Most locals as well as tourist would automatically picture this on their heads when they hear the word Taal.
I myself is guilty of it. Whenever I hear the word, I think of the grand panoramic view I always see at Tagaytay in Cavite, a popular getaway within an hour south of Manila. Little do we know that it is much, much more than just the famed volcano crater and lake in Batangas.
Last weekend, I experienced a sensory overload when I tagged along with a group of philatelists, photographers and bloggers in what I called a “cultural and historical crash course” the Taaleño way.
Our group went to Taal coinciding the El Pasubat Festival. Now in its third year, the festival marks Taal’s founding anniversary. The name, an acrostic of Taal’s native products and delicacies that local government aims to promote and raise awareness to the Filipinos as well as foreign tourists alike. El Pasubat stands for Empanada (stuffed pie) , Longganisa (local sausages), PAnutsa (syrup or hard candy made from molasses), SUman (sticky rice cakes), Barong (embroidered formal wear for men), Balisong (lancet), Tapa (locally preserved meat), Tulingan (tuna), Tamalis (another type of rice cake) and Tawilis (freshwater sardine endemic on Taal Lake)Before the tour started, we were welcomed by Mr. Derrick Manas, President of the Diwa ng Batangan (Heritage Conservation Society of Batangas-Batangas Historical Society), political, heritage and social development consultant to the governor of Batangas. He is the one who will conduct the tour. A very lively and articulate person, he is one of the people who work tirelessly and spearheaded the initiative to bring the town of Taal at par with other heritage towns like Vigan. Their main target is to bring the town to UNESCO World Heritage Site status. We soon started the walking heritage tour and made our way to our first stop: Casa Real Casa Real is the municipal government building that was erected 1845, it had the distinction of the only Spanish building in the town that has tile roof commissioned by Fr. Celestino Mayordomo.
Just right across the town hall is the building called Escuela Pia the building was originally built during the construction of the Basilica in 1885. It then later became the Colegio de la Sagrada Familia a school dedicated to the moral reformation of the youth of Taal, founded by Doña Gliceria Marcella de Villavicencio. The structure was then restored by Taal Arts and Culture Movement in cooperation with the National Historical Institute. It was then made into a National Historical Momument. At present it serves as the cultural center of the town.Right after Escuela Pia you will find a flight of old stone stairs leading to the most imposing building in Taal. It sure would grab anyone’s attention for this bastion of faith had the distinction of being the largest Catholic Church not just in the Philippines but in the entire Asian continent, standing 96 metres (315 ft) long and 45 metres (148 ft) wide.
After the impressive tour of the church, we made our way to the convent beside it and we are greeted by equally impressive church artefacts, art pieces and furnitures all fully restored. We also had the chance to have a little chat with Vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lipa and Taal’s parish priest Msgr. Alfredo Madlangbayan. He filled us with a brief history of the place and how the the youth under his care had helped in restoring the church on its present condition.
From there, we walk head on to the casas, or the private houses built during the Spanish era. In total, there are around 80 heritage houses in the town of Taal. The second part of my blog will be focusing more on our Visita de las Casas or the actual walking tour of these private houses as they need to highlighted and given emphasis, considering the role they took part in Philippine history.
We are so enamoured in the houses that we realised it’s almost 2 o’clock and we didn’t had lunch yet. Our late lunch was a sumptuous buffet in the former ancestral house of the Taal’s Ylagan-Barrion family, fully restored, resurrected and now named as Galleria Taal. The ancestral house turned camera museum is a popular stop in Taal for it was featured in countless magazines and TV shows.
Right after lunch, we began the private tour with the gallery owner Mr. Manny Inumerable, camera connoisseur and photographer extraordinaire. Like what his family name suggests, he had innumerable and impressive collections of cameras – from daguerreotypes and stereo cameras to polaroids and rangefinders to underwater cameras, TLRs, SLRs – enough to whet anyone’s interest, photographer or not. One of his collection pieces that caught most of the attention is the limited edition Nikon FA Gold, a 24-karat gold plated film camera. It was the first Gold Nikon camera offered for sale to the public, commemorating Nikon for winning the European camera of the Year award or the “Camera Grand Prix” that was founded in 1984, where photo industry around the world would come together and vote for the best camera for that year. The 20 gold plated parts are 24K gold plated. The body covering is red lizard skin. Very delicate, the easily scratchable gold finish was protected with a specially provided cleaning cloth, complete with special Nikon gold cleaners. Among his collection includes model of the spy cameras used on past James Bond films, his impressive collection of Rolleiflexes and Leicas and the Century Studio Camera from the 1920s which is one of the collector’s favourite. Aside from his camera collection, he also collects antiquarian photos and some of the reproductions are displayed on the gallery as well with the help of Ortigas Foundation Library. The stories behind those photos are highly entertaining and informative I will suggest you go there and hear for yourself. These photographs are reproductions from 1890’s through the 1940’s.
His collection started out when he was a teenager when his uncle bought him a film camera when he was 12 years old. He then continued to acquire his collection from relatives, friends from various camera clubs and local antique shops. To further increase his growing collection, he joined bidding at international auctions and in the internet. Besides camera collecting he had become an authority in camera restoration.
Our next stop is Villa Tortuga – a unique photo studio/restaurant. For a certain fee, anyone can dress up in 1900’s fashion complete with accesories, have their picture taken in an antiquarian style, and dine on a full course meal at the second level of the house. That’s dress-up, photo-op and dine- in a hundred years back. The house also have an impressive collection of turtle’s (which is where the Spanish word “tortuga” came from) carapace or outer shell. The house was built close to the river and during the old times the turtles go there frequently to lay their eggs.On one of our stops we went to the art gallery of the soon-to-be national artist Mr. Ramon Orlina and luckily we found the artist who just came home from his recent trip from Bangkok. Mang Ramon, is a seminal figure in Philippine art whose works are known both local and international. He himself give us a private tour of his art gallery and his up and coming cafe. A pioneer in glass and bronze scuplting, one of his works is the Quattromondial, a dramatic 10-meter-high monument commissioned for the 400th anniversary of the founding of University of Santo Tomas. Very warm and accomodating, he gives us a very entertaining chat on his works, the history of Taal and some of his future endeavors and projects. We also stop by to the “other” church in Taal – the Our Lady of Caysasay Church. Built in 1611, the location marks the spot where the image was found while it was being guarded by local kingfishers or casay-casay (it was called caysasay by Spaniards). The first apparition of Our Lady to an almost blind native servant girl and around 30 women, was recorded by the church ordinario. The incident was the first recorded Marian apparition in the country. From the miraculous cure of her eyes during the apparition, the well water, now known as “Balon ng Sta. Lucia” and the adjoining stream, now known as “Banal na Tubig” have been known to possess miraculous attributes of healing up to this day. An arch was constructed after 1611 over the wells, which generally marks the spot of her apparitions, and is today called “Banal na Pook”.
The chapel can be reached by hagdan-hagdan or the San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps. Hagdan-hagdan is actually 125 granite steps from the Caysasay Church beside the Pansipit river which leads up to the center of town. Originally, the steps were made of adobe stone, but these were later replaced with granite or batong song-song in 1850 by Fr. Celestino Mayordomo. It is now dedicated to the memory of San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Through the end of that day, we are got bombarded with bits and pieces of history, trivias, anecdotes and experiences to remember. Our earthly bodies, like our camera batteries and memory cards all spent, we made our way home around 9 o’clock in the evening. This will not be the first and the last time I will go to Taal. Hey, we still missed out the embroidery and balisong factory. We are looking forward to the next industry/heritage tour soon!
Getting there and Away
There are buses (Jam, Jac and RRCG bus lines) in Buendia Terminal that goes straight to Lemery Batangas (145-170php one way, travel time 1.5 hrs) and alight at Taal. If you cannot find any straight route, take buses bound to Lipa and alight at Tambo (88php-95php one way, travel time 1 hr) then take the jeepneys bound to Lemery and alight at Taal, a town before it (47php, 30mins to an hour travel time)
Some Useful Links and contact details
Mr. Derrick Manas – heritage tour facilitator / President of Diwa ng Batangan (Heritage Conservation Society of Batangas-Batangas Historical Society)
mobile: +63906 489 0609
Mr. Manny Inumerable – businessman and owner of Galleria Taal
mobile: +63918 912 4051
Ms. Dolores Bautista -Museum curator
Mobile +63906 763 2449