By Salvador S. Battung Jr.
Posted on September 15, 2016
Like the precious trickle of rain in the Sahara during a long dry spell, the CAHS Administration, Faculty and Staff sojourn for benchmarking and bonding was a sorely needed break – from the rigors and pressures of school work. After all, they have been pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones to steer CSU College of Allied Health Sciences to be the nation’s leading school in both Medical Technology and Respiratory Therapy. Thus, the out-of-town venture last July 27-29, 2016 (exclusive of travel days) was an opportunity to learn best practices of a renowned school so as to sustain the trademark of excellence back home… an avenue for rekindling embers of relationships momentarily pushed aside in the name of excellence … a time to set aside professional titles and be one with the group in frolicking and savoring childlike happiness and wonder.
As the bus wheeled through the snakelike narrow trail that cut through the coconut plantation, the ten o’clock sun peered through grey patches of clouds, unveiling the near-pristine scenery of the Villa Escudero plantation adorned with a myriad of coconut trees standing tall in neat rows. Scores of local plant species in rainbow colors lined up at the road skirts, and beckoned us with their leaves flapping and swaying with the cool breeze, like Roman maidens welcoming their victorious soldier-husbands marching back from the battlefields.
Finally, the bus parked and as we alighted, the cool air gently caressed our skin, and provided our travel-battered bodies with a soothing sensation of freshness. Nature’s golden green prompted my mind that, indeed, we were in a rural setting. Lo and behold, right before our very eyes popped the stately Escudero gardens where a vintage fighter plane stood, and a number of old machine guns and mortars were daintily scattered.
While we leisurely promenaded along the gardens and watched the numerous statues depicting courtship Filipino style, our eyes caught sight of a nearby newly restored family-owned church, with architecture akin to that of the Ermita Church of Tuguegarao, only that the latter is of inferior size. Making our way inside the church, we later found out that it had been converted into a museum that housed various kinds of antique religious relics, vases of various sizes, stone implements, preserved animals and birds, wardrobes of our country’s past presidents and their first ladies, old coins and paper bills (local and foreign), World War II pistols and rifles, even vintage swords. Unfortunately, taking pictures of the relics was banned. After having feasted our eyes on the vast collection of treasures, we went out enriched with knowledge and appreciation of the cultures of man in the distant past.
Suddenly, I heard the grumbling sound emanating from my belly and felt a slicing sensation running through my intestinal walls. I looked at my watch - it was almost noontime – time for lunch. I found comfort in learning that my co-teachers felt the same as I did. Riding in a battery-operated 20-seater cab, we headed to the luncheon area.
After depositing our bags in the receiving area, we descended the stairs until we reached the waterfall restaurant – so-called because it is a restaurant about 50 meters away from what seemed like the grand Niagara waterfalls – and, yes, we had to eat lunch with our feet submerged in water as the tables and benches were mounted on one-foot deep water streaming from the waterfalls. My fingers itched to take snapshot upon snapshot of the majestic beauty that lay before my very eyes. Wading in the water, we trooped to the food station to fill our banana leaf plates with various sorts of Filipino dishes, smorgasbord style. I was thrilled no end to eat with bare hands in the company of my priced colleagues – my Dean, co-teachers, support staff, and the two bus drivers.
With our palates satisfied and bellies full, we frolicked under the man-made falls. The child in us came forth as we jumped, ran, swam, and splashed water at one another. The semi-icy water coming from Labasin Lake cast its spell and made us linger a little longer under the falls.
The thrill did not end there. We also tried bamboo rafting at Labasin Lake located atop the falls. The raft ride provided a “first“ to many of our colleagues who have had urban upbringing – all the more heightening the fun. Some of us did a dragon boat race that made us jeer, scream, and cheer as we tried to paddle past the other competitors until our strength left us and our nostrils had to forcibly wheeze in oxygen to our lungs – nevertheless, we were still laughing all the way.
Soon, it was time to go. We, thus packed ourselves into a 20-seater cart – this time drawn by a carabao – that would shuttle us to the parking area. Along the way, we were serenaded by a male guitarist and a female soloist - both in filipiniana outfit - who wowed us with their rendition of the kundiman songs “Kabukiran,” and “Lumang Simbahan.” To the very end, we were entertained at Villa Escudero.
From a distance, Caliraya Hotel looked like a tiny white spot in the middle slope of a hill clothed with foliage of plants and trees. Below the hill lay a stretch of man-made lake with both sides camouflaged in tons of water lilies. None would entertain even just an iota of idea that a paradise lay hidden in such place teeming with shrubbery.
As soon as we were comfortably seated in the pump boat that would ferry us across the lake to the resort, the thrill began. The boat seemed to cough as it struggled to slither and cut through heaps of water lilies. The sudden lurch forward gave us intense excitement as if riding in a roller coaster.
At about 4:00 in the afternoon, we reached the famed Caliraya Resort Club. We spent some time to cuddle up in our air-conditioned rooms and recharge our lost energy. In the evening, we joined throngs of local and foreign tourists in the grand dining hall to feast on the exquisitely delicious meal, buffet style.
The next morning, we stripped ourselves of our professional degrees and allowed the childlike pleasure and petty naughtiness surface in us. We were back to childhood again as we glided and swirled down the 550-foot-long Super Slide facility in top speed, almost losing our breath. We got the same sensation when we slid down the Mud Slide and laughed at ourselves looking like buffaloes and pigs wallowing in the pond of mud.
After washing ourselves up, Dean Julius’ group conquered their alto phobia when they pedaled the Bicycle in the Sky at an altitude of about 50-100 feet relative to the terrain below. From the ground, they looked like gods and goddesses pedaling in the clouds on their way to Mt. Olympus. The rest of us treated ourselves to the thrill of Slide Pinoy (Mini-Zipline). Our two groups later converged at the 8-wave swimming pool where we wallowed and played with gusto.
For our group, it’s not all fun and play, though. We also took time out to attend to our spiritual growth as we motored to the National Shrine of Padre Pio in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. The shrine was a huge dome with local motif. One has plenty of breathing space as it had no walls except the arched metal scaffoldings that supported the hemispherical roof. The scaffoldings were artistically crafted to look like real bamboo posts. There, we offered our supplications for the success of our Medical Technology as well as Respiratory Therapy board takers in August and September 2016 respectively. In the silence of our hearts, we prayed for our personal intentions.
The day ended with a trip to Manila where we passed the night, ready for the benchmarking trip to Pampanga the following day.
Angeles University Foundation is ranked No. 1 school in Region 3 based on the study of Philippine Universities Ranking. One of their best practices worthy of emulation is security of everyone once inside the campus. The campus is hardly penetrable as it is bounded by tall fences, let alone the tall buildings adjacent to it. At the main gate, students and employees have to swipe their ID cards in the bar coding machine before the stainless steel barriers automatically open, allowing them entry in the campus. The three guards strictly inspect students’ bags, and check on the latter’s uniforms.
Upon entry of the campus, one could immediately notice the cleanliness of the grounds. Trash bins are strategically placed and there are no scattered litters whatsoever. The cars are neatly parked. The students are polite and courteous as they greeted us and even graciously ushered us in. The silence is admirable as there were no students seen loitering around. The few students seated in the concrete benches were quietly reading their books.
On both sides of the granite wall leading to the main campus, the names of the board topnotchers are etched on black marble stones bearing testimony that, indeed, AUF is a premiere school. The state-of–the-art libraries on the second and third floors of the front building are admirably hi-tech and immaculately clean. The students leave their shoes by the doorstep before they enter. Inside, no tables can be found, only a few sofas. The wide floor space after the entrance door is topped with soft carpet where students could comfortably squat. Being an e-library, it is equipped with Wi-Fi connected computers. The silence could be quite eerie, but it all the more adds up to the library’s conduciveness to learning.
These observations, in addition to information gathered via individual interviews done by the CAHS faculty with their AUF counterparts, made the CAHS benchmarking venture a truly fruitful and enriching experience. With our knowledge on academic best practices further enriched, aesthetic values deepened, exhausted bodies reinvigorated, and relationships renewed, the CAHS benchmarking and family bonding trip was worth all the inconveniences of the long and arduous ride, irritating traffic jams, and purses and wallets emptied out.
A million thanks to the CSU Top Brass spearheaded by OIC President Mariden Ventura Cauilan for approving and supporting such a wonderful and memorable trip.