DOME (good for 2 pax)
- Weekdays: P2,016 / Holiday: P2,592
- Weekend: P2,240.00 / Holiday: P2,688
TREEHOUSE (good for 2, maximum of 4 pax)
- Weekdays for 2 pax: P2,240 / Holiday - P2,688 (Add P300 beyond 2 pax)
- Weekends for 2 pax: P2,464 / Holiday - P2,956 (Add P300 beyond 2 pax)
KARAKOA COTTAGE (good for 5, maximum of 10 pax)
- Weekdays & Weekends for 5 pax- P6,160 / Holiday - P7,392 (Add P300 beyond 5 pax)
- Weekdays & Weekends for 10 pax - P8,400 / Holiday - P10,080
CABANA (good for 2 maximum of 4 pax)
- Weekdays/Weekends for 2 pax - P1,680 / Holiday - P1,716 (Add P300 beyond 2 pax)
NOTE: Kapusod offers a simple escape — just bed and pillows, drinking water, lakeside dining, use of common facilities including our natural pool and closeness to nature. Towels and soap are available upon request. The stays do not include food. Check in/out time is at 2 p.m. and 12 p.m. respectively.
To reserve rooms, you can message Kapusod on Facebook or call 09064175906.