Holy Week 2013 – My Viaje del Sol

Mounts Banahaw and San Cristobal on the Laguna-Quezon border

Mounts Banahaw and San Cristobal on the Laguna-Quezon border

I really haven’t been to much of Southern Luzon yet, save for parts of Cavite, Batangas and a few towns in Laguna. I had only been to the province of Quezon once before, and have not stepped foot on any province in the Bicolandia yet.

In the last holy week break we decided to explore the interior of Laguna and Quezon a little bit more, and make our own “Viaje del Sol”. The “Viaje del Sol” is a unique “do-it-yourself” tour that takes one across the provinces of Laguna, Batangas and Quezon, and includes stops in the interesting places to see, eat and stay, along the way. Research seems to suggest that most people make San Pablo in Laguna the starting point of the tour, which takes the form of a circuit across the three provinces. However, anyone with a good map and sense of direction is free to twist and turn the itinerary as they please, and thus we did our own version differently.

We made the historic town of Calamba, Laguna our starting point, and chose a clockwise loop that went through Laguna’s interior provincial roads all the way to Quezon, and then followed the more commonly used National Highway on the way back to Calamba to close the circuit. Prior research was done on our route, and at points, we used our car’s onboard GPS to confirm that we are where we think we are, but the route can be tackled without any high tech gadgetry – just bring a good trusty map. I also opted to go clockwise since I wanted to cover the Liliw-Lucban-Sariaya section, the part I have never been to at all, earlier in the trip rather than later, had we gone the other way around.

Leg 1 – Paranaque to Calamba

It was in the morning of Good Friday that we took off from our home in Parañaque, Metro Manila, and made our way to Calamba via the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX). As usual in Good Fridays in the metropolis, there was barely any vehicular traffic and the transit to Laguna was just a breeze. Road time took less than an hour, excluding a breakfast stop at one of the mega-stations one the SLEX, and we never got clogged until we reached the public market deep inside Calamba.

Rizal Shrine

Our first objective in Calamba was a tribute to its most famous resident, the country’s national hero. The house of Jose Rizal’s family, now called the Rizal Shrine, had been converted to a museum. Sitting just beside the old church in the middle of the town, the landmark is pretty easy to spot from the town’s interior roads. The location of the house speaks of the status of Rizal’s family in those days – they were quite well off, as back then houses of the “who’s who” sits close to the center of each town, and that center is most often the town church.

The museum was closed on that day, but seeing it from the outside was good enough, and from the exterior you could tell that the place has been preserved quite well. The one and only time I was able to go inside the museum was way back in 1991 (I was a grade schooler back then), and I could scantly remember the details of the interior, but I’m glad to see that the place is nowhere near falling apart, especially as our culture is notorious for forgetting the past quickly.

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St. John the Baptist Church (est. 1859)

Right beside the Rizal Shrine is the town’s church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Relative to other churches in the country, this one is fairly new. And, as a result of damages from the second world war, large parts of it are mere reconstructions. Indeed, even the facade doesn’t look that dated. Still, it is a worthwile stop for a “Visita Iglesia”.

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Leg 2 – Calamba to Liliw

The second leg of our journey took us from Calamba to the small town of Liliw on the other side of Laguna nearer the Quezon border. Our route skirted through the southern coast of the Laguna de Bay, passing through the towns of Los Baños, Bay and Victoria before taking a narrow provincial road to Nagcarlan, and then on to neighboring Liliw. As the heat of the summer was full blast, the cold springs of Los Baños was drawing a crowd, and along with it came a bit of traffic, and so the Calamba-Los Baños section of our journey was slower than anticipated. Our original plan was supposed to stop at Pagsanjan before going to Nagcarlan and Liliw, but we shelved Pagsanjan and modified our route mid-journey. Somehow navigating on the fly felt exciting, as we pored through the map and the GPS, trying to find a route that cuts through straight from Victoria to Nagcarlan, much like pilots plotting an alternate course mid-flight. We left Calamba late in the morning (around 10:30-ish), and arrrived Nagcarlan before noon.

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

We had a short stop at Nagcarlan to see the town’s most famous landmark, the underground cemetery. Like the Rizal Shrine, the place is now a museum, but like the former, it was also closed. However, above ground you could see that it has been well kept and maintained.

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San Bartolome Church (est. 1752)

Our next short stop was at Nagcarlan’s old church, the San Bartolome. The current structure is around a century older than the one in Calamba, and unlike the latter, this one has much of its original structure intact. So much so that parts of it have vegetation growing.

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Liliw, Laguna

Just a little bit past noon, we arrived at our next “waypoint”, the little old town of Liliw, Laguna. The little town is famous for one thing – footwear – and has been called the “slipper capital of the Philippines”. Even in the middle of the holy week, when most businesses are closed, the slipper market of Liliw was busy and bustling.

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St. John the Baptist Church (est. 1605)

Beautifully perched at the top of the town, with a lovely mountain as a backdrop, is the town church, also named after St. John the Baptist. Built early in the 17th century, the structure is even older than the one in Nagcarlan, but it is undoubtedly more attractive with its red brick walls and cozy interior. Indeed, I would consider it as one of the most beautiful churches around.

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One of the more difficult things to find in Liliw is places to eat. We would have wanted to have lunch at Arebela but it was closed, and so we drove around a bit on the old town’s very narrow roads and only found a quaint little place called Graciano’s open. Apparently a lot of other travellers were in the same situation as us and at that point it seemed like the world was converging on a place that could barely seat 20 people. Needless to say, it was close to pandemonium. The air conditioning would just have said “I give up” if only it could talk, and orders took forever to get to the tables. To be fair, they were very new and were only at their fourth day of operations, and they probably didn’t anticipate the deluge that befell them that day. It was one that they could, and should, charge to experience. The food though, once it finally came, was not bad at all.

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Leg 2 – Liliw to Lucban

We departed Liliw at around mid-afternoon (around 2pm-ish) and drove on to Lucban in Quezon passing through Majayjay and skirting around the slopes of the majestic and “enchanted” Mount Banahaw. We didn’t drop by at Majayjay and just went through it instead, but looking at it through the windshield, it looks like a nice little mountain town with a panoramic view of the Laguna de Bay on the horizon.

The scenic Majayjay-Lucban stretch

The stretch from Majayjay to Lucban was the most scenic of the trip, as the road
comes ever so close to the slopes of Mount Banahaw. The scene was compelling enough to make me stop and step out of the car under the blazing sun just to get a couple of quick shots. The result is the first photo above, and the one directly below.

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The stretch does pass through a tight and steep two-lane zigzag section that has a drop-off on one side and an open drainage on the other – in other words, not the kind of road I would drive through at night after a bottle of San Mig Light. It looks pretty, but do be careful.

Lucban, Quezon

We arrived Lucban, the “apex” of our circuit, around 3pm-ish in the afternoon. Almost everyone would have heard about the town, courtesy of their version of the “pansit”, and the colorful, annual Pahiyas festival, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and quickly liked it. Lucban, like Liliw, was one of the major stops we planned for the trip, and we did take some time to walk around, buy some of their also famous “longganisa”, and sample some of their trademark pansit at the restaurant of the Patio Rizal Hotel. Buddy’s was actually just across the street, but it looked too crowded. Anyway, the Patio Rizal version of the Pansit Lucban was not bad either.

I walked a few blocks myself and I found the town incredibly charming and rustic. Old houses still lined its main roads and narrow streets that were arranged liked a neat grid. Walking around felt a little bit like seeing an old European rural town, complete with a “miniature” town square. The town was also pretty clean by Philippine standards.

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The Good Friday Procession

Friday afternoon was the time Jesus Christ was buried, in Roman Catholic tradition, and thus throughout the Philippines, most especially outside the big cities, this is also the time for processions. Often originating somewhere in the town and ending at the town church, the processions are held to commemorate the transfer of Jesus Christ’s body into the tomb. Also, as usual in the Philippines, religious activities are done with pomp, and the Good Friday processions are no exemption. Carts bearing various images of religious figures are pushed or sometimes carried all the way to the church, and a lively atmosphere surrounds the town center.

We were still inside Lucban when “procession-time” struck and we witnessed the carts assembling amidst the gathering crowd. Indeed, the town had a “fiesta atmosphere” as the people gathered around the church.

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The San Luis Obispo church (est. 1593)

Lucban’s town church is dedicated to San Luis Obispo (St. Louis), and it is probably among the oldest churches in the country. At the time we were there, the church was packed with people who were anticipating to receive the procession.

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Leg 4 – Lucban to Paranaque

We left Lucban just before the peak of the procession, and before we could get stuck inside as the procession winded through the roads in the central area. Departing Lucban, we headed towards the direction of Tayabas, and then took a diversion from Tayabas to merge with the National Highway. We then took the highway all the way until it intercepted the SLEX.

Sariaya, Quezon

Travelling northbound along the highway, we passed by the old town of Sariaya just before sunset, and briefly stopped to take some photos of the old houses of prominent families just off the highway. The houses, in varying degrees of maintenance or disrepair, are somewhat reminscent of the old houses of the “barons” in the Visayas.

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We would have wanted to stop for dinner at San Pablo, Laguna, however the procession was still winding through the town (or had just finished), and many of the interior roads were still blocked, thus after a brief incursion into the town, we turned back and had dinner at Sto. Tomas, Batangas instead, before taking the expressway back to the big city.

* Photos taken last March 2013, with Panasonic Lumix LX5.

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