Hello Again! As you may know from my previous post, I recently spent a substantial amount of time on the Philippine island of Boracay. I also spent some time in the Philippine locations of Manila and Taal Town.
While in Manila, I ventured out on a day trip from Manila to the Philippine heritage village of Taal Town, located in Batangas Province. Taal Town is a 2.5 hour drive from metropolitan Manila through lush, bucolic countryside. Taal Town is rich in Filipino history and has been declared a national heritage location by the Filipino government. Many of the town’s structures, local customs, local cuisine, and local craftwork have been granted national treasures status by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines.
Taal Town was founded in 1572 by Augustinian friars. Presently, the town population is about 50,000, and the town consists of 42 barangays (barrios). The official tourism site for Taal Town describes the town as a “small town richly endowed with well-preserved structures and a proud heritage……an inspirational cornerstone and pillar of Filipino identity.” Taal Town shares its name with the nearby Taal Volcano and Taal Lake.
A group of Taaleños have been escalating their efforts to preserve and promote Taal Town. As a result, Taal homes, local customs, food, and art are now regarded as cultural treasures by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines.
I owe my Taal Town adventure entirely to my Filipino travel blogger friends from Manila. I am very fortunate. Thank you Aiza, Er, and Marc! Aiza invited me along on their excursion to Taal Town. I never heard of Taal Town before, and while there I came across only a handful of non-Filipino tourists — Taal Town is far off the international tourism path, with the exception of Chinese Catholics, many of whom pilgrimage each year from China to Taal Town. In large part, Taal Town is now a Catholic pilgrimage location for many Filipinos, and a popular destination for Filipino history buffs and Filipino tourists.
Before I tell you about my Taal Town experience, let me take a moment to mention the travel websites of Aiza, Er, and Marc. Check them out!
— Marc and Er are the founders of an Instagram travel hub promoting Philippine tourist destinations. Find their travel hub on Instagram at Viajerongpinoy.
— Aiza’s travel blog is www.aizeykim.blogspot.com. And also find Aiza on Instagram as Aizeecream.
— Marc’s personal travel blog is www.marc7travels.com. And also find Marc on Instagram as Marc7del.
— And Er can be found on Instagram as igramer.
We departed for Taal Town from the metropolitan Manila central bus station at around 6am. Our large air-conditioned bus brought us to the outskirts of Taal Town in about 2.5 hours. The bus ride was great – good music and lush scenery! From there, we took a traditional local Philippine bus (called a jeepney) to the town center.
It was Sunday morning and the bus driver had the radio set to a local station that was playing USA oldies of the rock, pop, r&b, and soul, and Motown genres. I’m a huge Motown and soul fan. Aiza told me that it is a tradition in the Philippines for radio stations to play USA oldies every Sunday morning! Who would have known? Not me. It would nice to have that tradition in America too!! Anyway, because of the music, during the entire bus ride to Taal Town, I was having flashbacks to elementary school.
When we arrived at the town center, we immediately began our leisurely, daylong walking tour of Taal Town, with an occasional jaunt over longer distances via tricycle taxi. Our daylong excursion through the town involved touring a prominent Catholic basilica, a prominent Catholic church, the preserved homes of prominent Filipino historical figures, and a few homes converted into museums. We also met up with Dr. Martin Della Rossa, simply by knocking on his door without prior notice. On the spot, he was gracious enough to give us a personal tour of his home — his 250 year old home has be granted status as a national historic site.
We began our stroll through Taal Town by visiting the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours, purportedly the largest church in the Far East. The Basilica was constructed in 1755 in honor of the patron saint of Taal Town. We were there at the time of a double wedding ceremony, which made it all the more interesting to me. The Basilica’s tabernacle is made of silver, the only silver tabnernacle in the Philippines.
The other historical church stop along our walking tour was Our Lady of Caysasay Church and Shrine (aka Basilica of St. Mary Major). The church was constructed in the 1600s and is made of coral stone. Enshrined in the wall behind the altar, the church contains the “Marion Icon” on full display. The Marion icon is a 12 inch high image of Our Lady of Caysasay. To make a long story short, Catholics believe that in 1603, a fisherman name Juan Maningkad found the Marion icon in his fishing net in the Pansipit River, and that it was “radiating with heavenly luster.” He took the image home and a representative of the King of Spain went to his home to verify the story.
Thereafter, the icon became known as Our Lady of Caysasay, and eventually was enshrined at its present location. Every Saturday, the church receives thousands of pilgrims, which is the day for devotion to Our Lady.
I was able to go to the room behind the altar (during a Sunday mass) and photograph the icon from behind (through a special window), and the photo includes a partial view of the congregation. Many miracles are conferred to the Marion icon. Hence, the Lady of Caysasay Church is now very prominent in the realm of Catholicism. According to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Vatican has decreed upon the Caysasay Shrine the same privileges attached to the Roman Basilica, making it only one of seven such churches worldwide.
Of special note, it is possible to receive the non-sacramental rite of plenary and partial indulgences at the Lady of Caysasay Church.
Indulgences are unknown to many Catholics today, especially Catholics in the United States.
Our daylong walk also brought us to the Well of Saint Lucia, a water source that Filipino Catholics and others believe has healing powers, and where long ago two women claimed that they saw the reflection of the Virgin Mary of Caysasay.
We toured several preserved homes of prominent Filipino historical figures. I won’t discuss each home here; however, if you are interested in more information, it is readily available on the official website for Taal Town (www.taal.ph). Several of the homes are preserved as they were lived in, and several others have been turned into museums.
As I mentioned above, we knocked on his door and, without advance notice, Dr. Martin Della Rossa graciously provided us with a two-hour tour/discussion of his restored 250 year old home, which is granted status as a national historic site. When he purchased the home, it was essentially a badly aged shell of its former self. He restored the home to its original design, inside and out. Even the bathroom is still located outside of the home as a standalone structure, as was the original design.
Dr. Della Rossa received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and spent his life practicing in his home country, the Philippines.
I should mention that the Taal Town region is famous for a strong and highly aromatic (but very smooth) coffee known as Kapen Barako. It is usually sweetened with honey or brown sugar. Also, a local version of hot chocolate (named Tsokolate Eh) is very thick and rich, and is made from local cocoa and local sugar. The cocoa and sugar is pressed together into blocks. A cup of Tsokolate is often served with salty dishes such as adobo, or poured over rice as a sauce.
I hope you enjoyed this post! And, remember, clicking on any of the photos in my posts brings about a more enhanced and larger image of the photo.
There are 10 more photos below — be sure to scroll down and check them out.
Finally, as a reminder, if you scroll to the very end of this post, there is (as in all my posts) an area to leave comments or ask me any questions that you may have. As always, I would love to hear from you.