What’s with Taal that draws travelers like a moth to a flame?
Well, there’s only a handful of towns like it left. Along with Carcar and Vigan, these townships are the citadels of Filipino heritage conservation. It is not only the number of Antillean houses that had been gratifyingly safeguarded but the attitude of the locals towards their heritage.
I first saw the town 4 years ago. It was an enthralling old town with a splendid basilica but for an advocate of conserving our tangible historic and cultural heritage it meant more than just a tourist attraction.
I took my friends, Señior Gómez and Pepe Alas to the historic town of Taal last Wednesday. For years, I’ve been telling these two that we all should go out of town. So this trip was the fulfilment of that idea and also a treat (although he insisted to pay for gas and food) for ol’ man Gomez. He started visiting the town four decades ago. It was easier to drive around with the him on the passenger seat. He knows Taal like the back of his hand. I thought it a good idea to bring him to the town because he’s currently writing a Spanish novel where a key character is from Taal.
From Manila, I decided to take the lengthier but scenic Tagaytay route. I wanted to see some nature myself to soothe my frazzled mind! But before heading down to Lemery, we ate in one of those low-priced restaurants along the road that has a great view of the Taal Lake, surrounding mountains and the crater. We ordered sinigang na bangus, sisig and pancit bihon, all of which were surprisingly good!
After the brief chow stop, we headed straight to Diokno highway, a well paved but zigzagging road that starts where Nasugbu’s welcome arch stands (near Caleruega). It was a great drive; it’s all downhill until you reach Lemery. There were quite a few dangerous bends but it’s a smooth road so it was a relaxing drive.
This is only my second time in town, but my first visit to the miraculous wells of Santa Lucia. Located not far from the posterior of Caysasay church. Señior Gómez told me that it was the affluent Chinese Catholics who funded and erected the baroque fortification that houses the wells. There are two watering holes that never dries out up even during the warmest days of summer. The faithfuls, both local and tourist, would gather water from it and wash with it in a makeshift bath room nearby. Some takes home water from the well using containers and bottles. This has been a practice for over a hundred years now.
Inside the church of Caysasay, a lady devotee (who took our photos) recounts the reason for her devotion. She said that not too long ago, someone told her to go to the church and pray to the Virgin. Believing that there’s nothing wrong with it since she’s a Catholic, she did so some months later. A few days later after her visit, she and her family got involved in a terrible accident. Their driver lost control of the vehicle with her daughter and her inside it, and smashed straight into an electric poll. They hit it so hard that the transformer installed on it fell not far from where their vehicle rested. Miraculously, aside from a few bruises and wounds, no one was seriously injured. Ever since this incident, she saw to it to visit the church weekly to pray to the Virgin of Caysasay.
We then went to the Basilica and explored the old houses of the town. The one thing I like about the town, like Vigan, is that the locals are not only proud but protective of their heritage. There are incessant threats to bahay-na-batos that had stood for more than 100 years, but at least here, the people are partners in conservation, not destruction.
There was a recent controversy over a parish priest’s planned construction of a performance venue right beside the Basilica. He thought it to be a good racket, and assumed he could get away with it. But then the people rallied behind a well-known local artist to stop the construction. This zealous passion to preserve our heritage is an outstanding example for the rest of the country. It is the locals that must get their hands dirty to contest these bogus land developments.
By taking the Tagaytay route earlier, then Lipa on our way back (exiting Star toll) we inadvertently traveled around the lake of Taal and its lake towns. You know you’ve traveled a protracted distance when you see weather change right in front of you. We experience heavy rains in Alitagtag but sunshiny conditions in Lipa. While there was no rain when we reached Makati, we were all surprise to find out that some of the streets (de la Rosa and parts of Pasong Tamo) were underwater.
Well, traveling, like life, is full of surprises they say.
Very glad to see my professor Sr. Gomez still up and about.
Muchas gracias Arnaldo for that wonderful excursion to el pueblo de Taal. Everytime I go to Taal, I feel rejuvenated. I see there what we had in Iloilo a long time ago but which is now gone by a mis-understood and Americanized notion of Progress. I am so glad that you have found yourself, Señor. Arnaiz, in the realities of our culture and history. That finding of yourself as a true Filipino is the font of your spiritual happiness. Un Viva para ti Arnold.
Take time to visit the old houses. The little museum at the ground floor of Marcella Agoncillo gives a very surprisingly religious explanation for the symbols in our flag.