Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The rustic modernity of Candelaria

The mystical mountain of San Cristóbal as seen from Calle Cabunag. Modern homes dot the streets of the town proper but the aura is still inexplicably rural.

From an outsider looking in, Candelaria town in Tayabas Province (now Quezon) seems to be in conflict with itself. Not that there is anything unappealing about the place, but like many towns on the brink of urbanization, Candelaria's countrified sensation which is invisible yet palpable in its somewhat detached air appears to be in friction with the times. This can be perceived (only, perhaps) by the incisive. And to such people, there seems to be the impression that the town still tries to cling to its original form, to its identity, to a past oft unrevisited. For who today visits Candelaria for the sake of pleasurable visitation? Like its neighboring towns, it too has been stricken by the pathogen of modernity coming from a burgeoning metropolis. To make it simpler, societal permutations brought about by passing Time has mixedly divided Candelaria into two identities: a hushed side (north of the national road) that is atypically contemporary in outlook but still strongly spiritual within, whereas the other part (south of the national road) which is still physically traditional, therefore supposedly bucolic, has become, also in an odd manner, bustling and brimming with economic flurry.

Which of the two should emerge victorious, should claim as the real Candelaria? The spiritual or the pragmatic? Or should they remain mixed in order to produce a new Candelaria?

Needless to say, it was the spiritual which led us to finally revisit Candelaria last March 2nd when Yeyette's officemate Mejean (and her husband Jaypee) invited us to the baptism of her first baby, Juone Justine Magboo y Peña.

Baptism of Juone Justine Magboo.

I say revisit since me and my family have passed by this town many times whenever we go to and from Unisan although we have never really trod upon its main ground (the town proper). That is actually the only recollection that me and my family have of Candelaria: it's merely the next town after Tiáong, a transit point whenever we go to my dad's hometown. We then took the invitation as an opportunity to walk around their town, and to see if there is anything worth visiting. Of course there is! :-) ¡Vamos a viajar!

La Familia Viajera arrives at Candelaria at exactly 9:00 AM, just in time for the baptism. It was a long walk from our home in the City of San Pedro Tunasán. But hey, we made it, hehe!

Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia (Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia).

The municipal hall fronts the town church across the national road.
Before entering the church, we saw this lady selling fresh honey! We bought a bottle. We were informed that this was produced in Barrio Bignay in nearby Sariaya.

Iglesia de San Pedro Bautista.

Mass was still ongoing when we got inside the church. We asked around, and people kept telling us that baptism will start at 11:00 AM. We were puzzled because the invitation says 9:00 AM. And we forgot to record Mejean's cellphone number. Anyway, we took it as a chance to go to the town's famed old tower which is just nearby while waiting for the designated time.

On our way to the ruins of the Torre del Valle situated along the banks of Río Masín. This river and the tower is just five minutes away from the town church (via tricycle). It's actually just walking distance, but back then we didn't know. Sana palá nilacad na lang namin.

The source of Río Masín is Monte San Cristóbal. Had we known there's a clean river here, we would have packed our swimming attire. Maybe next time.

Torre del Valle is a six-storey tower built in 1928, during a time when the whole country was under US control but still Hispanic. The tower was said to have been built as a pavilion for the mansion of Don Juan del Valle and his family. Before his death, however, he ordered his son to have the family mansion demolished — except for the tower. Candelarienses today still do not know the reason for the owner's strange final wish. And this only adds to the eerie allure surrounding this picturesque tower.

Aside from this tower, only the foundations of the old del Valle mansion remain. The whole property is now engulfed by thick vegetation. We were certainly not dressed for this one. But who cares? It was a fun climb!

We're at the topmost part of the tower. Behind Yeyette and Krystal are the mountains of San Cristóbal and Banajao. The whole población is visible from here.

Embossed flower designs carved in stone.

Ants' habitat made of leaves from a nearby tree branch. If you see one, please leave it alone. Just take a photo.

Leftover seeds from various fruits. Probably from birds and/or bats.

Tiled elegance.

Ruins of the mansion are now hugged by thick greenery. Seeing its old foundations creeping out of the wild vines, grass, and flowers is reminiscent of scenes from Hollywood films and adventure novels depicting lost cities in jungles.

La Torre de la Familia del Valle.

The emerald green waters of Río Masín right below the tower. It's easy to surmise that the early residents fetched their water  from these stone steps, just like those in Santa Ana de Sapa in Manila where residents had their steps built right above the waters of the Río Pásig.

In the meantime, as we were enjoying ourselves doing selfies at the old tower, this was happening...

(Photo courtesy of Mejean Magboo).

So Juone's baptism did take place at 9:00 AM! But not at the church's main altar but at its chapel somewhere in the church's vicinity.

Now you know the importance of having a cellphone handy all the time. Blast it.

We stayed at the tower for about an hour. Then we went back to the church. But since it was still early (or so we thought), we decided to have some "light" snack in a comfy looking restaurant we found along the highway. It's called Hacienda Inn. But it's neither a hacienda nor an inn. All they offer is old-fashioned good food and friendly service!

We ordered some lomi (top left), pancít bihon (lower left), and clubhouse sandwich (lower right). Lomi is a Batangueño specialty, but it's normal fare here in Candelaria considering its proximity to Batangas. As a matter of fact, Candelarienses do sound like Batangueños whenever they speak (it should be noted that just south of this Tayabeño municipality is San Juan, Batangas, site of the famous beaches of Barrio Laíya).

Both my wife and daughter gave Hacienda Inn's lomi a five-out-of-five stars — they say that the lomi here is the best they ever had! While I do not share their opinion, it's true that Hacienda Inn's lomi tastes great. It has the right amount of soup thickness with generous ingredients.

And as we were finishing our second order of lomi, we heard the church bells ring. Mass has ended. It's already 11:00 AM.

We went to the church and there saw Yeyette's officemates. Instead of us surprising them, it was the other way around — Mejean informed us that Juone's baptism has just been concluded at a chapel behind the church, LOL!

Left to right: Krystal, Yeyette, Mejean, Dhang, Jalidah, Angélica, Chel, Kmyl, and Rafaél.

The guests then trooped to the Magboo residence in nearby Village of Saint Jude (or VSJ which is near the foot of Monte San Cristóbal) for the reception. Before going there, we asked to be left behind for awhile to explore the town church.

My boys behind the beautifully tended Devotional Candle Park (Gallery of Saints). The images behind them of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His would-be disciples (the brothers Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint Andrew) on a fishing boat were culled from John 1:35-51 as well as other similar gospel accounts.

La Familia Viajera con la Familia Magboo (Jaypee, Mejean, y su hijo Juone Justine).

August could probably be a special month in Candelaria's history. While the church of Saint Peter the Baptist was erected on 30 August 1925, Candelaria has already been existing as a political unit or a separate town since 5 August 1879. And this was approved by none other than the King of Spain himself, Alfonso XII. The town was created by combining some barrios that were removed from nearby Tiáong and Sariaya ("...la creación de un pueblo civil, independiente de sus matrices Tiáong y Sariaya, con el nombre de Candelaria..." according to old records). Truly an "august event" in its history, one might quip.

After exploring the church, off we went to VSJ for the reception.

Krystal and Yeyette, with Arlene, Jalidah, and Arlene's son.

Standing (L-R): Rafaél, Darren, Dhang, Chel, Arlene, Mejean, Angélica, and Yeyette.
Seated (L-R): Kmyl, Jalidah, Win, and Chel (with her baby).
And our very own Juanito perfectly and cutely photo bombed this one. =)

What do our youngest son and Mejean's dad have in common? They're both called Juanito. =)

Yeyette with baby Juone Justine.

After the reception, we said our goodbyes and went back to the town proper to hunt for Filipino ancestral houses called bahay na bató. We found very few. However, most are in good condition.

Some old houses we saw at the town proper. Only a few of them remain.

Jefe and Momay in front of the Rural Bank of Candelaria, Inc.

Goodies from Bread Country (top row) and Mortilla Bakery and Pasalubong (bottom row). They sell various sweets such as broas (light and sweet crispy sponge cakes), uraró (arrow root cookies, a specialty invented in Lilio, La Laguna), and macaroons to name a few. The macaroons which are made from desiccated coconuts are certified fresh especially since Candelaria is home to the most desiccated coconut factories in the province of Tayabas.

Do we recommend Candelaria as a place for heritage tours? Definitely. Its ancestral houses may not be as awesome or as imposing or as antique as those in Vigan (Ilocos Sur) or in Pila (La Laguna). But hey, a bahay na bató is a bahay na bató. And so long as the old tower by that verdurous river from Monte San Cristóbal and those bahay na bató beauties remain, then the walkatour is all worth it. Here's hoping that the local government of Candelaria will do something about its few heritage houses, especially that pretty tower by the Masín River. Because it's so hilariously disappointing to see such priceless piece of architectural heritage being left in the open for vandals to trample on. If Candelarienses are able to keep their town church spick-and-span, why not do the same to their heirloom tower which has also been witness to their town's evolution from an old-fashioned Hispanic pueblo to a first class municipality? Because in order for a new and stronger and modern Candelaria to emerge from this "conflict of societal identity", utmost respect should be rendered to the Candelaria of olden times.

Candelaria is worth walking for. It's not a mere transit point. Always keep that in mind.

See more photos of our trip to Candelaria by clicking here! ¡Hasta la vista!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Calauan: Home of the Sweetest Pineapple

We all felt spent the next morning after a walkatour of our adoptive city during the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle/Sampaguita Festival. It was a Sunday, and we just wanted to stay at home the whole day doing nothing. However, when preggy Yeyette suddenly craved for some guinataán cuisine served in a rural setting, we all regained our strength and excitement. She and I both thought of only one place near that is capable of serving such meals in a refreshing backdrop. And that's none other than Iskargu in Calauan! As for our kids, it's travel time once again!

One might think that Iskargu is a Tagalized form for escargot, a dish of cooked land snails. However —and quite humorously—, the name of this restaurant is a portmanteau of IS (fish), KARne (meat), and GUlay (vegetables). If you think that this establishment was creatively named, wait till you get inside and see the awesomeness of its interiors!

The trip to Calauan from our place was just about an hour: a 30-minute jeepney ride to Calambâ, and from there, another 30-minute bus ride to Calauan (via buses going to Santa Cruz). Vehicular traffic was surprisingly light everywhere, even in Los Baños (or maybe because it was a Sunday?). That's why we arrived just in time for lunch. We were thankful that our favorite spot in Iskargu was not taken...

And this, my friends, is our favorite spot in Iskargu!

It was just our second time in Iskargu. The first was the day right after Momay's ninth birthday last year. We immediately fell in love with the ambiance! Iskargu is an avant-garde restaurant somewhat similar to a bahay cubo, but with creatively designed interiors: an innovative mix of modern and traditional materials and decors. All around the restaurant is a relaxing view of vast green rice fields. Behind it are the mountains of Atimla and Calisuñgan (spelled as Kalisungan nowadays). And to top it all: excellent and mouth-watering Filipino comfort food! Of course Yeyette got what she wanted!

Our fare: guinataáng tilapià, guinataáng cohól, guinataáng calabáo, and calderetang cambíng. We downed them with fresh buco juice with meaty strips of coconut meat. Sometimes, you gotta love pregnancy cravings.

The soothing vista of the mountains of Atimla (left) and Calisuñgan (right) are in full view as we enjoyed our lunch from our favorite table. Only a verdant field separates us from the two peaks. I hope to climb both someday with my wife and kids. Seriously.

We stayed for another hour in Iskargu right after lunch, just enjoying the cold breeze of amihan coming from the rice fields. The boys were so excited with the greenery surrounding the restaurant. Krystal was busy elsewhere reading some magazines and checking the place around. Yes, there's more to see in Iskargu than its deliciously cooked food! As for me and Yeyette, we still got to do what we had initially planned — do nothing. =)

It was a cold afternoon! Not just windy but downright cold, making that impromptu visit more memorable and satisfying!

Juanito insisted that I take his photo underneath those hanging white flowers. He's starting to be like his mom: a photo addict!

Right after a relaxing stay in Iskargu, we proceeded to the town proper, about 30 minutes away from the restaurant. We went to the población (town proper) not just for a walkatour but to hunt for pineapples, Calauan's specialty fruit.

Walking along Calle M. Roxas vda. de Soriano. This street was named after the granddaughter of one of Calauan's founders: Iñigo de Azaola.

Behind Momay, Juanito, and Jefe is a town landmark: the giant pineapple cement sculpture standing at the center of the town plaza. This serves as a homage to Calauan's sweet sobriquet — "Home of the Sweetest Pineapple".

Dark, foreboding skies over the town church. But it never rained that day, just a slight drizzle (with a very cold air).

Iglesia de San Isidro Labrador.

Afternoon Mass.

Juanito and Yeyette in front of the municipal hall.

At the Calauan-San Pablo Highway just beside the town church are some stalls selling freshly picked pineapples.

Maybe it's just us, but the pineapples of Calauan are surprisingly sweet, much sweeter than the average pineapples that are sold elsewhere. Usually, this fruit has a strong sweet-sour flavor. But in Calauan, the pineapples are generally sweet, without the itchy aftertaste. For this unique quality of the fruit's flavor, Calauan earned the coveted monicker "Home of the Sweetest Pineapple".

Momay and her Ate Krystal are thrilled with their pineapples!

Looking for the best.

But why is this municipality called Calauan instead of, say, "Piñahan", "Las Piñas", or anything close to its major agricultural produce? What's in a name?

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, early Tagalog settlers already referred to this place as "macalauang" meaning "rusty" because of a spring* whose waters covered its rocks with rust-colored deposits. This implies that the spring waters have "iron bacteria". Others posit that the spring water came into contact with naturally occurring minerals underneath the ground as a result of ancient volcanic activity. The second theory could be more acceptable because of Monte Maquiling's proximity to Calauan.

About a decade after the Spaniards arrived, the conquistadores established a settlement around the site of the springs in what is now called Barrio Mabacan. At the onset, it was called Hacienda Macalauan, a 7,000-hectare property given to the cultivation of export crops (probably including pineapples). But it was only in 1860 when the parish of San Isidro Labrador y San Roque —Saint Isidore the Laborer and Saint Roch— was established upon the erection of the first town church. However, for still unknown reasons, the church was relocated to the present town center in 1925, on a land donated by Andrés Soriano y Roxas (the same guy who once led the precursor to today's San Miguel Corporation). And the original church? It's now in ruins, its surroundings now embraced by an eerie forest. And the new church now bears only San Isidro as its titular patron. I have no idea why San Roque was left out. Nevertheless, his image has a special niche at the church's main altar.

Speaking of Soriano, his clan and Calauan go way back. This all began with a creole ancestor of his: Domingo Roxas y Ureta. Together with Frenchman M. Vidie and Spaniard Iñigo de Azaola, Roxas managed one of Luzón's leading plantations during the Spanish times. And it was probably the only hacienda in La Laguna that was privately owned (other haciendas in the province were managed by Spanish friars). In 1939, Margarita Roxas y Ayala vda. de Soriano, a granddaughter of Azaola and the widow of Spanish engineer Eduardo Soriano y Sanz, subdivided the hacienda and sold it to their tenants. To honor this gesture and other philanthropic activities of the Sorianos, at least two roadways were named after prominent family members: Calle M. Roxas vda. de Soriano and Calle Andrés Soriano, named after Margarita's son. The first is very short, just beside the town church. But the latter is a scenic one which leads to the backwoods and picturesque farms of Calauan.

Calle Andrés Soriano.

Incidentally, Hacienda Macalauan Incorporated, a Soriano-owned property and business, is situated at the scenic Calle Andrés Soriano. The beautifully landscaped property is dedicated to dairy farming and the selling and breeding of imported cows (particularly Holstein Friesian). They are also the producers of our favorite milk drink.

After our walkatour of the town proper, we proceeded to Hacienda Macalauan. I once had the privilege of visiting it two years ago. I thought of brining my family there to cap off our tour of Calauan. Unfortunately, when we got there, the guard told us that they do not accept visitors on Sundays. We might as well go back there some other time.

Oh, well. Might as well enjoy the place.

Waiting for the darned cow to run after us. It would have been a fun run if it happened!

We're going somewhere over the rainbow.

By the way, just in case you're wondering where and how this "rusty spring" that I was talking about earlier looks like today, then click here (but hold your breaths first!). And to view all the photos of our impromptu trip to Calauan, click here.

See you on our next viaje¡Hasta la vista! =)