Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~Seneca
Time and Space
I am a traveler of both time and space. I love history and I love to travel. When I set foot on a foreign land, I dig deep or at least try to. With your physical eyes you can see only the external beauty of a place but not its soul. I traveled a lot even as a young boy. As far as I can recall, my earliest travel was to Ligpo, Batangas where, as a 5 year-old, I found myself underwater in a boat wreck, which probably explains why I don’t fear the deep blue sea (Sharks, giant-squids, barracudas, plesiosaurus back off)! Looking back now, I realize it wasn’t the earliest I’ve traveled. It was during those afternoons when I lay on my belly, rested my chin on both palms and swayed my legs back and forth alternately, in front of my grandma on her rocking chair. If you were patient enough to sit through to your grandma’s stories of long ago, you would hear stories of wonder. I found those long, long stories fascinating rather than agonizing. I’m sure if you have or have had the privilege of having grandparents, the phrases, “back in my day,” “noong araw,” or “long ago” are not foreign to you. As a kid it was disarming for me to hear their stories. They were stories that seemed to creep into the inner creases of my mind, playing with my imagination. My grandma’s stories of old, transported me through space and time.
Maybe, when the time comes that we become old and grey, we’ll have the same tendency to fascinate our grandchildren or sometimes bore them to death with the stories of our youth. We might go on and on, speaking of people long gone, places transformed by time, and events preserved not by ink but by memory.
I recently went to the municipality of Taal in Batangas. It was my first time to visit the place. It is one of the cities that surround the lake of Taal, where a volcano island sits in the middle. It is dubbed the Barong and Balisong capital of the Philippines. It is the bailiwick of the supporters of the Philippine Revolution and is home to the largest basilica in the Far East. I went to several places in the municipality, met a few people, and indulged myself with the local cuisine.
The town proper is a museum itself. You can find history in every corner. It’s as if time stood still here. Most houses in the area are well preserved. In the town proper, it is outlawed to build modern-looking buildings, a law whose absence in Ilocos Sur ruined Vigan.
I went to the town proper with a doctor coming from the neighboring town. There were friendly people passing by. Everybody knew everybody including the doctor I was with. There was a whole neighborhood occupied with the same profession – the production of the famous Piña Barong. Each person is, in a sense, a stakeholder of their own place that they consider the “heritage town”. The community cooperated to preserve, maintain and showcase the museum they call home. They didn’t rely solely on the support of the National Historical Commission, a process that could take forever.
It was the first time I have been there but it all strangely feels similar. Have I already been here? Was I here as a child, or could I have dreamt this? Is this an anomaly of memory, giving the false impression that this experience is “being recalled”. Actually I have been here several times before, my grandma took me here using her rocking chair and story telling skills whilst she stared at the walls as if her narration of the past is happening again right before her eyes.
This is it! This maybe not the place my grandma spoke of but it’s the type of community my grandma used to live in, the town which she told me over and over again. I’ve been told about this so many times it’s as if I lived in that space and time she lived in as a youngster. Everybody knows everybody. The people are so warm that if I really were a vagabond, I could lay my head here and call it home.
Bailiwick, Barongs, and Balisongs
There’s a neighborhood here that has but one profession. They produce the Barong Tagalog. It is said that the Spaniards made the Filipinos wear the Barong for the Spaniars to see if they were bearing a weapon underneath. The production of the Barong Tagalog is a communal thing. That one lady, with the house slightly bigger than the rest, is the manager and importer. The lady across the street makes the patterns passed unto her by her grandmother who also learned how to make the patterns from her own grandmother. A few houses away from this lady lives another lady who dries the material after coloring. This industry practices a bayanihan culture where everybody helps everybody else.
Another product that the town is known for is the Balisong or butterfly knife that the French claim is their invention. It was out of necessity that the Balisong knife was made to be compact. It is indistinguishable when hidden underneath the Barong Tagalog. It is said that every Batangueño has one in their pockets everywhere they go and each know how to wield it. The Balisong maker who we met had been making them since the seventies. He had a wide array of Balisong from compact two-inch key chains to Balisong with three feet blades.
Taal is the bailiwick of the supporters of the Philippine Revolution against colonizing Spain, on every corner a sign is placed declaring the historical significance of a certain spot or building a historical location.
It was in this town that Gliceria Marcella Villiavencio lived. She was the woman who Aguinaldo named the “godmother of the revolutionary forces.” She also donated their family ship, the SS Bulusan, a ship that was used by the revolutionaries as a transport ship.
Felipe Agoncillio a revolutionay hero who was exiled to Jolo and escaped to Hongkong to plan for the revolution. His wife Marcella Agoncillio who sold her jewelry in support for the revolution. She was the woman who designed and sew the Philppine Flag. They had 5 beautiful little daughters none of them married. Their house is open for viewing. Felipe Agoncillio’s books in several languages are still there on his shelves.
Many other patriots lived in Taal, such as Gen. Ananias Noblejas Diokno, the only Tagalog general to lead a full-scale military expedition to the Visayas against the forces of Spain. Other patriots include Vicente Ilustre and Galicano Apacible.
Churches and Cuisine
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.
The Basilica de San Martin de Tours is the largest minor Basilica in the entire country and in the Far East. This gargantuan church can fit in three Manila Cathedrals. A church prior to the Basilica de San Martin de Tours was built in 1575. But when the Taal Volcano Erupted in 1754 this church was destroyed. The whole town and church therefore had to be moved away from the lake. In 1782 the construction of this ruined basilica began. The earthquake of 1852 whose epicenter was near Taal Volcano once again destroyed the church.
As for cuisine, you can indulge yourself with the scrumptious Adobong Dilaw (adobo with turmeric), Siniaing na Tulingan (Steamed Mackerel Tuna). Both of these dishes originated in Taal. You can also try Fried Tawilis, a type of fish that can only be caught in Taal Lake.
It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~Herman Melville
Another site to see is the Pansipit River. It drains the water from the lake and pours it into Balayan Bay where it meets the sea. The clear waters of the virgin river shimmer brightly at noon. When it gets hot you can either take a dip with little kids or ride a Carabao then rest in an empty kubo by the stream. Some dirt roads cut through small hills and would sometimes lead to nowhere. Some places are not written down and cannot be found on any map. On every corner, every view, you’ll see a stone house made from volcanic rock or a traditional Filipino house with Capiz windows expecting that as if at anytime you’ll see a young maiden in baro’t saya peek out the window to watch people and carumatas. If you wish, you could join the ladies stitch and weave Barongs.
Time stands still in this old suburb giving us a glimpse of the Filipino life some 100 years ago. It has the tendency to melt the heart of any traveler, greet the arriving leaving them in awe and bid farewell the departing with memories that can only be found in the town of Taal.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller