I confess. When it comes to my country tourism I am one of the worst offender.
Since I started this blog never I have posted about the Philippines, not because I don’t like to but the truth is I never had a chance to travel around.
Working overseas for almost 10 years, within that duration the longest that I stayed back home was three months and that time was even spent working on local contract.
Don’t get me wrong. I think with several modifications on infrastructures and facilities (let’s start with the airport please), ensuring domestic security and a change of attitude for some of my corrupt “kababayan” (country men), Philippines can be as competitive as the other South East Asian nation in terms of tourism, after all we have the best beaches in the region and a rich cultural heritage to back it up, particularly if you want to see something different from the usual temples, pagodas and shrines.
So I made a promise to myself, even if it is a week stayed back home, I shall visit as much places as I could possibly do and learn to appreciate my country once more and maybe who ever came across this blog will be encourage to include the Philippines on their backpacking trip across Asia.
Before we proceed on the best beaches around the country, it is important to know something about our past. After all to understand our nation, one must look beyond the diving spots and the “gates of hell” tag by Dan Brown and understand how a 333 years of Spanish colonialism had turn our small island nation to the largest Catholic country in Asia.
The reason why I choose this town as an introduction to Philippines is very simple, it has everything that I long for and I wanted you to know- a piece of history, the religion and local beliefs, analogue cameras, my sentiments about our lost identity and an overnight stay at the ancient house called Casa Punzalan.
Yes, everything has to do with religion. It has to be the biggest contribution and remainder of the century long Spanish occupation and still on my opinion has everything to do on why our country cannot advance on certain social issues.
Putting aside for the moment the debatable aspect of separation of religion and state and why reproductive health bill is important, if there is one thing that is worth appreciating about our inherited religion, it has to be the magnificent architectural style of churches.
Originally built in 1575, survived the eruption of Taal volcano and considered as the largest church in Asia, Taal Basilica exemplifies the grandeur of churches in the Philippines from inside and out.
For a panoramic view of the town, you can ask the Basilica guard to give you access to the top of the church, usually for a donation of 1 USD. The path is small and leads to the topmost bell which I can only imagine manually rang back on those days by an assigned acolyte but now like almost everything in the world the bell is automatically rang.
The town of Taal takes pride on the quality of fiber and the ability of the seamstress to create traditional gowns. People across the region travel purposely to buy or to have a tailor made Bridal gowns, Barong Tagalog, Baro at Saya and Terno noted for its butterfly sleeve made popular by the former First Lady with 3,000 pair of shoes, Mrs. Imelda Marcos.
The people from Batangas are called “Batanguenos”, they are often recognized for their fond affection of putting short phrase “eh” or “ala eh” at the end of the sentence as if stressing the importance of what they are saying.
In terms of food, the town is known for strong coffee called barako(my favourite) and a sweet delicacy called “panunaw” or peanut brittle, which consist of fried peanuts hold together by frozen sugar.
Admirable effort goes to the preservation of ancient, colonial styled houses, with some of them even functional up to these days. Meaning families who inherited from their ancestors still call these Spanish influenced architecture as their home, though maintenance and slight modification is required.
To honor our beloved heroes who fight for our sovereignty, the streets across the country are usually named after them. It is not surprising to encounter names that are Spanish sounding, even my middle name is typically Spanish “de Luna”. I guess the influence far extend not only on religion but on our language and customs too. Yes, Filipinos do enjoy siesta.
One of the architectural aspect that I like the most about ancient houses are the windows made of capiz shell. I always imagine that if I will finally able to built my dream home, I will have a window just as the same.
There is only one hotel across the whole town of Taal but it is worth staying particularly if you are keen to experience sleeping in an ancient home on an ancient bed.
Run and operated by the organization that keeps the Taal Basilica, Casa Punzalan is a restored ancestral home. Often use as horror movie set, I can feel goose bumps and excitement during my one night stay in the casa, particularly knowing that there is no one else at home but me and one care taker.
Visiting on Monday, the Taal Visitors Center was closed together with some of the galleries, not wanting to waste my trip I randomly knocked on certain gallery and see if they will be kind enough to let me in so as not to waste my journey. Mostly, the guard on duty are very welcoming.
The gallery is inside an ancient house said to be originally built by the Ilagan Family in 1870. Passing from generation to generation, the house is now owned by the Inumerable Family and was successfully converted by Mr. Manny Inumerable, a camera collector and photo enthusiast himself into a one of kind museum in the country.
Apart from lusting on analogue camera, I was taken a back by some of the photographs on display. One thing that I love the most is the photo of old Manila. How I wish that my hometown stayed forever just like that.
With a pang in my heart, Galleria Taal is a resemblance of a dream and a realization at the same time. How my country was trying so hard to adapt to the modern world, sometimes how everything revolves around political power and money. Sadly, we have to admit, we are loosing our true Filipino identity and the world branded us nothing but a work force shifted out of the native land in search for a better living.
Nowadays, the Philippine Government takes pride of the statistics of the number of domestic workers in the Middle East and yet none on statistics on how many youth able to finish High School or College or even able to start basic education.
Gone are the days when we produce brilliant, artistic minds who can revolutionize a country just simply by writing a novel, by the verses of poetry or simply by a stroke of paintbrush.
Maybe we are nothing but a product of economy but I know we are beyond that. I hope more emphasis will be given on educating a nation than celebrating the fact that the sole reason why the country is surviving economic wise is because of the remittances coming from workforce overseas.
Enough about my sentiments.
Another fact about the Philippines.
We believe in a lot of miracles and religious beliefs, whether it is the crying statue of Virgin Mary, an apparition of Jesus Christ, but most importantly if it has to do with healing power then be not surprise to see line of people blindly doing what is necessary.
It is believe that the water from the well of Caysasay church when drank or bathed can cure any illness. When I arrived at the location marked by the remaining wall of the original location of the church, I saw a mother scoping water from the well. I asked her for what purpose she will be using it, she replied to me that it will be used by her mother who can no longer walk and always experience pain on her legs even when lying down, but when bathed with miraculous water able to feel relief.
Visiting Taal, Batangas made me realize that there are a lot to discover and appreciate aeround the 7,107 small islands across our archipelago. I hope I will be able to visit as much municipalities I could possibly do.