Today, the Philippines celebrates its 121th Independence Day.
On the 12th of June, 1898, General Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines’ Independence from Spanish rule. Technically, Spain did not recognize this and managed to grant the Philippines to the United States after the Spanish-American war, but that’s beside the point. It’s only recently when I started re-educating myself on my Filipino history and heritage that I started commemorating these significant events that molded the country to what it is today.
And because it’s Independence Day, I am dedicating this blog in appreciation of the Philippine Flag.
The original flag that was waived on Independence Day was sewn by Marcela Agoncillo. It was designed based on the Cuban flag. The colors were inspired by the US flag, and the sun was derived from the mythological sun on the flags of Latin American countries like Argentina.
Today’s Philippine flag has 3 stars symbolizing the 3 biggest islands: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. The sun symbolizes liberty, and its 8 rays stand for the first eight provinces that revolted against the Spanish rule. The colors represent equality (white), valor (red), and peace (royal blue). In times of war, the flag is turned over so that the red color of the flag is the one on top.
“Now, after ten years, let us look back over the road we have traveled. Let us take stock of ourselves. What have we done with that independence for which we waited so long? Let us look clearly and honestly at the record. I can tell you how I feel about it. I can tell you that I am proud of my race, that I am proud of the nation we created in so short a time and in the face of such tremendous odds.”
A day tour in the town of Taal, Batangas, always feel like traveling back in time. Gazing up the vintage houses, I realize these are ancestral homes of families whose roots date back to the Spanish colonization era.
Batangas is one of the eight provinces condemned and oppressed by the Spanish government. The other provinces were Manila, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite and Pampanga. Together, these eight provinces would take the lead in fighting for the Philippine independence. As I walk along the streets lined with vintage homes, I cannot help but feel a sense of Filipino patriotism and pride.
Last week I wrote about Galleria Taal, a vintage camera and photograph museum located along Taal’s main road. A few meters away from Galleria Taal is another beautifully preserved heritage house: The Marino-Agoncillo Home.
Dona Marcela Marino-Agoncillo is known as the Mother of the Philippine Flag. She and her husband Felipe Agoncillo, were both born in Taal and studied in Manila. When they returned to Taal, Felipe became known for his legal services to the poor. In 1896, Felipe escaped to Hong Kong after he was accused of being a filibustero, an opponent to the Spanish regime. His family followed suit and lived with him in exile in Hong Kong. To help earn a bit of income, Marcela made sweets and delicacies that they sold in Hong Kong. When General Emilio Aguinaldo was also exiled to Hong Kong, he asked the help of Marcela to make the Philippine flag. Marcela, together with her daughter, Lorenza, and Delfina Herbosa Natividad, carefully sewed the first Philippine flag on silk, and completed it within five days. This flag was shown in Cavite City on 28 May 1898 during the celebration of the revolutionary army’s victory over the Spanish forces.
As we entered the house, we ascended its wooden staircase which led to the receiving area, living room and dining hall. The walls and the furniture were mostly made of wood. Rooms were interconnected, and it was amazing to see old trinkets like the sungka (today’s version of a gameboard). There was also an old sewing machine that caught my eye – as I remember we had something similar back home when I was a little girl.
What I like about old houses in the Philippines is the airy feeling from the spacious rooms whose ceilings were also high. They had little to no electricity back then but the houses were well ventilated because the wind could freely blow through the windows, and the trees in their gardens provide shade. A walk in heritage houses also brings me to imagine how it must have felt like living in the olden days. I imagine several decades from now, when the future generations walk through our homes now, they would likewise bring themselves to imagine how simple our lives now must have been.
What comes to your mind when you see or enter vintage houses?
Sagada – the beautiful place on top of the mountains that’s so far away – 456 kilometers from where I live to be exact. About 9 hours’ nonstop drive – that is, if there would be no traffic jams. And light traffic is quite rare when going through the streets of Metro Manila. My only challenges in going is that one, D wouldn’t drive that far (not with the traffic), and two, I’ve seen discouraging news about landslides and road accidents affecting folks going to or back from Sagada.
Yet, Sagada constantly beckons. Its lush mountains, caves, clear streams, organic food, picturesque surroundings are just too hard to resist. So, having checked the weather forecast, I looked for tour packages from Manila, and booked a trip for my brother and me. We got a 3 days/2 nights tour package on a good deal. We left by van at 11 o’clock on a Friday night, and woke up in the far north of Luzon on Saturday morning. We were supposed to have breakfast at Banaue Rice Terraces, at the Ifugao Province, but we got stuck in a traffic jam en route to Banaue that morning. Wikipedia describes Banaue Rice Terraces as “occassionally called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World‘”. It’s majestic views were even used in the Avengers: Infinity War movie ending, where *spoiler alert!!!* Thanos was enjoying the view from his hut one fine day after he wiped out half the universe’s population. Remember that scene? That background was the Banaue Rice Terraces.
Oops, I digress. Anyway, our van reached Sagada at around 2PM that Saturday. So much for the 9 hours’ drive. We were relieved and excited – we were finally there! Our first stop was at a restaurant. Our late lunch included veggies and brown/red rice that Sagada is known for. At the backyard of that resto was old Igorot hut. It was awesome!
After lunch, we checked in to our hostel. The rest of the folks in our tour opted to go to the spelunking activity. My brother and I stayed behind and explored the town instead. We reviewed must go to places in Sagada town and checked them out.
These are the places in Sagada that are my favorites, and I highly recommend them all.
Sagada Lemon Pie House
I loved the concept of the restaurant. Guests can choose between sitting on the floor or on short stools. We were surprised to see that they sell their lemon pie and tea for cheap price. A slice of lemon pie costs 30 pesos (around 60 US cents); and a cup of tea costs 20 pesos (around 40 US cents). The lemon tea was sweet, and the mountain tea had a gingery taste to it. I preferred the mountain tea over the lemon tea. As for the lemon pie – it was simply delicious! I guess that’s why the resto was named after this specialty, right? I saw a sign at the counter saying it’s best to order the pies in advance as they sometimes run out of stock. I’m not surprised.
We read good reviews about this place. We had a bit of a wait when we got there as there was a queue. I’m not really into yogurt (I like kombucha more), so I’m relaying what my brother thought about it. He liked his yogurt, and the price was also affordable. For a healthy daily dose of probiotics, this place is worth checking out.
I did see strawberries grown in their garden, but for some reason I did not see any strawberry cake in their menu. I asked the owner and they did have it – it just wasn’t listed. My brother and I shared one huge slice which we bought for only 80 pesos (around US $1.60). Wow the cake was so good! It was not too sweet and the strawberries were fresh. If I had not just eaten late lunch and a slice of lemon pie I would have loved to have another slice of the strawberry cake. I’ve looked far and wide for this taste, and Sagada is where I found it.
Just like what I did when I was in Baguio, I brought eco-bags during the trip to Sagada because I anticipated some marketing to be done. I was going to the vegetable capital after all, so why not make the most out of it. I was delirious with the low prices of the merchandise in the market that I ended up asking my brother to carry some of the items in his bag for me. I bought persimmons, mountain tea, sweet potato, broccoli, and other vegetables. I wanted to get more but I remembered my commute back in Manila when I get home. So I bought only what I (and my brother) could carry. Oh, if we only drove in our car!
Went here the next day for a quick breakfast. Their service was impeccable, and they offered a wide variety of food choices at reasonable prices. Of course, being named Sagada Brew, I expected their coffee to be good. It surely did not disappoint. Interesting what came with my wheat bread toast was something that looked like kimchi but tasted like jam. I think it’s their homemade strawberry preserve. It was so yum!
Echo Valley and The Hanging Coffins of Sagada
Just walking distance to the main road of the Sagada town center is the entrance to the cemetery. An interesting trivia about the cemetery is during All Souls Day (which is today, 2 November), people remembering their dead light up acorns instead of candles.
We walked past the cemetery to get to the Echo valley. Echo valley is a beautiful place – cool weather, fresh air, nice scenery. The only downside when we went here with a tour group on a Sunday was that there were so many other tour groups that came with us. We could not take a decent photo because people were lined up and taking their time to get their selfies and different poses taken.
After the Echo valley we took a short trek going to the hangingcoffins. On the first landing I saw 18 hangingcoffins. Our guide told us that anyone who has reached at least 100 years old can be buried through the hangingcoffins. The most recent one was placed there in 2010. Some of the coffins were small because these were for bodies who were ‘buried’ in fetal pose – there is a belief that since they were born in the fetal pose, then that is the way they will leave the world. Along the short coffins were chairs which are called death chairs (hope I remember it right). This is where the bodies were prepared prior to ‘burying’. The longer coffins are for the ones who have been Christianized.
On burial day, the coffins are hang first, before the bodies are put in.
After the first landing, we went further down to see other coffins placed way up higher. My brother and I were just amazed at how our ancestors were able to apply this practice and maintain the tradition throughout the ages.
We took a different way back where we passed through a clear stream and a cave. It was quite fun walking through the cool waters of the stream (and trying hard to maintain balance).
There you have it, my five favorite places in Sagada. People who might have already visited Sagada would probably ask why I did not include Kiltepan. This is where people go to very early in the morning to get a view of the beautiful sunrise (just like the Sunrise Tour that I did in Borobudur). When we went, the sun failed to show up as it was masked by clouds. I was a bit disheartened at Kiltepan because it was packed with hundreds of people and I saw a lot of tourists littering.
Overall, Sagada is one of my favorite travel destinations in Luzon. I would love to go back, so I will persuade D to schedule a tour so we can drive there – on a sunny weekday so we can get away from the crowd. I really hope that Sagada will not be commercialized and that its beauty, simplicity, serenity and cleanliness can be preserved. It truly is spectacular as it is now.