[PH Travel] Where to go back in time

Ching Dee
Here's a new tour, a new way to see Taal

THE TAAL BASILICA, the Largest Basilica in Asia. Photo by Yobic Arceta

MANILA, Philippines – If you’re looking for a meaningful way to experience Taal, Kuya Bennet of Heritage Tours is the man for the job. He will not only fill your eyes with beautiful sights, but he will definitely fill your minds with stories that make Taal memorable.

We were the first ones to ever experience his new tour package, where he took us across the Pansipit River to Lemery, and then we rode a tricycle to San Nicolas to see Taal Lake and the Old Taal Basilica Ruins. 

Kuya Bennet is a man full of stories and insights. A tour with him is absolutely worth more than Php800, which is his guide fee (entrance fees to private ancestral houses not included). In this tour, we did not just gain knowledge, we gained a friend. 

TAAL BASILICA AS SEEN from another side. Photo by Ching Dee

For a fee of Php50 (for adults; Php30 for students), you can go up to the Basilica’s bell tower and admire the town at a bird’s eye view. It was a squeeze going up, but definitely manageable.

Galleria Taal is one of the newest museums in the town. It houses the largest collection of vintage cameras from Manny Inumerable. You will also find photos all over the house, usually matching the kind of camera used to take a particular photo. They say that almost all the vintage cameras are in working condition.

Mr. Inumerable is a photography enthusiast, as well as a camera “restorer” (or someone who fixes vintage cameras).

Galleria Taal’s entrance fee is Php50 (for adults; Php30 for students); while the Agoncillo and Apacible Ancestral Houses are public museums, so any amount of donation is appreciated. These museums have in-house guides, too; but since we were already with Kuya Bennet, we were good to go.

ONE OF THE BEDROOMS in the Apacible House. Photo by Yobic Arceta

Villa Tortuga is leased by fashion designer Lito Perez. Here, you can have a 6-course lunch and play dress up so you can have lunch like an Ilustrado. In the basement of the house is a studio where you can choose the period costume you’d like to wear for lunch. A grand photo shoot follows.

The costume-d lunch will set you back Php1,500 (around US$35). The lunch-less photo shoot is Php250 (per person) and the entrance fee to the house is Php50 (per person). Of course, if you’re going for the lunch or photo shoot, you don’t have to pay the entrance fee.

The Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine, we were told, is the oldest church in Taal. The statuette of the Lady of Caysasay, according to town tale, was fetched by a fisherman along Pansipit River. People tell stories about the statuette walking by itself and glowing, off to where it was first found.

For about 5 years, it was said that the Lady of Caysasay went missing and was found in a spring, which is now a well. The 11-feet deep well (left-hand side) is known to heal ailments of the head and neck, while the 6-feet deep well (right-hand side) is for healing ailments of the body. There’s even a shower area nearby for people who want to take a bath using the “miraculous” waters of the Sta. Lucia Well.

OUR LADY OF CASAYSAY Shrine. Photo by Yobic Arceta

Does it work? They say it depends on your faith. If anything, we used it to wash off the sticky sweat from an entire day of walking around under the hot sun. The water was cold and refreshing. Definitely worth the trip. 

We were told by Kuya Bennet that the Sta. Lucia Well is what the Rizal Monument is for Manila, and that you haven’t really been to Taal if you don’t check it out. So it’s a must to visit this place.

The Pansipit River separates Taal and Lemery. That afternoon, we crossed it (Php2 per person; yes, just two pesos) and then rode a tricycle for almost an hour to get to San Nicolas. We walked along the “baywalk,” overlooking Taal Lake, with the Taal Volcano craters (yes, plural) to our left and Mt. Maculot to our right.

We also walked a couple of meters from the baywalk to check out the Old Taal Basilica ruins. Its was cleared for the (then) coming Holy Week. The “walls” you see now are said to be just the roof part of the old basilica, as evidenced by the presence of rectangular holes on the walls to accommodate trusses.

ONE SERIOUS BALISONG LOVER you don't mess with. Photo by Yobic Arceta

We headed back to Taal and then rode a jeep bound for Lipa, then got off about 10 minutes later in the town of Balisong, which is famous for its — what else — balisong!

A balisong is a blade enclosed with a metal casing. There’s a certain flair that you need in order to pull off its use (hehe). I bought the keychain version (Php60). 

After Balisong shopping, our last stop was the Taal Public Market to buy some pasalubong. The public market is just behind the Taal Municipal Hall, in true encomienda fashion. We tried looking for a Taal shirt, but we didn’t find one that we like. There is an unbelievable abundance of bridal shops selling wedding gowns and Barong Tagalogs, though. There was also a wedding taking place when we arrived in Taal on a Saturday afternoon. 

AT THE MIRACULOUS Sta. Lucia Well. Photo by Bennet Amoroso

The public market is a lot cleaner than the public markets I’m used to. You can buy Tapang Taal, Sinaing na Isda (slow-cooked fish), Panucha, Tablea (cocoa balls), Taal Suman and even embroidered products to take home to family and friends.

We ended the tour at around 5:30 PM (we started at 12 NN). The tour was super duper worth all that walking under the hot Taal sun. I thank God so much for giving us such a weather. It was so meant to be.

After freshening up and resting a little bit, we headed off to Taal Bistro for dinner. The Bistro Chicken, their house specialty, is indeed a must-try (as in yummy!). – Rappler.com

 

(You may contact Taal Heritage Tours and Kuya Bennet Amoroso at 0918-3155634 or visit www.taal.com.ph. This entry is also in the author’s travel blog: http://chingdee.posterous.com/the-heritage-town-of-taal.

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