Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cebu: Around Cebu City

I woke up early this morning to walk around Cebu City. And I was greeted by a power outage. Just great! Good thing my room was still cold up to when I left. Quite close to where I was staying was the Cebu Provincial Capitol which made history by being the first Visayan site to host a presidential inauguration. So I went for a short walk to the place. From there, I took a jeep to the historic core of Cebu City.

My first stop was City Hall. In front of it was Magellan's Cross. A short walk away was the Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino which I last visited in 1997. I was able to catch a part of the last English Mass for the morning. The place was packed with people. And lines to the image of the Sto. Nino de Cebu were quite long so I just went around to take photos.

Just a few meters away was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Cebu, seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. By this time, I was hungry but I decided to finish up my itinerary for the day which was Fort San Pedro, again just a few meters away from the Cebu Cathedral. While waiting for Ryan to pass by for me at Plaza Independencia, I had some taho for breakfast.

Since it was close to lunch, Ryan and I went to this place called Casa Verde (69 V. Ranudo Ext.) in Ramos known for its baby-back ribs. Ramos is actually filled with impressive pre-war mansions. Casa Verde itself is an old house which was converted into a restaurant and ladies dormitory. There are more abandoned mansions in the area. Maybe some investors could do the same adaptive reuse.

After lunch, we went back to my hotel to get my stuff and go straight to the pier for my trip to Bohol.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cebu: Heritage trail south of Cebu City

I'm finally back in the Queen City of the South after an afternoon spent in the southern half of Cebu Island. I left Manila at 7:30 a.m. via Philippine Airlines and arrived in Mactan about an hour and a half later. It's great looking down on a clear day since you see the very same attractions from a different view. When flying south, you can't miss Mount Makiling, Taal Lake and its volcano, the seven lakes of San Pablo and Mount Banahaw from the sky which you see in the photo.

My brod Ryan Caparas met up with me at the airport but since he had work today, I told him to drop me off at the South Bus Terminal so that I could spend the day following the Southern Heritage Trail. I decided to start at the southernmost town on the trail, Oslob, and work my way northwards back to Cebu City.

The trip was three hours so I took an air-conditioned bus so that it would be a comfortable ride. The fare was PHP108. I was asleep for most of the first part, obviously tired from driving the past few days, as well as from lack of sleep. But later on, I tried to keep myself awake or else I would miss one of the best coastline sceneries in the country. In fact, the entire national highway hugs the shoreline and you are offered spectacular views of white sand beaches and mangrove forests along the way.

I arrived in Oslob at about 12 noon and went straight to the church. Wow! The Immaculate Conception Church was a magnificent coral and limestone structure with ruins of some Spanish period government building at the side. After some photos, it was time for lunch. And like a true backpacker, I went for one of the carinderias (canteens) near the bus stop. An ulam (viand) and a heaping cup of rice costed me only PHP25.

It was off to the next town for me, Boljoon, home of the Church of the Patrocinio de Maria, declared by the National Museum as a national cultural treasure and by the National Historical Institute as a national historical landmark. The fare from Oslob on an ordinary bus was P11. Between Oslob and Boljoon were several watchtowers which are featured in Fr. Rene Javellana's book Fortress of Empire.

The setting of the church was stunning, an open view of the white sand beach and blue waters in front, and hills towering at the back. The roof of the church and convent are still the original clay tiles from the Spanish period.

When I entered, just like in Masinloc, there was ongoing restoration work. Again, good news for heritage. The convento was also very much intact. Thumbs up to the Boljoon Heritage Foundation!

I strongly believe this church should be included in the Baroque Churches of the Philippines UNESCO listing if ever it is expanded. Or better yet, create a new listing incorporating the best of southern Cebu's coral and limestone churches!

Just when I thought Cebu was doing everything right for church heritage, there was Argao. The fare to the place was P30. When I got there, I was impressed that the local government was blending the architecture of the new buildings with that of the old. The St. Michael the Archangel Church itself could have, on its own, been declared a World Heritage Site had it not been touched.

I was excited to enter since I've seen pictures of the interior in books. And did I get the shock of my life! The parish priest had converted the ornate polychrome rococo retablo into the country's biggest trophy case! Yes folks! He had the retablo painted gold and silver! The santos are all painted gold! What is wrong with our priests?! Don't they have anything better to do? People like him should be transferred to Siberia where they won't do any more damage to Philippine church heritage. But I guess that is a tall order because rumor has it that this monsignor is very close to the cardinal.

To let you know the sentiments of the heritage community, here is the column of Bambi Harper in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the sacrilege committed. The entry is aptly entitled A Crying Shame. In another of her columns lauding Albay, Bambi writes, "Bishop Jose C. Sorra (of Albay) gave an impassioned and stirring address that the Cebu cardinal should have heard so that the parish priest of Argao, guilty of erasing 200 years of history, could be exiled to Burias or perhaps to the Marianas, which unfortunately doesn't belong to us anymore."

I was off to a very popular heritage town of the province of Cebu, Carcar! Fare from Argao to Carcar was PHP20. The first landmark you will see is that heritage gazeebo at the center of a rotunda in front of the market. That is where I got off to take some photos.

Carcar is also known for its chicharon (pork skin crackers) and lechon (roasted pig). So how could I resist even a small pack of chicharon for a snack! Yummy! Anyway, I'll talk more about Carcar in a future entry.

The Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was just a short walk up a hill in the center of town. Indeed, the church and the structures around its plaza are splendid! While in Carcar, I visited the Noel Ancestral House owned by the family of Jerry N. Alfafara, a member of the Carcar Heritage Conservation Society. He gave me a tour around his house.

The last stop for the afternoon was Naga which had a very ornate facade. It seemed to have Moorish influences as seen from the elements of the design. From Carcar, the fare was PHP15. With that settled, it was back to Cebu City. Fare from Naga was PHP20.

If only I had my own vehicle, I would have wanted to stop to take photos of all the Gabaldon schoolhouses. In each town, I would believe there were at least three! But that is one of the limitations of backpacking. You have to travel within a tight budget.

Back in Cebu, I met up with Ryan near the bus station and we went to a well-known street food area of Cebu City called Larsian. Why it's called Larsian, I don't know since I tried asking the locals myself. The place is right beside the Osmena Circle (It's actually one of the side streets).

They serve various ihaw-ihaw (roasted) items such as chicken and pork barbeque, longganiza (local sausage), hotdogs, isaw manok (chicken intestines), etc. The rice was also unique since it was served in what seemed to be woven coconut leaf-containers just like suman (rice cake). The meal was not bad at all!

After Larsian, we looked for a place for me to stay for the night. One of the cheaper pension houses was fully-booked. I fear that since it is peak season, when I go to Bohol tomorrow, I might find it difficult to get lodging as well. Anyway, right now, I'll get some rest since I'm waking up early to visit the heritage area of Cebu City. Then I'll most probably leave for Bohol by lunch. That's it for now.

Related articles
Bantayan Island, Cebu is rich in heritage and great beaches!
Visita iglesia in Northern Cebu
Lechon, chicharon and more from Carcar
Visita iglesia in Southern Cebu

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pangasinan & Zambales: The road less travelled

Going back to Manila from Bolinao, people rarely take the Zambales route obviously because it's longer. But you are missing a lot if you've never passed this road. Indeed, it provides one of the best views of the Philippine countryside as well as the beaches along the South China Sea. So if you have a lot of time to spare and extra funds for gas, I suggest you give it a try.

From Bolinao, I was planning to pass by Alaminos again to try the quarterpounder at McDonald's which many of my brods claim is the best they've tasted. On the way, I was curious to take a look at the island municipality of Anda which could be accessed by a long bridge somewhere between Bolinao and Bani. Except for the view from the bridge and the white sand beach of Tondol, nothing much to see in Anda. So on I went.

For some reason, I missed the turn to Alaminos and ended up in the faster route to Zambales. I guess it was a blessing in disguise. From Bani, I passed by Agno, Burgos where I took photos of the Gabaldon school building, Dasol which was a salt producing town, and finally the last town of Pangasinan, Infanta. All these towns were by the beach and there were a lot of small resorts along the road. Imagine the potential of these pristine beaches!

The first town upon entering Zambales was Sta. Cruz. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many old houses still intact, in fact they lined-up along the streets one after the other. And the coral Church of St. Michael the Archangel was just perfect (except for the modern interior). Although the houses were neglected, if restored properly, Sta. Cruz has potential of becoming another heritage town and a showcase for Zambales. Which is why I immediately contacted Vice-Governor Ramon Lacbain II, who is a SSEAYP alumnus like myself, to check if he was in town. Great! He was free to meet me in Olongapo City.

The next stop, actually one of the main reasons I took the Zambales route, was Masinloc. Its church was declared a national cultural treasure in 2001. But when I got there, all the doors were locked since the structure is currently being restored by the NHI. A personal disappointment since I did not get to see the interior but very good news for heritage. After all that bad news I saw in Pangasinan, here was a perfect example of the proper management of a heritage church. The formula is simple, get techinical support from the experts! What's wrong with asking for help from those who know what to do? In the government, you have the NCCA, National Museum and the NHI. From the private sector, you have groups like the Heritage Conservation Society.

Thumbs up to the Masinloc's San Antonio Church Restoration Volunteers headed by Fr. Ernie Raymundo, which is currently raising counterpart funds from citizens of the town. I also commend Sen. Aquilino Pimintel for releasing P4.76 million from his CDF to fund the restoration of this 1607 church which was badly damaged in a December 1999 earthquake. For those who want to donate funds, you can call telephone no. (63 47) 8215678.

It was getting dark and I still had two churches to visit. It was another 45 minutes from Masinloc to the provincial capital Iba, which is the birthplace of former president Ramon Magsaysay. There are a lot of old houses around but I didn't have much time to explore so I just took photos of the1703 Cathedral of St. Augustine, the seat of the Diocese of Iba. The current bishop, the Most Rev. Florentino G. Lavarias, D.D. was a former parish priest in San Fernando, Pampanga.

A few minutes away was Botolan. It was quite dark but I was able to get a shot of the small coral Church of Sta. Monica. It was then that I realized that I had not eaten at all! I guess I was just too excited with my trip. So I stopped over at one of the towns to rest when I saw a Mister Donut sign as well as an internet shop. It turns out, it was San Narciso, which breaks were quite popular among surfers.

To make the long story short, I reached Olongapo at 8 p.m., close to five hours after I had left Bolinao! So it was straight to Sam's Pizza where the vice-governor was waiting for me. The chicken teriyaki pizza I ate was great. We were able to tackle a lot for tourism in Zambales. I'll let you know about the plans when they've all been firmed up. But definitely, the plans are exciting and grand. I got back in Pampanga at 1 a.m.

Time for me to rest now. I'm flying to Cebu at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Yipee! Another whirlwind adventure, this time in Central Visayas. I plan to visit five provinces in six days. Hehe! I hope I make it to all.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Pangasinan: Marine research in Bolinao

What a day! I'm about to leave the Bolinao Marine Lab of the UP MSI for my trip back to Pampanga. It seems my laptop crashed so I'm using Sasa's for the meantime. Just my luck! Anyway, I helped Sasa in the field this morning. At the moment, he is a research assistant for a sea cucumber breeding projet of the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research. They are developing culture of a certain species of sea cucumber - Holothuria scabra, not only for commercial purposes but for re-seeding depleted stocks as well.

One thing the Philippines fails to realize is its potential competitive advantage in aquaculture. The said sea cucumbers we were working on are among the most expensive, if not the most expensive in the market. The photo on the right are young H. scabra sea cucumbers that were bred at the lab which we were going to plant in the research pens near Santiago Island. If only the goverment spent more on research and development, not just in aquaculture, but in various fields since we have so much raw talent and natural resources available here in the country.

We took a pump boat from the lab to waters near Santiago Island where research is ongoing on various projects. Another project which they are working on is the breeding of sea urchins for re-seeding as well. Stocks have been depleted (see comment below) since fishermen overcollected them in the 80s and the 90s for the Japanese uni market. While Sasa and his assistants were putting the young sea cucumbers in their pens, I went snorkelling amongst the sea grass to check out the wildlife and saw quite a number. In my hand are a sea urchin - Tripneustes gratilla, and a starfish - Protoreaster nodosus. The urchin in my hand is the one they breed for uni.

After that, we went to check out the pens of the older sea cucumbers to dig out for them. These were brought back to the lab for monitoring and weighing, then thrown back into the pens. Yikes! I didn't realize digging for sea cucumbers would be hard since they burrow themselves under the sand. It took us quite a while to find them. Hehe!

When we finally got all of them, we went to another side of Bolinao to harvest Sargassum. There was none on the side we were on since most of it was already consumed by the sea urchins. The sea weeds are processed in a blender and is used to feed the sea cucumbers in the hatchery.

We're now back at the lab. Now that Sasa and his assistant are weighing the sea cucumbers, I'm typing my blog entry. Hehe!

How to get to Bolinao, Pangasinan
Victory Liner and Five Star have several bus trips from Manila to Bolinao daily. Trips begin at about 7 a.m. and leave at intervals of 2 to 3 hours.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pangasinan: Driving to the edge of Pangasinan

Another road trip today. It's so difficult when you don't have a digital camera so I had to rely on my mobile phone. I was in Rosales, Pangasinan this morning to do some research. And I decided to finish my work here in Bolinao right by the beach. At least the atmosphere is more relaxed. And I was able to check mail thanks to my brod Sasa Miralao who is a marine biologist at the Bolinao Laboratory of the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) which has WiFi access. Hehe!

It was quite a long but leisurely drive from Rosales to Bolinao. It takes you from the southeast to northwestern tip of Pangasinan. I made a stop at San Carlos City since I was attracted by its old church (above). Lo and behold! It was very much intact but there was evidence of ongoing renovation which could be potentially destructive. Will someone please tell these priests and parish pastoral councils to stop touching all these heritage churches. In fact, they were painting the old floor tiles white. Duh! That is not the way to clean tiles!

After San Carlos was Calasiao. The old church and convento, and even the lot around it was very well- preserved. But for crying out loud, they plastered the walls of both buildings with cement! Strike two for the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. It was then off to Binmaley (both photos on the right). Really nice church! Red brick like San Carlos and Calasiao. But when you enter, another horror renovation... modernized to look like some European church. Please, please... we have our own church heritage to be proud of here in the Philippines. Let's keep these old folksy Filipino churches Filipino! Strike three!

It was off to Lingayen, the provincial capital, which I featured in an earlier entry. Hats off to Gov. Victor Agbayani for restoring the provincial capitol. But thumbs down to the Lingayen parish priest who demolished a charming brick convento, replacing it with a new shopping arcade right beside the church! Strike four for the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan! I'm surprised Archbishop Oscar Cruz is allowing this to happen under his watch, especially since during the time he was Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, he moved heaven and earth to create the Archdiocesan Archives and Museum. I hope he puts his foot down and stops this destruction from continuing in his jurisdiction. More than the jueteng, I think he should keep his eyes on the whims and caprices of these construction-frenzied priests. Again, stop touching heritage churches! And if you plan to restore them, get technical support from the Heritage Conservation Society, NCCA, NHI or National Museum.

Ligayen still has a lot of government buildings intact, as well as charming houses along the streets of the poblacion. One of these is the old casa municipal of the town (above). Beside it is the the provincial jail which is a heritage building itself (right). I hope Gov. Agbayani is able to convince LGUs in his jurisdiction to follow his lead.

It was off to Alaminos City, home of the Hundred Islands National Park. And just like the rest of the churches I passed by, the interior of Alaminos has been modernized beyond recognition. But there are still a number of well-preserved houses which have been put into good use. At least these owners are doing adaptive reuse without knowing they are!

Since it was already late, I decided to forego the Hundred Islands visit for another day. Bolinao was still quite a distance away. But the trip was most worth it. I was greeted by an old limestone church in the poblacion which looked like a fortress (left). Sasa met me there and we both went to the Bolinao Lighthouse in Patar which was about thirty minutes away (below).

The view from the foot of the 1905 lighthouse was spledid. It would be nice to watch the sun set on the South China Sea from there but we didn't want to drive in the dark so we went back to town after taking some photos.

On the way back, we stopped along a bridge to take photos of the mouth of the Balingasay River, which the Municipal Government of Bolinao declared a marine protected area in 1999. The initiative to protect this marine sanctuary came from the local government unit (LGU) for which they won the Philippine Wetlands Conservation Award in 2004. Had the LGU not stepped in, Balingasay's mangrove area could have been a part of the quarry area of a cement plant complex proposed by an international consortium of companies or damaged by environment-destructive fish pens and fish cages.

For dinner, we had street food at the plaza. I bought their native kakanin (rice cake) which they call binungay. It's suman (glutinuous rice cake) roasted in bamboo. They sell it in various sizes depending on the diameter of the bamboo stalk. And they have a funny way of opening it. According to the tindera (hawker) you had to smash the bamboo container by either pounding it on a rock or slicing it open with a bolo in order to eat the rice cake. So smash it we did. Hehe! Like most suman, it is best eaten with ripe mangoes or coco jam. I also had isaw baboy and manok (roasted pork and chicken intestines), mami (noodle soup) and fried chicken as well.

After I checked-in, we went straight to the UP MSI so that I could check mail and type my blog entry for today. Tonight, I work on the project I need to finish. Tomorrow, I join Sasa to nearby Santiago Island to help him out with his sea cucumber experiment. Then its back to Pampanga after lunch via Zambales.

How to get to Bolinao, Pangasinan
Victory Liner and Five Star have several bus trips from Manila to Bolinao daily. Trips begin at about 7 a.m. and leave at intervals of 2 to 3 hours.
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