Thursday, April 16, 2009

Catanduanes: Around Virac and Bato

Catanduanes is most known for being a surfers' haunt. But I heard the island province also has a lot of beaches worth visiting. I took a morning flight and after sorting things out at the airport (I usually look for a place to stay only when I arrive, especially if I feel there won't be that many people), proceeded to my hotel and got settled shortly before lunch.

I decided to visit the old church in Bato for the afternoon and a nearby waterfall. The only thing I don't like about public transportation is that you are never assured of the time you actually leave, especially if you have to wait for other passengers to arrive. Bato, the next town, is just 8 kilometers away. And I felt the wait for the jeep to leave was longer than the actual trip. Little did I realize that tricycles also ply the route and cost just as much.

Anyway, Bato Church is said to be the oldest in Catanduanes. I was told there was another old church in Caramoran. But to get there, I had to take a four to five-hour bus and stay there for a night. So it was not an option. While the Virac Cathedral is mostly new, with the bell tower being the only remaining part of the original church.

Bato Church faces a river and you can see it from the oppostie side as you approach the town. The exterior is well-preserved. But the inside has some alterations. I was hoping to see an old altar but was disappointed.

After walking around the church (there's nothing much to see in the town proper itself), I took a tricycle to Barangay Cabugao, the jump-off point for Maribina Falls. The road to Maribina Falls is right in the middle of Virac and Bato proper at KM4.

The hike to the falls from the National Highway is just 10 minutes. And the road all the way is concrete. So if you have a vehicle, you can drive all the way there. I was expecting it to be emply since it was a weekday. But I realized it was already summer vacation. So the place was jampacked. But the clean water did look enticing for a swim. Maybe next time!

I was back in Virac by mid-afternoon. Since there was nothing much to do, I decided to hire a tricycle that would take me to the beach area of Virac which was 30 minutes away. Jeeps don't go there so you're left with no choice but to hire your own transportation. The scenery along the way is beautiful. I especially liked the view of the hills in Brgy. Sto Domingo (it reminded me of the limestone karst I saw in Guilin, albeit smaller in scale).

The beach I visited was in Brgy. Batag. And I got free entrance to the resort since the hotel I stayed in also owned it, and offers free entrance to its guests. On a clear day, you can see Mayon Volcano from this side of Catanduanes.

Anyway, I wanted to be back in town before dark. So we made our way back. At least I got to sleep early since there is really nothing much you can do in Virac. Tomorrow is exciting since I'll be going to Puraran Beach.

Catanduanes Midtown Inn & Cafe
(052) 8110527 / 8111526

Rakdell Hotel
(052) 8110881

Part 2: Puraran Beach is surfing capital of Catanduanes

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eid al-Adha declared national holidays

The two-day Eid al-Adha is now among our national holidays. President Arroyo formally signed an executive order declaring November 27 and 28 this year as national non-working holidays to allow Filipino Muslims to celebrate the Islamic festival, Eid al-Adha. This will give way for more Filipino Muslims to go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the hajj. That also means a four-day weekend from Friday, November 28 to Monday, November 30 (Bonifacio Day).

The annual Islamic celebration, the exact dates of which are determined by Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, signifies the culmination of the hajj. Eid al-Adha, the second major Islamic festival, is celebrated by an estimated 10 million Muslims in the country.

The other major Islamic celebration is Eid’l Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan. This year, it will fall sometime during the last week of September. For a complete list of holidays this year, read Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2009.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pampanga: Another Good Friday in San Fernando, Pampanga

Good Friday and I'm usually in San Fernando, Pampanga. I spent my summers in San Fernando as a young kid and thus got exposed to the city's bloody rituals every Holy Week. Hundreds of flagellants or mamalaspas would pass in front of our house in the days leading to Good Friday.

There are four kinds of penitents or magdarame in Pampanga. In San Fernando, most of them are mamalaspas, whipping their bloodied backs while making their way around the city. At times, we'd see a mamusan krus or a penitent carrying a cross in the opposite street with his band of tormentors making such a ruckus, pushing and hitting the poor soul. Then there are the magsalibatbat or penitents who crawl on the street, bearing the burning heat of the scorching pavement and hot summer sun.

It was only recently that I've seen the kristos, penintents who are nailed to the cross, in Brgy. San Pedro Cutud (there are three crucifixion sites in San Fernando, the other two being Brgy. Sta. Lucia and Brgy. San Juan). The first time I visited Cutud, I told myself, it was going to be the last. It's dusty and unbearably hot at the burol. But I'm resigned to the fact that I'll be there often since friends always ask me to accompany them to the San Pedro Cutud Crucifixion Rites. So I found myself in Cutud again this year, this time with even more friends.

We got back at our house at 3 p.m. and had a really late lunch. The solemn Good Friday procession of the Sto. Entierro makes its way around the heritage district at about 6 p.m. This is something which tourists should see as well. After the procession, we had sumptuous dinners (let me stress it's with an "s") at the different heritage houses, hopping from one house to another. For some reason, Good Friday in San Fernando is one big fiesta when families gather and meet. And while abstinence is evident in the feasts, fasting is not! Even during Holy Week, Pampanga lives up to its name as our country's culinary capital.

For more details on Cutud and San Fernando, Pampanga's Good Friday traditions, read Good Friday in San Fernando, Pampanga and Crucifixion rites held in San Pedro Cutud every Good Friday.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Manila: My Mother's Garden (The Garden Room) has a visiting chef

My Mother's Garden (formerly The Garden Room) now offers Australian fusion meals with Melbourne-based chef Joey Veloso at the helm. My Mother's Garden is the residence of National Artist for Architecture Pablo S. Antonio now made available for private bookings.

Chef Joey is a grandson of the National Artist himself. Some of his signature dishes include an Italian Caesar salad with prawns, chicken kebab salad, a Filipino-Australian potato salad using local Tuguegarao longaniza, Vietnamese baked chicken and a Portuguese chicken using Indian spices and Portuguese ingredients.

We got invited for a sneak preview of the fusion cuisine. And here's the feast they served: (1) Sri Lankan curry chicken with grilled baby corn, capsicum and pita bread; (2) Portuguese chicken (peri-peri); (3) North African chermoula salad (which I thought was pinakbet salad because of the similar ingredients); (4) Filipino Caesar's salad with tahong, sweet ham and capers; (5) Tuna Ni├žoise salad; (6) Caribbean wild rice (red, black and white rice) with dried mangoes, pomegranate, raisins and nuts; (7) Spanish pasta with Tuguegarao longaniza, paprika oil and olives; and (8) Vietnamese beef with sweetened peanuts and sweet chili. The flavored soda was also refreshing.

The good part about it is that you can actually customize the menu to your own preferences. Here is a previous entry on My Mother's Garden.

My Mother's Garden
2650 Zamora Street, Pasay City
(02) 8318407, 6315054, 4859244
(0917) 6008886

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Manila: Italianni's introduces its summer dishes

Easter Sunday, I wonder where we'll eat for dinner. I just realized I have a long lists of food experiences to write about. We got invited recently to try out the new menu of Italianni's which they are offering exclusively for summer. They have five new dishes which we all got to taste.

There's the Costina Brasatta (braised ribs), Manzo di Arrosto (roasted rib eye) and Marinata del Manzo di Arrosto (beef pot roast), Pollo con Rucola (chicken with arugula), Spiado del Pollo e Dei Pesci (fish and chicken skewer), and Pesci in Vino Bianco (fish fillet in white wine). Each dish is served with spaghetti aglio e olio and grilled vegetables. Catch these dishes only this summer!
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