The weather is hot in April but there is a nice little nip in the air as we approach Liliw one weekend afternoon. Just like other towns nestled at the foot of Mount Banahaw, the temperature dips in Liliw a few hours before sundown, making it an alternative summer destination.

Liliw has been known for its rustic resorts, tasty uraro cookies, and potent lambanog. Recently, the quiet Laguna town was recognized as the Tsinelas Capital of the Philippines with the launch of the Tsinelas Festival in 2001 to celebrate Liliw’s thriving footwear-making industry.

Coinciding with the Tsinelas festival that is held every April, the occasion is also dedicated to the town’s founder, Gat Tayaw.

According to legend, the town got it’s name from a bird that alighted into a pole-maker erected by it’s founder. The bird made a melodious sound of liw, liw, liw so Gat Tayaw named the new settlement as Liliw in 1571.

Liliw church

Liliw marker

At the time of the Spanish era, the Franciscan erected a church and dedicated it to San Juan Bautista. Baroque in architecture, the church has a brick facade and imposing bell tower topped by overgrowth.

With the turnover of the Philippines to the United States,  the Americans began a spree of renaming our towns for the sake of convenience in pronouncing them and Liliw became Lilio. But the townspeople passed a resolution declaring Liliw as the town’s official name.

The narrow street leading to the church is lined with stores selling tsinelas fashioned from leather and abaca. Displayed in every store front is a pair of giant tsinelas and overlooking this narrow street is a gigantic slipper making a glaring statement that Liliw is the country’s tsinelas capital.


Liliw is also famous for it’s uraro cookies. Making the best tasting uraro is no secret in Liliw. Uraro is arrowroot flour with butter and condensed milk, distinctly embossed with floral design and baked in a pugon fired by coconut husks.


Liliw pako

Aside from freshly-baked uraro cookie, sold in alleys are talangka, snails, sweet yam, and pako or fiddle-head fern that grows abundant in mountain streams.

Dealers of pako give instructions on how to make it into a refreshing salad by mixing pako with chopped tomatoes, onion, salted eggs, kesong puti, and home-made vinaigrette.

-Gat Tayao Tsinelas Festival 2015

Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ral Arrogante

Ral Arrogante studio

The earth is revolving and all things broken will always transform into something good.

This statement is from a text message sent to me by artist Ral Arrogante after exchanging personal stories on life and relationships one afternoon in his studio.

Ral Arrogante bangka

Ral Arrogante works

When pieces of junk shop-finds like copper wires, aluminum sheets, parts of broken gadgets gets into the hands of Ral, they are transformed into works of art whose images and themes have become the artist’s trademark in the local art world.

Fashioned from aluminum sheets and copper wires are miniature Badjao houses on stilts, house boats, food carts on wheels, dragonflies and beetles.

Ral Arrogante

Ral Arrogante scrap copper

These imaginative creations that were put together from non-traditional medium for sculpture are just some of Ral’s favorites subjects and of those who admire his meticulous works.

Like his favorite medium, Ral took different corporate jobs after college that have no relation to his art before becoming a full-time artist at age 42. Today he is a respected artist who leads the Society of Philippine Sculptors and an active leader of the Art Association of the Philippines.

Ral Arrogante Don Quixote

Ral Arrogante Chinese junk rig

Ral’s workshop is located in three rooms of a multi-level parking space where he stores his junk shop finds side-by-side with his coveted creations. In one room, Ral showed us a Chinese junk with delicate sails made of copper sheets and a food cart on wheels made of recycled aluminum sheet used for printing broadsheets.

Ral thoughtfully works on copper and brass to fit his art because they don’t rust.

Ral Arrogante

Ral Arrogante fish

While the paint brush is for a painter, the chisel is for a wood sculptor, pliers, hammers, and scissors that come in different sizes and purpose are Ral’s main tools. In all his works, he uses his hands in twisting and bending copper and aluminum sheets, stitching pieces tight together using copper wires.

Attached in every artwork is a thin copper sheet where he assigns a number stamp to track his works and engraves his signature.

Ral Arrogante artworks

Ral started doing art as a kid. He created his first assemblage out of discarded objects he finds at home.

In another text message he said: I see myself in Joaquin, wanting to play with things that adults may not necessarily understand. Thanks again. -Ral

-Eve of the Divine Mercy Sunday | Eastertide 2015

N.P.A. Encounter

Nice People Around Majayjay

TOF viewers see me and Joaquin as they go through the photo-essays and read up on our travel narratives. But there are times I do solo travels too. I do this most of the time when checking out a place to make sure that it’s child-safe before taking Joaquin with me for another trip. Just like travels with my favorite travel buddy, I have equally memorable experiences as a solo traveler and here’s one:

It only took a few hours for a talented tattoo artist in San Pablo City to complete the Sarimanok on my forearm. I have lots of spare time to explore nearby towns nestled at the foot of Mount Banahaw.

Nagcarlan Church

Nagcarlan San Diego Alcala

A town that got it’s name from a local heroine, Ana KalanNagcarlan is a town famous for its underground cemetery and church. We’ve been to Nagcarlan before but just like our previous trip to towns that sits at the foot Mount Banahaw our outdoor photos were in the shades of gray because it was always cloudy. But the day was nice as well as the people.

While looking at the antique statue of San Diego Alcala, which said to be made from melted Mexican silver that became so abundant at the time of Galleon Trade so people make them into spoons, candelabra and arenola, an old lady offered to take a photo of me while I am acting like a tourist inside church. She was very kind.

Arabela Liliw


Next stop is a town made popular by its brick church, uraro biscuits, and sandals is where I had late lunch. Arabela is an Italian restaurant set in the silong of what used to be a sandals factory in Liliw. I was hungry and the food in their menu looks appetizing so I forgot about budget. When I receive the bill, I realized I didn’t have enough cash to pay for my orders.

I am thankful for the nice and trusting dining staff who allowed me to leave the restaurant to get cash from an ATM.

Majayjay Church

Majayjay Victorino de Moral

After a few minutes on a twisting mountain road, the jeep dropped me off in front of the old ermita in Majayjay. The popular history of this town is linked to the infamous parish priest, Fray Victorino de Moral.

Locals say that the friar must have used the large baptismal font to convert the natives to Christianity in order to increase the labor force to build its massive church and a bridge known as Puente de Capricho.


Majayjay belltower

Traditionally, Majayjay is synonymous to being far and secluded. In the olden days, they say that traveler sigh ‘hay… hay.. Majayjay.’

Not only that Majajay is far, this mountain town is located higher up than the previous towns. But I want to go higher so I requested from local children on their way to choir practice to show me the way to the ancient bell tower of the massive Majayjay Church. There, while listening to nice voices, I see Mount Banahaw covered with clouds.

Mount Banahaw covered in clouds

From Majayjay, I took the mountain road that connects the town to Lucban in Quezon Province where I had a new shave from a local barber shop.

Traveling the dark, winding mountain road as a lone passenger back to Majayjay from Lucban, only god know where when five men with armalites and two gallons of lambanog took the same ride. Uneasy me until one of them looked me in the eye and then offered “tagay?” Yes. It was in this trip from San Pablo, Laguna to Lucban, Quezon, I had a close encounter with the Nicest. People. Around.

Published in: on March 3, 2015 at 10:33 am  Comments (1)  

Mount Banahaw

Mount Banahaw

Pilgrimages are made all year round in Mount Banahaw. This extinct volcano has become a religious center attracting psychics, mystics, occultists, and soothsayers. Either in search for miraculous healing or to be in close contact with the divine, Mount Banahaw has earned its reputation among its pilgrims as a geological dynamo fueled by intense energies from Mother Nature.

Historically, we have never been through a mountain hiking trail. If this counts, our pilgrimage to the sacred sites in Mount Banahaw is our first.

Banahaw anting-anting store

Banahaw anting-anting

The pilgrimage to Mount Banahaw begins at Barangay Sta. Lucia in Dolores, Quezon. Stores selling anting-anting are common to this quiet barrio for the popular belief that Mount Banahaw works as a ‘charging station’ for these natural and man-made talismans and amulets.

Sold side-by-side with the popular brass medallions with Catholic symbols and Latin inscriptions are mutya made from sundry objects. Mutya are smooth white stones, dried roots placed in glass bottles, python’s bones and buntot ng page, seeds with natural floral carving called rosa mystica, cut branches of a tree called santong kahoy and sinag araw, a pulverized metamorphic rock molded into a ring called the aras angel, and the triangle medallion fashioned from black dignum wood called solo mata.

Mount Banahaw steps

Mount Banahaw Piedra Mental

The ritualized pilgrimage to the sacred shrines in Mount Banahaw is called pamumuwesto. According to legend, the spirit of the mountain in the form of Santong Boses revealed to hermit Agripino Lontoc the holy places or puwestos in the mountain. These puwestos are rock formations, caves, peaks, and natural springs and streams where pilgrims light a candle and say prayers.

The first step for Mount Banahaw pilgrims is to go through the ritual of going down the 260-steps to bathe in the two waterfalls and soak in Lagnas River. At the end of the concrete steps, pilgrims light a candle on a rock with an image of Sta. Lucia holding a dish with two eyes on it. A fitting shrine for those beginning their Mount Banahaw pilgrimage since Sta. Lucia is patroness of sight and of guiding light.

Mount Banahaw Sta. Lucia

Mount Banahaw Sta. Lucia River

Although an extinct volcano, the locals believe Mount Banahaw to be in active state but instead of lava, running streams, natural springs and waterfalls flow out from the mountain, earning it a sobriquet as the water mountain. Water from Mount Banahaw is believed to have physical and spiritual healing powers.

Pilgrims bathe at the waterfalls Talon ng Ama and then to the Buhok ng Birhen before soaking to the ice-cold river as a symbolic physical and spiritual cleansing ritual before going to the sacred shrines or Santong Lugar.

Mount Banahaw trail

Mount Banahaw Holy sites

From Lagnas River, pilgrims climb back up to town level of Sta. Lucia and proceed to the shrines in the Santong Lugar. Along the moss-covered path are ancient trees. From the size of the roots and trunk these trees must be centuries-old.

The entrance to the Santong Lugar is marked by symbols of the all-seeing eye and by the Ten Commandments inscribed on concrete slabs.

Mount Banahaw San Jacob

Pass the Santong Lugar marker is the Kaban ni San Isidro where pilgrims stretch out their hands to a huge protruding rock while reciting prayers.

Mount Banahaw Presintahan

Mount Banahaw San Pablo

Next puwestos are the caves of San Pedro, San Pablo, Santong Jacob, Inang Awa, and Husgado.

Before entering the twin cave of the San Pedro and San Pablo, we wrote our full name using a candle on a slab of rock as if registering to the Banahaw guestbook. This is called Presintahan.

Mount Banahaw Ina ng Awa cave

In the darkness of caves, swirling vapors rose from our body while glowing candles left by pilgrims complete the eerie setting. The ritual of lighting candles are repeated in each puwesto.

Banahaw folks encourage pilgrims to light candles using matchsticks and discourage the practice of lighting from candles left earlier by other pilgrims to avoid the transfer of karma.

Mount Banahaw tapayan

Mount Banahaw trail to Kalbaryo

After going through the ritual cleansing in the waterfalls and saying prayers in dark caves, pilgrims proceed to Santos Kalbaryo.

The hike to Santos Kalbaryo is like going up an uneven, moss-covered staircase in Middle-earth. It a treacherous climb. In a make-shift shed we rested next to a pair of vintage tapayan secured permanently by growing vines. Old folks say it used to hold drinking water for the pilgrims.

Mount Banahaw Pieta

Mount Banahaw folk religion

Banahaw traditions ranges from being an altar of Filipino hero Jose Rizal to extra-terrestrial airport of UFOs. It is only in this part of our country where folk Catholicism is blended with nationalistic fervor, combined with ancient alien theories akin to legendary cities of Lemuria and Atlantis.

Most popular of the Banahaw legends relates to the transferring of Calvary from Jerusalem to Mount Banahaw by four angels. This legend explains to this day the generations of pilgrims making their way to Mount Banahaw in the same tradition of the Via Crucis.

Mount Banahaw Kalbaryo

Upon reaching the Santos Kalbaryo, it is a custom among pilgrims to leave a piece of stone they’ve been carrying from the start of the pilgrimage at the foot of the three crosses. The view of the lowlands and the sea and the neighboring mountains of Masalakot and Cristobal are breathtaking from Santos Kalbaryo.

For local Banahaw folks, plans of commercializing Mount Banahaw as a tourist spot is a threat to its spiritual tradition. The hundred of pilgrims who come to this holy mountain are not tourists. They go to Mount Banahaw to offer prayers of thanks and to ask forgiveness and grace. Thus, just like in any other sacred ground, Mount Banahaw commands utmost respect from those who come to this holy mountain.

-Cuaresma 2015

Rovi Salegumba

Aside from aesthetic purposes, it is believe that art in whatever form whether through music or literature has healing powers.  In the words of Pablo Picasso, Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

Throwback 2012. It is a terrible time for me and my son. Our hearts are broken when I requested a painting from artist Rovi Jesher Salegumba.

Rovi did not turn us down. In two months, he invited us to his studio to see the painting he made for us. From a narrow alley in Cubao, Rovi’s unfinished pieces can be seen from the street. He set his tropical-inspired studio above the garage.

Rovi revealed that his surreal human and animal forms were inspired by the creatures from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. He uses impasto technique to achieve a three-dimensional rendering into his works.

That afternoon in Rovi’s studio, the artist showed us how to play a traditional Cambodian instrument called the Tro that he got from his travels. Rovi also played a violin.The vibrating melody from the string instruments compliments the look and feel of his art and studio -serene and uplifting.

Before leaving, Rovi sent us a signed copy of the Alamat ng Duhat written by Segundo Matias Jr. Rovi did the illustration for this Palanca award-winning children’s book.

The painting that Rovi created for us depicts the mythical bird known as the Ibong Adarna. According to legends told, the songs from this magical bird cure all ills.

The Ibong Adarna painting has an exclusive place in our home and every time I look at it, it reminds me that our sadness has been healed and happiness in our hearts has been restored -the healing power of art.

Published in: on February 17, 2015 at 11:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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