Microtel up north: An adventure and a love story

One of the views that capped off our adventure

It started with a hearty breakfast, a promise of what was to come. Then a road trip going far, and farther up north, with warm, beautiful nights of restful sleep in between.  It culminated in a night of drinks and revelations.

I was not anticipating particular surprises in this trip, which was touring around Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and Baguio, and checking in at a Microtel every night. I had gone to the three provinces before, and at most I thought seeing new places there would be refreshing.  I had stayed at Microtel occasionally over the past several years, sometimes for fieldwork, sometimes for my own adventure, and by now I am familiar – and partial – to its back-friendly beds given the nod by chiropractors. While my stay would not be surprising, I expected it would be relaxing.

I came home with much, much more than I expected – among them new sights, old sights and experiences made fresh by new companions, and a heartwarming love story.

We had an early start for our trip, and so my travel companions and I had a buffet breakfast first at Microtel in Quezon City.

One of my usual Microtel breakfasts

We then had an over two-hour drive to Tarlac, where Microtel staff warmly welcomed us, including the area manager for Microtel’s northern Luzon branches, Roy Martin.

Conversation flowed easily when we were welcomed in Tarlac. Here in the middle of this photo is Mr. Roy Martin, Microtel North Luzon area manager Roy Martin.

The warm welcome is a common experience in all my Microtel stays, but I was surprised when Mr. Roy told us that he would be the one taking our group around that day. And so he, together, with another staff, Ms. Laren, toured us around underrated Tarlac.

We started our tour communing with nature and the divine at Monasterio de Tarlac.  This 30-foot statue of the Risen Christ reminds me of the Christ the Redeemer statue I see in photos of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Tarlac Recreational Park had swimming pools and race tracks, but what caught and held my attention was the idyllic serenity of its lake. I can imagine just sitting under a tree here, reading, writing, and contemplating.

We had fun at Tarlac Recreational Park, too! Photo by Billy Palatino

 

We had an honest-to-goodness, all-Filipino lunch at one of the most popular barbecue places in town, Victor’s BBQ & Lechon Manok! Yes, they are particularly proud of their lechon manok (roast chicken), which we had fun watching as the cooks carefully basted and roasted them at the open-air cooking area.

The Aquino Center & Museum did not allow photos inside their galleries, but we learned a lot of Ninoy’s and Cory’s stories, both as politicians, husband and wife, parents, and individuals. Photo courtesy of Celine Reyes

The race tracks at KCT Racing Park were flooded because of the heavy rains, but some in our group still got a feel of the cars through photos like this!

As we couldn’t race, we just indulged in Pinoy comfort food perfect for the rainy day at KCT’s restaurant.

Mr. Roy looking on indulgently as he told us to order at KCT’s restaurant. He actually felt like a friendly tito (uncle) who you can bring to trips and nights out with your barkada, or friends.

We ended our tour by falling into our room’s back-friendly beds. Microtel Tarlac is the oldest Microtel branch, but is still comfy and has the same beds I know.

Though the hotel staff set up an extra bed for us (shown in earlier photo), my roommate Mai and I slept on this one roomy and comfy bed. Whenever I have more time at a Microtel, I also sit by the picture window to read write.

The next morning, after a simple breakfast, I walked around the hotel’s “backyard.” What I love about all the Microtel branches I’ve been to so far aside from the beds are always the elements of nature, even back in Metro Manila.

We stopped by the Luisita Golf and Country Club before leaving the province. We all loved the stately-looking mansion, from where we could take on the expanse of green grass.

Tarlac was a quiet and beautiful province I enjoyed getting to know more. Before, I just had quick trips, usually stopovers on the way to other destinations farther north. I am happy I had the opportunity to see more.

Our next destination was Nueva Ecija. Mr. Roy Martin could not join us as he had urgent work to attend to, but we were toured around by Ms. Lita of Microtel Cabanatuan, who had a warm, motherly presence I appreciated, especially after I came from working on a tiring, intense project before this trip.

Before we toured around Nueva Ecija, we had lunch first at UMART Cafe in Munoz, serving mostly dishes and baked goods by Central Luzon State University students (And yes, they’re great!). Our tour guide Ms. Lita is the the lady in glasses on the left.

UMART Cafe also partners with small businesses. This tilapia ice cream sandwich (yes, it’s fish in ice cream!) is part of a livelihood project. There is indeed the subtle taste of tilapia, but it surprisingly goes well with the vanilla ice cream and chocolate coating.

We said hello to the carabaos – which I found weirdly cute and friendly, with some agreeing with me! – at the Philippine Carabao Center, a government research and breeding facility for carabaos. Farmers can loan carabaos from the center to help them breed carabaos that can produce more milk.

Since tilapia is big in Munoz, Nueva Ecija, we also dropped by fish ponds at Central Luzon State University’s grounds and got acquainted with the different breeds of tilapia, including this humongous one with one of its proud breeders.

Around the area is also a hydroponics farm, where vegetables grow from a strategic water system – thus the term hydroponics.

One of the best, most affordable ice creams I’ve tasted is at Puno’s Ice Cream & Sherbet in Cabanatuan. A cup costs P12, and these pints cost between P65-P70. Their bestseller is the cheese cashew macapuno, a creamy and nutty sweetness flavored with just a little saltiness from the cheese. Worth trying! Pistachio lovers would also love the pistachio cashew, which has a lighter flavor.

The typical Microtel room I have come to know over the years – two comfy beds and a picture window.

Our room has a view of the pool!

We had dinner at Bistro 360 beside Microtel. A common favorite among us was the pizza roll-up. We gamely wrapped fresh and crunchy alfalfa sprouts inside the hot, savory pizza.

Swimming at the pool was the highlight of our Microtel Cabanatuan stay.

There was even a full moon during our stay! We occasionally looked up while we enjoyed the warmth of the water.

By morning, Mr. Roy was back to pick us up and take us to Baguio. We were supposed to go to Minalungao Park in the early morning, but we did not have enough time and it was raining, but I was happy enough with what I would call a culinary and chill tour of Nueva Ecija. Aside from the different food we sampled (some of which were not photographed here, like carabao milk pastillas and carabao chicharon), we saw where the food came from (e.g. tilapia ponds and hydroponic farm), giving me a deeper appreciation of our food. The tour was also more homey with Ms. Lita’s warm presence.

Mornring selfie/groupie with Mr. Roy and Ms. Lita before we checked out. Photo by Celine Reyes

Even so, there was a historical leg in our Nueva Ecija tour, just like Tarlac. As a complement to the Aquino Museum, Mr. Roy took us to the Aquino-Diokno Memorial, which was where statesmen Ninoy Aquino and Jose Diokno were imprisoned during the Marcos regime.

At the Aquino-Diokno memorial, the prisoners were locked in windowless rooms, with lights on for 24 hours, and thus having no concept of day or night. But they had ways of counting the days. Here, Jose Diokno knots ropes, with one knot representing one day. The room is a recreation of the actual cell, with a wax figure of Diokno.

And then we were off to Baguio, our third and last province. We were greeted by the usual but always beautiful view of Cordillera’s pines and mountains, as we had lunch at Te Quiero Tapas Bar and Restaurant, a restaurant adjoining to the Microtel Baguio building.

Houses, pines, and mountains – Baguio scenery as seen from our lunch in Te Quiero

All the food was good, but I was partial to the flavorful paella and the fresh, fresh garden salad – definitely from Baguio’s farms!

I walked around Microtel before our afternoon tour. Out of all the Microtels I’ve stayed, this is the one with a unique facade, reminiscent of traditional, idyllic American-style houses in the suburbs. The color is relaxing, too!

We had a quick afternoon tour around the usual Baguio spots, and I was happy to explore more of Baguio’s Botanical Garden, as I was not able to see much of it during previous visits.

Baguio Botanical Garden, with its pine trees and flowers, is one of my favorite spots in Baguio.

When you’re with a jolly group like this, selfies/groupies among Baguio’s pine trees are happily inevitable. =) Photo by Celine Reyes

And we had a happy toast at Tsokolate Batirol! Their tsokolate, or native hot chocolate, sure beats the cold! Photo by Monica Manuel

We had dinner at Kalapaw near Microtel, an all-Filipino buffet.

After the tour, Mr. Roy had dinner with us at a nearby Filipino restaurant. It was our last night of the trip, and here, conversation flowed easier than ever. We already had a happy familiarity with Mr. Roy, and he began to share more about himself. We learned that he was a working student, juggling college at Manuel L. Quezon University with work as a housekeeping staff at Manila Hotel. He fondly called himself a “powder room boy,” as he cleaned up the hotel’s ornate restroom, typically known as the powder room. Somehow, he pulled through and graduated, and gradually rose up the ranks, also handling front office and sales.

And then, after years of working in Manila Hotel and other hotels, he was asked by his former boss at Manila Hotel to join him in Microtel. He loved it. With Microtel being a three-star hotel with less services than five-star hotels but still with basic amenities, and with less management and staff, he had more freedom and flexibility in his work, and he was hands-on with the staff, and even in hiring and training.

Mr. Roy sharing his journey from working student to Microtel area manager

Now over 30 years in the hotel industry, he is proud of inspiring  and shaping young minds. I was particularly moved when he shared how he hires housekeeping staff with no formal experience or related education. Mr. Roy would ask the interviewee, “Nag-aayos ka ba ng kama sa bahay? Nagtitiklop ka ba ng kumot?” (Do you make your bed at home? Do you fold the blanket?) To which the interviewee would say yes, and Mr. Roy would confidently say, “Then you have experience.”

He hires these applicants determined to learn and trains them accordingly, with some moving up the ranks to supervisor. Some who even resigned from Microtel to go overseas, came back to Microtel once they returned to the Philippines.

Mr. Roy wants the staff to keep learning and to be happy with their work, a task he can get himself directly involved in given his power and the trust given to him by his boss. I would like to think that all Microtel branches do hire and train applicants with no formal experience or related education, as I remember that a research team I was part of for a youth labor study was able to interview Microtel management who hires graduates of technical-vocational schools.

Mr. Roy confides that he is happy with his work and he wouldn’t go anywhere else. Perhaps that is also his secret, and what fuels him to keep his staff in all three Microtel North Luzon branches happy.

The dinner conversation spilled over to drinks and more stories at Te Quiero Bar.

Had a restful sleep at Microtel  Baguio after a long but happy night

Our room also had a view of Baguio’s pines.

Breakfast at Microtel Baguio was so far the fanciest Microtel breakfast I had, and with the most buffet choices.

It was the first time I have been to Easter Weaving Center, and it was wonderful to see Cordillera indigenous textiles being made, as I have been wearing some of them too.

It was also my first time at Kennon Road viewpoint, and, aside from taking in the view, it was fun taking a picture with everyone. Photo by Billy Palatino

Mr. Roy Martin, happy indeed to be of service to hotel staff and guests these past three decades. Taken at Philippine Military Academy

Mr. Roy drove us back to Metro Manila after lunch, our last meal for the trip. I came back home, warmed and lit up with his and other Microtel staff’s presence. In all my years of occasional stays at Microtel, this is the first time I have gotten to know its people, its story. While I usually seek out and hear the beautiful, inspiring stories of resort owners and single-branch hotels or bed and breakfasts, I have never heard a heartwarming, personal story from a hotel chain I have stayed at. This is not unusual, as hotels are usually run by efficient systems with a top-down approach. But Mr. Roy and his staff – especially Mr. Roy – showed me the heart behind their work.

And, after staying at Microtel many times, I am now happy to learn that it runs not on efficient systems alone, but on love and energy by determined people like Mr. Roy. Indeed, it was Mr. Roy’s love for Microtel and its people that was ever-present in our trip, making it all the more memorable.

Happy with Mr. Roy, Ms. Lita, and fellow travelers 

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