Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden

Visiting Patis Tito Garden Cafe whetted my appetite for more Filipino creativity and tropical greenery. When Patis herself recommended that we visit Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden in Tiaong, Quezon, just a short drive from her cafe, I found it hard to resist.

I’ve been hearing good things about potter and artist Augusto ‘Ugu’ Bigyan’s pottery studio and restaurant for years, but it had always seemed too far to visit. Now that we were practically in the neighborhood, we simply had to go.

We were welcomed by the wide, welcoming embrace of this majestic mango tree—the Valhalla of aerial plants, it seems, where the best and bravest plants go after fighting the good fight on earth.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden mango tree

Situated on the same expansive property as his own home, Ugu Bigyan’s “potter’s garden” is dotted with lush tropical plants and pavilions featuring elements of traditional Filipino homes such as thatched nipa roofs, antique furnishings, and more.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden cogon pavilion

I would have loved to sit down at one of these tables for Ugu’s famously delicious (and surprisingly affordable) meals, made with local ingredients and served family style. But it was the end of the day and we hadn’t booked anything in advance. The food photos at Sushi Bytes and Out of Town Blog are absolutely torturing me with what I missed!

I also would have wanted to relax on one of antique butaka chairs—a Spanish colonial easy chair, with long arm rests and curved rattan back—with a cup of barako coffee. Oh, well, next time.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden seating area with butaka chair

Instead of stuffing our faces (which we’d already done at Patis Tito anyway), we explored the garden, which bears marks of Ugu’s artistry everywhere…

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden patterned wall

… and eventually came to his shop, which is filled with his beautiful handmade ceramics and earthenware.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden creamer with clay birds

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden earthenware

Inspired by nature, Ugu’s creations are earthy, organic and unusual. I loved the flocks of birds perched on dishes and cups—they’d inject a little whimsy in the daily routine, but the muted colors keep them from being over the top.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden ceramic ladle and plate

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden ceramic cups

I wanted to buy almost everything, and I’m not even really into ceramics! I wish I’d taken better pictures, too, but it was almost sunset when we arrived.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden pottery shop

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden vase

We also took a peek into the workshop where Ugu’s ceramic creatures wait for color and fire to bring them to life. Ugu offers pottery workshops in his studio, which must be booked in advance.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden workshop

I wish I’d taken better pictures, too, but it was almost sunset when we arrived.

Ugu’s pottery goes on sale a few times a year, most notably on his birthday when the discount corresponds to his age. The master potter turns 52 on August 9, 2015—sounds like the perfect time for a return visit, don’t you think?

Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden
90 Alvarez Village
Barangay Lusacan
4325 Tiaong, Quezon
+63 42-545-9144
+63 917-560-5708
+63 917-560-7973
+63 42-545-8689
Open for lunch and coffee

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Patis Tito Garden Cafe in San Pablo, Laguna

One of my favorite days from my trip home—was that really almost two months ago?—was our first Sunday lunch together as a family. Still exhausted from jet lag, my stomach was tied up in knots at the thought of heading into the city and being swallowed up by the pre-Christmas traffic jams, just to wander around yet another shiny mall packed with dazed holiday shoppers.

So we drove away from it all, further and deeper into the South: to San Pablo, Laguna, the hometown of my maternal grandmother, and to Patis Tito Garden Cafe.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe dining area2

Formerly Kusina Salud, Patis Tito Garden Cafe brings together the rustic charm of an old Filipino provincial home, the lush greenery of a tropical garden, and the homegrown flavors of slow-cooked Filipino cuisine. It is a combination that stirs the senses and feeds the soul, and feels both familiar and unusual at the same time.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe bed and breakfast entrance

Bed and breakfast in a beatiful old Filipino home

The familiarity comes from a deeply rooted love for Filipino culture, and the uniqueness from a creative spirit with an unconventional point of view. Both are the trademarks of owner Patis Tesoro, the designer who is best known for revolutionizing traditional Filipiniana wear with her passion for bold colors, rich patterns and Filipino craftsmanship.

The style and personality that has made Patis a force in Filipino fashion for 30 years is what gives her Garden Cafe its particular flair.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe colorful seating

Color and pattern mix with rustic Filipino furnishings

Patis Tito Garden Cafe Tesoro style

Figurines dressed in Patis’s style, featuring indigenous fabrics, intricate hand beading & embroidery

Patis Tito Garden Cafe art

Husband and wife, owners Patis and Tito Tesoro

It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet Patis herself that day. She’s an inspiring figure. “I was close to your age when I started with this place,” confided Patis, now in her sixties. Marlon and I—co-conspirators, partners, dreamers—looked at each other, wheels in our heads starting to turn. “It’s never too early to begin. Just don’t give up.”

Patis Tito Garden Cafe dining table

I have a special place in my heart for old Filipino houses. It’s an affection I inherited from my mom. I didn’t always feel that way—I was a bratty kid who hated being dragged around to our relatives’ rickety old houses in the province—but now I see what my mom loved about them. Finally being able to share a passion of my mom’s made spending time with her here even more special.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe callado window

Now let’s talk about the food. Mmm, the food.

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El Nido town: Rustic quirks & mango rum

Staying in the town proper is the way to visit El Nido on a shoestring. While the swanky side of El Nido is definitely still on my bucket list, there are a few reasons—other than your budget—to enjoy El Nido town.

El Nido Palawan Bacuit Bay sunrise

Waking up to this literally on our doorstep was one. This beauty is democratic: everyone gets a gorgeous sunrise on the water, regardless of the number of digits they forked over for accommodation. I love it.

El Nido bay

Natural beauty is a given, but what I enjoyed most about mainland El Nido is how undeveloped—and how real—it still is. Granted, this means that you’ll discover the less-than-idyllic side of island living. For example, there’s no electricity from 6am to 2pm. There are no ATMs on the island, so bringing enough cash for your entire stay is a must.

The soil is too salty and claylike to grow vegetables, so veggies have to be brought over by sea from Manila, sometimes as infrequently as once a month. There are no poultry farms on the island, because the intermittent electricity supply can’t power the heat lamps needed to raise chickens on a large scale. Anything not grown or produced here—from eggs to bottled water—has to come in by boat, which inflates the prices of most basic goods on El Nido as compared to similarly remote provincial towns and villages.

Despite all those challenges, generations of people—Filipino and foreigners alike—have fallen in love with El Nido and have chosen to start afresh here.

El Nido Palawan Trattoria Altrove

That’s why you’ll find that the longest lines for dinner are for the authentic wood-fired pizzas of Trattoria Altrove, housed in an old bahay-na-bato…

El Nido crepe stand

and why you can get a real French crepe from a sawali-roofed plywood shack just like this.

La Salangane bar El Nido Palawan

In fact, the presence of a thriving French community in El Nido is the raison d’etre for La Salangane, my favorite bar and restaurant of this whole trip.

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Off the beaten track: Nacpan Beach El Nido

You know you’re off the beaten track when the track suddenly begins to look something like this.

El Nido Palawan road trip

You may bump into a few fellow travelers on the same path…

Carabao and kids in El Nido Palawan

in fact, more than just a few… Full jeepney on El Nido road

But you may not always end up at the same destination, which in our case, was Nacpan Beach, El Nido.

El Nido Nacpan beach resort

The most important thing you need to know about the beaten track: more often than not, going off it is totally worth doing.

El Nido Nacpan beach deserted

By far, the best part of our exploration of El Nido by tricycle was arriving at the remote, far-flung and almost totally deserted shores of Nacpan Beach.

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Island hopping in El Nido, Palawan (2 of 2)

Our second island-hopping tour in El Nido fell on the day of our sixth wedding anniversary. It’s just a little bit extra (about Php200-400 more per person) for a private tour, so we decided to make it just the two of us on our special day.

This time, we opted for Tour A, which covers the Small Lagoon and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island, lunch at Shimizu Island, Secret Lagoon, and a final stop at Seven Commandos beach. For me, these places, particularly the lagoons on Miniloc, are simply postcard El Nido. If you only have time for one island-hopping tour (what a shame!), I highly suggest you pick this one.

There’s a sense of discovery about island-hopping in El Nido that I love. Some of the loveliest places pose a challenge to the traveler and aren’t easily accessible. (Smart choice leaving the baby at home, I must say.) Hidden away from view and behind dramatic limestone peaks, what a wonder it must have been for the explorers who discovered these places for the first time. To follow your curiosity through a peekaboo cutout in the rocks…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon Entrance

and to swim through to emerge in a jewel-colored lagoon, bounded by walls made of jungle and rock.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon

These days, kayaking is the easier option for would-be explorers, but I loved swimming through the Small Lagoon and exploring its little nooks and coves—even if I did slice my hand on some pretty sharp rocks.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Small Lagoon swimming

With the Big Lagoon, scale adds an element of drama. Everything suddenly goes quiet as a stream of bancas float down a corridor of towering limestone, like a procession into some kind of royal hall. It feels both majestic and serene.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Big Lagoon

Our tour guide sat at the prow of the banca, which I thought looked like fun. I asked to take his place and sat there, dangling my feet into the water as our boat did one long, slow circuit around the bowl of the Big Lagoon.

El Nido Palawan island hopping tour guide

I had to jerk my feet out of the water when I saw these, though! I’ve been stung by a sea urchin before and the scars took six years to fade. Not going that route again, thanks.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Big Lagoon sea urchins

What else did we do? Hmmm… we squeezed through this tiny passage to find a small sinkhole called the Secret Lagoon…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Secret Lagoon entrance

and dropped anchor at a spot somewhere off Miniloc, whose name I can’t remember (baby brain strikes again, argh!) for some great snorkeling. El Nido is not spectacular for snorkeling (God is fair), but this spot was really good.

El Nido Palawan island hopping snorkeling spot

To end the day we spent an hour or so at the pristine Seven Commandos beach, which was a welcome break to just doze in the sun after all that swimming.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos Beach

The tours dock at Seven Commandos at around 4 in the afternoon, perfect timing for a little merienda of fresh coconut juice from a tiny, barely held-together shack on the beach…

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos

or, my absolute favorite, a mango shake from the small beach bar on the island. Drinks on Seven Commandos are sold at tourist prices, but there’s practically nothing on this island; the locals have to recoup the costs of periodically bringing everything over by boat, plus make a living.

El Nido Palawan island hopping Seven Commandos mango shake

Sweet Philippine mangoes on a gorgeous Philippine beach—if you ask me, that’s a combination that’s pretty hard to beat!

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