Lost Somewhere in Bulacan

Have you ever found yourself in an offbeaten path, phone batteries low and with no signal, and to top it all Google Maps was also acting up?

I have. This weekend en route to a farmstay in the province of Bulacan. We got off course when the bridge leading to our destination was closed off for repair. In desperate haste we took a detour, and found ourselves traveling through half-paved roads in the beginning, to dirt road and then eventually nowhere. Google Maps said the road was unnamed. There were no other cars, lamp posts, no one. For a minute I remembered horror movies I watched back in the 90s like Jeepers Creepers.

Luckily there was a bit of great scenery.

And then a few minutes later farmers coming from the opposite direction rode by – our chance to ask for directions. Turned out we missed the right turn a few miles back.

We lived through it. It was a bit of an adventure, really. Looking back now we could always turn around (and probably argue along the way back). It was quite a relief to finally get to Numana Farm where we would be staying for the weekend. All turned out just fine.

No road trip would be complete without a few navigational hiccups, after all. That’s always part of the fun!

Safe Travels!

Efficient Subway System

I got this souvenir from the AirBnB we stayed at in Hirayu Onsen in Japan. I like these sweet mementos we get from various places like hotels, museums, Tourist Information Centers – it adds a personal touch enhancing the cultural experience.

Honestly I don’t know what this simple gift is, or what it says. Google Translate says words like “travel safely…circle of life…shrine”. I reckon it’s a charm to keep one safe, as Hirayu  Onsen was, after all, our jumping point to Japan’s Alps, Kamikochi.

Speaking of traveling safely, I’ve put together this list of things I keep in mind whenever D and I are out for our adventures.

Research and Be Alert.

It’s worth checking out forums for Do’s and Don’ts; routes and paths to take; helpful phone numbers that may come in handy in case of an emergency; nearest convenience stores, ATM machines, bus stops or train stations.

I remember before smart phones, D and I almost got in trouble getting into the wrong side of town one night while we went out looking for a 711 so I could withdraw from an ATM. It’s a good thing a concerned local told us not to wander farther and head back to the hotel.

Pack up wisely.

One of my many lessons I learned is choosing comfort over fashion. I’ve had one too many instances of chucking my “stylish” shoes and buying comfortable sneakers because my feet were killing me.

If the trip will entail long walks, it’s best to pack comfortable shoes. If I’ll be out mostly under the sun, I would pack on the sunblock, a hat, sunglasses. Or a foldable umbrella, and refillable water bottle. A first aid kit in my  suitcase is something I won’t hopefully have to use, but good to have as it might come handy.

Stretch and Hydrate

Before and after long walks, I give these muscles a good stretch – they love it! When seated for a long time in the plane, I walk around to stretch my legs. Drinking up on water is also quite refreshing, that’s why I keep my water bottle in my bag all the time. I also look for sources of drinkable water for a potential refill. I know I’d thank myself later for this supply of water when I start hitting five thousand steps and up.

Don’t be Reckless

We always let someone else, usually family, know our whereabouts and our itinerary. We also register when we are trekking, and hire services of a local certified guide. When there is a spot that looks too tempting to have that ‘daredevil’ shot of, I’d most probably skip it. Aside from my fear of heights, I know that a small wrong step can bring me a long term pain, so call it boring but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I hope you find my little list useful. If you have something planned to go to soon – I hope you have an awesome time. Safe travels!

Efficient Subway System
Efficient Subway System

 

 

Takayama: Old Town

Takayama Old Town

What comes to mind when you think of a trip to Japan?

With this trip, my friends asked me if I was revisiting the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. When I replied that this time we were going to the more laid back places like Takayama and Kamikochi, almost all of them would give me a thoughtful look and ask where’s that?

Takayama, a quiet city in the the mountainous Gifu Prefecture of Japan, is famous for a lot of things like the hida beef, its museums and temples, the nearby tourist destinations like Kamikochi and Shinhotaka Rope-way, and the well preserved Old Town, Kami-Sannomachi, which serves as the commercial hub since way back during the Edo period. The Old Town is walking distance from the Takayama Train and Bus station (around ten minutes’ walk).

From the train station, we walked across the Miyagawa River and came to see two bronze statues facing each other in the middle of the Kajibashi Bridge. These statues are called Ashi-naga and Tenaga. Ashi-naga is a long legged goblin, while Tenaga is a long armed goblin. According to folklore, the two work as a team, where Tenaga would climb over Ashi-naga’s back so they can harvest fish and catch small creatures.

A couple of blocks after crossing the bridge, we passed through stores and houses in the Old Town. They were quite remarkable. Even the 711 across the street had a similar rustic theme to it.

Rustic themed 711 across the old town
Rustic themed 711 across the old town

On our first day, we got to the Old Town a tad bit too late as the stores close at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. It was still quite surreal walking through the narrow picturesque streets – there were canals on both sides of the road flowing with clear water. I was amazed at this – I wish we had the same in my city.

The old town past business hours
The old town past business hours

On the next day, after kicking off the day with a breakfast and stroll through the Miyagawa Morning Market, we headed right to the Takayama Old Town. It was teeming with tourists, and there were already queues at the restaurants as it was around lunch time. Because it was warm and sunny that day, we took it as good timing to enter the stores and check them out.

Water chilled soda
Water chilled soda

There were several souvenir shops selling wooden crafts and trinkets, local snacks, and sarubobo dolls. There were also several shops selling the hida beef skewers, sake, and other local delicacies. We also saw a man pulling on a rickshaw for tourists.

Waiting at an intersection at the old town
Waiting at an intersection at the old town

One of the best finds that I had in the Takayama Old Town is Cafe Ao, a Japanese cafe quietly tucked in one of the wooden stores near the Old Town’s entrance. What caught my attention was the mat floor and the irori, the Japanese sunken hearth used as a fireplace and heater in the olden days. The first time I learned about the irori was during our trip to Hida Folk Village (Hida No Sato) on our first day in Takayama.

Irori at the entrance of Cafe Ao

All guests had to take off their shoes upon entering, and we made our way to the inner part of the building, where I was delighted to see a couple of zen gardens surrounding the cafe. There were lovely wooden furniture in the cafe, and some guests who opt to sit on the floor could do so. I got us green tea, coffee and a seasonal cake. The whole dining experience was very relaxing and precious. The seasonal cake was so yummy, and D liked the lovely touches of sweets included with his green tea.

If you are in Takayama, don’t forget to check out the Old Town. You’ll be amazed by the rustic simplicity of this place, a perfect getaway (and I’d say a 180 degree turn) from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities of Japan like Tokyo. Be prepard to travel back in time as you walk through Takayama’s quaint streets and meeting its friendly locals.

Takayama Old Town

 

 

 

 

 

Sarubobo Doll

Beer kegs and Hida’s Sarubobo doll

Beer kegs and Hida’s Sarubobo doll

A sarubobo doll is a mascot of Japan’s Hida region. Hida is located at the northern part of the Gifu Prefecture known for its hot springs and serene looking mountains.

Sarubobo literally translates to ‘monkey baby’. It is shaped like a human but with no facial features. Mothers and grandmothers used to make these dolls for children, and is believed to bring blessings and good fortune.

Majority of the sarubobo dolls I saw in Takayama were colored red. I learned that different colors signify different meanings: like red is for marriage and family; gold is for money; blue is for good fortune at work or in school; black wards off evil; pink is for love; green is for peace and health; and purple is for longevity.

In Takayama, sarubobo dolls were everywhere. They were in shops’ entrance doors, and hung as offerings at the Kokubunji Temple. When we reached Hirayu Onsen en route to Kamikochi for a closer look at the Japan alps, we saw what is claimed to be Hida’s largest sarubobo doll at the bus station.

I personally think that while it’s a cute souvenir, what struck me about the sarubobo dolls is how sweet it must have been for children in the past to have received a handmade doll from their moms or grandmothers. It’s the labor of love and the personal touch that the elders put in to bring happiness to their children – it was just precious. We gazed on these dolls I came to remember times my mom would help me with my school projects when I was younger. D recalled the time his mom made a volcano for him when he was a child.

There’s so much simple but thoughtful crafts and activities that I am learning more about in this trip to Japan. I’ll write about these other touches of art soon.

First Onsen Ever

View of Mt Yarigatake from Hirayu Onsen bus station

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I’ve thought about this for some time before I made a conscious decision to do one thing I have never done before. And this recent trip to Japan was my window of opportunity: try out an onsen.

Onsen is a natural hot spring bath. Japan has lots of these. Dipping into an onsen is said to relax the body and has benefits for the skin. It had never beem something that appealed to me though, as what’s daunting for me is that most onsens that I know of are communal, and one has to totally strip naked to be able to take a dip. In these public onsens, males and females are separated – but I don’t think I can still do an all naked stint in front of total strangers, even for the purpose of relaxation.

Until I booked our trip to the Japan alps. I intentionally included in our itinerary an overnight stay at one of the onsen towns, Hirayu Onsen because it is located halfway across Takayama and our ultimate hiking destination, Kamikochi. I figured D and I would need an onsen bath after a tiring day of trekking.

Hirayu Onsen is the oldest of five onsen towns on Okuhida valley. It was discovered in the 1560s, and is now basically the hub to Kamikochi and Shinhotaka (where the famous double decker gondola, the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway, leading up to the highest point where tourists can view the mountains is found).

I honestly did not know what to expect – from what I showed in the map it’s a little speck compared to Takayama. I was also a bit nervous as I only had a few thousand yens on hand, so I made a mental note to look for the ATM as soon as we got off the bus.Hirayu Onsen: our BnB’s backyard

When we arrived at the bus station I was awestruck by the surrounding mountains and the view of the alps at a distance. The climate was cooler compared to the first cities we visited, and there were still several cherry blossom trees that added color to the already picturesque town. True to its onsen name, there is a footbath at the waiting area of the bus station. On the second floor is a window view of the peaks of the Japan Alps, and Hida’s largest sarubobo doll is displayed.

View of Mt Yarigatake from Hirayu Onsen bus station

Our B&B, Tsuyukusa, was a 3 minute walk from the station. On the way to the B&B we could hear the constant flow of water. There were several establishments that we passed by that had steaming water fountains in front of their property.

Tsuyukusa BnB, Hirayu Onsen

The Tsuyukusa staff were very warm, and they gave us a simple welcome gift. Our room was Japanese-style, with tatami mats, wooden floor and sliding doors. There were 3 private onsen baths in the B&B: 2 indoor and 1 outdoor. Guess which one D and I used?

Private outdoor bath, Hirayu Onsen

What we learned from using the onsen is that we had to take a shower first before dipping in. There were small stools and basins next to the tub. The towels had to be left at the lounge, and there were reminders not to run around and make loud noises in the onsen area.

The outdoor onsen gave us a view of the mountains, and the hot water was indeed relaxing. We enjoyed the hot spring bath for only for about ten minutes as hot baths tend to increase blood pressure. Later as we went to bed and all througout our stay, the constant sound of gushing water could be heard – it’s almost like sleeping on the beach where the sound of the waves is nonstop.

There was no ATM at Hirayu Onsen, and there were no restaurants that accepted credit cards. Luckily the souvenir shop at the train station accepted credit card payments. Other than this hiccup, I’d say our overnight stay in Hirayu Onsen was a unique, surreal experience, and will definitely be something I’d always remember Japan for.

And since this blog is all about my first time doing something I haven’t done before, this is a perfect song to cap it off.

Takayama’s Hida Kokubunji Temple

Hida Kokubunji Temple

After a long day walking and biking the streets of Hida Takayama, it was a toss between getting an early snooze or grabbing a bite first. Grudgingly I agreed to eat out, as I am sure that as soon as I hit the sack I couldn’t be bothered to go out later on for late night snack.

Off we walked from the hotel to the bus terminal, as most of the restaurants at the Old Town were closed after 5 o’clock. And then we heard a couple of deep loud barks – an all-too familiar sound that shook my sleepiness off in an instant. About fifty yards ahead of us was a yellow labrador tied to the wooden gate of Hida Kokubunji Temple.

Hida Kokubunji Temple

I admit it was the first time I realized there was a temple at this side of the road, and so near to the hotel where we were staying. It is an old Buddhist temple with a triple layer pagoda, a bell tower and a huge gingko tree. Inspecting the tree up close, I read that it is a natural national monument, with an age approximately 1200 years old. It was believed in the past that when the leaves of the gingko tree fall off, it would snow in Takayama. Now the people of Takayama cherish the tree as a symbol of changing seasons.

The Great Gingko of Kokubun-jiThe pagoda is about 500 years old, and the main temple is the oldest structure in Takayama, built in year 757. The wooden gate, where we met our new found friend, was inherited by the temple when the Takayama Castle was destroyed in 1695.

Hida Kokubunji Temple bellI guess finding this historical gem is icing on the cake. The highlight of this discovery, really, is this good boy who gamely greeted everyone who entered the gates and warmed up to those who stroked his fur. He reminds me of Rex, who I miss terribly. If he could only be with us in this trip, he would have loved to splash around the cool waters of the Miyagawa River.

Sweet labrador who called us to check out the temple

Hida Folk Village, Takayama

Japan Alps in the distance, view from Hida No Sato

When we hopped on the Meitetsu bus at Nagoya en route to Takayama, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I had planned in my to-do list were: visit the Hida No Sato (aka Hida Folk Village), get to see snow capped mountains, ride the bicycle and breathe in the fresh air. Takayama was, after all, our jumping point to exploring the Japan alps in the next days to come.

When we drove past the hustling city and into the countryside, my eyes feasted on the sights of clear streams and rivers, rice paddies, rolling hills of green. We passed through tunnels beneath mountains, and there were several sceneries that reminded me of the way to Sagada in Luzon. But this was hardly two hours away from Nagoya – what a treat for the city folks! In a few hours’ time they can reach these beautiful towns.

After a little more than three hours we finally reached the Takayama train station. Our hotel was just about ten minutes’ walk from the station, so as soon as we dropped off our luggage, we went to a nearby bike rental to check off one thing on my to-do list. I wiggled on my balance quite a few times as I tried to get used to my bicycle – it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a Japanese bike – the last time was almost a decade ago in Kyoto. The guy told us it would take about 15 minutes to get to Hida No Sato (if we were to take the bus it’ll be about 10 minutes; and if we walked it would be about 40 minutes). He didn’t tell us it was uphill.

I’m not as fit like how I used to be when I travelled and biked. The uphill was quite a challenge, and several times D helped push my bike up. Although the temperature was only 24 degrees celsius, it didn’t help as I was sweating profusely (and sometimes imagining I was comfortably tucked in bed or soaking in a bath at the hotel). D must have been annoyed as he pretended he didn’t hear me when I called out “Are we there yet?” a couple of times.

And then we got there. Woohoo!! Parking fee was free for bikes. The entrance to Hida No Sato was 700¥ per adult. I found that it’s an open air musuem, and the houses that were displayed show the original houses of different parts of Hida. There was a lake and an outlook view of the peaks of the Japan Alps at the distance. Japan Alps in the distance, view from Hida No Sato

There were several interactive activities near the lake and the entrance like origami, stamps, wooden cube puzzles, wooden stilts (which I saw no one succeed at), and a wooden water gun. Japanese-styled parasols were free to be used, as well as boots (maybe when it’s raining?).Nakayabu’s House

Like the hotel we stayed at in Takayama, we took off our shoes as we entered the preserved homes. Because the Hida region is know for woodwork, the houses were wooden floors, tools and furniture. The homes have sunken hearths called irori which kept the surroundings warm.Panoramic view of a house’s interior

There were also artisans who were demonstrating arts and crafts like Hida quilting, wood carving, and painting. If you walk in the Takayama town’s center, you will find a lot of wooden and hand crafted souvenirs.

Doll painting in the Tomita’s HouseThere were structures for different livelihoods. There was also a hall where the elders held meetings, and a shrine with a giant bell. There was a woodcutter’s hut, aand a logger’s hut. I also saw how the irrigation system used to be, and how rice fields were designed. The last stop that I went to was the resting area where vending machines for drinks were clustered together in. On the way there was a canopy of sweet smelling flowers – and the remarkable sound of bees.One of the Hida houses kept in its original condition

As I walked around the town I cannot help imagine how it was living in the past when there was no electricity. How did it feel during winter? I was fascinated at how the structures were built, the materials that were used. Life was indeed simpler back then, and how lucky the folks were as they woke up to the beautiful nature-filled surroundings, with the snow capped mountains a common sight in their backyards.

Hida Takayama’s Morning Market

Local products at the Miyagawa Morning Market

On this pleasantly cool spring day of May, we woke up refreshed after a long night’s rest on our tatami beds. It’s our second day in the quaint town of Hida Takayama, a rustic gem more than three hours away by bus from Nagoya City. This was to be our kickoff point to the Japan Alps over the next couple of days. Yesterday was tiring but well worth the effort of cycling uphill to explore the well preserved houses and viewing the snow capped mountains in the distance from Hida No Sato (Hida Folk Village).

Today was meant to explore the town by foot. So D and I started off looking fot breakfast. Luckily, Rickshaw Inn where we are staying at was only a few hundred meters away from the Miyagawa Morning Market ( or coming from the Takayama train station, it’s about 10 minutes’ walk). You won’t miss it as it’s right past the Kajibashi Bridge which crosses over the Miyagawa River. We spotted the stalls easily, as the flock of locals and tourists checking out the merchandise was an instant giveaway.Mochi

Mochi

At the market we saw local products like crafts, souvenirs, fresh harvest (like mushrooms, fruit and greens) and food (takoyaki, pickles, Japanese chips). As soon as we got to the market we were greeted by a friendly seller of chick designed mochi, a sweet Japanese delicacy made of rice cake and some fillings. Next to the mochi stall I found the place where I was to have breakfast (toast, salad, fruit and coffee). Local products at the Miyagawa Morning Market

D found his newly found favorite hida beef skewers. I think he’s indulged in too much hida beef in this trip. He describes it as soft, juicy and quite tasty. I don’t think hida beef is widely sold in the Philippines. I hear about Kobe beef all the time, but nothing about hida beef until now. Well, that and I don’t eat meat. According to the locals, hida beef is from black-haired cattle raised in the Gifu prefecture for at least fourteen months. Hida Beef skewer

There is another market further upstream called Jinya mae Morning Market. I read from reviews that most of the locals choose to go there over the more touristy Miyagawa Morning Market.

I liked our trip to the market because we got to interact with the locals, appreciate the cleanliness of the surroundings, took in fresh air and enjoyed the view of the river. It was also close to the historical places and the Takayama Old Town. True enough, after my hearty breakfast, we made our way to the river, every once in a while stopping to say hello and pat dogs being walked by their furparents (because the morning market was pet friendly!). The river was clean, and I was able to feed fish with feed I bought from the market. Several types of colorful birds also frolicked on the riverbanks, and as I gazed at them flying around us, I knew then and there that today was going to be awesome.

Window Seat

Sunset and the horizon

When was the last time you felt differently, looking at the same things you see all the time?

One of the things I’ve been accustomed to over the years of traveling is to get myself an aisle seat. This way I won’t have to excuse myself with the folks who have to stand up so I can scoot my way over to the bathroom when I feel like it, and I’d also have easy access to the door when it’s time to deplane.

Today is The Wayfarers’ first trip together to Nagoya. For the first time I didn’t fuss about securing an aisle seat. This trip was meant for us to unwind and let loose, and it begins with letting the check-in counter decide which seats we are to take. And as destiny would arrange for it, I got the window seat.

When we boarded the plane, I figured to take in this trip with a fresh perspective, imagining it was my first time to fly. I listened as I watched the flight attendant demostrate the safety features. When the airplane zoomed up from the runway, I gaped at the window, wide eyed as I quickly scanned the houses and streets as they got smaller and farther. Truimphant at having spotted them, I pointed to D what I believed were the malls outside our subdivision. And as the plane got higher, I saw from a distance the dramatic landscape of the mountains, dominated by Mt. Makiling at the south.

Now as I write this, my view shows me a sea of clouds, and every now and then some tiny specks of what seem like bodies of water as we head up north of Luzon. It’ll still be a little more than three hours for us to get to Japan. Until then, I’ll close the window shades first. I’m at the sunnier side of the plane after all.

Clouds

Japan, Always

Hachiko

Every year since 2010, D and I go at least annually to The Land of the Rising Sun. A little over four hours away by flight from Manila, Japan is the number one travel destination in my list at any given time. It is where I can walk around without a solid itinerary on hand, as I am sure I would manage to get lost, stumble upon interesting finds and learn a few things. D and I are also always amazed at this country’s cleanliness, the order and discipline of the Japanese people, the way we feel safe walking its streets, and the people’s overall respectful nature. Our favorite seasons are spring (cherry blossoms!) and autumn.

Tokyo, day and night
Tokyo, day and night

During our first few visits, D and I had our share of tourist boo-boos. We’ve missed a couple of trains and platforms because of the complexity of the subway system. It was something easily rectified later on as we figured the different trains are color coded, and each station has their respective “codes”. In Tokyo, there is a massive underground network connecting the subway stations – and admittedly this is something that we have yet be familiar on. For now, we still just wing it every single time.

In the trains and buses, I always get overwhelmed by the silence – in a good way. It’s something that I only see in Japan – people do not talk on their phones. I was told that they do not make calls or keep their phones on silent when in transit out of consideration and respect to the people around them. I wish we can have that in my city.

Walkway
Picturesque path outside the office

Lastly, what I admire about the Japanese is the way they take pride in their work and craft. It’s always a treat to eat at the restaurants, or buy Japanese-made souvenirs because of the way they are carefully prepared. During my last visit a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having a couple of multi-course Japanese dinners. Several small plate meals were served one at a time: a variety of colors, textures, and tastes. I thought I’ve already had a taste of all kinds of Japanese food, and boy that was an eye opener – Japanese cuisine is so vast. This makes me excited to discover more in our upcoming visit – that, and the fact that we go off the beaten track for a change.

Various Japanese dishes
Various Japanese dishes

Have you been to Japan? What do you like most about it?

 

 

A Forest Trek to Remember

Forest

A couple of weeks ago, we got up at 4AM on a Sunday morning and drove 188 kilometers (a little over 3 hours) to Subic, Zambales. We have enlisted in MadTravel‘s trek at the Bataan forest of Subic Bay – one of the last thriving rain forests in the Philippines. It was their first official trek with guests on this route and we were quite excited being part of this adventure.

After a quick Jollibee breakfast (we didn’t want to miss the call time), we drove from the Lighthouse Resort Hotel to El Kabayo, where we were welcomed by the elders of the Aetas of Pastolan with homemade Bataan coffee and sweet bananaQ. The aetas, the indigenous people who were the first race who inhabited the Philippines, were awarded ancestral land in Zambales. Five percent of the income of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) goes to the aetas. They use this funding for education, health, and providing allowances for their seniors.

As we began to walk through the forest trail, the aeta elders showed us the different trees and plants they use for medicinal and housekeeping purposes. The trees that stood out for me most were the cupang, tangisang bayawak and the lauan trees. These native tropical trees stood tallest among the rest of the trees and filled the path with their shade – hiding birds of different species and beautiful sounds in their canopies.Bamboo forest

We were told that the cupang tree’s parts had medicinal properties: from its bark, seeds and fruit. The leaves are small and clustered, and when they fall off the trees are quick to decompose, fertilizing the soil around the trees easily.

The tangisang bayawak (Ficus variegata Blume), is called such because of its bark’s smooth texture that lizards are unable to climb the trees at all. The base of the tree are huge, and they remind me of the trees that grew in the temples of Siem Reap.

The lauan, my new favorite tropical tree, produces flowers that are so fragrant. It was a breeze walking under the lauan trees as the scent was very good – it reminds of me potpourri that are sold in shopping malls.Forest

After about an hour, we reached the river and a small falls. Some of the folks in the group took the time to dip into the cool, clear waters. My small group walked up the stream and met some locals and their friendly dog, Lasing. Doggie

Sitting on the rocks on the stream and gazing up to the green foliage, I saw different colorful birds fly above us. It was at this moment that I said a little prayer of thanks for having been able to see this little piece of heave on earth, and being given the chance to be one with nature.NatureWater

Later on, the elders told stories under mahogany trees that were planted by the army. Mahogany trees are not really friendly to the tropical rain-forest as they consume the nutrients of the soil around them. Notice how there are no plants growing directly under the mahogany trees. I think this is one of the things that environmental organizations like Haribon have been communicating more on during tree-planting volunteering activities to increase the public’s awareness, as most of the trees in Metro Manila urban areas are not native tropical trees and do not really help in propagating rain-forests.Hearing stories from an Elder

The aetas make their own honey, and D and I had a taste of different sweet varieties: mango, lauan, and pamulaklakin. Because the latter two were so new to us, and to support the local livelihood, we got bottles of lauan and pamulaklakin. Now we are able to enjoy our tea with these sweet varieties of honey.

As we got back to where we started, I reflected on what our generation now can do to be able to preserve these rain forests.  I remember when I was a child, whenever I go to our backyard, I can see the mountains of Sierra Madre from afar, and I used to think that if i was able to cross those mountains, at the other side I will get to see my family in the United States (well, that was my then perspective on distance). Now, I am told that the mountains can hardly be seen because of the houses and concrete that block the view.

When we got back to the parking site, we spent another hour planting seeds of tropical trees like rambutan, marang, durian. When these seeds turn into seedlings, the aetas will replant them into the rain-forest so that the biodiversity can be enriched. To date, there is only two percent of rain forests left in the Philippines. The number is shocking, but I believe there is hope – if people become more aware and appreciate the importance of saving our earth – not just for ourselves but for the generations, of different creatures, yet to come.

 

 

 

 

Taal Travels: The Marino-Agoncillo Home

Flag

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 filibusteroan 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.

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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.

Sungka
Sungka

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?

 

Taal Town: Galleria Taal

Galleria Taal

Welcome to the second part of my Taal Travel series.

Taal town, sometimes referred to as The Vigan of the South, is just a few hours’ drive away from Manila. It is one of the towns D and I go to for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s a lot to see in Taal, from the historical and grand Taal Basilica, to the beautifully preserved vintage houses.

One of the vintage houses that we recently explored was the ancestral home of the Ilangan-Barrion family, the Galleria Taal.

It was built around 1870 by Domingo Ilagan and Maria Martinez. They had six children, and later on their daughter, Candida I. Barrion would pay off her siblings to gain sole ownership of the house.

Candida’s husband, Antonino Barrion, was a lawyer and delegate to the 1953 Constitutional Convention representing the 3rd district of Batangas. The family moved to this ancestral house in 1944, after their original home in Batangas City burned down during the Japanese occupation. It was Candida who lived the longest in this house, however, several years after she died in 1975, the house was neglected. In 2004, her grandsons Manny and Bobby Inumerable restored the house, and in December of 2009 it became a museum for vintage cameras and photographs and was since then called Galleria Taal.

The photographs displayed in the museum were taken in the late 1800s to 1900s. There were some photos that struck me and made me gaze at them longer – wondering how very different life many decades ago was. The guide explained that some of the oldest photos took an hour to complete, that was why the subjects did not smile as it would be quite tiring. I imagined I would not be bothered to pose for photos if I was in that era. It would have been such a painful task!

Vintage photographs
Vintage photographs

The vintage and rare cameras also caught my attention. I admire the passion of the camera collectors. I used to have a camera when I was in high school – back when rolls of films were still being used, and one had to be careful so as not to ‘expose’ the films otherwise the whole batch of pictures would be ruined. Back then, I would not know how the photos would turn out until I had them developed – and if they were good, I had to line up in the photo studio once again to have them ‘recopied’. Having a camera and taking pictures back in the 80s to the 90s cost a fortune – what more if one lived back decades ago! These were my thoughts as I admired the vast collection of cameras in the Galleria Taal.

Vintage and rare camera collection
Vintage and rare camera collection

After the tour, we checked out the Candida Cafe at the ground floor. The restaurant serves the specialty food in Taal, like lomi, adobo sa dilaw, tapang taal, sinaing na tulingan, suman and empanada. We had the restaurant all to ourselves, and it was quite amazing to look at pictures of Taal from long time ago. It felt as if we stepped back in time.

Candida Cafe
Candida Cafe

If you have the chance to drive to Taal Town, I recommend checking out the Galleria Taal. It is located on the main road, at 60 Agoncillo Street, 4208 Taal, Batangas.

Taal Town: Taal Basilica

Taal Basilica at sunset

The town of Taal, Batangas, is one of our go-to places when we feel like doing a heritage tour. It is, after all, just a few hours’ drive from Alabang, and it is reminiscent of Vigan, Ilocos, which known for its cobbled streets and old heritage houses. Taal town has its fair share of heritage houses, and it is, for me, the “Vigan” of the south.

While it does share its name with the smallest volcano in the world, the Taal volcano, found in Tagaytay, the town of Taal is 15 kilometers away.

This is a series of blogs about historical sites that can be found in Taal Town, Batangas.

And the first on the list is the Taal Basilica, also known as the Minor Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours, named after the town’s patron saint. They celebrate their patron saint’s feast every 11th of November.Taal

Recognized as the largest church in the Orient, being 95m long and 45m wide, Taal Basilica is a national shrine. It has withstood centuries of natural disasters and had undergone different stages of rebuilding and repair.

The original church was built by Father Diego Espina in San Nicolas in 1575. The church was destroyed in 1754 when the Taal Volcano erupted. Since then, the town relocated to where it sits today, and the church was rebuilt in 1755 by Augustinian priests on a plateau facing the Balayan Bay.

The church was damaged by a strong earthquake in 1849. In 1856, reconstruction work started, headed by architect Luciano Oliver. It was completed in 1878. The basilica has a Baroque architectural style, and is made of adobe held together by lime.

Another strong earthquake damaged the church bell in 1942, and then most recently in 2017, it was damaged by 3 strong earthquakes that struck neighboring towns of Tingloy, Mabini and Taysan. I remember faintly feeling the earthquake in 2017. I woke up D from his siesta and said I felt a slight tremor. 20 minutes after, I saw the trend in Twitter – and the earthquake was 124 kilometers away from where we were!Taal Basilica interiors

As we revisited the Taal Basilica this month, I was once again in awe of its grandeur. It still warmed the heart to see different birds flying and hearing them chirping, while we filled our lungs with fresh air. No visit in Taal Town would be complete without spending a few minutes in the Taal Basilica, and offering a prayer of thanks for all life’s blessings.

If you live or visit Metro Manila, and have a day you can allocate for a heritage tour, I recommend a trip to Taal town. For more details about The Heritage Town of Taal, Batangas, click here.

The Roots of My Travels

walking

Yay for Thursday! Two reasons why I’m excited today: because it’s almost the weekend, and I get to blog about my throwback travels.

Today I’m writing about where my love for travels might have most likely started from.

One of the things I remember vividly from my childhood is the big world map that my dad hung up the wall. Everyday my brother and I would, as part of our games, go up to that map and read through the colorful countries. I remember wondering about countries and how far away the Philippines was from them, surrounded by seas.

Could we take a boat and row all the way to Indonesia? It seems pretty close.

Why are these countries called Turkey, Greenland, Finland, Oman and Laos (Laos, when translated to Filipino, is ‘used to be a star, but not anymore’)?

Mongolia is smaller compared to China, how were they able to conquer it? As well as Rome – it is so small yet it was able to establish an empire.

If we go to the easternmost tip of Russia how long would it take us to drive all the way to Portugal.

How do countries situated next to each other know if they already crossed the border? Is there a long fence or wall? Why are there lots of countries in one big chunk of land? Can’t they just be one country so it’s easier to remember?

Why is there snow in other countries and not where I am?

Of course no one answered those questions for me and my brother, as our mom and dad were at work and by the time they got home we would have already moved on from these thoughts.

I believe subconsciously that curiosity lingered on. That was why as I got older, and the world progressed from the conventional way of booking tickets (going to an actual airline ticketing office and getting the plane tickets tucked in envelopes) to the more efficient online flight bookings, I’ve raced away as much as I could, visiting one country to another. I’m glad D is game to fly with me, and he’s also into getting lost and exploring our way around.

Like the big map I grew up with, the world is bigger – with many beautiful places, people, cultures, nature to find and appreciate. I’m thankful to my Dad because he was the catalyst to my curiosity, and eventually motivation, to travel.

Map