Tag Archive: Batangas

One of the oldest towns in Batangas province, and around the Philippines, is BALAYAN. Coined from the Visayan word “Balay”, meaning house, it is one of the first settlements in the country with trade dating back to the mid-14th century. It was already known as Balayan since 1394 till it was “inherited” by a certain Datu Kumintang, after whom the town was called until 1578. The Augustinian missionaries arrived in this town in 1575 , then followed by Franciscan missionaries who built a small stone church in 1579.

We began our tour of Balayan with a visit to this national cultural treasure. Balayan Church was under the administration of “Indio Clergy” since the 19th century. This sets it apart from the other heritage churches found around the country. Considered as the first church in Batangas, and likely in the whole Tagalog Region, its claim to fame ironically involves a furor not so long ago over a proposed construction of a McDonald’s outlet in the historic church grounds.

From inside the Church, we exited behind the altar out into a back courtyard. In one corner of this courtyard is a small chapel at the end of a passageway where we found some interesting art works.

Courtyard At The Back of the Church

I did not find any inscription and didn’t have the chance to ask how old this piece of art is. The intricate woodcarving is lovely, just as the image of Our Lady holding an Infant Jesus.

From the Church, we visited the ancestral house of Leo Martinez. I knew the name sounds familiar. He is now a local politician here, but I remember him as an actor from a now defunct TV comedy show of long ago.

Ancestral House of Leo Martinez

How about this for a door knob?

It is unfortunate that there was no tour guide to tell us more about the ancestral houses in this area. The house of Leo Martinez has a marker that says 1935, which renders it “new” compared to the ancestral house of Don Sixto Lopez just right across the street. You can view this older house from one of the wide windows of the Martinez house.

Ancestral House of Sixto Lopez in Balayan, Batangas

The oldest house in Balayan is that of Don Sixto Lopez, the Grand Old Man of Balayan. His house has wide windows framed by capiz shells, like many of the other ancestral houses to be found in the area. Lopes belongs to a rich illustrious family who owned vast tracts of sugarcane fields in Batangas. The house sits right across the ancestral house of Leo Martinez.

Not too many Filipinos are familiar with Sixto Lopez who belonged to the same generation as the great national hero, Jose Rizal. But some would be familiar with his high society granddaughter Diana Jean Lopez, and the equally famous if not more famous great grandchildren such as Claudia Bermudez (daughter of Diana Jean) and Nikki Prieto Teodoro(wife of Presidential candidate Gibo Teodoro, who is from another rich haciendero family, the Cojuangcos of Tarlac). Oh yes, you can say all these socialites certainly come with a lot of class, unquestionable pedigree and beauty genes!

House Across Leo Martinez' Ancestral House in Balayan

We could have visited this house too across the street lining the Martinez and Lopez ancestral houses. But it was closed as someone allegedly committed suicide just a few days before our visit. Yay! ūüė¶

Shot of Sixto Lopez House, Taken From Leo Martinez' Ancestral House.

Just like Vigan and Taal, Batangas , Balayan is yet another colonial town reminiscent of our Spanish heritage. Many heroes hail from this town too, and as the oldest town in Batangas if not of the Tagalog Region, it has a lot of history begging to be told and retold. My fingers and toes are crossed that the the local authorities do their job to promote this town as another tourist destination.

Our family took advantage of this promo package offered by Club Balai Isabel last August. We fell in love with the place. The kids loved it. And the adults too. So when my friend asked me for a one-day itinerary to entertain a group of friends, it was a no-brainer to head back to this magical place.

Taal Volcano and Lake from the Pantalan @Club Balai Isabel, Talisay, Batangas

It makes for a wonderful day trip if one were to introduce the Philippines to foreign and balikbayan friends. Not too far from Manila, and a day well-spent viewing Taal Lake and Volcano from the shore (Talisay, Batangas) and from the ridge (Tagaytay City, Cavite). This is our one-day itinerary:

Mabini Shrine in Barrio Talaga, Tanauan, Batangas

On Our Way By 8am

Not bad. You don’t have to wake up extra early for this day trip. By 8 am, we were driving along SLEX , connecting to STAR Highway and out Tanauan Exit. All that in slightly more than an hour. As you exit out of STAR Tollway towards Tanauan, take the right turn towards Talisay. Along the way, you’d fine Mabini Shrine. This sprawling property houses the Shrine honoring the Sublime Paralytic, Apolinario Mabini. I have earlier visited this Shrine and dedicated a blog to the Brains of the Philippine Revolution back in the 19th century. This second visit cum stopover on our way to Club Balai Isabel took just 20 minutes max. Just a little bit of history for our Norwegian friend in the group.

Club Balai Isabel

Just In Time For Lunch @Club Balai Isabel

From Mabini Shrine, we took the lone road towards Talisay. It did not take very long to reach Club Balai Isabel. This resort complex offers much by way of activity to day trippers and weekend travelers. The more adventurous may even come much earlier to try the boat ride across the lake and trekking towards the volcano crater. The resort can make all these arrangements for you.

There was time before lunch to check out the chapel inside the resort. The 3 swimming pools. The Pantalan. From the clubhouse, we enjoyed an amazing view of Taal Volcano and Taal Lake. You can grab a bench by the shore or at the cute-sy Pantalan and feel the breeze while viewing fishermen out to harvest the famous “tawilis” from Taal Lake. If they get lucky, maybe there’s even Maliputo for lunch. We walked the lakeshore from the Pantalan towards the Marina near the Chapel and the bigger pool.

Club Balai Isabel

On our way back to the Clubhouse, we passed the Butterfly Garden, the Dr. Fish Massage area, the Spa, the Tennis Court, and the lovely villas , each of which has a splendid view of the smallest active volcano in the whole world. The view is enough to rev up our appetite. The stroll was a good exercise to take away the guilt from the sumptuous food to be had from the buffet table. The very accommodating crew of Club Balai Isabel makes for a very enjoyable stay in the resort. As I said, this is my 2nd visit. The last time, we stayed overnight. From the reservations to the waiter, to the gracious lady chef, to the store clerk, we were warmly received like old friends. I couldn’t resist shooting out an email to the Management just to mention this. The service orientation and culture of friendliness and courtesy are awesome.

This is not a paid advertisement. Or do they say advertorial these days? I am a paying client who had the pleasure of discovering Filipino hospitality and quality service from Club Balai Isabel, and I wish to share this with my friends who read my blogs.

Taal Volcano and Lake From Tagaytay Ridge

Zigzag Up Via Ligaya Drive Towards the Ridge

After Club Balai Isabel, we took a left turn and in no time found Ligaya Drive. From here, try looking up to where you’re headed. You are leaving the shores of Taal Lake to get up to Tagaytay Ridge to view Taal Volcano a second time , this time from above. It can get you a bit disoriented. Two views of the lake and volcano in a day? And between these 2 viewpoints is this zigzag drive passing ritzy villages and mansions with rooms with a view. I think it is just a 7 kilometer drive but it would seem like a longer drive as you are climbing up with ravines on your right. ūüôā

Up on the ridge, you have several choices on how best to spend the rest of the day. Oh, I’d never grow tired of Tagaytay. If you plan to stay way beyond sunset, there is a number of bistros with prices ranging from budget-friendly to extravagant. Check out some of these travel guides. If you want something really fancy, then dine at Antonio’s. You may burn a hole in your pocket, but if you are in a celebratory mood and can afford it, why not?

Fried Halo Halo or Turon?

Taal Vista Lodge

In our case, we chose Taal Vista Lodge. They have one of the best views, if not the best, from the Ridge and a restaurant which offers many choices on how to eat Filipino delicacies. They also have a lunch buffet, if you choose to do this itinerary in reverse.

Taal Vista Lodge

Some of us had our halo-halo the traditional way (cold, with ice shavings) or fried! Make no mistake about it, but fried halo halo it was! And then there’s the traditional turon topped with ice cream. Or turon with leche flan filling. Imagine that!

Lunch Buffet @Taal Vista Lodge

If you choose not to dine in Taal Vista’s restaurant, please do remember that the parking ticket is P100 per hour. Not bad if you just wanted to breathe in the air and savor the view from there. It is free if you have your parking ticket stamped in the restaurant.

Taal Vista Lodge

So there. If your foreign guests or balikbayans are hankering for day trips outside of Manila, here’s one itinerary for you. More itineraries to come! So, don’t forget to subscribe to this site to get updates. You may also find me on Facebook (Lifeisacelebration) where I post all my blogs from this site and from TravelBlog. See ya!

I have just been to Taal, Batangas. Visited the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours, the Caysasay Shrine, the Sacred Well of Sta. Lucia, the Villavicencio Houses, Leon Apacible Museum, the Agoncillo Heritage Houses and Museums. You may have already read my blogs about the heirloom houses and the churches. Gorged on Tapang Taal and Panucha. But the prospect of eating home-cooked Tulingan and Adobong Dilaw beckons. And a visit to earlier-missed Villa Tortuga makes this next visit sooner than expected.

We almost dined here!

Inside Villa Tortuga

Home-Cooked Tulingan and Adobong Dilaw

The last time we visited, we dined in Taal Bistro. We considered lunch in full Filipiniana regalia in Villa Tortuga this time around. But my friend Alice has a cousin in Taal waiting to serve us a breakfast of Tapang Taal, Longganiza and Pancit. It didn’t stop there.

Sinaing na Tulingan

Adobong Dilaw

Home-cooked Tulingan (matched with bagoong made of tulingan innards – a first time! yummy) and Adobong Dilaw was scheduled for lunch. How can you resist that? (Thank you, Alice). It was all we could think about as we passed a number of heritage houses along Agoncillo Street. Just off the Villavicencio and Goco Houses , and right along the street leading to Taal Basilica, we had our lunch of Batangas delicacies. We only stopped eating these local dishes when we were served Turon. Hmmm, you can say we stopped eating to eat again and have our desserts – if there ever is such a thing. ūüôā

Stairway to History

Villa Tortuga

Alice arranged this visit at the Villa Tortuga. Lovely house. And alas, I found a truly good tour guide in Taal, Batangas. Well, I met him in my earlier visit but he guided us only in a couple of heritage houses then. This time around, Rochie guided us around Villa Tortuga and even took our photos! His assistant Adrian is just as competent without saying much. Adrian knew just where to have us pose, arrange the folds of our skirts here and there, pin our baro’t saya wherever, and snap our pictures. Oh, we had a blast.

How hard can it be taking ur own photo dressed like this?

And here are ur LOLAS. Donya Victorina? Maria Clara? Sisa? No, don't answer that.

While I have already written about the heritage houses of Taal, Batangas (check out http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Philippines/Batangas/Taal/blog-652149.html ) as well as the religious sites here, this experience deserves a separate blog. Our photos will tempt you to brand us either as Donya Victorinas, older versions of Maria Clara and Leonor Rivera, or a Sisa looking for her sons. Whatever. Eat your heart out. We had a blast!

Looking for her Ibarra. Or Crispin. ūüôā

Thank you ladies, for a wonderful time. It may not be the best of time to visit and have fun, but we really had a hilarious day trip, didn’t we?

Those planning day trips not too far from Manila, try this. If you like, call Villa Tortuga : 7250819, 7254562 or 0917-8246900 for lunch and Taal tour. It’s actually easy to do, but you need to arrange to visit some heritage houses. Otherwise, you just admire them from outside.


Peninsulares¬†(Spaniards born in Spain). ¬†Insulares¬†(Spaniards born in the Philippines).¬†Mestizos or half-breeds who take unbridled pride in the “more superior half” and would rather ignore the “inferior”, perhaps accidental, perhaps never-intended half. And then there were the Sangleys or Chinoys, along with the Indios.

St Martin De Tours Basilica

Inside the Basilica

Interestingly, the Spaniards born in the Philippines were initially called “Filipinos” while the natives were called “Indios”. ¬†Over time, ¬†they were tagged as Insulares¬†¬†while the Indios remained……..er, Indios.¬†

A Very Grand Altar and Magnificent Ceiling and Dome. Only In Taal, Batangas.

Santa Lucia Well near Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine


What was that? Like it or not, such was the imaginary caste system in the olden days. Hate to think that it may actually still ring true today as the ugly side of our history rears itself back into present-day society. I dare not venture a guess, but there must have been such a great divide then as depicted in Rizal’s Noli and El Fili. ¬†Passing many ancestral houses along a narrow street in Taal, Batangas, looking out the windows of such heirloom houses, imagining the senor and senoras in their caruajes while Indios walk along the same narrow streets, we had a glimpse of the past in this heritage town.¬†


Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine


This vision all the more reinforces how great our heroes were and are.  Many of them come from the Mestizos or half-breeds,  the Ilustrados, yet they reached out to join the Revolution with the peasants in the name of love for country.  Many of them opened their huge houses to hold secret and not-so-secret meetings with the others who joined the Revolution.  All patriots. Rich and Poor.  Ilustrado or Unschooled.  They were bound by the same love for country.


A Painting of Juan Matingkad Fishing Out the Image of Our Lady in Pansipit River


We visited 4 of these heritage houses in Taal. ¬†Wish there was time to visit more. Perhaps even sit down for a dinner in some ancestral house in full Filipiniana regalia. But on this humid day, ¬†we were quite content to have visited these 4. But I intend to head back. So the blog on the heritage houses would have to be put on hold. ¬†For now, ¬†let’s talk about the 2 religious sites in Taal, Batangas. ¬†Make that 3, to include the Santa Lucia Well which is marked by a coral stone arch with a bas relief image of the Virgin. It is claimed that the spring water has miraculous healing powers. Having said that, I do not understand how the local government here cannot do something to ensure that the sacred place and its waters are kept clean. ¬†


Inside Caysasay Shrine


Mi apologia. But we need to vent our frustrations some more. ¬†We had a couple of guides from a local tourist agency and a couple more from the Municipal Hall. ¬†The town of Taal is one interesting heritage town so rich in history. But we felt so deprived of a “guided tour” as we traipsed along the heritage houses and religious sites without much ado on what these landmarks mean to us. ¬†We asked questions too, and found the answers so inadequate. We do not blame them, as they were likely not “prepared” and guided to conduct a proper tour. ¬†But this should alert the Tourism Officers and the local government to ensure that every Taal Resident is aware of their history, their heritage. ¬†Tourism in this neck of the woods can only prosper if even locals like us, Indios as we are, can appreciate the story and the history behind these landmarks.¬†


The Hagdan-Hagdanan, now called San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps.


For the life of me,  I think their spiel was limited to the following:

1.   The image of Our Lady of Caysasay was fished out of Pansipit River by one fisherman named Juan Maningkad.

2.   The image had this habit of disappearing and reappearing in the place where it was originally found.

3.   When it vanished for a longer time,  it was found anew guarded by 2 kingfisher birds called Casay Casay.

4.   The Parish Priest then decided to have the Shrine built upon the site where the image was discovered. There it remained. 


Now, I’m oversimplifying here but that’s the gist. ¬†Who wants a long complicated story, anyway? ¬†As for the Sacred Well of Santa Lucia, ¬†who knows why it is called Santa Lucia Well? ¬†They had no answers. ¬†We only know there used to be a Chapel there but only the Arch with the bas relief remained after a Taal Volcano eruption back in 1754.



Neither do they know why the Hagdan-Hagdanan made of granite stones leading up to the center of town is now called San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps. Perhaps it was renamed in honor of the first Filipino Saint soon after his canonization?  Who knows?  * so frustrating*


Back to the Taal Basilica (St Martin De Tours )


So, I have decided I should go back. ¬†Maybe get a better tour guide. ¬†Or perhaps simply do more research. ¬† After all, the Net has all the answers. ¬†But that is not the point. Taal is so rich in history you could almost smell its tourism potentials. Not just from locals, but this colonial town nearly “frozen in time” makes for a convenient sidetrip from Manila, or even a weekend destination after Tagaytay City. ¬†


Maybe I should join them up there!



(My blog on the Taal Heritage Houses in TravelBlog. Just click on this link.)


We were on our way to Club Balai Isabel in Talisay, Batangas and took the SLEX/Star Toll Route. We passed the Mabini Shrine in Barrio Talaga, Tanauan and took the chance to visit this historical site. Frankly, we weren’t expecting that the Shrine would be situated in this huge property along the main road in the birthplace of this nearly unheralded hero of the Revolution.

Apolinario Mabini Shrine in Tanauan, Batangas

A Few History Lessons

For someone who took on odd jobs, even worked as a houseboy, just to get through school, Mabini’s intellect certainly shone through in academics. Shabbily dressed as any poor student could be, shunning ridicule, he earned a scholarship and taught children to earn money for his board and lodging. Unlike Dr. Rizal, the Luna brothers, and many revolutionaries learned in the ways of the world outside of his own country, Mabini stayed to earn a local education but in no way any less than his generation’s erudite patriots. Unlike Padre Burgos who gave in to his mother’s wish for him to be a priest, Mabini refused to pay heed to his mother’s wishes. He passed college with the highest honors and went on to earn his law degree from the oldest university, University of Santo Tomas, in 1894. All that time, while laboring, working his way through school.

Many remember Mabini as the “Sublime Paralytic” who served as the very first Prime Minister cum chief advisor to then President Emilio F. Aguinaldo. He crafted the very first Constitution of the Philippines, the very first also in Asia, thus earning him the unofficial title of “Brains of the Revolution”.

When America defeated Spain, he refused to swear his allegiance to the new set of colonizers leading to his arrest in Nueva Ecija. After having been exiled to Guam along with other revolutionary leaders, Mabini returned in February 1903 and resumed his patriotic work, much to the chagrin of the American colonial officials. ¬†He didn’t live long enough as he fell ill and died of cholera in Sta. Mesa, Manila ¬†in May 1903 . Not many know that Mabini died single at the age of 38. ¬† His remains were transferred to his town of birth where a Shrine now stands on his simple grave. A replica of the house where Mabini was born was constructed in the Shrine site which also houses some of his memorabilia. ¬†A distant relative is one of the caretakers in the Mabini Shrine. ¬†Failed to get his name, but look him up, for more ¬†Mabini trivia.

Trivia:  A Most Unfortunate, Undeserved Controversy

The life of Mabini was hounded by controversy, especially regarding the cause of his paralysis.  During his lifetime, it was rumoured that Mabini suffered from syphilis which resulted in his paralysis. A subsequent exhumation  and autopsy of his bones disproved this rumour and confirmed that the paralysis was caused by Polio.  Unfortunately, the malicious rumour has done its rounds and was debunked much too late in 1980. No less than National Artist F. Sionil Jose erred in his book Po-on, for which the novelist offered the following apology, which reads in part:

‚Äú I committed a horrible blunder in the first edition of Po-On. No apology to the august memory of Mabini no matter how deeply felt will ever suffice to undo the damage that I did…. According to historian Ambeth Ocampo who told me this too late, this calumny against Mabini was spread by the wealthy mestizos around Aguinaldo who wanted Mabini’s ethical and ideological influence cut off. They succeeded. So, what else in our country has changed?