Coming Home to Casa


Only fond, warm memories fill my heart when I think of Casa San Miguel, one my favorite places in the planet.  Let me enumerate:

  • Climbing up to the tower at Casa when the steps were all wooden. Now, part of the stairs are steel and glass.
  • Having the house to ourselves and there were beds in the middle of a wide-open space and we were jumping over the beds. Now, that wide-open space is gone, divided into rooms.
  • The view of the mango trees through the glass behind the stage but now, the glass is all covered up.
  • Around twenty years ago, my architecture classmates and I fell in love with the lighthouse on Capones island and we measured and drew it and gave the compilation to Coke.
  • Staying in the Capones lighthouse during a thunderstorm and we watched from atop the lighthouse balcony the lightning exhibition. It was just Edmund, Jaypee and me.  We felt God was putting on a show for us.
  • Sleeping in the lighthouse courtyard in a tent and one of my friends recreated a famous scene from the Titanic – the one with the hand on the car glass window.
  • We held a big event connecting music and architecture. There was a photography exhibit, a musical performance by my sister on the piano and a design workshop.  We brought bus loads of people from Manila and exhausted after the event, I remember feeling like I never wanted to organize anything that big.
  • Around fifteen years ago, I brought a youth theater group from Bulacan to visit Casa San Miguel and in turn, folks from Casa San Miguel visited our youth center in Bulacan.
  • I invited my AMCI mountaineering friends to Casa and we all posed by the windows.
  • Trips with various groups of friends including Karen from Germany. After going to the beach, we bathed using a hose in the sunken red-brick Zen garden which is now gone.
  • The trip with an environmental group, Green Peace who went on an ocular of the coral reefs around Capones Island.
  • My sister, the pianist, Mariel Ilusorio has played there several times.
  • The time I introduced my husband and my son, Joshua to the place was truly special like when you introduce your boyfriend to your parents for the first time.
  • Finally, this is the memory that makes Casa truly a safe haven for me. Many moons ago, I suffered from a badly bruised and broken heart, the type of unrequited you-know-what-ouch.  I didn’t want to celebrate New Year in Manila amidst the revelry and noise so I sought solace in Casa.  Without announcing my arrival and rather rudely barging in on New Year’s eve, Coke’s family was there to welcome me.  Close to midnight, I went to the beach by myself and felt relieved that there were no fireworks, just the sound of the waves crashing on the shore reminding me everything would be okay.

In over twenty years that I’ve been visiting Casa San Miguel, I’ve seen it change and organically evolve as Coke Bolipata, the founder, ever the consummate artist-creator, unceasingly plays with the spaces and tweaks the design so going there is always a surprise, sometimes even a shock.  He has changed the orientation of the entrance from the right side to the middle and now it’s moved to the left side.  Some windows have given way to big glass doors.  There are brash modern glass block elements combined with the more traditional wood and brick.  But whatever the changes, this remains: it is a place that continues to grow in its influence nurturing young people, promoting the arts and involving the community.  It’s a giving place with a generous heart at its core.

It is a place I will always call home and now there is a new opportunity, a project that brings me back to my roots.  My Chinese partner, Donna and I are planning to hold the future Hero’s Journey in Casa San Miguel.  It’s going to be an Art Camp with music, dance, art, film and theater workshops.  The Chinese students may not be that comfortable using English but the Art Camp will push them to rely on their English and though it would be difficult, language is not a barrier when it comes to art.  The children will stay in Casa for one week while their parents are off gallivanting elsewhere.  The parents will only see what their children produce at the end of the seven-day camp.



Although I wasn’t able to go with Jason, Joshua and Jimmy on their first trip to Capones Island, I’m happy that they were able to take the boat ride and climb to the lighthouse with Donna and Camile.  Jason told me how courageous Jimmy was swimming from the boat to the island.  Because rocks surrounded the island, the boat couldn’t get too near so it was a considerable swim even for those who dared.  The gang forgot their slippers on the boat and climbed the steep slope to the lighthouse barefoot.

36I climbed the tree and couldn’t get down so Jason helped me out.

Finding Jala Jala


Our first Hero’s Journey was a success.  It was a hit among the parents who appreciated the freedom during their holiday because others were looking after their kids most of the day.  It was a hit among the children because they loved being with other kids and the facilitators were cool dudes who knew how to play.

However, our original intention was more of a camp rather than a “luxury” tour which it inadvertently turned into because we went to places like Hacienda Isabella, Sonya’s Garden, Club Balai Isabel and Canyon Cove.  Even if Camp Benjamin was a “camp,” it’s well-appointed facilities served big corporate team-building activities.  For the next Hero’s Journey, we want it to be more of a real camp and we found the perfect place via our partners, California Summer Camps (CSC).

Camile took Donna and me to their camp in the mountains of Jala Jala Rizal with a beautiful view of Laguna Lake.  The facilities are simple but well-thought-of.  The nipa hut dorms have generous verandas where people can sit and have bonding sessions on bamboo benches.  The big covered central space is open to the elements but roofed over so that it can host a wide array of activities.  There’s a small pool to beat the heat, a climbing wall and zipline to complete the outdoor theme.  There’s a cozy gazebo surrounded by a fish pond and lots of open space for kids to run around and expend their tremendous energy.

The land in Jala Jala belongs to the mom of CSC’s founder, Marc Leonor and you can see hanging on the walls pictures of him growing up in the States.  Having experienced summer camp life as a kid and working as a camp counselor in California, it was but natural for Marc to start his own when he moved to the Philippines.


Why Hero’s Journey


Why did we use the name Hero’s Journey for our Philippine tour with Chinese families?  Last year, when Donna and I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference, one of the speakers, Dr.Tsao Lin Fang talked about Joseph’s Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero’s Journey.  Dr. Fang chairs the Formosa Alternative Pedagogy Association and here are some notes I took from his speech during the Taiwan conference:

  1. A hero is someone who has the courage to become himself and take the journey that he believes he must take. Eventually, the hero returns home.
  2. The ultimate mystery is within yourself.
  3. Mythology is an excellent way to imitate the unlimited imagination. Myths inspire one to be more of a hero and have the courage to follow one’s dreams.
  4. Our schools should be a school for gods and our learning journey should be like a hero’s journey.
  5. Follow the bliss of being yourself.
  6. When people dream big, they can get into a state of bliss.
  7. The holistic hero tries to encompass the individual’s circle into the circle of the whole cosmos.
  8. Find the hero in yourself, the people around you and the people you love.
  9. Have the courage to take the journey you must.

From Wikipedia: “The hero’s journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.[1]

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[2]

When Donna and I were brainstorming about the tour, the name Hero’s Journey immediately clicked and resonated with us.  Our original intent was for it to be a camp but it ended up being more of a tour with a twist.  Parents and children were together and we added four facilitators who handled the children’s activities so that the kids are able to maximize English practice time in the Philippines through fun activities following our concept of educational tourism.

We went to Taal Lake, Tagaytay, Nasugbu and Manila.  The numerous hurdles and challenges we encountered proved this was more of a Hero’s Journey for the organizers whose patience and coordination capabilities were stretched to the max. However, the trip also brought out the children out from their shells through the help of the counselors who have ten years of experience running camps for children.

For our next journey, we aim to take it closer to our original intent of a real camp and have already found ideal locations in the following areas: 1) Jala Jala, Rizal, 2) San Antonio, Zambales and 3) Silang, Cavite.   The children will be separated from the parents who would be on the tourist mode of the travel.  The kids will be on a more adventurous mode as their independence will be tested being apart from their family for a week in an unfamiliar place forced to use whatever English they have in their bag of skills.  This would be more in keeping with the Hero’s Journey concept and we can’t wait for the next one.

Pictures shared by the parents on WeChat:

Hero’s Journey

For six months, we’ve been preparing for this nine-day journey and now that it’s finished, what remains apart from great photos and the warmth of camaraderie?   It stoked the fire in two organizers’ hearts so watch out for more exciting things to come!

The words to put this project in blog perspective have all but left me so again, excuse the short-cut to pictures.  Just to summarize, all the headache, minute by minute troubleshooting in the early days struggling with botched accommodation and dates, the end result of meeting and exceeding our Chinese guests’ expectations, of purely enjoying sunsets and sand under your feet, of seeing the joy in people’s faces, of congratulatory pats in the back, of simply birthing a project to realization — all the minor mess-ups were worth every over-stressed fiber and unravelled temper.    Parents had a grand time empowered to enjoy touring partially hands-free since four facilitators took care of eleven rowdy kids ages 7 to 10 plus a 4-year old trouble-maker.  The children had an even grander time playing almost non-stop with their peers plus a gang of adults who retained the best of their inner Peter Pans without losing the sense of responsibility that comes with maturity.

Shell Residences near MOA and Club Balai Isabel, Talisay

Taal Lake and Volcano and the best meal ever at Milan’s Restaurant in Talisay

At home with each other

Team building at Camp Benjamin

Highly photogenic Hacienda Isabella

A slice of paradise found at Canyon Cove, Nasugbu

Lazer Tag!

Light and shadow

Sonya’s Garden: walang kupas sa Tagaytay

Back in Manila: Mind Museum at BGC, robotics at iCreate Cafe, lounging by the playground

Celebrating Mike’s tenth birthday with strawberry shortcake, shopping for books and a rollicking theater workshop courtesy of Kids Acts

And as Mike himself said it best when asked what his favorite is from his first ever trip to the Philippine, he answered definitively: the jiaolian which in English means the coaches/counselors/facilitators who stuck by them through the bus rides and multiple location changes.  This journey wouldn’t have been possible without the intrepid team from California Summer Camps.   Thank you so much Camile, Marc, TJ and Dan!  Till the next camp!