Monday, April 25, 2011

Taal Batangas: History Book Come to Life

I jumped upon at the chance to visit Taal, Batangas again after more than two years. Despite my frequent travels, I find it unfortunate that a common Filipino’s knowledge of Taal was limited to the overly popular volcano and the lake, and to the Internet.  When I told friends that I’m going home to Taal for the Holy Week, I got a lot of flak with raised eyebrows. Taal volcano’s level alert was raised to two, and people had been wondering what on earth was I thinking of?  I soon realized the misconception between my friends and I. In fact, most Filipinos who had not set foot in Taal might be thinking the same thing.
For the record, the Taal volcano is not part of the town of Taal. It is actually located in Talisay, Batangas. To get near the crater, one must ride a ferry boat. The laid-back town of Taal, on the other hand, can be found after the towns of Cuenca and Alitagtag in Batangas. It is also after the town of Lemery, if you’re driving from Tagaytay.
It is always different and more satisfying to experience the town itself. It is the South’s answer to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Vigan. Walking through the streets of Taal Batangas will bring you back to the time of your ancestors with Spanish-inspired houses abound. Talking to its people, appreciating it visually will make one learn more about its rich culture, history and heritage.

The old Spanish houses are common in Taal.

The author with nephew in front of the Basilica.

Old-Spanish Bahay na bato.

My grandfather’s side, the Ylagans were one of those who had built a “bahay na bato,” in the mid 1800’s. Our ancestral house proved to be a perfect introduction to Taal’s heritage. “Bahay na bato” in the southern region had the upper level of the house made of wood while the lower part is made of stone. And since television was not invented yet at the time, people amused themselves by watching other people pass by, so they had huge windows.
To give you a better idea, my great great ancestors had no less than Marcela Agoncillo (yes, the woman who sewed the first Philippine Flag) and Eulalio and Gliceria Marella Villavicencio (The Forgotten Heroine of the Philippine Revolution) as neighbors. The Villavicencio’s house was the refuge of Filipino soldiers and the secret meeting place of revolutionary heroes. I can’t think of anything cooler than that!
Nowadays, their ancestral houses are open to the public. It offers a sneak peek into the heroine and their family’s life in those days.  Unfortunately, cameras aren’t allowed in both houses, so I cannot use mine. You have to visit and see for yourself. But it is interesting to note that during those times, Filipinos have two living rooms. There used to be a level of intimacy between Filipinos then. If you are not a close friend of the family, you are relegated to the ante sala, which is smaller than the main sala. But if you are considered family friends or relatives, you get to sit in the main sala.

The Our Lady of Caysasay Church

There’s also the centuries-old Our lady of Caysasay Church. We were able to access the church via the San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps—that’s 125 granite steps. Nearby is the Sacred Well of Sta. Lucia. This used to be a brook where the Lady of Caysasay granted miracles and where a church was previously built. We could see the half-submerged church façade peering out of the earth.

Our Lady of Caysasay Church altar.

The original Caysasay church ruins at Sta. Lucia well.

The tarpaulin that says it all--El Pasubat festivities.

Embroidery shops also abound the area where one can customize wedding gowns and barong tagalogs made in pinya or jusi. Balisong knives are also sold in Baranggay Balisong in the town of Taal. 

Balisong knives are sold in Baranggay Balisong in Taal.

Embroidery shops abound the area.

Another embroidery shop...

Escuela Pia--the first school in town.

The Saint Martin de Tours Basilica.

The Basilica of Saint Martin de Tours located in the heart of the town is one of the oldest Catholic churches and undoubtedly the biggest church in Asia. It rises majestically amid patches of ancient ruins and a row of residential houses still aglow with old-fashioned splendor. Breathtaking even at first glance, the Basilica of Saint Martin de Tours cut an imposing figure, a clear testament carved in stone of both the imperial power of Spain and its unwavering faith in its church centuries ago.  The basilica is now in thick major restoration effort that started last year. 

Taal truly provides an opportunity to establish a deeper connection with one’s heritage. It is more than just ancestral houses, it is history book in itself, with each turn a story that left us enthralled and wanting for more.
For more information on touring Taal, email or call 0918-3155634.