Saturday, April 28, 2007

Manila: Have you tried karting?

Tonight, I went kart racing at Kart Trak in Boom na Boom. My high school batch is celebrating its tenth year anniversary this year and this was the first in a series of events we've planned. This was the second time my batch organized a go kart enduro. Two years ago, we did it at the Manila SpeedZone in Fort Bonifacio. A go kart enduro can be an individual or team event. Each driver or team must make as many laps as they can in a given period of time. Tonight, we did a one and a half hour endurance race. And now my muscles ache! But it was all fun and I just wanted to share the photos with you in my Multiply and our batch page.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Aurora: More summer fun in Baler

The waves were strong yesterday morning when we woke up. It was perfect for surfing! For breakfast, I ordered the Big Surf Special at the restaurant which was a choice of sausage, ham or hotdogs with hash browns, toasted bread and scrambled eggs. It came with coffee and juice as well. But I was expecting a bigger serving of meat though. Anyway, we left the hotel at 9 a.m. to go around Baler.

Our first stop was the Church of Baler, a national historical landmark, because it had been the site of the last stand of Spanish forces in the country. As the Siege of the Church of Baler marker mentions, a Spanish garrison of four officers and fifty men was besieged in the church by Filipino forces from June 27, 1898 to June 2, 1899. The had refused demands for surrender for nearly a year and only did so when an emissary of General Rios dropped a newspaper from Manila inside the court of the church to let them know that for many months the Spanish flag was no longer waving in Luzon except that of Baler Church. The fortitude of the garrison was praised by President Emilio Aguinaldo in a public document issued on June 20, 1899.

In front of the church stands the Aragon House, the birthplace of Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon, wife of President Manuel L. Quezon. It's not the bahay na bato type but the small wooden ones that you would expect from a remote fishing town. If travel is difficult today, imagine how it was then. I never knew that Doña Aurora and President Quezon were first cousins since their Molina mothers were sisters! Also don't forget that Aurora province was named in her honor which is why it's very important to preserve this house.

We then drove to the park a few meters away which was the birthplace of Quezon. Aside from an NHI marker and a statue, they had erected a replica of the nipa hut of the Quezon family. Also in the park was a museum but we didn't enter since we had to rush to San Luis, our next stop, to visit Kaunayan (Cunayan) Falls in Brgy. L. Pimentel.

Our original plan was to visit Ditumabo Falls but it was closed due to a government project which I hope maintains the beauty of the falls and its surroundings. Anyway, the trip from Baler to Kaunayan Falls was about 30 minutes. As we exited the national highway, it was rough road again but not that far. Since we had to pass through private property to get to the falls, there was a PHP20 "toll" collected close to the falls. At the falls, each person is charged a PHP10 entrance fee.

Kaunayan was not that high. But the clear water was so enticing for a swim. After exploring the streams around it, I decided to go for a dip. The water was cool, close to cold in fact, and perfect for the hot summer day. And the water wasn't deep so you could stand directly below the falls with ease. After a little over an hour, we decided to make our way back since we wanted to try out one last thing.

There are a few just a few popular surfing areas in Luzon. And Baler is one of them! So we tried out surfing. We had arranged for an instructor to give us lessons at 7 a.m. but he didn't show up which was a pity since it was already low tide by the time we got back. But despite the fact that the waves weren't strong, we still asked the tourism staff to arrange tutorials for us even just for an hour so we could give it a try. The rate was PHP300 per hour inclusive of board rentals. They have daily rates too which would be cheaper if you planned to learn surfing the whole day.

Well, it wasn't easy. Balancing on the board was quite difficult at first. And given that we only had an hour, we didn't get to stand. The waves also didn't have enough force to push the board up. But it was still fun! And we plan to come back for longer tutorials.

We had to rush since our plan was to depart Baler by 2 p.m. So after freshening up, we had lunch again at Bay's Inn, which was pizza and breaded garlic chicken this time. We took a different route back to Manila, the one via Pantabangan which was suggested to us since the buses pass by there. But we felt that the road we took the other day was a bit better. Ever since the typhoon which damaged newly-concreted parts of the Bongabon route, the government had stopped concreting that road and focused on this other route. So maybe in a few more months, the drive via the Pantabagan would be a bit faster and more comfortable since the road was wider. But for now, it was longer!

From Baler, we passed through Maria Aurora which is the only Aurora municipality without a coastline. We passed through a lot of rice fields. But the longer drive was as we went up and down the Sierra Madre mountains, again on rough road. On this side, the mountains seemed higher and it was refreshing looking at the picturesque views of lush forests. But this route had more signs of human habitation than the other one and if measures are not undertaken to protect the forests in this area, we might lose it in the next few years. It was sad looking at patches of mountains charred by "slash and burn" farmers. In fact, some parts were still smoking. If the DENR is really doing its job, it should educate these people and implement the law by prosecuting violators since this practice is rampant all over the country.

At the provincial boundary, we were greeted by a lake which seemed to be created by a dam. We actually thought this was part of the Pantabangan Dam but Pantabangan was still far away. The next town after Maria Aurora was Alfonso Castañeda which is already part of Nueva Vizcaya. We wanted to make it to Pantabangan before sundown so that we could check out the Pantabangan Dam. And we got there just in time to take photos of the picturesque lake created by the dam. By the time we exited the dam area, the sun was gone.

We had a late dinner in Cabanatuan City and arrived in Manila at 11 p.m. More photos in Multiply.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Aurora: Unspoiled nature in Aurora

No amount of rough road discouraged us from visiting Baler. We left Manila at about 2 a.m. today for the long trip to Aurora, one of the Luzon provinces which form part of our Pacific coastline. Access to that side of Luzon is quite difficult due to a lot of natural obstacles such as the Sierra Madre mountains.

The only time other time I got to see the Pacific side of Luzon was during a jeepney trip from Tiwi, Albay to Sagnay, Camarines Sur in the Caramoan Peninsula of Bicol. I didn't get to swim though; just savored the view.

At 5 a.m., we arrived in Cabanatuan where we had a quick breakfast. From there we made a right towards Bongabon. We passed by Palayan City, the capital of Nueva Ecija. I wonder how this can be considered a city since it was mostly rural! But it was among six cities whose creations were specifically planned. And like Trece Martires City in Cavite, it was carved out of existing municipalities in 1965 to serve as the new capital of the province.

We entered Bongabon, and from a distance, the Sierra Madre beckoned as the sun rose from behind them. We finally made it to the foothills driving up a zigzag road. But after just a few meters on the mountain road, the paved part ended and we were faced with a seemingly endless stretch of rough road, about 45 kilometers of it if I remember it right. To add to our anxiety, we completely forgot to gas up in Cabanatuan and we had just one-fourth of the tank left for the over 60 kilometers to San Luis, Aurora. On the way, we were already thinking of what to do just in case we ran out of gas. But to make the long story short, we made it to Baler.

This is why I wasn't able to take a lot of photos during what should have been a scenic drive across the Sierra Madre mountains. The forests were green and lush and there seemed to be no signs of human habitation as far as the eyes could see save for a few houses scattered along the way. Right before leaving the territorial jurisdiction of Bongabon, I was surprised to see an NHI marker in the middle of nowhere and realized later that it was the site where Aurora Aragon Quezon and her companions were ambushed and killed by renegade members of the Hukbalahap in 1949.

After we got gas, we went straight to Bay's Inn in Sabang Beach where we booked air-conditioned twin-sharing rooms at PHP750 a night and PHP100 for an extra bed. And it was good we booked since it was full despite the fact it was a week day. Our plan was to go straight to a beach about an hour away by pump boat. But then it started to rain so we decided to have lunch first and wait for the rain to stop. All of our meals during the trip were at Bay's Inn. As I waited for the carbonara I ordered, the group noticed several locals hauling a rope which turned out to be a fishnet. There was a unique rhythm to this activity as they walked backwards in small synchronized steps.

Anyway, it did stop raining after lunch and we were off. The Baler Fishing Port is about nine kilometers from the poblacion. From there, we took a 45-minute pump boat to Dikasalarin Cove. We spent PHP1000 for the boat. On the way, we were afforded stunning views of wave-battered rock formations and islets, lush forests and majestic cliffs that formed the spectacular Baler coastline. From the boat, we saw Digisit Falls as we passed by and the PAGASA Relay Station high up on a hill.

Then it greeted us. The entrance to Dikasalarin Cove was stunning. The beach was nearly deserted since there were just a few residents. We were the only visitors, and the white sand beach was all ours for the afternoon.

I just stayed in the water the whole time. The Aurora Tourism Office brought Lemuel and his classmates to a small cave in the next cove but I was too lazy to walk and decided to stay in the beach.

At 4 p.m., we made our way back to the town proper. By the time we arrived in Baler Bay, Sabang Beach was teeming with surfers since the high tide brought in stronger waves. We realized that we hadn't had any sleep yet so after freshening up, we had an early dinner and went straight to bed.

Before dinner, Joseph Gonzales of Batang Baler went to Bay's Inn to meet up with me. More photos in Multiply.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The P1 fare of Cebu Pacific... take two!

They're offering it again. Round-trip Visayas tickets are less than PHP2000 while Mindanao destinations are about PHP2500. Check out Cebu Pacific for more details. And yes, I booked again, this time to Cotabato and General Santos City with friends.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Bataan: Dambana ng Kagitingan in Bataan

Every year, April 9 has always been among the much-awaited public holidays in the Philippines. This year, it fell on Easter Monday giving everyone a five-day vacation which I'm sure kept resorts nationwide filled to the brim. But, aside from it being a holiday, do most Filipinos know what Araw ng Kagitingan is all about?

On April 9, 1942, approximately 75,000 Filipino and United States soldiers, commanded by Major General Edward "Ned" P. King, Jr., formally surrendered to the Japanese army under Lt. General Masaharu Homma. Over the next few days, these prisoners of war were transferred to Camp O'Donnell in what would become the Bataan Death March.

To commemorate the gallantry of these troops, April 9 of every year was declared Araw ng Kagitingan. The Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) was also built on top of Mount Samat in 1966 in memory of the soldiers who saw action during the Second World War.

The most distinct feature of the shrine is the Memorial Cross, a 92-meter marble, steel and concrete structure built 555 meters above sea level. At the base of the cross is a sculptural bas relief that depicts important historical events and battles in the Philippines. An elevator takes visitors up a viewing deck in the arms of the cross.

Every April 9, the President together with the ambassadors of the United States and Japan, leaders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and surviving WWII veterans visit the shrine to commemorate the said surrender and the start of the Bataan Death March. Although she was scheduled to join the ceremonies this year, President Arroyo had to beg off due to the medical situation of the First Gentleman.

Anyway, to remember this day, here is the transcript of "Bataan has fallen" which was written by Salvador P. Lopez and read from the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor on the Voice of Freedom radio broadcast: Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.

The world will long remember the epic struggle that Filipino and American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness and along the rugged coast of Bataan. They have stood up uncomplaining under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for more that three months. Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help in the Philippines and in America, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear.

For what sustained them through all these months of incessant battle was a force that was more than merely physical. It was the force of an unconquerable faith--something in the heart and soul that physical hardship and adversity could not destroy! It was the thought of native land and all that it holds most dear, the thought of freedom and dignity and pride in these most priceless of all our human prerogatives.

The adversary, in the pride of his power and triumph, will credit our troops with nothing less than the courage and fortitude that his own troops have shown in battle. Our men have fought a brave and bitterly contested struggle. All the world will testify to the most superhuman endurance with which they stood up until the last in the face of overwhelming odds.

But the decision had to come. Men fighting under the banner of unshakable faith are made of something more that flesh, but they are not made of impervious steel. The flesh must yield at last, endurance melts away, and the end of the battle must come.

Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand--a beacon to all the liberty-loving peoples of the world--cannot fall!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pampanga: Good Friday in San Fernando, Pampanga

Pampanga is a culture of contrasts, where the genteel elegance of the olden days collides with folk traditions. And the City of San Fernando on Good Friday is an embodiment of that clash, where both cultures come alive in their own ritualistic and colorful displays of faith.

I had to be in San Pedro Cutud before 11 a.m. so that I could watch the Via Crucis, a Kapampangan passion play written in the 1950s which began the crucifixion frenzy that has put San Fernando on the global map. While driving, I was surprised to see so many people lining MacArthur Highway. Then I remembered that there was also a group which made its way around our area and we would also wait for them to pass by when I was a small kid. I wonder how the guy survived all the pushing and the hitting.

In Pampanga, penitents are called magdarame. There are specific names for various types such as mamalaspas or those who flagellate themselves, mamusan krus for the cross-bearers, magsalibatbat for those who crawl on dirt roads, at times under the hot summer sun, and cristos which refers to those who have themselves nailed on crosses.

Anyway, I was expecting heavy traffic in Cutud by this time so I parked my car in the poblacion and took a pedicab to the crucifixion area. You'd be surprised by the number of foreign tourists who attend. On the way, I saw many of them in vehicles with diplomatic plates and all. As always, I forgot to bring my hat and now I have to deal with a badly sunburned face.

If you could not stand the sight of blood, Cutud is just not for you. On the way, you have dozens of flagellants making their way to the crucifixion site as well and it's close to impossible to keep your clothes blood free. As they whip themselves, blood would definitely splatter and it's very difficult to move around to avoid getting hit.

Don't be surprised too if you see everyone eating pork along the way. Bantayan Island is not the only place in the Philippines allowed to eat meat on Good Friday. Today is one of two fiestas celebrated annually in San Pedro Cutud and they've been granted dispensation too!

People do not realize that there is history in the Cutud crucifixions. It may be imitated in other parts of Pampanga and the Philippines, but the Via Crucis is something that makes it culturally significant. It is the only Kapampangan language passion play and it has been done non-stop since the 1950s with the first crucifixion in San Pedro.

The crucifixions start as soon as the Via Crucis makes its way to the hill after going around San Pedro Cutud. This is the only passion play in the entire world where the players are really nailed to the cross. It actually starts with the arrest at the entrance of the barangay. Then several scenes are reenacted around the barangay culminating with the crucifixion in the hill.

Stretchers are on standby, waiting for the penitent to signal the centurions to bring him down. After the first three are finished, the next set prepares to mount the cross. You could hear shrieks from the crowd as they watch the designated spotters hammer the nails into the hands and feet of the penitents. It may look foolish to many but these are acts of faith. Referred to as panata in Kapampangan, these are vows made by the penitents in the hope that their prayers will be answered.

I realized it was already 2 p.m. when it ended. My stomach was already grumbling since I hadn't eaten breakfast. The Via Crucis started late this year and thus ended late. Two years ago, it was done before 1 p.m. so the best time really to be there is 11 a.m. And expect to walk a long distance from the welcome arch of the barangay to the crucifixion site.

For the afternoon, I visited relatives in the different old houses as they were preparing their santos for the Good Friday procession. This was the other half of the clashing cultures I was referring to. There was so much to eat but I kept my food intake down since I was fasting today. I just had some home-made pastries for my late lunch and sampelut (ginataan) for a snack in another house. Dinner was just pako (fiddlehead fern) salad and buko sherbet. To see photos of the food we ate, visit the blog of Mike Mina.

By 4 p.m., the carrozas slowly made their way to the Cathedral. When I got to the plaza, it was already hard to move around. I am amazed by the sheer volume of people who join the Good Friday procession in San Fernando. Add to that the many grand heirloom carrozas and santos, it's really a sight to behold.

Notice also that all the santos are in black. During the Holy Wednesday procession, they are dressed in their symbolic colors. But come Good Friday, they all wear black vestments as a sign of mourning.

When you stand in one area to take photos, you get to say hello to countless friends, relatives and acquaintances who pass by. I saw blogger Spanky Enriquez of the Hizon Clan who owns the image of San Pedro.

Anyway, the procession took close to two hours to complete. By the time it finished, I was just so wasted. Imagine having to endure three hours under the scorching summer sun followed by a long walk of several kilometers around the poblacion for the procession. I think I really need some rest.

Related entry

Crucifixion rites held in San Pedro Cutud every Good Friday
Holy Week practices in the Philippines
Visita iglesia to our heritage churches

Monday, April 02, 2007

Visita iglesia routes for Holy Thursday

I was a guest at Shop Talk on ANC this afternoon. The topic today was visita iglesia and Pia Hontiveros asked me to suggest some routes for Holy Thursday. Many people have been asking why seven churches. That custom of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is said to originate from the early Christian practice of visiting the seven great basilicas in Rome.

As I mentioned in the show a while ago, we should try to visit heritage churches so that we get a glimpse of Philippine culture while we pray. These centuries-old churches form an inherent part of our national identity, and we must thus endeavor to preserve them for future generations of Filipinos. If you remember, we came out with a petition to the CBCP to stop the further defacing of Philippine heritage churches late last year.

Anyway, I'm posting my suggestions here for day trips around and near Metro Manila. You can also check out my destination index if you have a particular province which you want to visit or if you want to read more details about the churches I mentioned below.

In the City of Manila, check out the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin, Binondo, Sta. Cruz, Quiapo, San Sebastian, Malate and Sta. Ana. You can go further by visiting San Pedro Makati, Guadalupe and Pasig. Check out this list of heritage churches in Metro Manila for the rest.

Pampanga is an emerging visita iglesia destination. Take the San Simon exit and backtrack to the Apalit Church which is the silver dome you see from the NLEX. Then cross over to the other side and drive to the town of San Luis. Then pass by the San Fernando Cathedral, the half-buried Bacolor Church, Betis Church and its ornate white and gold retablo and marvelous wall to ceiling murals, and Lubao which is Pampanga's oldest town church. If you have time, include Angeles City, Sta. Rita or Minalin.

In Bulacan, pass by Barasoain, the Malolos Cathedral, San Rafael and Angat (although there's an explosion of gold leaf inside and new ceiling murals which do not match the original simplicity of the church).

The Laguna de Bay Loop is a very popular route. Make sure you pass by the churches in Pila, Longos (Kalayaan), Paete, Pakil and Mabitac in Laguna; and Tanay, Baras, Morong and Antipolo in Rizal.

Then there's the Mount Banahaw Loop which brings you to the provinces of Laguna, Quezon and Batangas. You can start with San Pablo, followed by Nagcarlan and Majayjay in Laguna; then to Lucban, Tayabas and Sariaya in Quezon; and finally San Juan in Batangas.

In Batangas, also check out the Cathedral and Carmelite Convent in Lipa, San Jose Church, the Immaculate Conception Basilica in Batangas City, Taal Basilica and Caysasay Shrine in Taal, and Balayan Church. You can go further to Cavite and visit the churches in Maragondon, Silang, Naic, Tanza, Kawit and Gen. Trias.

To those who have been asking how many basilicas we have in the Philippines, the answer is twelve: Agoo, La Union; Piat, Cagayan; Malolos, Bulacan; Manila Cathedral, Quiapo, San Sebastian and Binondo in Manila; Batangas City and Taal in Batangas; Tayabas, Quezon; Penafranacia, Naga City; and Sto. Nino in Cebu. You can also visit churches in the list of national cultural treasures.

Anyway, I might be in Pampanga this Holy Week checking out the violent rituals, panatas, and other Holy Week traditions. To give you a glimpse of what to see, here's a video from the Center for Kapampangan Studies:

Related entries
Visita iglesia to our heritage churches
Pisamban... the churches of Pampanga
Visita iglesia aroung Laguna de Bay

Metro Manila and its old churches
Visita iglesia Bohol
Holy Week practices in the Philippines

Related articles
Lenten tour of magnificent 'retablos'
If you notice, most of our retablos are white with gold details. That's a very unique Filipino characteristic in our Spanish colonial church altars. The sad part is some priests feel they have Midas' Touch as the article puts it and paint the entire thing gold. It's horrible what they did to Argao in Cebu, Tanay, and Orion in Bataan! I hope priests put it in their heads that churches are Church property and not their own personal property. They are simply caretakers and not the owners who can do whatever they want with it.
Lenten rites in Cutud a man’s world

Angat Church heritage disaster on PDI front page
I was horrified when I saw the cover photo of the Philippine Daily Inquirer today (5 April 2007). What they did in the Angat Church was horrible! Those murals do not match the simplicity and historicity of the heritage church! Why do we have to copy murals in the Vatican? We have our own Philippine Baroque to be proud of. The sad part about publishing that heritage blunder on the front page is it will give the wrong impression to parish pastoral councils that it's a cool thing to do to their own heritage churches.

Artists can release their creative juices in a new church. But let's respect our forefathers and the artisans who built the heritage churches by keeping theirwork intact, without the explosion of gold leaf and murals which weren't originally there to begin with.

Heritage watch
Pride of Place: Trashing Intramuros
Nat’l culture body to look into Intramuros complex

i-Witness: Mansyon de Pobre VIDEO

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The 2007 Philippine Blog Awards: Ivan About Town is Best Travel Blog!

Ivan About Town was named Best Travel Blog at 2007 Philippine Blog Awards! I found out about it from text messages of fellow finalists Bikoy and Karlo who were there at the event. It was depressing not being able to attend since I had wanted to meet fellow bloggers whom I've known only through their blogs. But it was physically impossible for me to travel from Batangas City to Makati in time for the event.

Again, my heartfelt gratitude goes to the organizers, judges, volunteers and fellow bloggers who made this event a great success! Do let me know when the next Pinoy bloggers' gathering is. My appreciation goes as well to all of you who take time to read what I have to say. Let's all travel around the Philippines! It's such a beautiful country! Thanks again!

Related articles
Philippine Blog Awards cites 22 best blogs in RP
Cozy reunion for small but growing RP blog community
Related Posts with Thumbnails