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, the songs from this magical bird cures 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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Villa Escudero

Villa Escudero

Hacendero life begins riding a carabao-drawn multi-seater caritela while being serenaded by country folks in festive traditional costumes with this song by National Artists for Music Levi Celerio and Lucio San Pedro:

May pumukol sa pipit sa sanga ng isang kahoy
At nahagip ng bato ang pakpak ng munting ibon
Dahil sa sakit, di na nakaya pang lumipad
At ang nangyari ay nahulog, ngunit parang taong bumigkas,
“Mamang kay lupit, ang puso mo’y di na nahabag,
Pag pumanaw ang buhay ko, may isang pipit na iiyak.” 

Villa Escudero Mount Banahaw

Villa Escudero San Pablo

The landed Escudero family opened their 800-hectare coconut plantation to the public in the 1980s as Villa Escudero, a hacienda lifestyle resort.  When coming from Manila, Villa Escudero is located at the end of San Pablo City. It is situated on a land where the province of Laguna ends and Quezon Province begins.

With a majestic Mount Banahaw looming at a distance amidst an idyllic pastoral setting, Villa Escudero is reminiscent of old plantation life when the dons and doñas ruled over their hacienda.

Villa Escudero Ancestral House

Villa Escudero Ancestral houses

Hacienda Escudero property was bought by Don Placido Escudero and Doña Claudia Marasigan in 1872 and turn it into a sugar cane plantation. A historical marker in front of the pink Escudero ancestral house explains the hacienda’s historical significance.

Villa Escudero Katipuneros

In the years 1897 to 1901, the Escuderos sheltered the revolutionaries who fought against Spain and US. During the Japanese occupation, American and Filipino soldier took refuge in the hacienda as they retreated south to Bataan.

Villa Escudero Hydroelectric plant

Villa Escudero Lunch

In the 1900s, Don Placido’s son, Arsenio converted the plantation’s chief crop from sugar cane into coconut and did a lot of the modernization in the hacienda.

Natural spring water from Mount Banahaw fills the serene Labasin Lake that pours into a narrow gorge where Arsenio built the first hydroelectric dam.  A signature attraction in Villa Escudero today is the al fresco lunch set in the dam’s spillway where visitors enjoy a Filipino food buffet while their feet is soaked in about a foot-deep of running water.

Villa Escudero Museum

Villa Escudero museum collection

Five generations of Escuderos antiques and collection of Philippine treasures are housed and shared to the pubic in their private museum. The museum building is a replica of the San Francisco Church in Intramuros that was destroyed in 1945. At the time when Intramuros was being restored, the King of Spain gave to the Marcoses architectural drawings of the church because there were plans to reconstruct the San Francisco. As it turned out, the church was never rebuilt. The Escudero secured the drawings and erected the San Francisco in Villa Escudero.

Inside the museum, no space is spared. All 50 carrozas with its life-sized passengers  line-up the main floor. In between the unending selves of ancient pottery and ceramics are ecclesiastical and tribal art, stuff animals, and period furniture and objects. Every inch of a corner and space are filled with memorabilia from every historic period, travel souvenirs and curios, and war booty like a shrunken human head from the Amazon! And the eclectic collection spills outside the museum. In open fields are vintage fighter planes and World War II army tanks.

Villa Escudero Ifugao

Villa Escudero Singkil

As a special treat for weekend hacenderos, traditional dances are performed in the main pavillion. A voice over narration educates the crowd about the dances’ history and inspiration. From the tribal war dance of the Ifugao highlanders and agile dance of the lowland farmers popularly called the tinikling to the dance interpretation of the Maranao epic Darangen called the singkil all are fantastically performed.

Complete with costumes, props, and authentic musical instruments, the performances were researched and choreograph by National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan.

-In celebration of the National Arts Month 2015

Published in: on February 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm  Comments (7)  

Batangas City


*This blog is dedicated to the Queen of Philippine Travel, the Ultimate Traveler on Foot, Ms. Susan Calo-Medina (1941-2014). 

The nippy January air is making us crave for a steaming bowl of bulalo. The rich flavor of this beefy soup comes from shanks of beef and marrow bones that are boiled for hours under low heat until the meat becomes tender and the fat melts into the broth.

With the coolness of the weather, the bulalo becomes the ultimate Filipino comfort food craving. So off we went to Batangas City, where according to tradition the original recipe for bulalo was invented.

Plaza Mabini

Mabini Plaza Batangas

Our first activity upon arriving in Batangas City is walking around the town plaza. Central to this landscaped park is an obelisk crowned by a bust of Apolinario Mabini. Known in Philippine history as the chief political adviser to President Emilio Aguinaldo, every proud town in Batangas have a monument or park dedicated to him.

Mabini wrote The True Decalogue to promote the needed patriotism of his time. His words are inscribed in Spanish and Tagalog at the back of this 1917 monument.  Seated at the foot of the monument is a woman with her legs crossed under the baro’t saya. While I’ve seen several monuments built during the American period with this kind of theme, I wonder who this woman is or what she represents. Marcela Agoncillo? Inang Bayan?

Batangas Basilica

Batangas City Basilica

Overlooking the Plaza is the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Similar to churches built during the Spanish period, this church was damaged and rebuilt on several occasions since its founding in 1581.

Batangas Lomi

The walking got us hungry so we had Batangas Lomi. Like the bulalo we were originally craving for, Pancit Lomi is popular in Batangas. Lomi noodles are thicker than spaghetti. Its sauce is thickened with starch. Its flavor is from the sautéed garlic, pork meat and liver, soy sauce and calamansi juice mixture.

Lomi must be eaten while it’s steaming hot. But the challenge really is to be brave enough to finish up a bowl serving of lomi. It’s a carbo-loaded diet that kept us filled-up the rest of the day.

Pastor-Acosta House

Pastor-Acosta House Batangas City

A few walks from the lomihan shines a huge Christmas parol from the Pastor-Acosta Ancestral House. Built in 1883 by Gobernadorcillo Don Alejo Acosta, the house is maintained by fourth-generation members of the clan.

A story is told about a failed assassination of then US Governor-General William Howard Taft (Yes. Taft Avenue was named after him) when he went to Batangas City. The assassin’s bullet was found stuck inside the wooden door frame of the ancestral house’s sala.

Batangas Bulalo

For an entire day, we’ve experienced Batangas as Mabini, history, and Lomi. In the evening, we found our ultimate craving –the Batangas Bulalo.


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