Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reminiscing the Fiery Albay

"Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place."
LK. 4:24

The province of Albay has been described in so many ways by a lot of bloggers. One can read about Albay depending on the theme of the bloggers site. Some would focus on the taste of Albay, some would tell stories about the beauteous Albay, and many would simply write about the majestic Mayon.

I beg to differ. Hopefully, I can share my humble beginnings being a genuine Bicolano.

Mayon Volcano
Albay is my home province. It is very evident on the way I speak, the way I eat and the way I look. In other words, "merong punto ang salita ko, mahilig ako sa maanghang na pagkain at higit sa lahat mestizo ako."  I grew up in Vel-Amor Subdivision, Legazpi City. My brothers, sister and I had so many wonderful memories in our house at Cherry Blossom Street. Along the street with other kids, we would play taguan, tumbang preso and patintero, climb trees, run the vastness of rice fields, go fishing and usually ride the BMX which is the favorite bike of my youngest brother. On our backyard, the majestic Mayon witnessed how we ran along the vast rice fields while the noise of the passing PNR competes with our screams and shrieks. Mt. Mayon also witnessed how I fell in love... with basketball. My dad built a basketball ring on the coconut tree on our backyard where I would play hoops with my dad, brothers and  friends or sometimes by myself.

Sto. Domingo Parish, Sto. Domingo, Albay 
This 1820's church is located 30 minutes from Legazpi City. Not known to many, Sto. Domingo, Albay is where the roots of Apun came. In fact, its incumbent mayor Herbie Aguas is my cousin.

St. Agnes Academy, Legazpi City
"Ora et Labora", the same Benedictine as St. Scholastica's in Manila. Me and my four other siblings studied at this famous, prestigious and oldest Catholic school in the province of Albay. We would walk going to school since St. Agnes Academy is about 1km away from our house. What I cannot forget about this school where the German nuns who ran our school, they would spend most of their time chasing us naughty kids through the corridors.

St. Gregory the Great Seminary, Tabaco City
When I was a kid, I would answer Engineer when asked what I want to be when I grew up. I knew I can achieve that dream, but my love for basketball brought me to the seminary. I wasn't called by the angel Gabriel through my dream to enter the seminary, nor was I talked into it by my parents, but I decided to enter the high school seminary simply because of the basketball courts that had a lot of it inside. Throughout my stay in the formation house, I was a basketball varsitarian. My friends would say in jest I was contended - "studying basketball while playing theology." Sports especially basketball is my passion but priesthood is my vocation. Truly, God calls us in mysterious ways. I'm not bragging, but I did excel in academics, arts and sports while in the seminary. In fact, I was exempted in all Math final exams from First to Fourth year high school that Prof.Alfred Basco already allowed me to play basketball while all my classmates were still taking our final math exams. My classmate Fr.Nolan Ador Que once mentioned in his commencement exercise homily that I was the "best mathematician in the class."  My hard work at St. Gregory the Great Seminary paid off when I graduated as 3rd Honorable Mention (5th in the class). The very studious and diligent Fr.Que was 4th in our class, and the brilliant Fr.Lyndon F. Balubar was our class valedictorian.

Mater Salutis College Seminary, Daraga Albay
I can say nothing much about this place. I took my Philosophy here and graduated as Magna Cum Laude.

Our Lady of the Great Parish, Daraga, Albay
This church is a replica of the Cagsawa Church that was covered by lava when the Mayon Volcano erupted in 1814. On 1773, strategically, the Franciscans built this on top of Sta Maria hill to avoid what happened to Cagsawa Church. 

Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Guinobatan, Albay (above) 
This parish was my first assignment as a priest. I have learned the humble ways of climbing lots of mountains during fiesta masses which inspired me in a lot of ways.
St. Raphael Parish, Legazpi City (below) 
My second parish assignment as a priest under Auxiliary Bp.Lucilo B. Quiambao, DD. This is my home parish. This is where my brothers, sister and I were baptized and confirmed. My whole family would hear mass every Sunday on this church, where I also became an altar boy.

St. John the Baptist Parish, Tabaco City
The third and last parish I was assigned to as a priest under the late Msgr.Ralph C. Salazar 
before I moved in Manila, and now presently in the Diocese of Pasig. 

St. John the Baptist Church.
A church was built in 1616 in honor of St. John the Baptist. However, this church that you see on the photo was built in 1864. Here in Tabaco City I gladly met my relatives - the families of Sierda, Sadueste and Demetrio.

Malabog, Daraga (left).
The giant replica of Bicol’s favorite, "sili" (chili) can be found near Cagsawa ruins.
Pinangat in Camalig, Albay (right).
Aside from "sili", Albay is also known for its "Pinangat" and "Tinilmok". This dish is made of a local taro leaves folded together then steamed for hours in coconut milk. The best "pinangat" in Albay can be found in a small eatery in Camalig. This "pinangat" would always lure me to Camalig every time I go home.

Small Talk Cafe, Legazpi City
A charming old house turned into a cafe along one of the main streets of Legazpi is owned by my friend Dideth Peralta. Small Talk Cafe offers a fusion of Bicol and Western dishes. Do not miss to try their Pasta "Pinangat/Laing" (above left), Bicolana pizza (above right), Pasta Mayon (below left) and their gummy Cheese sticks (below right). I've also tried their Bicol Express Pasta and Bicol Pizzette in the past. All of the mentioned dishes are the must try when in Small Talk Cafe.

Biggs Diner, Legazpi City
This biggest food chain in Bicol region started in 1983 at Naga City and has found its way franchising to Legazpi and other parts of Albay. This Diner has a Bigg spot in my heart. When I took my Theology in Naga, I would eat in Biggs spending my hard earned money from my piggy bank for a fried chicken.

Tiwi's Famous Halo-Halo, Tiwi Albay
Tiwi isn't just known for its existing geothermal plant, ironically, it is also known for its Halo-halo. They have the best around Albay. Maybe, just maybe, people from Tiwi have perfected making Halo-halo because they always eat Halo-halo to cool them off the heat from the geothermal plant. Just a thought. One thing is for sure though, even if Tiwi is miles away from Legazpi, I would surely drive to Tiwi for their special Halo-Halo.

New Albay Pilinut Candy, Legazpi City
So when in Bicol, what is the next best thing you can take home besides memories? It's Pili Nuts! New Albay Pilinut Candy is the oldest Candy Factory of Pilinuts in Albay and is owned by my cousin Ate Marie Diaz-Battung. Obviously, since they are the pioneer in making Pilinuts candy, they will offer you only the best pilinuts. So before heading home, buy some pilinuts candy at New Albay Pilinut Candy.

Manito, Albay
Exactly five years ago, Typhoon Reming (Durian) devastated the province of  Albay. It has brought a sea of mud burying the homes; boulders crushed bridges and roads, houses swept away by floodwater, homeless and hungry people walks zombie-like. All this happened a few days before Christmas. The next day after the typhoon, I got two text messages from my bestfriend Fr.Dennis Oraa that literally tore my heart into pieces.
The first text says "The worst I've seen padi. Now it’s like post war here. Paliog su baha sa harong nindo last night (The water was neck high in your house last night). I think more than a thousand lives were lost. I saw them being dumped at the streets in front of funeraria Guinobatan, Albay. Some bodies lie uncollected on the road when I passed by. Grabe Mano."
The second text says "I took pictures of the devastation and the dead bodies. Bilog na aldaw ako nagparalibot sa motor (I went around the whole day with a motorcycle). Now, wara na available gasoline. Grabe an pila sa nagkapirang bukas (There is no more gasoline available. The lines are very long to those opened gas stations). No water. No electricity. This one is three times worst than (super-typhoon) Milenyo. Don't know what kind of Christmas we will have here..."
I was then assigned in Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Makati City. I thought, God is very good for sending me here, but I also lamented for my home province. I knew then why God has brought me in Guadalupe (the Patroness of Life)  in this time of calamity.

Padang, Sto. Domingo, Albay
Today, the remains of Typhoon Reming teems with life. Still trying to forget the past and moving on. Standing on this spot, five years after the typhoon, I felt thankful to all the people from Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, to the very kind rector Msgr.Salvador Jose, to a very supportive friend Fr.Tony Rosales and to all my fellow pilgrims who extended their blessings to my kababayans in this very sad and depressing moment. After reading the text messages from my priest-best friend and hearing the tragic news about my hometown, I decided to do something worthwhile on Christmas. After two weeks of knocking tirelessly at the hearts of Good Samaritans, I was able to solicit a total of P1,389,377.30 in cash. The merciful Lord also sent me a very large and long forward-truck (lent by Arguson family) filled with sacks of rice, food, clothes and  relief goods, and some good friends from Legion of Mary and the Guadalupe Parish Youth Ministry who went with me after Christmas to deliver the donations to the Diocese of Legazpi.

Cagsawa Ruins
On a regular day around 5:30AM-8:00AM, you will see the Mayon majestically watching over Albay. However after the typhoon, the famous tourist spot of Albay shared the grief of her people but still reminding people that there has been worst and it is natural for all resilient Bicolanos to get up and move forward.

It cannot be denied that I am from Albay. A true Albayano and a fiery Bicolano. I am "maorag," not "oragon." I'm proud of it. Now, I am away from my home province, serving another place, but it doesn't matter. For now I have accepted God's plan for me. Farewell my beloved native place... Legazpi.

                                                    "Every sinner has a past.
                                                                        Every saint has a future"
                                                                                                             -There Be Dragons

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Enchanting El Nido

"Alleluia! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever. He alone does great marvels, his love endures forever. In wisdom he made the heavens, his love endures forever. He set the earth upon the waters, his love endures forever."

Psalm 136:1,4-6 

El Nido is located in the northernmost of Palawan mainland of western Philippines. The ecosystem in El Nido brings pride as it consists of:

  • 45 islands and islets
  • 250 million year-old limestone cliffs
  • 888 species of fish
  • 447 species of coral
  • 114 species of bird
  • 5 species of marine turtle
  • 2,645 hectares of mangrove forest

Most especially they have the edible nests of collocalia fuciphaga more commonly known as nido nests of swiftlets. These nests cost about $3,000 per kilo, a rare and expensive stuff.

Are you overwhelemed by the given info? But wait, there's more! El Nido, Palawan has El Nido Resorts!

El Nido Resorts have 3 resorts. Back in 2007 however, they only had 2 resorts when I was invited to stay at Miniloc. Island Transvoyager Inc is the official aircraft of El Nido Resorts. After about some 75 minutes or airtime, you will be greeted by a pleasant looking local Jeepney.

Boat transfers to El Nido Resorts are exclusively through this port. Boats will either take you to the designated resort that you will check into.

The ride going to Miniloc was already amazing. The limestone and the color of the sea will truly excite you.

Miniloc is one of the most beautiful coves in El Nido. This resort has 50 native and rustic accommodations.

The cabanas at Miniloc are specifically arranged to remind you of a coastal village in our country.

Not far from the beach, you can swim with these 1.5 meters jack fish and other different school of fish. Oh, I also found Nemo, he's photo-shy though, so you just have to be there to see him. 

By sundown, the resort would create a festive mood for dinner complete with cultural presentations.

No Photoshop involved. No DSLR. Just my plain digital camera and God's beautiful creation. An El Nido sunset that would haunt you wherever you go.

Island hopping is one activity you should never miss while spending time at El Nido. You can do this kayaking or maybe with a pump boat. The scenery will make your jaw drop in awe.

Snake Island is a lengthy sandbar, about 3 kilometers long. It got its name because of its snake-like shape. Parts of it will be submerged in water during high tide.

If there is abundance in limestone then for sure stalactites and stalagmites would be present as well.

Entalula is one island where you will hop into for a quick lunch arranged by the El Nido resorts.

The Entalula is another resort managed by El Nido resorts but his one is smaller and near the town.

The open sea of Entalula makes it easier for Hobbiecat sailors to stir through. I even tried it myself, of course with the help of an expert guide. A very nice experience.

On top of a hill in Entalula, you will see an amazing scene that will take away the weariness of hiking up.

One of the islands visible from the hilltop is this Turtle Island. It is prohibited to be near this island because turtles are naturally bred.

Before going back to Miniloc, our itinerary includes visiting Lagen Resort. I didn't waste this time to take some pictures of the island resort. The Lagen's backdrop is a lush forest and it is facing Bacuit Bay.

While on the plane going back to manila, I glimpse on my window and saw the turquoise water and lush green islands below. I remembered a song of a defunct boy band; God must have spent a little more time... in Palawan.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Traversing Iloilo and Guimaras Island

"Just as we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God, the city God founded forever. We meditate on your unfailing love, O God, inside your temple."

Psalm 48:9-10

Iloilo is known for its famed annual festival, the Dinagyang Festival. On this day, the streets of Iloilo will come alive with colorful costumes of Ati-Atihan, the loud thumping of drums and the people dancing along the loud music while shouting "Viva Señor Santo Niño" and "Hala Bira!".

However, I didn't go to Iloilo to witness the festivities. I went to Iloilo last March 2009. Iloilo being the Gateway of Western Visayas, I have to pass through this old beautiful city so I can tour around Guimaras. So while in Iloilo, I made sure to visit the must see my friends' recommend.

My first stop; Tatoy's Manokan and Seafood located along Villa Beach, Arevalo. They serve the most sumptuous native chicken inasal, fresh seafood and a lot more. I was not able to take pictures of all the yummy foods they served. Thanks to my Ilonggo friend for recommending this local favorite.

Viva La Candelaria de Jaro
Jaro and Nuestra Sra. de Candelaria go hand in hand. One may say that Jaro is known because of the Señora, but some may also say that the Señora is already owned by Jaro. The building of Jaro Cathedral was headed by Bishop Mariano Cuartero and Don Manuel Argüelles. Instead of asking money for donations to the people of Jaro, the parish asked for the churchgoers to bring construction materials like stone, sand and eggs as mass-offerings.

 Nuestra Sra. de Candelaria
The Señora is believed to be miraculous by the locals. It is believed that the Señora was found by a fisherman along the Iloilo riverbanks, she was then one foot tall. Until today, the devotees believe that the Señora continues to grow. This cathedral is one of my personal favorite. During my visit, I was able to witness the locals' devotion to the Señora. When I climbed up the stairs to be closer with the Señora, I saw devotees praying the rosary at 6:00PM. I felt the solemnity of the place as well as the people. By the way, the Señora is the only image canonically crowned by Pope JPII during his 1981 parish visit.

 Jaro Belfry
 This belfry is oddly situated across the cathedral. This belfry is a remnant of another church that was located beside it. The church collapsed because of an earthquake in 1700's but the belfry stood tall although damaged. After a decade, the construction of the cathedral started which was followed by the restoration of the belfry. Until now, this belfry stood tall and strong in Jaro Plaza.

 Bauhinia and Buto't Balat
 For my first dinner in Iloilo, I asked around for a good local restaurant that can satisfy my curiosity for more Ilonggo dishes. I came across Bauhinia at The Avenue Complex. I sampled their specialties: Sizzling Bulalo Steak and an Ilonggo dish called Tinuom. That's just for my first dinner in Iloilo, and my last & second dinner was at Buto't Balat - always save the best for last. Like most of the restaurant in Iloilo, their specialty is of course chicken inasal and fresh seafood. However this restaurant may seem as a typical Ilonggo restaurant, the location and ambiance sets it apart.  

 Miagao Church.
A UNESCO world heritage site in Iloilo that should never be missed. Although its site is 45 minutes away from the city proper, Miagao church is a sight. Built more than 200 years ago, Miagao is a living legacy of the culture, the faith and the way of life that Spain has given Filipinos. This church is one of the oldest in the Philippines and one of the architectural gems because of the peculiar sculpture that is decorated in the church's facade.  

 Molo Church
 If Paris has Notre Dame Cathedral, here in Iloilo, they have Molo Cathedral. This Gothic - Renaissance structure is also considered to be a feminist church. It has 16 images of women saints inside. The only Gothic church outside Manila has a larger than life image of Sta. Ana (BVM's mother), patron saint of Molo.

 The Trappist Monastery
Our Lady of the Philippines Trappist Abbey is located at Jordan, Guimaras is ran by monks of the Cisterian Order. They are monks who follow St. Benedict's rule. These monks opened their door of solace to tourists to promote their way of living which is selling souvenir items and processed foods that they make and grow themselves. They also share the monastery grounds to those seeking a contemplative place for retreat and prayer.

 Aside from mangoes, Guimaras offers one of the scenic over and under water experience in our country. There are caves where the boat would fit in so you won't have to climb down to witness its beauty. The natural coral formations will keep you interested, its marine life and the hidden troves of beaches.

Lawi Marine Turtle Rescue Center
 The turtle rescue center is accredited by the local government of Brgy. Lawi. Its main objective is to rescue the now endangered sea turtles. Here, the turtles are protected and bred in their natural habitat. The biggest turtle that was rescued weighs more than 50 kilos.

Ave Maria Beach
A white sand beach that the boatman boast about Guimaras, besides their mangoes, of course.

Isla Naburot and Baras Beach Resort 
Isla Naburot is a back to basics resort. When the owners conceptualize for this resort, they only have relaxation in mind. This private resort that highlights the gastronomical experience they offer. Baras Beach on the other hand is an Indonesian inspired resort with complete amenities.

Unfinished boat
 I saw this work of art in Baras Beach. They build boats for the resorts own use that can also be enjoyed by their guests.

Navalas Church, Buenavista
A quaint old church that is located in Guimaras. It has a fascinating garden in the front yard that is surrounded by an old stone fence. The belfry which also used to be a watchtower from the Moro intruders serves as the entrance gate to the church. It adds certain charm to this 1800's church.

Iloilo is the gateway to Guimaras. Surely, Iloilo will lure you in to have a taste of its own beauty before you wander off to Guimaras. So if ever your wanderlust goes off and you are planning to hit two birds in one stone, for budget purposes of course, then I suggest you visit Iloilo and Guimaras for both God given and man-made attractions.