Zambawood and The Power to Transform

Zambales always finds a way to amaze us. On most days, we rave about the surf. Today, we explore Zambawood, an art and culture trove and luxury resort tucked away in the pine-laden lands of La Paz, San Narciso-- which is home to some of our favorite surf spots such as Crystal Beach and Purok Cinco. Little did we know that if we followed the main road further we'd come across this beautiful place with an even grander tale.

Looking around the main beach house, it was easy to get swept away by the elaborate elegance that touched the place. I will be the first to admit that fancy places sometimes frighten me because I am used to far more humble dwellings. Just an hour ago, I was pumping water from a poso, a natural deep well, to fill up a pail for my bath and now here I was, infinity pool beckoning.

I had to laugh at my initial shyness, which I shrugged off the moment I met the endearing resort owner, Ms. Rachel Harrison. She was quick to regale us with tales of travels around Asia, Europe, Africa and North America, from where she and her husband, Keith, brought home decorative trinkets that are now integral pieces to Zambawood's eclectic cultural design.

Rachel Harrison: traveler, architect, and an everyday heroine.

Rachel Harrison: traveler, architect, and an everyday heroine.

But it wasn't the stories of their worldwide travels and the souvenirs they brought home that made Zambawood special. Over 20 years ago, Rachel and Keith learned that their son, Julyan, was diagnosed with special needs. Back then, Rachel had no online repository of articles to help her with her situation, and the question of how she should raise her son was one that kept her up at night.

And then one day, she knew what she had to do.

Visiting Julyan at his farm. Photo by Ace Azarraga. 

Visiting Julyan at his farm. Photo by Ace Azarraga. 

Zambawood was built to give Julyan a free space to discover the soothing power of nature and learn skills in arts and crafts. Over the past 3 years, they have held crafting and painting sessions with locals from San Narciso. The property also includes an organic farm for onions, garlic and other greens, and a mini ranch with goats and free range chickens, all of which Julyan helps manage.

Rachel's vision was simple but powerful: she would transform her son's life through agriculture and art.

The theme of transformation is one that runs throughout the resort. Rachel is also an architect with an eye for makeshift masterpieces; she enjoys bringing out new potential from old driftwood and ordinary materials. The beach house is filled with reinvented furniture: new life is breathed into old stones when they are turned into candleholders, and old wood is painted in strokes of white to bring out its rustic character. Modern art deco is then infused with these upcycled touches of home, giving Zambawood a distinctive, playful yet sophisticated feel.

Can you spot which pieces are reinvented?

Can you spot which pieces are reinvented?

The beach house has 4 guest rooms embellished with pretty patterns that range from paisley, batik, oriental, aztec, and Filipino weave. I liked how each print and texture had a different story to tell from their respective countries of origin.

Looking at the big picture can be overwhelming so I made it a point to notice the tiny details. 

Because I will always be the girl with the ship tattoos.

It was tempting to stay cooped up in the house with the billiards table, widescreen TV, and wi-fi connection conveniently set up. You also had a swimming pool right outside of your bedroom. But I'm the type who'd be restless indoors knowing that the sea was calling.

Zambales itself is a transformed gem. Although we might miss the sight of palm trees by the sea, Zambales revels in the rich pine forests that have grown on its volcanic sand after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. It's like moving Baguio all the way to the beach!

The waves were blown out when I was there but I was told that from October to February, locals would walk the extra kilometers to reach the Zambawood beachfront just to surf ramps like this.

That looks massive! Photo taken from the Zambawood Facebook Page (details below).

That looks massive! Photo taken from the Zambawood Facebook Page (details below).

And when the North Swell comes, maybe we could bring this ATV to speed up the search for the best waves along the coast! 

Back at the house, we were served hearty meals made with fresh ingredients grown right at the farm. 

I'm not into food photography because of my low EQ-- I'd rather just dive in and devour the food! See what I did to the homemade ube ice cream, two scoops less in the picture.

We never had a dull meal during our stay at Zambawood not only because of the food but also because Rachel was an animated storyteller and she made it a point to get to know each one of us too. I was more than happy to have shared with the group my surf adventures, and on a more personal note, my own experiences with children with special needs.

On the intervals between my surf sessions, I teach Communication and New Media subjects at McKinley International College (MINT), a school that allows students with special needs to perform and interact with normal students. This is an arrangement that has asked more patience out of me than any other activity because I am taught to exercise fairness and positivity in my lessons and interactions with students.

Sometimes, those with special needs require more hands-on attention (but never spoon-feeding), and I'll have to slowly repeat instructions to ensure they don't get left behind. And then there are times when emotions get mixed with the objectives of learning and these students can get so distracted that you just lose them to short attention spans and mood swings (college = teenagers).

I think of my own frustrations and put them alongside the frustrations of any parent who has to go through this on a daily basis. I think of what Rachel must have thought on days when Julyan just seemed far away. Always, positivity and patience. I've learned that if we gave out opportunities instead of offenses, we open the channel for growth.

And what better opportunity to heal, transform and try to be extraordinary than learning how to surf? 

I also told the group about the local efforts in San Juan, La Union to treat special needs kids to a special day at sea. My friend, Melai Karaan, a facilitator for the SJL Therapeutic Education and Management (TEAM) Learning Center, and renowned surfer and coach Carla Rowland of The Surf Institute (TSI), have made it possible for these kids to feel empowered through surfing.

Look at all these happy faces and see for yourself. :)

All T.E.A.M. Surf photos taken by Allen Aligam.

Rachel was more than pleased to hear about T.E.A.M. Surf and she might just get in touch with these groups to start something similar in Zambales. And when she does, count on me to be there.

Overall, my short stay at Zambawood has left a long-lasting impact. What started as a dream getaway turned out to be a review of life lessons, both in and out of the water, and I was reminded of resilience, patience, and of course-- the power to transform.

If you are looking to experience Zambawood's magical effect and meaningful beauty, check out the details below.

Purok 1B, Bario La Paz
San Narciso, Zambales

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Contact Numbers: +63 915 991 4715 /  +63 919 923 0988 /  +63 906 565 6332 / +63 917 735 1015

For more information, please check out their website: