My friends and I had just arrived at Lake Caliraya, a 3-hour drive from Manila. We got our bags from the car and saw two Soloviento employees stepping off the barge to pick us up. I noticed a white-and-brown Jack Russell sprinting towards us.
“Oh, hi there!” I said. My friend Bixie told me that he’s the dog of the owners of Soloviento, the resort we rented just across the lake.
As my friends and I stepped onto the barge, the dog sniffed our bags. “What’s his name?” I asked one of the employees, a teenage boy wearing a neon green rash guard. “Bingo!” he said.
The girls of our group—Char, Kirsten, and I—began cooing at Bingo, snapping away with our cameras. We had just met him and he was already the star of the show.
Five minutes later we arrived at Soloviento. Bingo eagerly waited at the edge of the barge, and was the first to step off when we hit land. As if by habit, he hopped on the golf cart, which transports the customers’ luggage to the main cottage.
We all decided to just walk instead of riding the cart. When Bixie the football player pulled out his soccer ball from the bag and tossed it into the air, Bingo went straight for it. That kept him occupied while we settled in our cabins and campsites.
We all took turns playing with Bingo and trying to grab the ball from him, but he was a feisty one. He kept the ball to himself, slowly peeled off the layers with his teeth, and chased it around for hours until it disappeared, most likely into the surrounding lake of Caliraya, Laguna. “It’s okay,” Bixie said. “That’s one of my old balls.”
Come lunchtime, Bingo was pooped, and we found him taking a nap under the staircase of one of the cabins. Later we would find him propping himself on random spots around the resort—on plastic chairs and under wooden tables at the mesh hall.
My dog-motherly instincts kicked in. I wanted to give him a bowl of water. I asked one of the kitchen ladies if I could borrow Bingo’s doggie bowl. “Wala eh (none),” she said after looking around. “So how will he drink water?” I asked. “He usually just drinks from the lake,” she said in Tagalog. I laughed.
Throughout our overnight stay, Bingo was a constant fixture. We would spot him welcoming other guests, sneaking into the kitchen by pushing the door with his snout, stealing the slippers of the caretakers and taking them on a wild goose chase, and charming diners with his puppy-dog eyes so that they’ll hand him a treat. And yes, it usually worked.
“Sometimes he even swims across the lake if they forget to let him ride the barge,” said Eddie, one of the owners of Soloviento. As we chatted, I found out that Bingo went missing for 9 months last year, much to the heartache of the owners and regular customers who have grown fond of him.
During last year’s town fiesta, Bingo swam to the other side and didn’t return as he normally would. They searched for him all over town. They put up ads on Facebook and even offered a reward for his return, but after months of no leads, they were on the verge of giving up.
After 9 months, they received a call from a “concerned citizen” who said that their family found Bingo. The accounts of the rescuers were inconsistent and suspicious, leading us all to believe it wasn’t a rescue but a case of dognapping. Bingo was returned malnourished and full of mange. He was traumatized. It took a while before he warmed up to humans again.
The important thing is that Bingo is back home in this sprawling piece of Mother Nature. He’s back to being an energetic sprite and—as we joked that weekend—the CEO of Soloviento. But of course, his owners and caretakers are more cautious. They keep a constant eye on him.
Come dinnertime, I felt a wet nose poke my leg. I know this trick well; my rescue dogs at home pull this off all the time. “Somebody wants a steak!” I told my friends. “You can give him food if you want, but not until you finish eating,” suggested Connie, one of the co-owners.
“Uh-oh, he’s looking at me with those eyes!” my friend Char said while finishing her pork chop. “Maybe because he knows you’ll give in,” we joked. Turned out I was the one who couldn’t wait to give in. I waited for my friends to finish their pork chops, collected the juicy bones, and handed them to Bingo, who took them to the grass to eat them in peace.
The next morning we took the SUP (stand-up paddle board) for a spin. “Is he one of those dogs who can ride a board?” I asked Eddie. “Yes, he does!” he said, but after chasing Bingo without success, we realized he’ll only ride with people he trusts. As I paddled around Lake Caliraya with my friends Liane and Gabe, we spotted Bingo climbing the rocks on the shore, sniffing every blade of grass, and treading through the rain and mud. Soloviento is his turf.
After checking out, we were back on the barge to get to our cars parked on the other side of the lake. Bingo and his owners were there to see us off.
“Do you want to stay behind, Kate?” Bixie joked after I took a dozen photos while bidding farewell to Bingo. “Yes, are you hiring? Do you need a hostess or dog-sitter?” I asked Connie.
As we put our bags in the trunk, I saw Bingo running off to greet the other dogs in the area and marking his territory in the grass before returning to the barge and back to Soloviento. All in a day’s work.