San Nicolas, Batangas

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San Nicolas is along Taal Lake and is the smallest town in the province of Batangas. It is so small for it was part of the town of Taal, and only became a separate town in 1955. Inevitably, its history is closely linked to Taal.

 

The largest basilica in Asia which now stands in Taal is actually Taal’s second basilica.

 

TAAL’S FIRST BASILICA

(from WIKIPEDIA) “In 1575, 3 years after the founding of Taal town in its old site near the shores of Taal Lake  work began on the construction of its first church by Father Diego Espinar (O.S.A.) with Saint Martin of Tours as patron saint. The church was rebuilt in 1642 using stronger materials but in 1754, it was destroyed along with the town of Taal in the largest recorded eruption of Taal Volcano This event led to transfer of the town and the church farther away from the volcano to its present site atop an elevated hill facing Balayan Bay. The ruins of the previous church can still be seen in San Nicolas.”

The first basilica is now nothing but ruins, but is the most interesting spot in San Nicolas that draws visitors to this little town. I did a copy paste of the church ruins history posted outside of the ruins.

Noticeably, the structure is principally made of corals, just like how most of the churches in southern Luzon and the Visayas were made.

 

One can not help but visualize how the church stood in its glory days even as there is now nothing except its shell.

 

Today, statues of saints have been erected outside of the walls of the ruins.

 

GATEWAY TO TAAL VOLCANO

While the town of Talisay is the default gateway, loading hundreds of visitors onto boats for a visit to the volcano island, the town of Nicolas lays claim to being the real gateway. They are the closest to the volcano, about 3-4 kilometers away, and a mere 30 minute boat ride.

The promenade that the town has built around the lake draws visitors for a view of the lake, the volcano, and Mt. Maculot on the background.

 

 

 

 

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN SAN NICOLAS

Other than taking a boat ride and trekking Taal, here are two interesting things to do in San Nicolas.

Have lunch at the local restaurant serving the very rare maliputo, a fish species caught only in Taal Lake. On one visit, I had one cooked two ways (a portion was grilled, the other portion made into sinigang). And the famous tawilis. Unfortunately, they do not have these everyday. Try your luck.

(photo taken by my friend Bobby Taron)

 

BIRD SANCTUARY 

(photo taken by my friend Bobby Taron)

I did not experience this myself. But the tourism poster at the maliputo place indicated that this is a special attraction in San Nicolas.

 

 

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Kalinga to Abra : Extreme Roadtrip

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This is a route I will advise the faint-hearted not to take. There are no phone signals in 85% of the route, the roads are non-existent in many parts, necessitating traversing thru narrow, muddy  edge-of-mountain roads. There are many stretches where the concrete roads are still good, but they suddenly disappear after the trip, one will remember only the narrow, muddy terrain.

Kalinga and Abra are two provinces within the Cordillera Administrative Region, which also includes Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, and Mountain Province.


The Cordillera Administrative Region encompasses most of the Central Cordillera, the largest mountain range in the country, occupying half of Northern Luzon.  It is both the highest and the single largest mass of mountains in the entire Philippine archipelago.Because of its mountainous topography the region has been referred to as the “Watershed Cradle of North Luzon”

The only landlocked region in the country, it is bordered by the the Ilocos region in the west and southwest,  by the Cagayan Valley  on the north, east,  by Isabela in the southeast, and by Pangasinan and Nueva Vizcaya  in the south. It is the least populated region in the country, and is home to numerous indigenous tribes such as the Kalingan, Isneg, Tinggian, Ifugaos, Kankanaeys, Ibaloy, Bontoc, Bago, Illian, Baliwon and many others. Collectively they are called Igorots.

But despite being centrally located between between the much-visited Ilocos Region and the high-tourist-traffic Cagayan Valley which is popular for centuries old churches and exotic beaches , the provinces in the Cordilleras have limited entry points from neighboring towns and cities due to its topographic configuration mostly of steep slopes and mountain ranges. Abra is accessed via Vigan, Benguet via La Union, Apayao, Kalinga, and Mountain province via the eastern Cagayan Valley and Isabela.

Yet, this unique topography of mountains, valleys and rivers make the region a must-visit for travelers seeking adventure and wanting to soak in a different culture one can only experience by meeting ethnic people from the hinterlands.

HOW I DECIDED ON THIS ROUTE

On hindsight, I should not have taken a so unfamiliar route.  But then maybe something in me craved for the uncertain. The sense of adventure started when I did the Apayao-Kalinga route, another road less traveled. Normally, travelers would exit from Apayao from Luna town to Cagayan Valley, and enter Kalinga from there, via Tuguegarao. Instead, I took the mountain road to Kalinga, with traveler friends either advising me against it or warning me of the treacherous road, and that I must take extreme caution.

But then again, maybe I just have a taste for roads that pose a challenge. I went from Baler once to Manila via Bongabon, even while I could take the easy Pantabangan way. Yet, the lure of rugges roads in the rainforests thrilled me, so I drove my 4×4 then tru shallow rivers. On my last drive to this route, it is still beautiful, but now less exciting because the roads are now mostly paved.

And have you tried going to Baler from Nueva Vizcaya, via Quirino? That was also some experience.

I checked with locals. They said the route to Abra is via Balbalan. So some route exists. And it is only 173.5 kilometers. Hmmmm.

So here I am, wanting to go to Abra via another road less traveled. My friends actually said maybe it is  “roadless travel” when I told them about it.

 

START POINT: KALINGA

Kalinga province has rugged and sloping terrain, with mountains soaring to 2,500 meters. On its western side, which is on the route to its neighboring province of Abra, are sharp, rugged,  inter-linking peaks of steep slopes, plateaus and valleys, and rainforests. There are numerous rice terraces to awe visitors in the towns of Pasil and Balbalan.

Tabuk City Hall, Kalinga

DESTINATION: ABRA

Abra  is on  the  Western side of the massive Cordillera in Northern  Luzon. Its deep valleys and sloping hills are enclosed by rugged mountains,  except in the western portion where the Abra River flows towards the coastal plains of Ilocos Sur.  These rugged mountains are shared with the boundaries of the province of Kalinga.

TRAVEL SUMMARY:

At the end of my travel, I reassured friends who knew I was taking this route with a facebook post describing the adventure.

Route not recommended. I am probably just so adventurous, and foolish ( hehehe). And because I knew my 4×4 can handle the road. Total of 6 hours with maybe cumulative 30 minutes spread in different spots with mobile connection. Too many unpaved, very muddy roads on long stretches. Landslides in too many spots I stopped counting at 100. Too many portions where half of the road has nothing under the concrete – – the land must have been washed away. There is a portion where the car had to negotiate an elevated, unpaved road where on a wrong maneuver, the car could fall. And that is why we never saw public transport throughout the trip. Extreme adventure. But something in me says I can do it again. Call me crazy.

REWARDS: Beautiful Sceneries

Pasil

I first chanced chanced upon a beautiful, quaint cafe by the provincial road in Pasil  on the way to Lubuagan, Tinglayan and Bontoc. This is Bangyan 88, a cafe/resto  where, on the next bend to the right, one starts the journey to Abra.

The route starts with this nice, paved road.

From a nice, paved road, you will probably ask “where has the road gone?” And before me was a truck where locals hitched a ride, as there seems to be no public transportation. There is a little barangay I saw, but before and after that was long stretches of muddy roads.

To be fair, there are concrete roads, too. But they suddenly disappear.

On the way, cloud covered mountains and rice terraces.

Balbalan

Balbalan is the next town after Pasil. In fact, this was the defined gateway to Abra, The town of Balbalan covers a huge tract of land – – mountains, valleys, rivers, streams and plateaus. In fact, a national park, Balbalasang Balabalan National Park sits on the beautiful mountain called Mt Balbalasang, and is a major draw among adventure travelers.  Balbalan is also famous for its rice terraces.

 

 

It is in Balbalan where the roads get muddier, narrower, and where landslides on mountainsides become more frequent. A lot of the concreted roads also become unservice-able because the ground underneath has been eroded, making the roads “one way”.

 

 

 

A most scenic part of Balbalan is the Balbalasang area.

 

 

 

Onwards to ABRA

One never know when the roads from Balbalan ends or where it begins to be part of Abra. I kept looking for any signs of the provincial boundary. Nada. Most likely because the roads are in perpetual construction or repair.

There are many stretches of this road. Just half of the road is concrete. And we were constantly praying that no one is on out opposite direction because there was no way we or the other vehicle could move to the sides – – about 10 inches from the ground. Luckily, no one came the opposite way. And that is because no one seems to want to be on this route.

 

 

 

 

 

I FINALLY KNEW I WAS IN ABRA.

Because there was this “To Kalinga” sign, I knew I was in Abra.

 

But I was not quite in Bangued yet. I also saw an arc, and when I went past it, knew that the place I just passed was Malibcong in Abra, an area defined as an “ancestral domain”. Interesting.

 

I felt like I was back in civilization when I hit the next town.

 

 

And then I was in Bangued. Total travel time, including stops for photography was nearly 7 hours.

 

As I told my friends, this is a route I should not have taken. I wasn’t able to photograph a spot where our 4×4 crossed a road that was almost just as wide as the vehicle we were in, and we could have fallen if our wheels moved a few inches away on either side. Visualize this, and it would have been impossible for me to have taken a photo. Once past it, I was just so relieved that I completely forgot to take a snapshot of that road we passed thru, no matter how short.

But then I may be crazy enough to want to try this route again. Especially since I have done it once.

Baler to Manila via Bongabon

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Everyone goes to Baler and back via Pantabangan. It is the easiest route, and the views are scenic – – with 2 dams along the way.

Not so many know that back in the old days, the road to Baler was via Bongabon in Nueva Ecija. In fact, during President Manuel Quezon’s time, the family would take this road to and from Manila. That is why it was also on this stretch of road where then First Lady Dona Aurora was ambushed. A sad footnote, but an important detail to illustrate that back then, Bongabon was the road to Baler. Thus in her honor was created the Aurora Memorial National Park, a protected area within the Sierra Madre mountain range covering parts of Aurora and Nueva Ecija. The road system stretches nearly 71 kilometers from San Luis, with an area (according to Wikipedia) of   5,676 hectares.

Left San Luis at 830am

Baler used to be part of Aurora Sub Province, which was then politically under Quezon Province. Imagine that the people of Baler would then have to go via Nueva Ecija, and then on to Pampanga, Bulacan, Metro Manila, and Laguna before they reach the provincial capitol in Lucena for a transaction with the government? Until of course Aurora became a province unto itself.

Last time I took the road back to Manila from Baler via Bongabon was in 2010, seven years ago. I wrote in my blog then :

Jungle Route vs Scenic Route

Returning to Manila, we decided to take the Bongabon Road from San Luis in Baler. Why? Because the map showed it to be a shorter route. From San Luis, it said 77kms to Bn (Bongabon). Wow, must be a really quick return trip! And the roads were paved. I figured we will be in Nueva Ecija in no time. But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Bongabon route is what I will now call the “Jungle Route”. If you are not on a 4×4 and not adventurous enough, stay with the Pantabangan “scenic route”.

The paved road from San Luis ended way before I could rejoice at the decision to do this shortcut. Soon enough, we were traversing a dirt road carved out of the Sierra Madre, with deep ravines on our right. There were several portions that were so narrow and we had to stop to give way to trucks going up the mountain trail. Most of all, we had to cross two rivers, one was deep and wide enough to make me re-think of the sanity of continuing. But then,this wasn’t the first time my 4×4 was crossing a river, so what the heck. In my mind, I was more worried about  the van that we passed early on. It is one of those second-hand vans you can buy for P150,000,  and I was sure they will have trouble with their decision to take this jungle route. They probably also had a map, and decided to take this “shortcut”. I was glad I took this route so I can advise non-adventurous friends to stay away, and challenge my daring friends to take this road either to or from Baler.

The Road 7 Years Later ( June 5, 2017)

Just the other day, I was in Baler from another route – – via Quirino Province. It was also some adventure. Thus, to complete the adventure, I decided to try what I then called the Jungle Route to Manila via Bongabon. Bummer. It was, after 7 years, a concrete road – – – or at least around 85% of the way.

Left San Luis, the town after Baler at 830am. Entered the Dona  Aurora Memorial National Park and was out of it by 11am, on a very leisurely drive, with some stops for photos and a stop at the marker of the site where Dona Aurora was ambushed. Thus, 2 1/2 hours for a distance of 71 zigzagging kilometers with portions of dirt roads.

the historical marker. I was there when this was unveiled by the National Historical Institute a few years ago.

This is obviously a low-traffic road such that dogs feel like they own the road. I must have spotted nearly 50 dogs on the route, with some of them comfortably lying down right in the middle of the road. This one I chanced upon (my cam was not always on) was, at least, on the side of the road.

Yes, there are still some portions that remain unpaved. Or maybe the concrete must have been washed away by landslides. Most likely, the unpaved portions will be done after cutting up portions of the mountain to widen the road, as most of the road system from San Luis to Bongabon are now wide. And there are plenty of spots and opportunities to stop and soak in the beauty of the forest.

Stop and marvel at the forest

Avoid the road after a typhoon as landslides could block the road

 

 

 

 

 

 

51kilometers to Bongabon, Nueva Ecija

 

There was only one point where my 4×4 crossed a narrow a shallow river, but only because the bridge was still being put up. In sharp contrast with my previous trip on this route where crossing rivers and streams was “normal”.

Crossing the shallow river

 

and up into a dirt road

Methinks that even when DPWH finishes all work, this route will forever be under repair. The terrain is just so different and prone to mudslides and land slides. Mental note to self : avoid this route after a really heavy downpour. Or be stuck when trees and earth block the road.

Otherwise, this is a route I can now take anytime. A welcome change from the usual Pantabangan-Baler way.

I strongly suggest you try this route.

P.S. On way home, we stopped in Zaragoza in Nueva Ecija, and had a wonderful lunch in a roadside carinderia. My driver and I ordered one steaming hot palayok of pink salmon, one sizzling plate of pork belly, and one sizzling plate of dinakdakan (an Ilocano delicacy made of pork and liver). Plus three (3) orders of rice, and 2 bottles of Mountain Dew softdrinks? Guess how much we paid.

After the meal, I was guessing how much the bill wpuld be, and I flashed it on facebook and asked friends how much the bill would be. Some guessed as much as P680, with others itemizing how much each item was to come up with a good estimate. And almost no one believed that the sumptuous meal cost us only P295.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and the Baler-Bongabon Roadtrip

 

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Road trip: Quirino to Baler,Aurora

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Why would anyone make a road trip from Quirino to Baler in Aurora Province? Because the road is there.

Quirino, named after the 6th President of the Philippines, is landlocked, It has Nueva Vizcaya to the west, Isabela to the north, and Aurora to the southeast.  Visitors go to Quirino for adventure tourism – – cliff jumping, exploring its many caves ( it is said that practically the entire province of Quirino sits on a syatem of caves). I had planned to stay overnight but chose to bypass after reading up, realizing I should spend maybe 2-3 nights for me to fully explore Quirino. That will have to be another trip.

I was crisscrossing Cagayan Valley and the towns of Isabela, photographing the beautiful old churches. Then I spent a night in Santiago City, intending to explore Quirino, and then decided to save it for a longer trip. Thus, unplanned, I inquired about the road from Quirino to Aurora – – whether it is now passable. I first heard about it and wanted to cross then from Casiguran in Aurora to Quirino, many years ago. When I was told that the road is good, I went on and traveled to Baler instead.

ORYZA HOTEL in Santiago City, my start off point

 

 

On the road to Cobarruguis, capital of Quirino

 

Destination: Maddella town hall

 

Santiago City to Maddela, the jump-off point to the Quirino-Aurora Road is 62 kilometers. And it was an easy 78 kilometers to Barangay Dinadiawan in Dipaculao, Aurora. I got on Waze and learned that it was going to be a mere 1 1/2 hour drive.

Ain’t no mountain high enough

I was imagining an adventure into the hinterlands. As it turns out, the road system is 95% complete and it was concrete roads all the way. Except for certain sections about to be concreted, or maybe just being repaired due to landslides. There are also slippages in many sections but, overall, road travel is safe. There are stones and pebbles piled up on the sides of the roads that are not passable because of the slippage – – – it is hollow underneath.

I felt comfortable especially after coming across many cars and SUVs coming from the other end. Then the road must be good all the way, I said to myself.

It is a picturesque route. Mountains and hills and rivers. For a while I thought I was along Kennon Road.

At the end of the mountain road is Barangay Dinadiawan in Dipaculao, a town I have visited many times before, next to Baler.

Dinadiawan in Dipaculao, Aurora

1.5 hours from Maddela to Dinadiawan, another 1.5 to 2 hours to Baler

Lunch was in a carinderia by the roadside at Dipaculao Poblacion.

And then I was back in Baler, enjoying my beer.

 

Cebu City in One Day

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I previously posted a 1-day city tour of Cebu. This post is another suggestion for a whole day city tour based on a recent visit.

Best to hire a car for an efficient day. Or hire a taxi later in the day after covering the core destinations within the city.

TAOIST TEMPLE

Remember that this is a religious shrine. Located within the posh Beverly Hills, visitors are treated to the imposing structure of this temple. Non-Taoist guests are welcome, but visitors are not allowed to take photos of the altar and the saints. The view from the temple is beautiful, the city skyline, with the Huge Waterfront Hotel, can be seen from the terraces of the temple.

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FORT SAN PEDRO

This fort is the oldest and smallest bastion in the Philippines. It is a lovely spot, pretty much like, albeit a smaller version of, Manila’s Paco Park.

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STO NINO SHRINE

Popular among devotees, and more popular than the cathedral. Old ladies in religious costumes offer candles previously blessed for sale. The altar is beautiful, the ceiling grand.

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MAGELLAN’S CROSS

Across from the church is the city’s most famous landmark, the Magellan’s cross. The original cross is wrapped in the tindalo wooden cross visible to visitors.img_2447

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CITY HALL

Across from the cross is the Cebu City Hall

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LUNCH AT LA FORTUNA

Inexpensive lunch can be had at La Fortuna Bakery. This is found at the exit of the Sto Nino Shrine, before Magellan’s Cross. They also have a door fronting the City Hall. They actually have a fast food counter that serves lunch items. Lunch for three, in our case, was less than P300.00img_2466

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CASA GORORDO

gorordo-marker

gorordo-mansion

YAP SANDIEGO HOUSE

Reputed to be the oldest Chinese house outside of mainland China. The brick roof is original. The floors are rather squeaky, and guests are made to slip on socks-like protection over their shoes so as not to damage the floors.

yap-sandiego

HISTORY OF CEBU

Just outside Yap-Sandiego is a huge mural depicting the history of Cebu.

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MUSEO SUGBO

Museo Sugbo means Cebu Museum. I will let the marker describe the structure.img_2553

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This is a very interesting destination where one can spend more than an hour if he is s serious student of history. There are many galleries, all air-conditioned, with each one focusing on different stages of history. There are many guides taking turns to explain the different galleries to the visitors. After a rather long journey thru history, guests can avail of refreshments and souvenirs from the shops inside.

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TOPS

If you haven’t hired a car, this is the time to arrange for a hired taxi. Unless you know your way to Tops, as they also offer transportation to and from Tops.

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the view from Tops

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CAP YOUR DAY AT LANTAW

This is simply the loveliest spot for refreshments, early dinner, if not a real dinner at night. High on a hill in Busay, people go up to Lantaw for the good food and the nice city view while having dinner or drinks. Not a cheap place. Prices are mid-to-above-mid range. img_2637

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the view from Lantaw

TEMPLE OF LEAH

Temple of Leah is listed on tripadvisor and many city guides as a destination, likening it to the Parthenon. Quite honestly, I was not that interested. I have seen the spot being constructed from way before, right from Lantaw. So I took some iPhone photos of Temple of Leah from the Lantaw veranda.

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All of these can be visited in 8 hours. I hired a car from Mabuhay for P5,000 for the first 8 hours. If you must exceed 8 hours, the subsequent charge for every hour in excess is P550. But then I figure that being in comfortable in an air-conditioned car makes this tour more efficient and more pleasurable.