Showing posts with label These islands I call Home. Show all posts
Showing posts with label These islands I call Home. Show all posts

Monday, September 15, 2014

Taal, Batangas is the birthplace of my father and his ancestors. A quiet town located 111 kilometers (68.97 miles) from Manila, so rich in heritage that first time visitors would feel that they were transported back in time to the Spanish colonial period.

My Dad's stories
My dad had lots of stories about growing up in Taal. His aunts were all teachers, so at some point in time, he had an aunt as his homeroom teacher. My dad had stories about the war. Born in 1934, he had first hand accounts about the American and Japanese occupation. I remember him telling us about how he would clean out a coconut shell and walk to the public market which was then used by the American soldiers as a camp. He said he would bang the coconut shell on the iron fence and ask for the soldiers' food rations. He said his ever-convincing line was "Hey Joe, give me food!" That was how he got to have corned beef and chocolates to eat. He said he did not have shoes then, and used only slippers to protect his feet. At that time, he said, owning a pair of slippers was considered "lucky." Their family had a moderately sized farmland where they grew sugar cane, and they had a small business of making and selling cigarettes. Although they had money, they found it best to live frugal because of the war. During the Japanese occupation, my dad said they had to leave their home to hide in the hills, because my aunt was then a teen-ager and they feared she might get kidnapped and turned into a comfort-woman. When the time was right, they returned to their home but they still kept my aunt hidden (rolled up in a woven mat and stored under the bed) whenever Japanese patrol would be in town. When the country was liberated from Japanese rule, my dad said their lives went back to normal, even if they had to start from scratch again.

My early childhood visits to Taal
When me and my siblings were still little kids, Taal would be our weekend getaway. My dad would drive down south to their ancestral home in Poblacion 1 to the welcoming arms of my grandparents. I had regular "weekend" playmates who I now only remember by their first names - Alita, Marisol, and Boyet. I had a blast riding a calesa (horse-driven carriage) rented by my grandfather to take us down to Baranggay Butong where we can swim in the beach (part of the Batangas Bay). Sometimes, we would drive to the neighboring town of San Nicolas to get to Taal Lake to view the volcano and feast on grilled fish that is only found in that lake. The maliputo and tawilis, served with rice, tomatoes and salted eggs was a gastronomic feast. Thinking about it now makes me drool.

My sisters and I had been "sponsors" during flower festivals (I don't even remember what its called). We would lead a procession around town, little children carrying baskets of flowers and ending up in the Basilica to offer them to the image of the Virgin Mary. After the procession, all the children (and their parents too) would go to the house for a meal.

As a young girl, I loved going to my grandfather's farm. He would make me ride the carabao (water buffalo), or make me watch how raw sugar is made. My grandfather would take his bolo (machete) and cut a piece of sugar cane, peel it and give it to me to eat. The pulp is so tough, that the only thing you can do with it is chew on it to get the sweet juice and then spit out the pulp.

My grandmother had a small store and I absolutely loved spending hours selling stuff to her regular customers. She sold homemade vinegar, caramelized fruits, cold softdrinks, biscuits, laundry soap, and other things. My grandmother even paid me "salary" for minding the store for her. I remember getting paid two pesos! That was a whole lot of money back then. I would run to the nearby public market, treat myself to a tall glass of halo-halo (caramelized fruits with shaved ice and milk) for 50 centavos.

The ancestral home
It has been more than a decade since my grandparents' ancestral home became the subject of a family dispute. After my grandparents, my dad, aunt and uncle passed, my dad's cousins (whom I barely knew of) resurfaced and claimed ownership. They alleged that their parents (my grandmother's siblings) helped build the house. My mom decided not to get herself involved in the dispute, saying that she has no right to it anyway, being only an in-law. We tried to convince her to stake her claim, but my mom stood firm in her decision. Oh well, it would have been tough to maintain the property anyway. Now, I have no idea if the house still exists.

The People and their traditions
Taal today is the same closely knit, heritage rich town as it has been. Compared to its neighboring municipalities that have grown into commercial hubs, Taal is still the quiet, residential town where one could always return to and call "home." The hospitality and friendly smiles greet you the minute you set foot. People would ask "Whose grandchild are you?" "Are you the daughter of....?" which is a sign that they keep abreast of their lineage. I used to have a standard spiel when we were still frequently visiting the town. I would say "I am the granddaughter of Emilio and Maria. My father's name is Reynaldo." Then I would get smiles and hugs and invites to their house for rice cakes and hot cocoa. Warm hospitality is a trait ingrained in the blood of every Taaleño, or every Batangueño for that matter.

Like Filipinos from other regions, Taaleños and Batangueños respect and care for their elders to the last of their days. They provide for the needs of the sick and aging, each member of the family taking turns attending to a parent, grandparent or even great-grandparent. The younger children are called by a "standard" pet name. A young girl is called "tagay" and a young boy is called "takeng" (similar to "nene" and "totoy" in other places). Every little child is taught early on to respect their elders and use "po" and "opo" everytime.

Despite being deeply religious, the people are also very supertitious. I know of this first hand because I "suffered" through it growing up. Some classic examples that I was reminded of when I was a child:
1. Never sit on the ground after 6pm, because I might sit on an unknown/unseen being who could put a spell on me
2. Don't trim fingernails at night or else my life would be cut short
3. Sprinkle vinegar on the windows during a thunderstorm. It will keep the lightning away.
4. Don't shower on the first three days of your menstrual period. You will get ill.
5. Never celebrate birthdays before the actual date. It is considered bad luck. Do not also plan a party on Tuesdays and Fridays because those days coincide with the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
6. Do not sleep on your back when you're pregnant. An evil creature (the "tiktik") may get up on the roof and slide its tongue into your belly to kill the baby.
7. There are a lot more and I would stop here or else I would need another blog post to list all of them.

Taal is known for its beautiful hand embroidered shirts, known as the Barong Tagalog, the National attire for Men. The cloth is made of Jusi, a delicate fabric woven from either abaca or banana fibers; or Piña cloth, made from the fibers of pineapple leaves. Hand embroiderers work on a custom made design on the cloth and then washed, starched and stretched on bamboo frames to dry. It takes weeks, even months to complete an fully embroidered Barong Tagalog. Although there are many cheaper versions found in department stores in the metro, the best is still the "Burdang Taal." Aside from the Barong Tagalog, there are other hand embroidered items that are simply elegant - formal dresses, blouses, wedding gowns, table cloths, table napkins, fans, etc.

The Balisong (fan-knife, butterfly knife or switchblade) is synonymous with being a Batangueño. People from other regions tend to avoid getting involved in a fight with Batangueños because they believe that they never leave their homes without their balisongs. The best balisongs are hand-crafted in Taal, in a small barrio called Barangay Balisong.

The Tapang Taal is thinly sliced pork loin marinated in soy sauce, calamansi (Philippine lemon), freshly ground black pepper and a little brown sugar. It is pan-fried and served with garlic fried rice and egg. A common side dish is a salad made of salted duck eggs, chopped tomatoes, pajo (a variety of green mango) and cilantro. A cup of hot cocoa, called "tablea" is served after the meal.

Who does not know of Kapeng Barako? The signature coffee of the province of Batangas. The aroma is just heavenly! In my mother's hometown of Lipa, Batangas, their house is surrounded by coffee trees. Can you just imagine how wonderful the house would smell during light breezy days? I grew up loving kapeng barako and tablea. As a kid, I would ask my mom to pour coffee or cocoa over my rice and it would really make my day.

Taaleños love to cook. There are dishes that are uniquely Taal. These are the Adobo sa Dilaw, which is an adobo dish, substituting soy sauce with sea salt and adding turmeric. Tamales is a favorite of mine. It is a sticky rice cake with pork slices in it. A little salty and spicy at the same time. Panocha, or peanut brittle is the favorite "pasalubong." Not to forget, the staple "Sinaing na Tulingan," a dish made of baby tuna, seasoned with sea salt and a sour fruit (Kamias), cooked in a clay pot over low flame for several hours.

Places to visit
The Taal Basilica is situated on top of a small hill. It is the largest in the Philippines and in Asia. It measures 291 ft long and 157 ft wide. Since its construction in 1755, the church suffered damage from natural calamities, most notable was the earthquake in 1852. In 1974, by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 375, the Basilica was named a National Shrine. The Feast of the patron saint, St. Martin de Tours is celebrated every November 11.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay is located in Labak, Taal. The people celebrate the feast day of their patron saint, Our Lady of Caysasay every December 9. The Shrine of our Lady of Caysasay was granted by the Vatican the same privilege as the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pilgrims and devotees who go to the shrine and pray receive the same plenary indulgence as those who visit the Basilica in Rome.

The Marcela Agoncillo Museum. Marcela Agoncillo created and sewed the first Philippine Flag. The ancestral home has been converted into a museum and is worth a visit. The house and its furniture are very well preserved. There is a sculpture depicting Marcela Agoncillo sewing the flag.

The Well of Saint Lucia. Situated near the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay is a well that is believed to have sacred waters. This was believed to be the place where the image of Our Lady of Caysasay was found after it went missing from the church in 1611. People believe and stand witness to the healing powers of the water drawn from the well.

Places to dine and stay
There are many restaurants offering native Taal dishes, so finding a place to eat will not be a problem. Just ask around and the townsfolk will be happy to point you to get your cravings fulfilled. If you want to stay longer in Taal, there are hotels and resorts, garden/beach front motels and bed and breakfast establishments. Most are spanish style large houses that make you feel like you were back in the era.

Pictures of my kids' visit to Taal.
My ancestors have been laid to rest in a mausoleum in the Taal public cemetery. Once in a while, my mom plans a trip to Taal to pay respects to the relatives of my father. Two years ago, my mom, my sister and my sons went there and spent the day going around town. Of course, I got my share of tapang taal, tamales, tablea and kapeng barako.

I encourage you to take a road trip to Taal, Batangas. It is only a few hours drive from Manila. Feel the warmth of the people and bask in the rich heritage of the place.

I am a proud Batangueño. Always been. Always will.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Almost a month ago, on August 8, my youngest son went on a school field trip to learn about resort operations. It was a three day, two nights seminar. On the last day of their tour, they were given a "free day" to explore the beauty of Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan. 

Located along the northwestern seaboard of the main island of Luzon, this National Park has 123 limestone islands spread out on a total area of 16.67 square kilometers (6.47 square miles), roughly 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Manila. Getting there would consist of a travel time of 4-6 hours by land, either by private vehicle or public transport (provincial buses).  The islands vary in shape and size and are believed to be millions of years old. The tranquil blue-green waters are simply breathtaking!

Only three of the islands however, have been developed to provide lodging and other basic amenities. These islands are Governor Island, Quezon Island and Children's Island. Governor's island provides a viewing deck to showcase the beauty of the natural formations. There are many activities that one can enjoy while visiting the place, aside from enjoying the sand and sea, you can also go island hopping, snorkeling to view the giant clams, kayak, trek, and explore the caves.

Here are pictures of my son's trip:

Arrival at the site. He does seem excited, doesn't he?

Doing the "Rose and Jack Titanic Pose" while standing on an outrigger

A happy boy he is

Mickey on the viewing deck of Governor's island. Great view!

Riding the ferry to start the island hopping adventure

"Alright now, we're done with those. Let's move on to the next." - Mickey

And now, time for some snorkeling fun!

Back on the beach. This is a tiny lighthouse.

He loves the beach so much.

Enjoying the nice breeze and warm sunshine.

"Perfect!" - Mickey

On his Facebook page, Mickey tagged this photo as "Future Chefs"

No field trip is complete without those wacky jump shots!

Before they started their trip back home, Mickey took the rare opportunity to have his picture taken holding the super moon in his hand. 

Mickey got me a souvenir shirt! Isn't he thoughtful?

Hundred Islands is worth a visit. Its won't cost much, its accessible by land, and it gives you the opportunity to see how beautiful our country is. The best part of it, though, is after you have visited the place, you can be proud to say,
"One hundred twenty three islands visited! Only 6,984 more to go!"

The Philippines.
Definitely more fun.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Beauty of Baler

Baler, Aurora is located on the southeastern part of the island of Luzon, around 230 kilometers (143 miles) from Manila. Accessible by land through zigzagging mountain roads, with travel time lasting 5-6 hours. The province of Aurora was named after the wife of President Manuel Quezon. It is a go-to destination for nature lovers because the province is 70% forest cover. It is also gaining popularity among surfers, and the best time for riding the waves are during the months of September to March.  


Last summer, my son Aton's best buddy Mikey came home for a vacation. He's been staying in Canada for the past two years where his parents live. They were inseparable the entire time Mikey was here! Why wouldn't they? It was just like they were "brothers born of a different mother and father."

"Surprise, Aton! I'm back!!!" - Mikey
They planned a trip to #Baler, Aurora together with their closest buddies from the UST Yellow Jackets. It was their first time to go there which added to the fun and adventure. They hiked, trekked, took a dip in the cool waters of a river next to a waterfall. They went to the beach and tried surfing when the waves picked up. Gauging from their photos, they did have a good time. Oh, the things you can do when you're young and fit. (a bit jealous here. haha)

The UST Yellow Jackets

Time to explore that big Banyan tree

Conquering the roots of the tree

Practically "inside" the tree

Those tree roots are huge!

That's Aton and his girlfriend, Marga

The lovely waterfall

Taking a dip in the cool waters of the river 

Photo-op while taking a break from hiking

That's Aton and Marga

Another photo-op break

Mikey taking a breather on the river banks

Marga and Mikey

The coastline of Baler

First time to try surfing!

Mikey's send off party at Garahe 25 Bar and Resto. Best buddies for life!

I am happy my children know the value of friendship and how to treasure them. It may be a few more years before Mikey comes back for another visit, but who knows? It may be Aton who will visit him in Canada. :)

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Philippines is the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia. Colonized by the Spaniards for centuries, the friars built massive churches and schools to entice the natives to convert to Christianity. Most of the churches built during the 16th century are well preserved and stand witness to the steadfast faith of the Filipino people. Destructive earthquakes, world wars and natural calamities have come and gone, but these churches remain, thanks to the efforts of the locals who rebuilt the structures brick by brick.

Among the numerous churches worthy to visit in the Philippines, there are 4 that have been named World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. These are the Sta. Maria Church in Ilocos Sur, the Saint Augustine Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Miag-ao, Iloilo and the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila.

Sta. Maria Church, Ilocos Sur. Located in the northeastern part of the island of Luzon, the massive church sits on top of a hill, surrounded by a thick wall on all sides. To get to the church, one must climb an 85-step granite stairway that leads into the courtyard. The Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Church (Our Lady of the Assumption) or Sta. Maria Church as it is commonly known started as a chapel in 1567, where a statue of Our Lady of the Assumption was enthroned. It was originally located on the foot of the hill where the present church now stands. However, the image frequently disappeared and was found on a guava tree on top of the hill. The construction of the present church on top of the hill started in 1765 and was completed in 1810, together with its 4-story bell tower. The church is 325 ft (99 m) in length, 74 ft (22.7 m)  in width. It was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1982 and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.



St. Augustine Church, Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Commonly called "Paoay Church," located also in the northeastern part of the island of Luzon, the construction of the church was started by the Augustinian friars in 1686 and completed in 1710. The most striking feature is massive buttresses that support the wall of the church. The design is classified as "Earthquake Baroque," and was made so due to the seismic activity in the region. The walls of the church are 5.47 ft (1.67 m) thick. The materials used to make the massive structure are bricks, coral stones, lumber and tree sap. The 3-story bell tower is made of the same materials, and is detached from the church building to prevent damage to the church in the event of collapse during an earthquake. The church is 360 ft (110 m) in length, 130 ft. (40 m) wide. The Paoay church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.


Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church, Miag-ao, Iloilo. Located in the island of Iloilo in the Visayas Region, the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church is also known as the "Fortress Church." Its two differently designed belfries  used to serve as watch towers to defend the town against the frequent invasion of the moros or muslims. The church started as a visita in 1580, became an independent parish in 1731. Between 1741 to 1754, the town of Miag-ao experienced frequent moro invasion, forcing them to move to a more secure place. Construction of the church where it is presently located took 10 years, from 1787-1797. Its thick walls served to secure the church against invaders. The materials used to make the massive structure were adobe, coral, egg and limestone. The walls are 4.92 ft (1.5 m) thick, reinforced by flying buttresses 13.12 ft (4 m) thick. The Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.



San Agustin Church, Manila. The San Agustin Church in Manila has endured a lot of catastrophes - fire, wars, and earthquakes. The present church is the 3rd structure built on the site. From its humble beginnings as a church made of nipa and bamboo in 1571, the San Agustin Church was the first religious structure built by the Spaniards on the island of Luzon. In 1586, the Augustinian friars decided to build a structure made of stone. The church and adjacent monastery was completed in 1604. It survived the massive earthquakes that shook Manila, and it was the only one among the seven (7) churches in Intramuros that remained after the Battle of Manila. The interior of the church is jaw dropping. The ornate ceilings designed by Italian painters, the pulpit, grand pipe organ, hand carved choir seats, and 16 beautiful chandeliers from Paris are nothing but awesome. The huge edifice measures 220 ft (67.15 m) in length and 81.8 ft (24.93 m) in width. Together with three other churches mentioned, the San Agustin Church in Manila was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.


The pomp and splendor of these churches are just amazing. I do not need to travel to Europe to experience the beauty of Baroque architecture. I can have it right here, in the Philippines. In these islands I call HOME.