Friday, January 31, 2014

Water fun in Lumbán!

During afternoons, the población (town proper) of Lumbán in La Laguna Province seems to be a ghost town because of its literal sleepiness. The townsfolk are mostly quiet, the streets desolate. At least, that was how the place impressed upon Krystal when she and her schoolmates visited it last year on a religious trip. However, every last Sunday of January, the whole town proper turns into a virtual water warzone filled with sacred merriment! This is the culmination of the novena (nine-day pious devotion) to their patron San Sebastián Mártir who is also the patron of athletes, soldiers, the plague-stricken, and archers. Speaking of archers, he was one of the early Christians who was sentenced to death. His execution was gruesome: he was shot with arrows. That is why he is commonly depicted in art and literature as being tied to a post (or tree) impaled with arrows.

Picturesque rice fields with long-legged white birds (egrets, I think) still dominate the landscape of Lumbán. Beyond this farm is the great expanse of Laguna de Bay, the country's largest lake.

But Saint Sebastián survived all this. According to stories handed down from generation to generation, he was rescued and healed by Santa Irene de Roma. It can easily be imagined how at first she cleaned Saint Sebastián's wounds with water. And when the image of arrow-impaled San Sebastián was first brought to Lumbán by the Spanish friars to be venerated by the natives, the latter must have certainly taken pity. After all, many native pre-Filipinos were icon worshippers. But never before had they been introduced to the idea of images of people who died or suffered for the faith that they offered to a God who became flesh to save humanity from its sins. Christianity was a culture shock of sorts to forest-dwelling simple folk.

That first meeting between a shocked bunch of Tagalog natives and the arrow-pierced image of San Sebastián could explain the Lumbeño tradition of splashing water to the latter, so that the pain caused by the arrows would somehow subside. This idea of water could have also given birth to the fluvial procession called Lupi Ni San Sebastián (sometimes referred to as Lupi de San Sebastián Mártir) every final Sunday of January ("lupì" in Tagalog means "to fold" because the novena to San Sebastián "folds up" or ends on that day). During this event, various images of the patron saint from all over town, including the main icon at the parish church, are displayed in colorfully decorated boats called casquitos which sail all around the murky expanse of the Lumbán River. Once brought to land, they line up in a lively procession to the beat of a marching band as devotees merrily splash each other with water along the streets of the town proper while firecrackers explode in the air. No person joining this unique procession is left dry.

Our kids really had a great time here especially since it was their first time to play with water guns! And with total strangers! That's the best part of it. You can splash and spray people here with water! Everybody's game! ¡Ualáng picón! Indeed, during the lupi, all Lumbeños became children!

Nevertheless, the piety of the people are still intact inspite of the noise and the wet merry-making. I have seen how many of them splash water to each icon and wiping them with clothing. Some are even kissing them. And no, this is not idol worship. This is simply Catholicism at its finest and most Philippine.

A handful of bahay na bató houses still line the streets of the town proper, but most date only from the U.S. period.

The town was already in a festive mood when we got there early in the morning.

Iglesia de San Sebastián Mártir.

Lumbán (pronounced with the digraph [ŋ] at the end, or "lumbáng") is said to be one of the oldest towns not only in La Laguna but in the whole country as well. Tagalog tribesmen were already living there prior to the Spanish arrival (this is evidenced by the discovery of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription at the mouth of the Lumbán River). It is said that Lumbán got its name from the lumbán tree (Aleurites moluccana), said to be abundant during the early days. Today, three lumbán trees can still be found at the town plaza between the church façade and the Lumbán River.

Hispanization took place when the Franciscan friars arrived in the area in the late 16th century to spread the Christian faith. The celebrated missionaries Fray Juan de Plasencia and Fr. Diego de Oropesa laid the foundations of the future parish and town of Lumbán. San Sebastián Mártir was chosen to be the patron saint, but for some reason they did not change the name Lumbán.

An ecstatic Yeyette at the grass-carpeted plaza. Behind her are two lumbán trees. It is said that the town got its name from this tree which used to flourish in the area. Behind Yeyette and the trees is the Filipino-style municipal hall.

In front of the church.

This church was first constructed in 1586 by Fray Pedro Bautista (yes, boys and girls, it's the priest-turned-saint himself), the town's first parish priest. Completed in 1600, Iglesia de San Sebastián is the oldest stone church in all of La Laguna.

On top of San Sebastián Church. That's the Sierra Madre range at the background. Somewhere on top of it lies Caliraya Lake (photo taken by my jittery daughter) which this municipality shares with Cavinti.

Aside from the religio-cultural event that is the lupì, Lumbán is best known for its fine embroidery of jusi and pineapple fibers, thus earning it the nickname "The Embroidery Capital of the Philippines". It is also home to some of the province's most exotic delicacies such as white cheese made from pure carabao's milk locally known as "quesong putî", and "guinataáng hipon" or miniscule shrimps that are cooked to creaminess in coconut milk.

A trip to Lumbán would not be complete without partaking of its unique delicacy: guinataáng hipon! It looks weird at first, but you'll keep on looking for it once you've tasted it! Here's Yeyette with With Aling Perly, the proprietor and cook of Perly's Ginataang & Atchara.

The fluvial procession at the Lumbán River.

The venerated image of San Sebastián Mártir, patron saint of Lumbán.

¡Lahát dito nagbabasaan! ¡Ualáng picón! And dressed only in our "pambahay" clothing, we felt as if we are living here, and all the people we met during our walk around town were our neighbors. Some even offered us food! Very hospitable and friendly folks!

That guy's fully cocked and loaded!

Here I am spraying water at everything that moves as Momay makes a direct hit at my eardrum!

Our naked little Juanito firing away at little Lumbeños.

Yeyette splashing water at the miraculous image of San Sebastián.

With all these religious and cultural insights and culinary delights, sightseeing could be Lumbán's most uncelebrated blessing. But if one goes there (from Metro Manila via Pagsanján), one will immediately notice its beautiful terrain. The coastal area to the west is rich with Laguna de Bay's resources. To the south lie the ecotourism havens of Pagsanján and upland Cavinti. Going to the east, the land slopes upward following the contours of the Sierra Madre (in fact, much of Lumbán's territory is situated in that mountain range) and is bordered by the municipality of Maúban in Tayabas (now Quezon) Province. And right between the lake and the mountain range are picturesque fields that yield some of the most bountiful harvests. On top of the Sierra Madre lies the famous and scenic Lake Caliraya which it shares with Cavinti (this lake is popular among water sports enthusiasts). To the east is Kalayaan (combined from Loñgos, San Juan, and San Antonio), equally mountainous as Lumbán. And the thick forests and lake breeze near residential areas make Lumbán's air healthy and fresh.

So why not try visiting Lumbán not for anything else but for Lumbán itself? The town's unique mix of nature and culture should merit a spot on your next out-of-town itinerary. If you want to try something new, do it in Lumbán!

Click here to view more photos of our Lumbán trip last Sunday! And please like us on Facebook!


TRIVIA: Assisted by Fr. Juan de Santa Marta, Fr. Bautista established in Lumbán what was to be considered as the Philippine's first academy of music. This school (probably within the convent beside the church) attracted young boys in town as well as neighboring areas such as Páquil which turned out to become the province's music capital during that time. Around 400 boys were taught liturgical hymns and how to play various musical instruments.

(Note: This will be the last time that our blog will feature a TRIVIA section since I noticed that each blogpost itself is already "trivia material", thus making the section almost a nonessential.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Getting high in Tagaytay

One day, a long time ago, when huge forests still covered the chilly parts of what is now known as Southern Cavite, a young native accompanied his father to hunt for wild boar. They searched the green ridge which fronts a silvery lake with a temperamental island in its midst called Bombón.

A long time ago, Taal Volcano was known as Bombón, an onomatopeic name given by the natives because of the volcano's booming sounds during explosions. In Tagaytay, this world-famous Batangueño volcano can be viewed from different vantage points.

After a long search for a quarry, they found a huge boar deep within the cold forests of the ridge. The chase was on. Accustomed to hunting, both father and son were nearly as fast as the boar. The hapless animal soon became aware of this, thus it had no other choice but to stop dead on its tracks, turn around, and attack its hungry pursuers. Father and son were surprised with the animal's desperate attempt for survival. In great panic, the boy alerted his father to immediately strike the beast with his bolo. "¡Tagâ, Itáy! ¡Tagâ, Itáy!"(Strike it, father, strike it!)

The frightened screams reverberated throughout the jungle, the valleys, and the ridge. It was heard by nearby residents and woodcutters. Puzzled with all that ruckus from the forest, the boy's screams soon became a hot topic among the peaceful natives. In the course of time, the surrounding area where the "¡Tagâ, Itáy!" echoed became known as "Tagaytay".

Filipinos are fond of legends explaining the origin of place names. In the Age of Information, legends like this are no longer acceptable. Nevertheless, they still titillate the minds of many. Even revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo found it worthwhile to include in his memoirs another similar legend on how Tagaytay got its name:
While we were resting, an old friend of mine who used to hunt in Tagaytay told me how the place got its name. According to him, a Spaniard from Taal went up to Tagaytay one morning. There he met an old man and his son doing a caiñgin* apart from each other. The Spaniard asked the father for the name of the place:
"¿Cómo se llama este sitio?" (What is the name of this place?) But they did not understand each other because the old man did not speak Spanish. Because of miscommunication, the hot-headed son from afar impatiently cried to his father: ¡Tagâ, Itáy! ¡Tagâ, Itáy! (Strike him, Father! Strike!). So the Spaniard exclaimed, "¡Ah, Tagaytay!"
(From Aguinaldo's Mga Gunita ng Himagsikan; translation mine).
I wonder how deep Aguinaldo's Tagalog was. Didn't he even know that Tagaytay is a Tagalog word for ridge? Maybe because he spoke more Spanish than Tagalog. But what about Tagalogs today? How come they don't even know this? Too much Taglish and English? Anyway, the term "Tagaytay Ridge" is redundant because both words mean the same thing.

This may all seem trivial to many for what matters the most is Tagaytay's magnetic appeal: its favorable climate and relaxingly awesome sceneries. This Caviteño city by the ridge has become the favorite haunt of millions of city dwellers, particularly those from the Metro Manila area, to escape the urban heat. Because of its nippy climate and outstanding vista of the forested ridge and Taal Lake and Volcano in Batangas, it has become one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. Add to that its proximity to the National Capital Region.

We visited Tagaytay —for the nth time— last January 12 not only to enjoy the cold, refreshing air but also as a treat to Jefe who was to celebrate his seventh birthday the following day, a Monday. That's why we thought of giving him a birthday pasiál a day earlier.

A relaxing view of Mahogany Avenue. This road leads to where the City Hall complex is (to the left). We were on our way to Mahogany Market for lunch.

We arrived in Tagaytay by lunchtime, so we had to eat. Preggy Yeyette was then craving for some steamy bulaló**. The people at the Tagaytay Public Market recommended that we visit Mahogany Market which is near the city hall. So off we went there. I have to admit that I frowned upon arrival because I'm used to eating in fancy restaurants. Not that I'm "sosyál" or anything, but it's just that I'm not really used to eating in such places. And the huge crowd that met us really turned me off. However, this crowd was different. They're not just ordinary peeps but those with big, shiny cars. Some even brought with them their well-groomed dogs. And they were all dressed smartly. All these trappings betrayed their social status. This means that Mahogany Market's bulaló stalls are of good reputation. They're not just ordinary carinderia stalls. And yes, their bulaló and fried biyá*** is as at par with those fancy restaurants that I adore.

For those who do not know yet, the average altitude of Tagaytay is around 2,200 feet above sea level (FASL) which is a little less than half of Baguio's 5,050 FASL. The southern and eastern portions of this component city are covered by hills and mountains which are still generously covered by forests and open grasslands. The city lies along the redundant name Tagaytay Ridge which stretches about 32 kilometres from Mount Batuláo in the west (Nasugbú, Batangas) to Mount Suñgay (People's Park in the Sky) in the east. The ridge overlooks Taal Lake and its volcano, and this perfect vista allowed Tagaytay to enter the tourism industry. Many tourist lodges, hotels, and specialty restaurants have sprouted throughout the years (me and Yeyette had a memorable stay at The Lake Hotel during our honeymoon last year). A favorite hangout of ours is One Destination, a strip of fancy restaurants and bars, because of its relaxing view of the lake. My favorite spot there is a branch of Starbucks Coffee where I could sit all day gazing at the majestic beauty of Taal's Volcano Island while sipping some cold coffee beverage while (with some book of course). These tourist establishments have become the source of much of the city's income. 

But Tagaytay also has many other tourist spots that we have not yet visited such as the Japanese Friendship Garden, and The Puzzle Mansion, Sky Fun (where the country's tallest ferris wheel could be found), and Tagaytay Picnic Grove. Last January 12, we went to the Nuestra Señora de Lourdes Church which we have not yet visited before.

Right after lunching at Mahogany Market, we visited this sacred place.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes. This structure is actually a newer version as it was inaugurated and blessed only on 12 February 2003 and was consecrated on 2 February 2008. On both occasions, Church rites were officiated by then Diocese of Imus Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle who is now the Archbishop of Manila (and Cardinal-Priest of San Felice da Cantalice a Centocelle). The old church is toward the southwest of the church grounds.

Momay, Yeyette, Juanito, and Krystal in front of the original structure of Our Lady of Lourdes. Built by the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor in 1940, it is the oldest edifice in Tagaytay. Our Lady of Lourdes is a patroness of these friars. Interestingly, they used to have a church in Intramuros that was also dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. Additional trivia: I was also baptized in a church in Lucena, Tayabas (now Quezon) province which is also dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.

After a brief prayer and tour at the church, we then proceeded to our most favorite spot in Tagaytay: where else but in People's Park In The Sky?! Yes, we like it higher and colder!

The scenic "People's Park In The Sky" on top of Mount Suñgay. But due to poor management, this place is now called "Eople's K N The Sky".

 view of Taal Lake and its Volcano Island. The road below is the Tagaytay-Calamba Road which connects this part of Cavite to La Laguna province.
At 2,351 FASL, Mount Suñgay/People's Park In The Sky is the highest point in Tagaytay. On a clear day, one can see from here not just Taal Lake but also Laguna de Bay and the bays of Manila, Balayán, and Batangas.

It's not cold up here... it's FREEZING!

The park is covered with clouds. Yes, clouds, not fog. Because this place is on top of a mountain.

People's Park In The Sky was an unfinished project by former First Lady Imelda Marcos. It is situated on top of Monte Suñgay. Years ago, a couple of wiseguys who thought they were more intelligent than their house rats changed its name to Mount Nicolás Gonzales in honor of the patriot who was once stationed there. Thankfully, nobody today is buying that historical crime. Caviteños such as my father-in-law still call it Suñgay.

Anyway, the place was to be called Palace In The Sky when construction started there in 1979 (casíng bata co palá itó). It is said that Mount Suñgay was leveled to about half of its former prominence to accommodate the mansion that was originally intended as a guesthouse for former California Governor Ronald Reagan who never arrived. When the 1986 People Power Revolution broke out and toppled the Marcos dictatorship, construction was halted. The half-finished mansion can still be seen at the site. It was renamed People's Park In The Sky.

We stayed until the skies got dark and we were the only tourists left there. The place was well-lit. However, thick clouds covered the site, exuding a beauty that is both freezingly eerie and captivating at the same time. People's Park In The Sky is worth seeing this way!

The bright lights of the mist-covered Shrine of Our Lady, Mother of Fair Love and the enormous statue of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ give out a terrifyingly beautiful effect. This small shrine was inaugurated on Valentine's Day 2003 and was blessed also by then Bishop Tagle.

Before going home, we had dinner at Bali Seafood Palutò. We feasted on steamed mussels with sweet Thai chili, blue marlin, tinolang halaán or clam stew, grilled eggplant salad, and leche flan for dessert. Their hot clam stew was the perfect complement to the cold weather.

But Tagaytay is more than just a tourist spot and a place for spiritual renewal. It also had its fair share in Philippine History. During the Tagalog rebellion against the Spanish regime, Tagaytay served as the connecting link between Cavite and Batangas where many rebels were situated. Tagaytay was nothing but jungle when Aguinaldo and his troops passed it en route to Talisay, Batangas where they captured the entire 72nd Battalion of the Spanish colonial army. It is also interesting to note that about a third of Tagaytay's total land area used to belong to the wealthy Laurel clan of Batangas. But they had it sold to pay for lawyer's fees when a young José P. Laurel, Jr. (who was to become the country's president during the Japanese Occupation) got involved in a stabbing incident.

This Tagaytay trip was our early birthday treat for Jefe.

We Filipinos are a tropical people. As such, we get excited whenever there is a drop in temperature because we have been dealing with the heat for most part of the year. Even during the rainy season, it almost immediately heats up right after a typhoon. That is why we love to punish ourselves whenever this time of the year arrives by going to places such as Baguio and Tagaytay where temperature becomes ice-cold from December to February.

My family has been to Tagaytay many times already as it is our favorite city, mainly because of its cool climate. We've been here several times but we never get tired of visiting it. And what makes it enticing for us to visit Tagaytay that often is because of its proximity to our place. Recently, we've noticed a spike in land development. Several villages and buildings have sprouted here and there. Nevertheless, we are thankful that Tagaytay has not lost its charm and beauty.

But hey, it's not just that famous view of Taal Volcano that makes us visit Tagaytay over and over again. It's not just the place's altitude, nor its preferrable climate, nor its strategically located restaurants, nor its very friendly people. It's Tagaytay's totality itself that makes us keep on coming back.

Click here for more photos of our cold Tagaytay escapade!


TRIVIA: Tagaytay was originally Aguinaldo's choice as the capital of the Philippines because of its strategic military value as well as its potential as a summer capital. He opposed plans of making Novaliches, a former town that is now a district in Quezon City, as the capital because it is within cannon range of battleships in Manila Bay. Many years later eventually, Quezon City became the capital of the country. Aguinaldo's choice may have been proven correct because during the Japanese Occupation on 3 February 1943, the U.S. 511th Parachute Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division chose Tagaytay Ridge as the site to airdrop military supplies and personnel. From there, they launched a massive northward offensive towards Manila.

Dark, foreboding skies. But no, it didn't rain nor drizzle during our visit.


*Clearing land of grass and trees for cultivation
** A steaming bowl of beef shanks with bone marrow usually with pechay, potatoes, corn, and sometimes a few sliced of sabá, a type of banana.
*** Dwarf pygmy goby (Pandaka pygmaea).

Special thanks to the Philippine Daily Inquirer for mentioning our Tagaytay trip!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Online travel guide to the Philippines

We would like to reblog this online travel guide to the Philippines for our overseas friends. Because, you know, it's really more fun here. =)

Happy tourists at the world-famous Pagsanján Falls.

Top Destinations

There are many places to go within the Philippines, but here are some of the top destinations:

Metro Manila - the country's capital, known and loved for it's malls, restaurants, museums and more.
Cebú - the country's 2nd largest city, known for shopping, restaurants, and beaches at the beautiful Mactán Island.
Daváo City - the country's 3rd largest city, known for delicious tuna, watermelon and beaches at Samal Island.
Palauan - One of the top tourist destinations in the world, known for its amazing beaches and underground caves.
Borácay - Also a top tourist destination, known for its long beaches, boardwalk, and water sports.
Baguio - A beautiful mountain destination, popular for horseback riding, zip lining, hiking, and strawberries.

We here at La Familia Viajera intend to visit these wonderful sites. But there won't be much traveling this year because Yeyette is heavy with child. Hopefully next year. And in the coming years.

More info at Online Travel Guide to The Philippines¡Vamos a viajar!


TRIVIA: It is not really certain if the Philippines has exactly 7, 107 islands, or 7,108 if Charlene Gonzales's high tide/low tide claim has been verified by experts. The truth is that several small islands or islets disappear and emerge from sea level during tidal shifts, not just one. Also, in some old maps, the Philippines was estimated to have 11,000 islands! Nevertheless, the Department of Tourism and other related government institutions maintain the 7, 107 number.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy 7th birthday, Jefe!

¡Feliz séptimo cumpleaños, Jesús Felipe! Sorry we aren't able to give you that "customary" big seventh birthday treat, but we hope that you enjoyed our freezing Tagaytay pasiál yesterday with the whole family!

¡Te amamos mucho, Cuya Jefe!


TRIVIA: Jefe's full name, Jesús Felipe, is derived from two personalities: Jesús is of course from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and; Felipe is from King Philip II of Spain (Rey Felipe II) from whom our country was named after.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year's Day stroll at TriNoma

After attending New Year's Day Mass at the Sagrada Familia Church in Roxas District, we immediately proceeded to TriNoma which is just a few minutes away by cab. We planned of treating the kids to a movie ('tis the season for the Metro Manila Film Festival; tanquiliquin natin ang película filipina cahit pañget). But we also thought of strolling around the mall first. We're southerners, so we're not really used to moving around the northern part of Metro Manila, let alone its many famous malls. We've been hearing about TriNoma usually in the papers and the web, and we find it cute. That day when we explored the said mall, we found it to be even cuter in real life.

Several local and foreign shops can be found here.

The Landmark supermarket and department store (lower right), a familiar "landmark" in Ayala Center, Macati City, is TriNoma's major anchor.

Brightly colored square-shaped ceiling lights (left). Towards the IT Zone (right).

Yep, this is where we did that soon-to-be-legendary New Year's Day blogpost. One day, they'll put a historical marker here saying that we blogged about it right on this site. =)

Just like the first mall we featured in this jaw-dropping, eye-popping, nerve-searing family travel blog of ours, TriNoma is owned by our good friends and business partners, the powerful and ultraelectromagneticrich Zóbel de Ayala clan. The mall is as old (or as young) as our son Jefe; it opened in 2007. None other than former President (and now celebrity hospital patient) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former Vice President Noli de Castro (¡nag-uulat live mulá sa TriNoma!)  led the opening ceremonies.

The mall's major attraction is its two-level al fresco hanging gardens called TriNoma Park. It has eye-catching water features with an excellent nature-inspired landscaping complete with several restaurants catering to various appetites and budgets. It even has a small chapel.

Krystal was about to make a dash here towards the bright lights beyond those glass doors. It is actually the mall's main attraction: the uniquely landscaped TriNoma Park, an oasis that sits atop the mall.

What interests many is TriNoma Park's "reverse waterfall". Its pools found in different levels/floors have spouts that blow water upwards, towards the next level's pool.

This reminds me of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (sans the electric lights, of course)!

One might get dizzy here, what with so many restaurants to choose from! But preggy wifey was craving for fish, so we opted for Blackbeard's Seafood Island.

We ordered a peculiarly named dish called Magellan's Landing, served on top of a huge banana leaf. It is composed mostly of grilled grub such as squid, liempo, tilapià, and eggplant, then chicken inasal and crispy danguít, and also quiniláo na tanigue¡Pero canin pa lang, ulam na! The funny name of this dish probably implies the kind of food that was served by the natives to Fernando Magallanes and his crew upon arrival in the Visayan islands.

It's movie time! The kids voted to see Regal Films' horror flick Pagpág: Siyám na Buhay. Sure enough, the film was horrifying not only for my wallet but also for my time. Nevertheless, wifey and the kids enjoyed it.

After seeing that horrible film... I mean, that horror film, we went back to TriNoma Park to enjoy the garden's bright lights under a cold night sky.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Three Kings!

Before going home, we treated ourselves to some delectable Italian ice cream in Gelatissimo.

Whenever we go to malls, we don't usually shop (we ain't a shopaholic family). Aside from pigging out —which is our main motive in going to a mall, hehehe!—, we'd rather enjoy each mall's sights and sounds, what they have to offer aside from selling various merchandise. That is what's cool with malls these days. They go for innovation. TriNoma did just that.

Happy Three Kings everyone!


TRIVIA: TriNoma is a portmanteau of Triangle North of Manila. Aside from the fact that this establishment is located north of Manila, the whole area it covers is also triangular in shape: Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) serves as the base, Mindanáo Avenue to the south and North Avenue serve as the legs, and the apex is where both Mindanáo and North Avenues intersect.

¿Caya niyó 'tó? =)