Bicolandia…A Holy Week Road Trip (Part 2)

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After spending the whole of Good Friday in Legazpi and Daraga, we transferred back to Naga on Black Saturday. A good 2+ hours closer to Manila than Legazpi, it was a good jump-off point for our trip back to Manila on Easter Sunday. Unlike Legazpi and Daraga, the landlocked city of Naga did not really have notable natural attractions of its own. There’s no volcano, no ruins, no coastline, but Naga is definitely more urban than the previous two.

Camsur Watersports Complex

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Perhaps the biggest draw in and around Naga, for the sports inclined, is the “wakeboarding mecca” – the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC), in the next door town of Pili. We passed by the CWC on our way from Legazpi back to Naga. There was a time when the CWC was all over TV, and it gave Naga, and Bicol in general, a lot of media mileage. Now the hype is over, but there was still a lot of people during holy week.

I just watched for a few minutes as people queued under the roasting sun, waiting for the turn to catch a line launch themselves into the man made lake. And though about 9 out of every 10 of them ended with a splat, flat in the water, they seemed to have fun, as each of them patiently queued back after hauling themselves out of the water.

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Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Penafrancia

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Naga is also known as the “pilgrimage city” owing to the Lady of Peñafracia, an image of the Virgin Mary who is considered the region’s Patroness. A tradition inherited from the Spanish during the colonial period, the Bicolano’s devotion to the Lady of Peñafrancia rivals that of Manila’s to the Black Nazarene. Every September, pilgrims flock to Naga for an annual parade, asking for intercession from the Lady, whom the locals call as “Ina” (mother). On any other day though, the image of the Lady of Peñafrancia is housed in the Basilica where people can go behind the altar, touch it, and offer prayers.

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Ateneo De Naga

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You mention the Jesuits in the Philippines and the first thing that comes into mind are their schools. Ateneo schools in the country hold a certain badge of distinction, and “Ateneo” is a compelling word in anyone’s resume. I myself am a product of one, and so is my wife. The reason we made a short stop at the Ateneo de Naga owes more to our being Ateneans (what Ateneo students and alumni are called), than anything else. Still, what we found inside is a neat, attractive campus. I’ve always felt something distinct when I am in an Ateneo campus, and Ateneo de Naga carries the same familiar feel.

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Naga was also known as Nueva Caceres during the Spanish period, and was the religious center of the entire Bicol region. With it, it’s no surprise that a lot things you could see in the city has something to do with religion. The Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia was the “Ina’s” old home, until the much newer Basilica was built. Today it still retains its name despite the transfer of the image to the Basilica, and though there’s nothing much to see there anymore, it is still a charming little old church.

The Naga Cathedral on the other hand has an imposing stance in the middle of the city. It is the center of the current Archdiocese of Caceres, and its authority is visible even in the exterior with its thick walls reminiscent of a fortress. At the entrance to the cathedral’s grounds is a gate that kind of reminds one of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, though much smaller, and it’s called the “Porta Mariae” (Gate of Mary).

Not too far away from the cathedral is the San Franciso Parish Church. Situated right by the roadside of a busy street, it may not be the ideal place for some peace and quiet, but it does have its own humble charm.

Shrine of Our Lady of Penafrancia

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Naga Cathedral

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San Francisco Church

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Bicol is also known throughout the country for its unique cuisine, and Naga is the perfect one-stop shop to try all the flavors of the region. The stretch of Magsaysay Avenue in central Naga is a veritable food street, and one can find almost any sort of dish there. Bob Marlin’s (obviously patterned after Bob Marley) is one of the most popular in the area, combining Bicolano cuisine with a Jamaican/Reggae ambiance. Though most popular for their Crispy Pata, which isn’t genuinely Bicolano, the restaurant does have a good take on Bicolano dishes like the Pinangat and Laing. For dessert, there are also branches of DJC Halo-halo. DJC pioneered the Bicolano version of the ubiquitous Filipino halo-halo. Their version has less ice and more goodies in the mix, topped with the mandatory ice cream and the most unique ingridient of Bicolano halo-halo…shredded cheese. The result is one of the best tasting halo-halo in the country, one that no traveller to Bicol should miss. Also along Magsaysay Avenue is Red Platter, another popular local restaurant. Though their menuis more diverese and less specifically Bicolano than Bob Marlin’s, they do have a good Bicol Express, and their Crispy Pata is to die for too – literally.

Bob Marlin’s

Bob Marlin's Laing

Bob Marlin’s Laing

Bob Marlin's Pinangat

Bob Marlin’s Pinangat

DJC Halo-Halo

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Red Platter

Magsaysay Ave, Naga's "Food Street"

Magsaysay Ave, Naga’s “Food Street”

Red Platter's Crispy Pata

Red Platter’s Crispy Pata

Pinangat and Bicol Express

Pinangat and Bicol Express

* We were in Bicol April 2014. All photos taken with an Olympus EPM-2 with M.Zuiko 14-42mm IIR.

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