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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Segara Villas in Subic

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This is a cluster of 10 or so villas. Actually single detached hotel rooms that provide utmost privacy. Guests do not have next-wall neighbors. On top of privacy, discriminating guests will find that the villas are so well designed, inside and outside. Guests walk through a shaded garden pathway with interesting accents like jars and water features. When one gets to his villa, a comfortable lounge awaits, and a wide, orthopedic bed with linen and pillows one finds in 5-star hotels.

Aesthetics. I have always loved things Balinese and I have enough of it in Segara. Even the bathroom features a small, narrow open space one sees through a glass panel, creating an outdoorsy feeling while in the tub or shower.

The swimming pool is immaculate, and never busy.  Or at least that is how I have seen it in my last four visits. It is possible that the swimming pool might go busy in summer, as it is also accessible to the guest of the adjoining Segara Suites. No matter. I have a good view of the pool when I am in the terrace of my favorite executive villa called Lovina.

wilderness, right within a meter from my veranda

 

The service is always excellent. Even at the restaurant.

No wonder Segara remains as my default home in Subic. And I continue to share experiences to fellow travelers while paying full rates in all hotels, and not getting anything for free, as I have always thought that bloggers should be honest in their review (not tainted by freebies).

I took photos using only my iPhone. For better photos and more details (rates, bookings, how to get there etc)

http://www.segaravillassubic.com/

Church of San Matias – – Tumauini, Isabela

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Tumauini is a first class town located at the northern portion of the province of Isabela, 68 kilometers from Tuguegarao, past the town of Cabagan.

The Tumauini Church  was built in the 1780s by the Dominicans, in the Baroque style, and is considered to be the best preserved church in the province. Made entirely of red  bricks, the  4-storey bell tower which was subsequently added was also done in bricks that some have described to look like a wedding cake.

 

The Church of Tumauini was declared a National Historical Landmark on February 24, 1989, and is on the Tentative List of Unesco World Heritage.

 

 

San Pablo Church – the most beautiful in Isabela

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nothing but a facade

 

Went to all churches in Isabela on a recent tour. I could say all of the churches were interesting. But one stood out.

 

San Pablo is a second class municipality 21 kilometers south of Tuguegarao via the Maharlika Highway. Travel time is 26 minutes.

This church is the oldest in Isabela and stands out because the whole facade and the belltower, the tallest in the whole Cgayan Valley, are what really remain of what was probably one of the biggest churches in the region. Behind the facade, and actually way behind is a re-built church that still uses the walls of the old church. To think that between the old facade and the new church is a wide area that looks like a patio. Then one would know that the whole church then included the re-built church and this wide front space !

the rebuilt church behind the facade. Note the huge front yard, part of the original church

 

inside the rebuilt church. Note that walls are those of the original structure, and these walls flow into the empty space in front

 

the walls from inside the rebuilt church continue into this, now the facade of the smaller rebuilt church. One concludes this space was part of the original structure

 

the stairway to the bell tower

 

HOW MUST IT HAVE LOOKED THEN?
In front of the facade is what one will conclude to be the original church frontyard. It is marvelous and eerie at the same time.

When other photographers finally find this church, they will agree – – it is the most photographable church in Isabela.

the oldest, and most photographable

 

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The Tuguegarao Cathedral

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The Tuguegarao Cathedral is officially known as  the  Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral. The historical marker tells the full story, more than I can ever attempt to do.

 

Architecture is baroque, typical of churches built in the 18th century. The details on the main door are impressive that one can not resist taking photos.

 

 

 

It is one of the largest churches in Cagayan Valley and, Tuguegarao being the nerve center of the province, the cathedral is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.

Waze brought me from Piat 42 kilometers away to Tuguegaro Cathedral in 30 minutes.

Our Lady of Piat, Cagayan Valley

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At first I thought this beautiful church was in Tuguegarao. Then Waze directed me to the town of Piat,  42  kilometers  from Tuguegarao City.

It felt like Manaoag with the hundreds of devotees. I thought this was going to be some sleepy town with a beautiful church.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Piat  is one of the twelve minor basilicas in the country, and is home to the 400+ year old Black Virgin Mary.

I went to several churches in the region and noticed that most of them, like the Basilica of Our Lady of Piat, are made of red bricks, unlike the churches in the Visayas made mostly of coral rocks and stones.

The altar looks like the one in Manaoag, with the image of Our Lady of Piat enclosed in a glass case. Access is at the rear of the church where pilgrims queue towards a staircase leading to the glass-enclosed image – – where they can touch the dress of Our Lady.

Notice the man inside the glass case on the altar – – he is one of the hundreds who queued at the rear of the church for access to touch Our Lady’s dress

 

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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