This is the stuff of dreams, I think to myself.
Night had just settled, and everybody was walking along the beach towards dinner, each with a lantern in hand. I was walking far behind everyone else, drowning in my own ruminations, as I watched the line of lanterns along the coast. Like fireflies illuminating the dark beach. The sand was soft and warm on my feet, the ocean waves singing softly across the twilight. The entire weekend, such as that night, was made entirely of magic. Which is exactly what I can say about the home we were staying at, too.
They call it Zambawood. A beautiful, quiet, cozy house that is as warm and welcoming as the people who built it—Rachel and Keith Harrison—one of the loveliest couple I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Zambawood is a private beach house nestled behind the pine trees along the lovely coast of San Narciso, Zambales. Its doors are open for anyone who needs a blissful escape from the sometimes stressful lives they live. Weekend vacations, family reunions, company retreats—they all commonly happen here. The house is even popularly rented out as a location for prenuptial shoots. Most recently, for a movie, too. I’ve been told that they’ve made loyal clients; people who just keep coming back, and I get it. I get why. Rachel and Keith have built something special here, and I don’t just mean the structure.
The moment I stepped into the main entrance door of Zambawood, my heart fluttered in happiness. I am a gypsy, I always have been, and this place was speaking to me. I must have been squealing in excitement. But it’s the place. And the attention to details I love about it. The high ceiling, the family pictures in the halls, the beautiful Indian patterns on the pillows, the positive energy radiating from the walls, and from the smiles of the staff as they welcomed us.
We were also welcomed by Julyan. Sweet, sweet Julyan Harrison, waving at us as we arrived, and who is the reason Zambawood was built at all. Julyan is a child with special needs, and this home was built primarily for him. As Julyan’s live-in SPED teacher, Ricky Tumadiang, explained, it is important for people with special needs to live a structured life. One that will give them a sense of security and routine as they cannot cope as easily with the daily grind of fast-paced city life.
Here, in a quiet house inside the compounds of Zambawood, Julyan gets to have a specific set of activities to do each day. He farms, he cooks, he runs at the beach, surfs, and rides the ATV. Here, he gets to be surrounded by nature and good nurture by a caring community who understands—two important things for anyone, but most especially for him.
On the walls of Zambawood, you can see his art. On the TV, his showcase of music. On the pictures, him riding the shoulders of his father in one of their travels. As I observed all these mementos, it struck me just how lucky Julyan is. He is living a truly extraordinary life, bestowed with all these extraordinary gifts.
One of Julyan’s extraordinary gifts—his parents. It has become Rachel and Keith’s advocacy to foster the awareness of people about Special Needs. Rachel talked about an upcoming art exhibit she is spearheading together with some of the country’s biggest names in the arts, one that will showcase the works of people with special needs. Being an artist herself—the hands that drew the blueprint and designed Zambawood, nonetheless—Rachel likes to fuse art with all her craft. And there is beauty in everything she does. Her newly opened Zambawood Café, found along the same coast of San Narciso, is an artsy hostel-type establishment for surfers, artists, and food lovers. And being born of Zambales herself, Rachel also aims to help provide livelihood to the locals through her projects in the community.
Zambales has always been a magical place for me. And that belief was only all the more justified when we spent one afternoon watching the sun set at the beach. The set up, the drinks, the delicious food prepared by the talented team of chefs behind Zamabawood’s kitchen. The ceviche, the organic salad, the piña colada. The white drapes, the lanterns. The breathtaking sunset. The overall feel.
That night, after having a pizza-making and frozen margarita party at Zambawood Café, we come back to the house, and everyone dips in the pool. The moon was right overhead, casting a bright silver outline on the clouds around it. At some point, the silver glow turned into a rainbow of colors. We all take notice and everyone falls silent. You could say it was all unreal, yet there it was. Right before our eyes.
This is the stuff of dreams, I tell myself again.
But you see, it really is. Zambawood is a house built from dreams. Two parents’ dreams. A dream of building and securing a life filled with certainty and unconditional love for a child who deserves all the best they could give—nothing less.
So if you come here, and I hope you do, know that you are not just entering a tastefully designed structure. You are entering a home. A real one. A home decorated with nostalgia and memories—family pictures, travel memorabilia, and artworks made by members of a loving family. A home with corners brimming with stories to tell, and walls that whisper wisdom. Wisdom of one family’s journey in finding the perfect opportunity to spread the goodness they’ve discovered from a challenge that was given to them, but one that turned out to be such a remarkable gift, too.
Special thanks to Breville, Zambawood’s kitchen appliance partner, Culinary Exchange for providing the delicious coffee for our Barista 101 class, Astrud Crisologo for her beautiful collection of contemporary Filipino-inspired clothing featured at Zambawood Café, Hermes Alegre of Saturday Group of Artists for the paintings, Chef Philip Golding’s culinary team, F&B Specialist Donna Chua, and Chef Kristoffer Young – for without any of them, that weekend at Zambawood would not have been as special.
Photos in this post by Faye Santos, Nicole Villaluz, and Joanne Tan.
Fernandez Compound, Purok 1B, Bario La Paz, San Narciso, Zambales
(02) 401 8776 / (+63) 915 991 4715