Yeah, whenever we think of going swimming, we almost always think of going to the beach. In the Philippines, this is not at all surprising, considering that we have – as Charlene Gonzales once (in)famously stated – 7,108 islands (during low tide), less one if it’s high tide. But not as emphasized (though definitely high time that we should) is the abundance of other bodies of water in the Philippines, aside from saltwater. I’d say that for every El Nido (in Palawan) is a Lake Agco (at the foot of Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak)…
At least this was the very thought running through our heads when we raced to Lake Pandin, a body of water somewhat trapped somewhere in San Pablo in Laguna. Rustic comes to mind when here, with everything seemingly slowing down, as people (okay, tourists!) are paddled into the midst of the lake. And while there, everything becomes… poetic, particularly when the sun hits the waters, when just about everything turns green – mossy sans the reflection (as if something is lurking underneath) and then somewhat neon-ish when reflecting the sun’s rays (reminiscent of… Flubber, or merpeople, or the radioactive goo that turns mortal beings into superheroes/villains).
And with Lake Pandin, yes, there are (other, non-saltwater) bodies of water, indeed, that deserve to be discovered…
Lake Pandin is a somewhat “new” tourist destination that (get this) an all-woman organization started to tap after they realized it can help them make a living to help with the expenses in financing their families. In 2005, a total of 18 local women formed the Samahan ng mga Kababaihang Mangingisda at Bangkera sa Lawa ng Pandin because – as their prexy Cristina Abgrego said – “naisip naming maghanap ng kabuhayan para tulungan ang mga naghahanapbuhay sa mga bahay namin (we thought of finding a way to earn to help those who make a living for our homes).”
These women were, incidentally, already making some form of living catching fish from Lake Pandin, since most of them live in the area anyway. The formation of the association was, instead, a “leveling up” of that “making a living”, Abgrego said.
And so using the balsa (bamboo rafts) that they had, they started “touring” people into Lake Pandin.
The “tour” is simple:
- When you reach the bank of Lake Pandin, there’s a waiting area where you do the transacting for the tour (e.g. pay the fees, choose the type of tour).
- The bamboo rafts have bangkero/bangkera (man/woman who does the paddling) assigned to them.
- After agreeing on the payment/actual payment of fees, you are then queued. It’s a “first come, first served” arrangement, so tourists who arrived early will board a balsa You don’t get to choose the bangkero/bangkera (normally); instead, you’d board the available balsa that’s there (and have its accompanying guide/s) when it’s your turn.
- A “waiting period” happens when stuff need to be put onboard – e.g. food that you paid for.
- The guides do not paddle; instead, they just pull a rope (tied from one end of the lake to the other), which then brings the bamboo raft into the lake. There are “stops” – e.g. where the swing is (at the opposite end of the lake, coming from the take-off point), in the middle of the lake (where you can do some swimming), and so on.
- No swimming is allowed without a life vest. As per Abgrego, at least two tourists drowned in a different lake near Lake Pandin, so the local government told them (sounded to me like “threatened”) that their local effort will be forcibly closed if something like that happened there. There is, however, this awareness that it somehow seemed like a veiled threat that their effort to be sustainable – because it proved successful – will be taken from them so that the earnings will then go directly to the local government…
- While in the lake, you can eat the stuff you paid for (part of the package); go swimming; sunbathe; fish; or… do nothing.
- After two hours, the “tour” ends. You’d be taken back to the bank where it all started, and… so long/until next time.
The association now has 12 bamboo rafts – more than enough to tour the tourists who flock to the place particularly during summer; and more than enough to help support the now 22 members of the association.
And – by the way – they don’t just have all women members now; there is also a transman (there used to be two, but the other one moved overseas already), as well as four men (since they still consider the transman as “one of the girls”) who “do things women won’t do,” Abgrego said, “like replace the bamboos in the rafts.”
Truth be told, there’s not much in Lake Pandin (and so not much to do there).
That is, you don’t come here to – say – go swimming the entire day, picnic with the entire family (again for the entire day), or have water activities (e.g. wakeboarding or kiteboarding or whatever). The trip there will be very specific – i.e. go out in the water to swim for a few hours, grab some chow, then head back home. Now, if this isn’t your idea of “fun”, then Lake Pandin is obviously not for you.
But if the intention is to experience something largely undeveloped; to be in a still-rustic place; to be able to help (empower) a group of women who prove that adage that “if you teach a woman to fend for herself, she’d fend for her entire family”; to mingle with #KaraniwangTAO (and they even have a #KaraniwangLGBT, well-respected, as per the women we spoke with); or to be in a body of water that CAN charm, give Lake Pandin a chance to be experienced.
We “lost” a rainbow flag in (the waters of) Lake Pandin. The wind blew so hard, one of Outrage Magazine’s rainbow flags fell in the water. No chance to retrieve it, so it’s there somewhere…
If you happen to find it, you may want to hand it over to the LGBT member of the association overseeing the tour (as Abgrego said: “We’re happy we have them here”). Else, give us a call/yell. Or… just enjoy how a rainbow is not part of the green waters of Lake Pandin…
Lake Pandin is located in San Pablo, Laguna. As soon as you reach San Pablo, there are tourist guides who will offer (for a minimal fee, of course) to bring you to the take-off area of Lake Pandin. At that take-off area is where the paying of the actual fees happen – usually from P350 per person per trip, or (if there aren’t many people) from P400 per person per trip. The payment often includes a meal (usually rice plus three kinds of viands, bananas, and bottled water).