Tag Archive: Heritage Tours

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.)


Even after a good night’s rest, I still feel so tired after yesterday’s Pahiyas Festival.  Been wanting and planning to do this trip each year for the last decade or so, but never got to go till yesterday.  So there I was, uncomplaining, even if it meant waking up at 2 am. Come to think of it,  ‘waking up’ is not exactly the appropriate term .  Knowing we had to meet at Starbucks 6750 in Makati and leave at exactly 3 am,  I was so afraid to doze off and miss my tour.   I once looked at my alarm clock the night before,  set at 2am,  and thought there’s still a chance to manage 3 hours of sleep.  Guess what. I kept looking at that watch every 20 minutes or so till it was time.  😦




On our way to Lucban, we had to make an unscheduled stop to check this whacking noise under the bus. It disturbed me so that I failed to catch up on my sleep on the 3 hour drive.  Just the same, we reached Lucban around 6:30am just when the bands were starting to get ready to march.  Early enough to be allowed to park nearer town,  it was an easy walk to Cafe San Luis where we partook of a breakfast of Lucban Longganiza,  scrambled egg, tinapa and garlic rice.   I would have wanted my egg sunny side up and another piece of the tinapa, but it was too early to complain. Lol.  🙂



After breakfast,  I found a small group to walk around with.  We took to the main street and headed for the Church, then easily found ourselves along streets with colourful Pahiyas decorations.  My first time.  And even after breakfast, I was thinking “Pancit HabHab, Hardinera, and More Lucban Longganiza”.   I have to admit I remember a better-tasting, more crispily-fried (with minced pork bursting through the skins) lucban longganiza than the ones I had for breakfast.   But that’s fine.  Just walking along these streets,  you get enough longganizas to smell like one.



How nice that the people of Lucban preserved this tradition all through the years.  Next time,  I would be here much earlier to see how they actually work on the decorations and then transform their homes to these colourful , very original and creative decor.  A family effort, they say, to showcase what each family’s livelihood is.  A way of offering thanks for their blessings.  I will not even bother to complicate the reason for this festival — it is simply, a celebration of gratitude for what we have.



There are many young bloggers out there,  perhaps arriving just when our group was preparing to leave. Am I glad we came before mid 6am and enjoyed the walk early morning.  Towards noon,  the sun threatened to burn our shirts and skins sooo bad that I took whatever liquids I found here and there.  We had to walk a good half hour to reach our bus , meeting many tourists and locals braving the midday sun’s heat.   When we reached our bus,  the driver and a mechanic were still busily working on the bus.  Poor men.  While the airconditioning inside the bus was running,  we pitied the men working just outside just to make sure we drive safely.  Gratitude.  That was the day’s theme.




And so, I leave to others the duty of writing more about the Festival. Or posting better photos.  I am way too tired, even now.  I am preparing to go back to sleep.  Or just prop a book on my lap while sipping a good brew.  Gratitude.  You guys do the writing.  Mamu is all ‘wasted’ after yesterday.   Ta Ta. (Thank you, Spanky and Tina. Wow, 20 hours, straight!  You guys are tops.  Thanks too to our bus driver. )


An hour or so away by plane, all of 8 to 9 hours travel by road. Take your pick.

Fort Ilocandia

Fountain Inside Fort Ilocandia

We chose to fly, then rent a car from our base which is Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Resort.  The hotel is a good base for many day trips to various parts of the Ilocos Region.  Top of the list is a visit to Vigan, the only surviving colonial town in the country.  Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site,  it is a must see for all visitors who want to catch a glimpse of how it was in the 18th and early 19th century.  Time stood still in this part of Northern Philippines.  It helped too that Vigan , unlike Cebu and Manila,  was spared of the bombing last World War II.  Do not forget that Manila is the second most bombed city during that war. By God’s mercy,  Vigan survived and preserved  its antiquated houses, cobbled pathways, even the calesas or horse-drawn carts. The township with all its narrow streets speak of an architecture which blends Spanish, Asian and Mexican influences. At the time, it was called Ciudad Fernandina before it became Vigan which comes from the word “kabiga-an” where a tuberous plant called “biga” abounds. Then famous as a commercial and trading post,  it attracted Chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea. Some of these Chinese seafarers married natives and settled in Vigan. This was long before King Philip II of Spain sent Captain Juan de Salcedo who then “founded” the town in 1572 and called it Ciudad Fernandina in honor of the King’s son Ferdinand who died at an early age. Since then,  Augustinian missionaries visited Vigan and the rest of Ilocos Region and initiated the evangelization of the area. Many churches and monuments still stand today , spared from the bombings of World War II.

Paoay Church

Paoay Church Sideview

Paoay Church,  A Very Spanish Legacy

Back in Laoag, Ilocos Norte,  we spent the next day visiting Paoay Church, another UNESCO Heritage Site.  I have not seen a church compound anywhere in the Philippines as grand as this one.  Paoay Church stands proud. It is by no means as grand as the churches you’d find in Europe, but the colonial heritage and the Spanish legacy give it its well-deserved grandeur.  Built of bricks and coral blocks, the architecture combines Gothic, Baroque and Oriental. Built over a period of nearly 200 years, the church belltower is a fitting reminder of the Christianization of the Philippines as well as its role in the Philippine Revolution when it was used as an observation post by the local rebels called Katipuneros. Another church , the St. William’s Church, was built by the Augustinian frailes or priests in 1612 in the Italian Renaissance design. Right next to it is the Sinking Belltower leaning slightly to the North.  This is our local though much scaled-down version of the Pisa tower. A 3rd church we visited was Sta. Monica Church , a century old church of  neo-classical and baroque architecture.


Sinking Bell Tower

Ferdinand Marcos Hails from Ilocos

Of more recent history is the fact that ex-President and strongman Ferdinand Marcos hails from Batac, not too far from Laoag. The ancestral house of the Marcoses is now the Marcos Museum and Mausoleoum where the late President’s body lies like a wax statue. During his 20 year reign,  Marcos built a Malacanang of the North (Malacanang in Manila is the official residence of the President, much like the White House in Washington DC).  The mansion is an expression of opulence and overlooks the lovely Paoay Lake. Now a museum,  visitors can tour the mansion for a minimal fee.

Bangui Windmills

Bantay Belfry, Ilocos Sur

These days, the Ilocos Region is still considered Marcos land despite the fact that the dictator has passed on many years ago.  His only son, Ferdinand Junior,  Bongbong to most, is the current congressman representing the Ilocos Region. Bongbong earlier served as governor of the province, during which time the Bangui Windmills were established.  This wind farm lies nearly next to Pagudpud and now has 15 wind turbines. It has since attracted many visitors to the area just to view the 70 meters tall wind turbines. And not too far from here is the Cape Bojeador , a lighthouse built in 1892 north of Laoag City. It is the highest, and I think the oldest, lighthouse in the country.

Vigan's Heritage Site

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

Many Ilocanos to this day idolize the late President Marcos.  Without dwelling on politics,  I will venture to suggest that the more prominent and admirable Ilocanos should be Juan Luna ,  Diego Silang and his equally brave widow, Gabriela.  All three are martyrs and heroes of the land.  They have done far more for our country than any other Ilocano. That said,  let me invite everyone to visit our land!



More photos can be viewed in my TravelBlog site

This beats many a collector’s dream.  I am not sure whether to thank the collector,  to envy him, or what.



We accepted a friend’s invitation to spend the weekend in Pilar, Bataan and prepared ourselves for a somewhat dull weekend visiting the local market, Mt. Samat War Memorial Shrine in Pilar, Bataan,  and enjoying fresh fruits in season. “Ciudad de Acuzar” was not part of our itinerary. Neither have we even heard of this heritage town where the owner’s collections included many historical turn of the century houses, town hall, school and chapel!


Just 3 hours north from Manila


The drive  northwest of Manila via an expressway and paved roads  took more than 3 hours. Pilar is a sleepy town in Bataan.  Right beside a ricefield with a view of Mt. Samat, our host’s house promised a lot of rest , peace and quiet.  History lessons reminded us of the annual celebration of the “Fall of Bataan” in 1942.  Every April 9,  which was declared a public holiday,  we remember our fallen brothers who gallantly defended our land. The Shrine on Mt. Samat was built in loving memory of these brave Filipino and American soldiers who died  during World War II.  Along with the Fall of Bataan, this province also reminds us of  the famous  Death March from Bagac and  Mariveles, Bataan all the way to Capas, Tarlac. Rich in history,  it was ironic that what we remember most from our Bataan weekend would be the “heritage town” put up by a local land developer in Bagac, Bataan.


The “Old Town” Collection


Uprooted from various areas within the country were a small chapel, the entire turn of the century school building, and many ancestral houses to form part of the new “old town” representing Mr. Acuzar’s collections. This development inevitably invited many critics to scream foul, asserting that these historical landmarks are best left and preserved wherever they were. So much furor for the transfer of all these heritage structures to satisfy one man’s dream collection!  At the same time, there were also those who hail the transfer of all these ancestral and historical structures to one area with a good promise that the owner/collector will preserve the structures.  Though a private collection and property,  “Ciudad de Acuzar” is bound to attract a lot of attention, and likely curious visitors.



We saw a lot of activity in this heritage town during our visit, where men worked on cobble-stoned pathways and reassembled doors, windows and posts from some old near-forgotten buildings in some faraway place.  The restoration and reassembly of these old buildings in this single area begs a debate on the propriety of such a collection. Will these structures now be better preserved here , or best left where they were?  I have no answers to that.  I only know that I feel lucky  viewing all these “collections” in a single afternoon.  Ciudad de Acuzar may either be your heritage town or modern day theme park, depending on your take.  As they say,  the Philippines “spent 400 years in a convent, and 50 years in Hollywood”.  (That’s nearly 400 years under the spaniards, another 50 years of American rule)



By the way,  at the time I visited, the place is not open to the public.  The site is in this 60 hectare property somewhere in Barrio Pag-asa in Bagac town, 150 km from Manila, or a 2½-hr drive through NLEX and SCTEX.  Not sure, but I hear the Museum Foundation runs tours .   The property makes for  a good day trip.  Check out their link here.   

P.S.  The property was featured recently in a major daily. Here is the link.  

More photos can be viewed from my TravelBlog site. 

Silay’s Heritage Houses


Specter of Affluence From Bygone Era

Silay City, is less than an hour away from Bacolod City. Just a 30 minute drive. It is in the Philippines’ Western Visayas region and the flight took less than an hour from Manila. Because it counted many famous artists during its heyday, it was then dubbed the “Paris of Negros”. A number of heritage houses , mostly built at the turn of the 19th century, still exist, some remarkably well preserved, to this day.

It should be mentioned that Negros is the seat of the country’s sugarcane industry. Many sugarcane plantations flourished and brought wealth to a number of families here. In our country, they were called hacienderos, taken from the word “hacienda” which means a big plantation or farm. Hacienderos refer to their owners or the families who owned them. These days, whenever we meet landed gentry, rich elitist families, we are tempted to call them “hacienderos”.


The Heritage Houses of Silay City

Silay City enjoyed its Golden Age with the boom of the sugar trading industry. This is the period from 1880 to 1930. Many of our parents and grandparents were born during this period. The city oozed with wealth and enviable affluence. Children of many sugar barons enjoyed their fortunes which manifested in the number of beautiful ancestral homes in the city. Interestingly, this period was also marked by the country’s bid for independence from Spain. More interestingly, many of our national heroes and artists actually came from prominent families such as the barons from this part of the country. For a while, Silay City and its neighboring Bacolod City served as the hub for European artists and musicians. This atmosphere must have spawned the emergence, and prominence of many of our local artists and musicians in this part of the country.

Victorias Milling Company is about an hour away from Silay City. You’d better believe this, but it used to be the world’s biggest mill from 1960′s -70′s. No wonder then, right? After all, these hacienderos observed a regular schedule of work limited to just 6 months (planting season), and another 6 months of harvesting and spending their fortunes. Those 6 “idle” months must have invariably spelled “party season” for the rich and famous Ilonggo families. Naturally, the ancestral houses one finds here have big lawns and gardens, as well as grand receiving rooms complete with chandeliers and grand pianos . Imagine the parties they threw here when the scions of wealthy families must have grown tired counting their fortunes!

There are several ancestral houses just off the San Diego Pro-Cathedral along Rizal Street. One may opt to start a walking tour from here or from El Ideal Bakery, also along Rizal Street. Since we had an appointment for a guided tour at the Hofilena Heritage Home, we started our tour here. Hofileña Ancestral House is the repository of the private art collection of Ramon H. Hofileña. The exhibit includes the work of our national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal , and a number of top artists in the country like Juan Luna, Hidalgo, H. R. Ocampo, Manansala, Joya, etc. We had the good fortune to have Mon Hofilena himself give us the guided tour of this lovely heritage house. Mon shared many historical trivia with us, peppered with some of his own personal history. There were many portraits of Mon in the second storey of the house, painted by some of his friends like Hechanova whom Mon thinks should have been given more recognition as a Filipino artist of note. The photos of the Hofilena ancestors and children were also all over the house, along with newspaper and magazine clippings featuring the accomplishments of the Hofilena children. Mon didn’t forget to also mention how he was the first Filipino male bikini model (he is now 77 years old) and showed us some of his nude paintings with “strategically located” post-its in case there are children in the tour group. *Wink Wink*

Not far from the Hofilenia House but not open to the public is this private home formerly owned by the family of Teodora Morada. The Dimacalis who bought this property restored, maintained and preserved the grandeur of this charming white colonial house. As with the Hofilenia residence, there was also the grand staircase where one imagines the debutante daughters of the former owners of this mansion walking down , resplendent in their designer gowns. Teeming with prosperity, many daughters from these wealthy families enjoyed this “introduction to society” (debut) by way of lavish parties celebrating their 18th birthday.

Balay Negrense is the ancestral mansion of the Gaston Family which has since been converted into a museum showcasing how sugar planters lived at the beginning of the century. The property has a huge front lawn , and a just as huge living room, and an even bigger second floor receiving room. Up on the second floor are the rooms, where canopied beds, antique Filipiniana costumes and other memorabilia are on display. You would even find collections of old dolls and other toys in what could have been a children’s room. (Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday at 10:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m. Cinco de Noviembre Street Tel. No. 4954916.)

Bernardino Jalandoni House , now also a Museum, was built in 1908. This house showcases the affluence of Negros at the turn of the 19th century. All items on display are authentic period pieces. Interestingly, a grandson of Don Bernardino is a high-ranking leader of the country’s Communist Party. His name is Luis Jalandoni who is now exiled in the Netherlands. (It is located at Rizal Street with Tel. No. 4955093. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.). Strolling along this same Rizal Street, one finds many more heritage gems which have since been converted into banks, eating establishments or other business offices. The entire Silay City is definitely one heritage town!

The Ruins. That’s how they call this former mansion built by Don Mariano in memory of his departed wife Maria Braga who died while giving birth to their youngest child in 1911. Sounds similar to the Taj Mahal of India? The Mansion pales in comparison to the Taj Majal, but its timeless elegance resonates of an era when sugar barons ruled the land. What is amazing about this place is that it was built right in the middle of the sugar plantation. With its many huge windows, the sugar barons of those days must have enjoyed a 360 degree view of their sugar plantation as the “sacadas” (paid farm hands) tilled the soil. This place is best visited at dusk. Pray there is no school group or big tour groups when you visit!

And then there are the eating places in Silay. El Ideal Bakery and Restaurant on Rizal Street, Silay City is one of the oldest restaurants in Silay or in Negros Occidental famous for guapple (guava and apple) pies, buko (coconut meat) pies and assorted delicacies. I have not stopped eating since I arrived here in Silay City, but I certainly made sure I had room for the guapple pie, lumpia ubod which are rolls with heart of palm fillings, batchoy (a very Ilonggo soup dish). El Ideal also has a “pasalubong center” (gift center) and some take outs include ibos (made from corn, wrapped in banana leaf like a suman), puto lanson (a kind of rice cake made from coconut meat), piayaya, and many more. Surely, a trip to Silay City is never complete without trying out these native delicacies! If your pockets are lined with wads of pesos, try the Showroom. Here is a place where souvenir items are put in a different class worth every cent of their price tags. The capiz serving trays, bags made from indigenous materials, hand-crafted and intricately-designed neck and ear pieces, as well as sugary and baked foodstuff make for a shopping sidetrip to remember or …. avoid.

Go check out this link too. More photos.