Category Archives: Culture and Travel

Of love that never dies: When tourism intersects with culture

Reflections on cultural heritage and sustainable tourism

[Note: This is a paper that I had submitted in ENRM 257 – Sustainable Tourism Development, through FIC Ivan Anthony Henares, in my Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management program.]

Cultural heritage – a link from the past, a bridge to the future

Who has not heard of Taj Mahal? It may be the only building in the world that is part of every wanderer’s and traveler’s bucket list.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India: Beyond words. [Image courtesy of pcwallart(dot)com]

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India: Beyond words. [Image courtesy of pcwallart(dot)com]

  “…one solitary tear would hang on the cheek of time in the form of this white and gleaming Taj Mahal”, as the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) has described it, perhaps soulfully with a tinge of sadness (as cited in Government of Uttar Pradesh, India, 2014, with adaptation).”

This author has not (yet) been to this heritage site but she is already in awe of what it represents. The Taj Mahal symbolizes a love that never dies, of the beauty of tenderness, of the universal need for union, and for faith in eternity. Who cannot help but wax philosophical in the sight (whether in the flesh or in the imagination) of this grand beauty?

The Taj Mahal, a UNESCO heritage site (inscribed in 1983), is a mausoleum mostly made of white marble. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to remember and in honor of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (UNESCO, n.d.). The Taj Mahal is described as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage” (UNESCO, n.d.). No wonder, many carry the dream of visiting it and those who have done so have never stopped being enthralled by it.

A discussion on cultural heritage and sustainable tourism perhaps becomes richer by taking off from a place like Taj Mahal. It makes serious learners appreciate the concept of sustainable tourism from a place or point of view where they can truly experience and appreciate history.

“Cultural heritage” as a concept must first be revisited. UNESCO (2016) has succinctly explained the concept, delineating between tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

What is cultural heritage?

 Cultural heritage

Tangible cultural heritage

  • movable cultural heritage (paintings, sculptures, coins, manuscripts)
  • immovable cultural heritage (monuments, archaeological sites, and so on)
  • underwater cultural heritage (shipwrecks, underwater ruins and cities)

Intangible cultural heritage: oral traditions, performing arts, rituals

Natural heritage

  • natural sites with cultural aspects such as cultural landscapes, physical, biological or geological formations

Source: UNESCO, 2016.

Heritage sites and experiences are, therefore, important in preserving a society’s rich culture and history. However, except in monumental places like Taj Mahal, efforts to preserve the integrity of such sites and traditions are not always consistent and/or successful.

The Philippines, for example is among the countries that need to learn more from best practices all over the world. There are many examples worthy of discussion but those that come to mind almost immediately are the historical buildings and monuments that are being torn down without regard to their significance, neglected, or allowed to be ‘defaced’ such as in the case of Jose Rizal’s monument in Rizal Park—now sharing a part of the magnificent sightline with Torre de Manila, a 49-storey condominium project of DMCI Homes, one of the Philippines’ top developers.

When the soul is weak, the flesh forgets – lessons and strategies in sustainable tourism

Tourism—both domestic and international—is deemed as crucial in allowing peoples and cultures to interact. It is considered as “the foremost vehicles for cultural exchange, providing a personal experience…” (ICOMOS, 2002). Who has not grown richer and fuller because of the experience of traveling? Human history has evolved because of constant wonderment, traveling, and exploration. Some even choose to stay. The meaning of any ‘exchange’ differs for each person—but what is universal is the experience of inner joy and sense of discovery that such an ‘interaction’ offers. “Touring” always goes beyond the physical—sure, the colors and textures of sites and places always give something to the senses—but what is more powerful are the feelings that are evoked, those that touch one to his deepest core.

Cultural and natural heritage sites speak to the soul and that is why they require a deeply-seated commitment. Why did our society allow Torre de Manila to become the “national photo bomber”? Is it plain forgetfulness or a lack of love for our history? Is it about greed? The Filipinos need to think about it really deeply.

The Jose Rizal Monument – sharing the line of sight with Torre de Manila [Image taken by this author in September 2014. The Torre de Manila is now significantly taller than this.]

The Jose Rizal Monument – sharing the line of sight with Torre de Manila [Image taken by this author in September 2014. The Torre de Manila is now significantly taller than this.]

It is almost shameful, disgusting even. One can only grieve at what became of the great man’s well-deserved spot in Manila’s skyline. We couldn’t leave him alone; what’s worse, even, is that we needed to go to the Supreme Court to protect a part of our history and heritage.

What have we become as a nation?

This touches at the crux of the dilemma. How does a society protect its culture and heritage while succumbing to the demands of survival and commerce? How can tourism be developed and managed without sacrificing our heritage and history?

Sustainable tourism then forces us to think beyond the colors and feasts for the eyes and the fullness of our stomach—it tells us to reaffirm our connection to the past, reclaim what was lost, and protect what is still here as we also optimize and share the economic benefits more equitably. Proponents of sustainable tourism prescribe strategies that can be adapted in tourism development and management, particularly in the context of cultural and natural heritage sites. [See Lindberg et al. (1999) for the list of strategies.]

A quick review of these strategies and best practices will reveal that many or all of these strategies and principles had been violated in most Philippine heritage cases such as the one on Torre de Manila. Clearly, our society does not or fails to adhere to similar standards and values. For one, policies are unclear and even wantonly violated. [This paper is rather limited in its scope but readers are encouraged to read an article by Marquez and Garcia (2015). The link is under suggested readings.]

While best practices elsewhere cannot be automatically adapted in other locations, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the experiences of successful sites. The management and preservation of the Taj Mahal is worth mentioning here. The surrounding area of the monument (covering about 10,400 sq km) is clearly protected not just from obstruction and massive developments but also from pollution.

For example, the Supreme Court of India issued a policy (in December 1996) that banned the use of coal in industries within the Taj Trapezium Zone and mandated industries that use it to shift to natural gas or otherwise be relocated outside the zone (UNESCO, n.d.).

An air control monitoring station has been installed to allow managers to monitor air quality and prevent deterioration that can be caused by atmospheric pollutants (UNESCO, n.d.).

While such air quality measures may be unnecessary for historical monuments (which may be aesthetically ‘lesser’ in grandeur when compared with Taj Mahal) in other locations, the government and private sectors should still be guided by the same level of respect and importance that the people of India are giving their heritage sites, and ultimately, their history and common fiber as a nation. Perhaps inspired by the love of Emperor Shah Jahan to his wife, Mumtaz, there is even a stronger ‘love’ that binds them to the past, enabling their present and future action to be properly placed in the context of sustainable development.

Tourism that cares – valuing people and heritage, alleviating poverty

Sustainable tourism respects not just the physical manifestation of natural and cultural assets but also accords the highest regard for the development potential of people and their communities. It is not simply about giving jobs and employment but more about allowing socially-conscious and equitable exchange of payments and services and rich experiences between and among individuals, families, and communities.  When one visits a heritage site, he should not only think about deriving joys and fulfillment from the experience but also about leaving something valuable behind – whether it be in the form of payment, friendship, or genuine act of kindness and respect. On the other hand, the host should also embrace the experience not simply as another opportunity to earn but also as a chance to celebrate his heritage, history, and roots.

While there are ‘horror’ stories about tourism programs that turned sour (e.g., leading to neglect, losses, damage, and destruction of natural and heritage sites), there are also inspiring and beautiful stories of community development and empowerment. In fact, when planned for and managed well, cultural and natural heritage sites can help improve lives and alleviate poverty. [See World Tourism Organization (2006), for information on how sustainably-managed sites can contribute to poverty alleviation.]

These pathways and strategies have led to significant gains in specific communities all over the world. One of the cases taken up by the WTO (2006) study involved a community-supported project in Karsa District in Ethiopia. Called the Bishangari (“sweet water”) Lodge, it is located on the shore of Lake Langano in sub-Saharan Africa. The project has so far been benefiting the community through direct employment (96% of the staff are locally-hired), assistance to farmers (e.g., through provision of seeds and technical guidance in organic farming), piped water access to the community school, and gradual transfer of technology such as on the development of locally-designed and innovative stove that uses 60% less wood (WTO, 2006).

It is considered a pioneer in ecotourism in Ethiopia—leading the younger set of entrepreneurs toward more responsible tourism enterprises. It promotes an environmentally-friendly way of putting up a business, sparing no cost when it comes to incorporating sustainable energy and waste treatment plant (i.e., solar power and a bio-gas digester) in its over-all design. It is also inspiring because it did not receive any government grant, with owners relying on sound business principles and support from banks through loans. With about 39 local staff, it is estimated to be benefiting about 390 family members. It has also encouraged appreciation of the community’s local culture by forming a musical group that now regularly performs at the lodge (WTO, 2006).

It is also encouraging the community to supply   produce and crops for the consumption of   the   lodge. Meanwhile, local craft makers and artisans are being encouraged to produce handicrafts that could be sold at the lodge’s gift shop (WTO, 2006).

An important ‘credo’ that the owners carry with them as they manage the operations should inspire other entrepreneurs or project developers. They believe that “tourism should only be conducted when the environment, the culture and the nature are respected and preserved for future generations” (WTO, 2006).

Another similar project took place in Candirejo Village, near the Borobudur Temple in Central Java province in Indonesia. Being near a UNESCO-designated World heritage Site, (inscription in 1991) the assistance given to the community by a local NGO, United Nations Development Programme, and Japan International Cooperation Agency was instrumental in the community members’ stronger appreciation of the heritage site and their role as hosts. The project helped families to offer home-stay accommodation, rendered training activities, implemented handicraft-making activities, trained tour guides, assisted and formed catering enterprises, taught farmers in organic farming, and organized the provision of local transport services through andong (horse carts) and ojek (motor bikes) (WTO, 2006). Through the tourism cooperative, profits from the activities are shared and then used to organize and improve community activities such as those for the environment and cultural interaction (Silitonga, 2009).

Striking a balance, dealing with the negative social impacts

Dulnuan (2005) has written about the case of the people of Sagada, which used to be a quiet town in the Cordillera Administrative Region but is now slowly getting used to tourists and visitors. While there had been perceived negative impacts especially on the natural environment and the lives of the indigenous people, those who are engaged in tourism-related activities appreciate the generation of jobs and income that the industry has given them. Young people are directly benefited through rendering of services as tour guides. Local entrepreneurs are able to establish small inns and lodging houses, restaurants, handicraft stores, and transport services (Dulnuan, 2005). Arts and crafts have become sources of revenue as well because local weavers and artists now have the opportunity to produce and sell souvenir items such as friendship bracelets, hand-woven bags, and rattan baskets (Dulnuan, 2005). While the impact on food security and sustainability is not yet fully ascertained, some farmers have shifted from planting subsistence crops to market-oriented produce such as fruits and vegetables, which they now sell to lodging houses, inns, and restaurant (Dulnuan, 2005, with adaptation).

However, such positive outcomes come with a price. There had been accounts of perennial noise, vandalism and theft in the cave sites, crimes, and even drug use (Lapniten, 2016, and Dulnuan, 2005). The local residents had also begun complaining about low water supply particularly during tourism peak seasons. There had also been accounts of stalactites and stalagmites being chipped off by uncaring tourists and of significant amount of garbage (e.g., plastic and styrofoam containers, tin cans, etc.) being left behind. The local life and culture are also being affected with some important rituals being postponed, lessened, or unwittingly opened to guests (Dulnuan, 2005).

There had been gains but there is an over-all feeling of disenfranchisement with some expressing that the rewards are not really reaching the most marginalized. Understandably, only those who can afford to open businesses are the ones who profit significantly from the tourism boom. Project designers and implementers should, therefore, put the necessary mechanisms through which the benefits from tourism can really impact the lives of the people in the most positive way.

Therefore, it is important that communities and the government work hand-in-hand in putting these mechanisms in place. These recommendations may have already been expressed before or done in other locations but, nevertheless, they need to be revisited and implemented soon in the context of community-based engagement:

  • Review and amendment of existing laws and creation of new laws that will address the gaps in governance of heritage sites (e.g., ensuring that local ordinances carry the breathe and depth of national and international policies and declarations);
  • Reforming and enhancing education and values formation programs in both formal and informal settings, allowing us to deepen appreciation of our rich culture and heritage;
  • Creating and strengthening sustainable livelihood opportunities in communities where there are important heritage sites so that people are not unwittingly forced to choose between earning ‘quick bucks’ and the need to protect the integrity of our assets (when people are financially empowered, they are more motivated to act responsively);
  •  Enabling authentic public-private partnerships where profits and rewards are well placed in the pursuit of environmental and societal goals (environment and culture first before profits);
  •  Empowering communities to manage and benefit from tourism sites, practicing shared responsibility, decision-making, and enjoyment of rewards; and
  • Strictly enforcing code of conduct for, between, and among guests/visitors and hosts, deepening shared governance and mutual respect.

The future beckons – and the stories and love that are waiting to be shared

Pearce (1989) has highlighted an important factor when he said that “the social and cultural characteristics of a host community will influence its attractiveness to tourists, the process of development and the nature and extent of the impacts which occur” (as cited in Dulnuan, 2005).

As can be learned in the popularity of the Taj Mahal and places like Sagada and Borobudur Temple, tourists are naturally captivated by places that have deep cultural values. It is, therefore, necessary to respect, preserve, and protect the authenticity of our heritage sites not just because they will draw the tourists in but more importantly, they are our link to the past and bridge to the future.

As what our national hero, Jose Rizal, said “ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa makakarating sa paroroonan.”

References

Dulnuan, J. (2005). Perceived Tourism Impact on Indigenous Communities: A Case Study of Sagada in Mountain Province, Sustainable tourism – challenges for the Philippines. Retrieved from http://dirp4.pids.gov.ph/ris/books/pidsbk05-tourism.pdf

Government of Uttar Pradesh, India. (2014). Taj visitors – Visitors’ perspectives. Retrieved from http://www.tajmahal.gov.in/celebrities_visiting_taj_2.html

International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). (2002). Principles And Guidelines For Managing Tourism At Places Of Cultural And Heritage Significance. Retrieved from  http://www.charts-interreg4c.eu/app/download/5796628919/ICOMOS+International+Cultural+Tourism+Charter+1999.pdf

Lapniten, K. (2016, January 12). Sagada asks visitors to respect sites. Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/travel/ph-travel/118788-sagada-visitors-respect-tourist-sites

Lindberg, K. & Molstad, A. Hawkins, & D. Jamieson, W. (1999). Sustainable Tourism and Cultural Heritage: A Review of Development Assistance and Its Potential to Promote Sustainability. Retrieved from http://files.cargocollective.com/491146/Sustainable-Tourism.pdf

Silitonga, S. (2009). Candi Rejo Village – Community Based Tourism Project in Central Java, retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Candi-Rejo-Village—Community-Based-Tourism-Project-in-Central-Java&id=2043471

UNESCO. (n.d.). World Heritage List – Taj Mahal. Retrieved from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/252

UNESCO b. (n.d.). Borobudur Temple Compounds. Retrieved from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/592

UNESCO. (2016). What is meant by “cultural heritage”? Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/illicit-trafficking-of-cultural-property/unesco-database-of-national-cultural-heritage-laws/frequently-asked-questions/definition-of-the-cultural-heritage/

World Tourism Organization. (2006). Poverty alleviation through tourism – compilation of good practices. Retrieved from http://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284409204

For a legal opinion on the Jose Rizal monument and Torre de Manila controversy, you may go to this link:

Marquez, B., and Garcia, A., (2015, February). A soaring eyesore: Torre de Manila’s construction threatens Rizal Park’s skyline. Retrieved from http://thepalladium.ph/legal/soaring-eyesore-torre-de-manilas-construction-threatens-rizal-parks-skyline/

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One of the towers of the Pililla Wind Farm. May the winds bring you to your dreams! [Image by JR Suarin]

The winds brought me here – thoughts on clean energy (and why a Laguna + Rizal weekend is a must!)

[Note: This post is in three parts. The second and third parts are more personal in nature but the first part will be better contextualized in the second part while Part 3 will be useful for those who want to travel to Laguna and Rizal on a weekend. (In Part 2, you may also be interested to find out how I survived an emergency landing while riding a helicopter!)]

Part 1: Asia Clean Energy Forum 2016

Speakers for the Knowledge Networking event at the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2016 [Image courtesy of ACEF 2016 Organizers]

Speakers at the Knowledge Networking event of the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2016 [Image courtesy of ACEF 2016 Organizers]

I have attended the Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) 2016 (6-10 June 2016) so the almost-impromptu weekend road trip (to Laguna and Rizal) was a perfect way of closing the week. [To know more about ACEF, please visit http://www.asiacleanenergyforum.org/]

As many green energy advocates in the Philippines already know, Alternergy Wind One Corporation has recently built a 54 MW 27-tower wind farm in Pililla, Rizal Province. It was inaugurated in January 19 of this year although the commercial operation began in June 2015 (Saulon, 2016; Velasco, 2016). The technology supplier for the 125-meter tall towers is Spanish firm, GAMESA. (I will share later why I and my husband ended up in Rizal last weekend – particularly for those who are interested to embark a similar road trip).

This year’s Asia Clean Energy Forum, held at the Asian Development Bank, was attended by about 1,500 delegates. I had the privilege to be part of the Knowledge Networking (KN) event on the 1st day – where I was able to share a dream project (“Project: SKY BIKE LANES”), which envisions to build integrated elevated bicycle lanes (with solar energy system) in Metro Manila. As in any infrastructural intervention, it is always necessary to conduct a feasibility study so I am hopeful that through my participation in ACEF 2016, I was able to create the needed “ripples”, which will hopefully lead to supporters and fellow dream-pursuers who can finance the study.

Among other things, the study will calculate expected reduction in motorized traffic volume and GHG emissions as well as health and economic impacts that will hopefully be realized should the sky bike lanes are built. (You may visit https://projectskybikelanes.wordpress.com for further information.)

The KN event was very engaging and interesting –it is not in the usual lecture-type format so it offered more chances for one-on-one interaction. It used a format similar to “speed dating”, where the participants are instructed to go around the room, “pick” resource speakers (with their different topics), stay with their chosen speaker for 10 minutes, and then move on to the next speaker. Since the session lasted for one and a half hours, I assume that I was able to meet and talk to about 60 delegates. (There were 8 chairs for each table/topic.) Moreover, this session ensured that almost everyone in the room will have a good chance of sharing his/her thoughts, albeit quickly, because smaller groups tend to allow more democratic and active participation.

Through this blog, I would like to send my deepest thanks for the organizers including the ADB, US Agency of International Development (USAID), Korea Energy Agency, and World Resources Institute. I also feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to meet the forum’s co-chair, Peter du Pont (USAID’s Climate Change Team Lead and Regional Development Mission Asia) and other renowned clean energy and climate change thought leaders such as Ralph Sims of Massey University, New Zealand and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility. It was especially meaningful for me because Professor Sims joined my KN table and that he is a passionate biker! (I asked him to promise me that he will bike on the proposed sky bike lanes, if and when these are finally here!)

I have always been a believer of renewable energies, writing about it as early as 2001, when I was assigned as a consultant for the Philippine Climate Change Mitigation project of the Department of Energy (DoE), with support from the US Agency of International Development. One of the outputs of this project is the Guidebook for Developing Sustainable Rural Renewable Energy Services (available at http://www2.doe.gov.ph/Downloads/nre20guidebook.pdf).

In 2004, while I was a consultant of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), I was invited to the International Conference on Renewable Energies in Germany. As far as I know, this was the first biggest international event on renewable energies. This year was a very memorable time for me because it was also then when the first-ever wind farm in the Philippines, the Bangui project (in Ilocos Norte), held its groundbreaking ceremony. Since I was among the few close-in-aides of the DENR Secretary back then, I was assigned to accompany her and the director of the Environmental Management Bureau.

Part 2: Of wind farms and emergency landings (and why angels must really exist)!

Now this is where it becomes more interesting. The Pililla Wind Farm is somehow “connected” to my personal history. It is almost like coming to a full circle because I also found out today that Alternergy, the company that built the Pililla Wind Farm, is headed by Vince Perez. In 2004, Sec Vince (as what we—the aides of the cabinet secretaries–often call him) was the DoE Secretary so he was among the invited guests in the groundbreaking ceremony in Bangui. To save on travel time, some of the government officials who attended the Bangui ceremony needed to take helicopters while another group took a government-chartered plane. The tree of us from DENR (the Secretary, the EMB director, and I), took a helicopter. It was excruciatingly hot that day but the ceremony went well and everyone was in high spirits.

Unfortunately, on the way back to Manila, our chopper experienced a serious technical problem. The battery lost power and since the engine has no more power to fly, we had to do an emergency landing via autorotation (similar to “gliding” in layman’s term). For ordinary mortals like me, it was a very scary experience although it was also the first time in my life that I faced the thought of dying with a very peaceful heart. In fact, I remember praying in my mind with words like, “Oh dear Lord, please…not on a house with people!” [Since you are still reading this, it means that I survived the emergency landing!]

Anyway, before I continue, let me comfort those who will be riding a helicopter soon: “Helicopters are designed specifically to allow pilots to have a reasonable chance of landing them safely in the case where the engine stops working during flight, often with no damage at all. They accomplish this via autorotation of the main rotor blades” (Hiskey, 2015). Therefore, I am a living proof that this autorotation mechanism is definitely crucial. According to Hiskey (2015), the tricky part in this emergency landing is ensuring that the rear of the helicopter will not hit the ground first (you can just imagine what will happen if it does).

To continue – I was normally awake during those chopper rides (it was almost like an unwritten rule) and, in fact, in one of our previous rides, the pilot would give me basic instructions on what to do in cases when either of the pilots (God forbid!) will have emergency situation (e.g., heart attack). Of course, I was not expected to fly the chopper myself but it was somehow ‘comforting’ that the pilots covered all “what if’s”, understanding that I would be flying with them often because of my job.

On the fateful day, when our chopper lost power, the pilot immediately talked to me over the sound system—through my headset–and explained the whole situation. I was instructed to wake the Secretary up–I cannot remember if the EMB director was also taking a quick nap during the flight–and ensure that we were all securely fastened to our seats. If you did not believe in angels, this is a good time to start believing in one.

At the most crucial moments, maybe seconds before we landed, the pilots found a perfect spot where to land—and it was definitely not a house nor a field with corn plants and people! That time of the year was harvest season for corn farmers of Ilocos region so a quick look below revealed a huge expanse of corn fields with farmers scattered all over. The pilots must have been praying hard too because just in the nick of time, they found a perfect spot—an almost spotlessly clean square patch of land, just big enough for a chopper and where the corn plants had already been uprooted. It was like God and all His angels prepared this empty patch in the middle of corn fields just for our chopper’s landing! It was very surreal.

I can imagine that it was also surreal for all the corn farmers who might have seen this ‘bird’ slowly descending from afar onto…their fields! Soon enough, they were all running to us, shaken but exhilaratingly happy! We told them our story. One of them fetched a barangay official, who kindly offered help. It turns out that the pilots (Air Force pilots, mind you) are very thorough and well trained and they only needed to be provided with two truck batteries, which can re-charge the chopper’s battery. (Yes, I also discovered that time that it is possible to charge a chopper’s battery from the batteries of trucks.)

However, there was a catch. They asked us (the three passengers) if we were ok with that solution because that kind of charging only guarantees ‘basic’ flying and one take-off and one landing. That means, the chopper will also not be able to run other navigational aids (and if I remember correctly, even the air-conditioning unit).

I first asked the Secretary and she asked me back the same question so we all ended up somehow asking one another with the same question and then finally deciding in the affirmative. Yes, we will still ride this chopper, we told the pilots. I don’t know why my co-passengers agreed but my key reason is that I have faith in our pilots (who must have been ‘powered’ by immense talents that only God can give). One thing I remember about those crucial minutes from the moment the pilot told me what was happening to the few minutes after we landed safely was sending a quick SMS to about three persons and one of them was…Sec Vince!

I think that the context of my message was, “We just survived an emergency landing, and taking the same chopper – please promise that you will continue building wind farms whatever happens!”, or something as idiotic as that one. He must have thought I had gone crazy but after checking on us and offering to work on finding a chopper to fetch us (instead of the same chopper with the recharged battery!), he sent me an assuring YES to the wind farm request. Therefore, you can imagine the joyful surprise that I had felt when I realized that Sec Vince is the President and CEO of Alternergy! He is keeping his promise! (I am thinking now that I should have made a screenshot of those text messages but realized that the phones back then didn’t have such a capability yet!)

I wish I had kept the flight manifest also so that I can thank our excellent pilots again! They had been very calm, professional, and focused all throughout those challenging moments. The memories still make me feel a little giddy but my gratitude is more empowering. Looking back, I also think that my co-passengers were a little shaken but strangely, perhaps, all of us had been more calm than panicked. It may have helped a lot that our pilots were totally in control of the aircraft and exuded much confidence.

It was big lesson in emergency situation: being scared is normal but keeping a part of our minds focused will surely save our lives! In our situation up there, going into a panic will not help at all and I guess everyone realized that. We were all quiet so I assume that the silence allowed the pilots to concentrate on whatever they needed to do rather than waste time and energies comforting panicked passengers. When the pilots told us to brace ourselves for a possibly ‘hard’ landing, we were all calm. And amazingly, the landing was not so bad. It was as if an imagined “air bubble” cushioned our chopper as it glided–remember, there was no more power so the chopper had to glide naturally–and landed.

Indeed, the winds brought me in ACEF; the winds that helped us land the chopper safely and the winds of those rotating blades in Pililla are the same winds that will bring our dreams to their fruition.

Claim your dreams!

[For a copy of my post, Solar energy for Filipino Households: Is it viable?, please go to this link. http://meilbox.net/solar-energy-for-filipino-households-is-it-viable/]

Part 3: Laguna and Rizal provinces – a fusion of culture, arts, and heritage…and some science!

Despite the very busy week, I did my best to catch the last hour of this semester’s closing ceremony of UP Open University’s non-formal education program last Saturday (June 11). Since we were traveling down south anyway, my husband (JR) and I decided to take this rare chance of going on a road trip. (For those who are not familiar with UP’s distance education system, the OU is part of the UP system, with headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna, near the International Rice Research Institute.) I even sent a quick email to Professor Sims (mentioned earlier), inviting him to the impromptu trip. Unfortunately, he was flying out of Manila that morning.

The road trip was mostly unplanned so we didn’t have time to check the internet for travel notes or even make reservations. Since it was an spontaneous trip, we relied mostly on the very helpful text messages from our good friend, Jay, as we were leaving UPOU. [She and her husband, Ned, are “smitten” with Laguna and after the road trip, JR and I understood why and became equally smitten.]  We decided that instead of going back to Manila via SLEX, we thought it is better to go further north of Laguna and use Manila East Road so we can visit Rizal province, where the Pililla Wind Farm is located.

The map below shows the route that JR and I took: Laguna and Rizal "Loop". The blue stars mark the places where we stopped. [Map courtesy of Google]

Laguna and Rizal “Loop”. The blue stars mark the places where we stopped. [Map courtesy of Google]

Here is a quick rundown of places we visited and things we did (I had numbered the events/places so that you can refer to the map above as you go along):

1-2. STARTING POINT (Home sweet home). From Quezon City, we proceeded to UP Open University (Los Baños, Laguna) through SLEX, stopping by somewhere in Santa Rosa for a quick drink.

3. VICTORIA, Laguna. After attending the closing ceremonies of the Continuing Education Program of UPOU (with hubby patiently waiting), we proceeded north, stopping by briefly in Victoria to buy the town’s famous delicacies—salted eggs and balut (a Filipino delicacy, which is an 18-day-old fertilized duck egg*). I am not a fan of balut but hubby can eat it so Victoria had been agreed upon as a required stop. (Victoria is known as the “Duck Raising Center of the Philippines.”) We were a little disappointed because the main branch of “Mr. Duck” or also known as “Itlog ni Kuya” (Jay and Ned’s favorite, too!) has finished its stock for the day, announcing it on the counter with, “Ubos na po ang itlog, bukas ulit!” (may be loosely translated as “Eggs are sold out, come back tomorrow!”) This made us laugh amid the frustration.

Not wanting to be defeated, we tried the store next door. Unfortunately, when we tried the goodies at home, the salted eggs and balut did not come as close to the ones from “Itlog ni Kuya”. (For expat /foreigner-readers, the translation of “Itlog ni Kuya” is infused with Filipino humor. You need to ask a Filipino friend for the translation and watch for his/her reaction.) Nevertheless, those with salt intake restriction may appreciate the salted eggs next door (right side of Itlog ni Kuya if you are facing the store) because they are not that salty. However, for those who are craving the distinct saltiness of salted eggs, it is better to buy the ones from Itlog ni Kuya. Its website, found at http://www.itlognikuya.com/, has a listing of its outlets.

4. LILIW, Laguna. From Victoria, we then proceeded to Liliw, which is also known as the “Tsinelas (slippers) Capital of the Philippines.” We decided that this is where we will spend the night because it was already getting dark. From Jay’s recommendation, we went straight to Arabela’s Bakehaus & Coffee Shop (Rizal Street) and enjoyed a long lunch-cum-dinner of pasta and pizza. This place is surely a must-try– the food is delicious and priced reasonably.

It was challenging to find a place for the night because it was our first time here (Jay didn’t have any recommendation, too). Appreciating that this will be a “hit and miss”, we lowered our expectations and decided on Batis ng Liliw, which is a spring-water resort located at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Brgy. Laguan. (For drivers, this is on the right side of the road enroute to Liliw, right after Nagcarlan.) The rooms here are very basic but you will love the owners, a nice old couple who graciously welcomed us and advised us about the schedule of the masses the next day, Sunday. (I googled for their names and they are Mr. and Mrs. Milagros and Carmelino Arrieta. Thank you, po, Ma’am Mila and Sir Carmelino, for welcoming us!) We were somehow “namahay” (the experience of finding it difficult to sleep when one is new to a place) but eventually lulled to sleep by the sounds of the flowing streams from Mt. Banahaw and the room’s air-conditioning unit.

The next morning, we said quick goodbyes to the owners and were able to reach St. John the Baptist Parish Church just as the 8:00 am mass was beginning. The Church is beautiful, with its red bricked façade and baroque style architecture. It was first built as a wooden church in 1620 (Huerta, 1865).

St. John the Baptist Parish Church in Liliw, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

St. John the Baptist Parish Church in Liliw, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Of course, one should never leave Liliw without visiting the rows of slippers and shoe shops. The footwear products are reasonably-priced and looked durable enough. (I couldn’t attest to the quality yet but a quick Google search revealed happy customers who shared their satisfaction when it came to durability.) We liked the big slippers by the entrance doors of most of the shops so a souvenir photo is necessary!

Liliw is definitely a haven for footwear fanatics! [Image by JR Suarin]

Liliw is definitely a haven for footwear fanatics! [Image by JR Suarin]

5. MAGDALENA, Laguna. From Liliw (enroute to Paete), we decided to make a quick trip to Magdalena to visit another old church, which was built in 1829. (Trivia: Magdalena is also known as “The Little Hollywood of Laguna”, it being a favorite location for Filipino films. The local government even built a sort of replica of Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.”) Here is a picture of the Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church. (Note that all pictures in this post had been taken through an iPad only.) If you want to see more pictures of the Church, please go to Jay’s blog at https://nakisnanay.blogspot.com/2011/04/magdalena-laguna.html

The Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church in Magdalena, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church in Magdalena, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

After our prayers at the Church and some more picture-taking, we decided to enjoy a cold and refreshing drink: chocolate-flavored carabao’s milk. You can grab this at a store near the church (left side if you are facing the park fronting the church). We reminded ourselves to bring a cooler full of ice if we want to bring home kesong puti (white cheese) and carabao’s milk on our next visit. (If you want to read more about the growing carabao milk industry in the Philippines, please visit http://www.pcc.gov.ph/newsdisplay.php?sq=269&id1=1)

6. LUMBAN, Laguna. On the way, we cannot help but stop at a good vantage point in Lumban to enjoy a view of scenic Laguna de Bay. Lumban is considered as “The Embroidery Capital of the Philippines.” Here, you will find the works of Lumban’s artisans on fabrics such as jusi and cocoon. Textile and clothing are not among my expertise so I searched online and found a good read: http://thestylishscholar.tumblr.com/post/41609376023/a-trip-to-lumban

The LGU put up a marker (with gigantic letters to spell out the word “Lumban”) along the highway overlooking the bay so we were also enticed by it to stop briefly so we can appreciate the view. As we didn’t bring a DSLR, we can only take a picture with one of the big letters. B is for beautiful!

The Laguna de Bay from a ridge in Lumban, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The Laguna de Bay from a ridge in Lumban, Laguna [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

7. PAETE, Laguna. From Lumban, we then proceeded to Paete, which is “The Carving Capital of the Philippines.” If you are looking for authentic wooden art pieces, sculptures, and religious statues, Paete is the perfect place for you. I chanced upon this site where you can read more about its culture and history: http://www.paete.org/abtpaete/  Meanwhile, a blogger had shared a lot of pictures so you can visit this link and have an idea on what to find in Paete: http://www.reach-unlimited.com/p/713686412/amazing-paete–that-custom-woodcraft-wundertown-hiding-in-laguna

JR and I did not linger here so much because we wanted to “reserve” the long exploration for our next visit.

8. PAKIL, Laguna. Enroute to Pililla, Rizal, we saw another beautiful church along the highway. We found out that this is called Saint Peter of Alcantara Parish Church, which is already in the municipality of Pakil. The original wooden structure was said to have been built in 1676. It is “home” to Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba (or simply “Virgen de Turumba”). Because of the faithful’s deep reverence, they have been giving Our Lady with embroidered gowns all through the years that it has reached 50,000 already! Because of this, Our Lady changes gowns every two weeks. The gowns are then cut up into pieces (after being worn by Our Lady) and then given to devotees. The source of these bits of history and where you can read a more detailed story is here: https://marilil.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/pakil-laguna-a-church-for-every-juan-de-la-cruz/

The St. Peter of Alcantara Parish Church (Shrine of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba)[Image by JR Suarin]

The St. Peter of Alcantara Parish Church (Shrine of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba)[Image by JR Suarin]

Before reaching Pililla, one should also stop by the roadside stalls for the other bounties of Laguna—the sweetest bananas, mangoes and pineapples! I was pleasantly surprised that the mangoes of Laguna are as sweet as the ones I have tried in Guimaras (and they are as cheap, too)!

9. PILILLA, Rizal. On the way back home (in Quezon City), we passed by Pililla, Rizal, where you can find the 27-tower wind farm. With the other wind farms in the Philippines (including those in Bangui, Burgos, Caparispisan, and Puerto Galera), our installed capacity now reaches about 400 MW (SunStar Davao, 2016).

Pililla Wind Farm (by Alternergy Wind One Corporation) [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Pililla Wind Farm (by Alternergy Wind One Corporation) [Image by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The brief visit to the wind farm inspired me further to continue working on the promotion of renewable energies. In fact, this is among the primary reasons why I am writing this post! I hope that by reading this, more Filipino companies and investors will be inspired to build more RE plants! I predict a future where fossil-based electricity will become less and less viable.

One of the towers of the Pililla Wind Farm. May the winds bring you to your dreams! [Image by JR Suarin]

One of the towers of the Pililla Wind Farm. May the winds bring you to your dreams! [Image by JR Suarin]

10. ANTIPOLO, Rizal. Of course, the best part of traveling via the Rizal route is the enjoyment of a delicious meal in one of the restaurants along Sumulong Highway. There are perfect spots there where one can have a good view of the Metropolis. As we didn’t have time to research prior to this trip and it was a challenge to simply stop every time we fancy a new place (Sumulong is not meant for tentative driving), we ended up in a familiar establishment, Padi’s Point. The owners really need to improve the place and the menu but this is still a very good spot for enjoying the urban scenery from afar.

This had been a very enjoyable albeit an impromptu weekend travel, filled with talks, arts, history, food, prayers, and yes – appreciation of clean energy! JR and I decided that a longer trip to Laguna and Rizal should be planned again! (And of course, we promised to do a better research next time!)

References:

Hiskey, D. (2015). How helicopters are designed to land safely when engines fail. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/how-helicopters-are-designed-to-land-safely-when-their-1708128868

Huerta, Felix de (1865). Estado geográfico, topográfico, estadístico, histórico-religioso. Binondo: Imprenta de M. Sanchez y Ca.

Saulon, V.V., (2016, January 20). Another wind farm eyed in Laguna-Rizal. Retrieved from http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Corporate&title=another-wind-farm-eyed-in-laguna-rizal&id=121821

SunStar Davao. (2016, January 24). Philippines is top wind energy producer in ASEAN. Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/business/2016/01/24/philippines-top-wind-energy-producer-asean-453487

Velasco, M. (2016, January 22). Alternergy plans wind power project expansion. Retrieved from http://www.mb.com.ph/alternergy-plans-wind-power-project-expansion/

For a videoclip on the Pililla Wind Farm, you may go to www.getlinkyoutube.com/watch?v=k-0a0q7C1lo

*A good article about balut is at http://eatyourworld.com/destinations/asia/philippines/manila/what_to_eat/balut

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This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please do plant trees on your birthday/s.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak ("Marlboro Country"), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

MUST READ: General guidelines for Visitors of Sagada

NOTE: With the permission of Mr. Ivan Henares, our professor in ENRM 257: Sustainable Tourism Development course in UP Open University, I am reposting visitors’ guidelines developed by Steve Rogers and Tracey Santiago for Sagada. The translation in Filipino (courtesy of Tracey) is also shared below.

Let these important words be remembered  and applied not just in Sagada but in all other tourist and heritage sites that you intend to visit. Traveling is always a very precious and memorable gift so the least we can do is help protect and preserve the integrity of God’s and our people’s creations. 

Enjoy traveling through eyes that never tire of being amazed and a heart that never ceases to express joys and gratitude! Namaste!

Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak ("Marlboro Country"), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak (“Marlboro Country”), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR VISITORS OF SAGADA 
by Steve Rogers and Tracey Santiago

1. Please respect the culture. Keep a distance from rituals or any sites you are told are sacred. Do not touch or disturb coffins or burial sites. Do not attempt to join or film any ritual without direct permission from the presiding elders. Do not disturb mass in the church or shoot videos/photos in or around the church during mass.

2. Please respect the people. Sagadans are not exhibits in a museum or zoo. Ask permission before taking pictures or video of people, especially elders. Please don’t ask us “where are the Igorots”. We are the Igorots. We do dress in traditional clothing for special occasions, but please don’t expect any of us to pose in traditional clothing for pictures, because we don’t do that.

3. Please secure necessary permits. If you need to do field research, interviews in the community, conduct pictorials or film anyone and any place in Sagada, please go to the Office of the Mayor and make sure you secure a permit and pay any necessary fees. This permit will determine if your activity is allowed or not in the community. Guides are not allowed to secure any permit for such activities.

4. Please manage your expectations. Sagada is a community, not a museum. If you want to see the way we lived a century ago, there’s an excellent museum in Bontoc; please visit it. Don’t think, or say, that we have “lost our culture” because we no longer live in traditional houses or dress daily in wanes and tapis. We are indigenous people and we are deeply attached to our traditions and culture. We are also modern, well educated people who are comfortable in any living or professional environment the world offers.

5. Please walk whenever possible. Walking is an essential part of the Sagada experience. The air here is cool and clean; you won’t get all sweaty. The views are spectacular, and you’ll enjoy them more on foot than crammed into a metal box. Sagada is a small town and places are close together. If you are going out to browse the shops, walk. If you are going from a hotel to a restaurant, walk. If your hotel is outside the town, drive to the edge of town and walk. If you’re strong enough to walk through the caves, you’re strong enough to walk to the caves. Walk. It’s good for you, you’ll see and enjoy more, and you’ll help reduce our traffic problem.

6. Please conserve water. Sagada suffers from water shortages, especially during dry season and periods of peak tourist flow. This can lead to diversion of water from our farms and rice terraces, where it is desperately needed, to support tourism. If you are going hiking or caving, bathe after, not before. Please bathe quickly and with as little water as you can.

7. Please manage your garbage. Littering and tossing garbage outdoors are unacceptable and disgraceful: just don’t do it. Sagada has no municipal waste disposal system; every household and business has to manage its own waste output. Try to minimize the garbage you generate. As much as possible, what comes here with you should leave with you.

8. Please be kind to the people in our kitchens. Our restaurants are small kitchens that can only handle a few meals. When we say, we don’t have food anymore, it means the stock we bought during the market day have already run out. We don’t serve food frozen from weeks or months ago. To get better service, order your food at least 3 or 4 hours before your meal. That way, we have more time to prepare your food and serve it as soon as you arrive in the restaurant.

9. Please use your vehicle responsibly. Our streets are narrow, and on-street parking creates a serious traffic problem. Parking on the street is prohibited by local ordinance. Please follow the law, even when others don’t or if someone tells you it’s ok to park on the street. If you’re asked to back up or pull to the side of the road to allow passage of a bus or other oncoming vehicles, please cooperate. If you are parked in a way that obstructs traffic, move. Do not load/unload in the middle of a road. Pull to the side so that other vehicles can pass.

10. Please help us keep you safe. Sagada is a mountain town filled with caves, cliffs, canyons, streams and forests. They are beautiful but people can and do get hurt or lost. We do our best to keep you safe, but we need your help. Guides are required in the caves for your safety, not for our profit. Please hire accredited guides and respect the prescribed guide to guest ratio. We do not allow children to guide, for their safety and yours, so please do not hire children as guides. We strongly recommend guides for hiking or exploring. If you choose to hike without a guide, please be responsible and tell your guest house where you plan to go and what time you plan to be back. Bring a mobile phone and make note of emergency phone numbers. If you go missing we will look for you, at any time of the day or night and in any weather. Knowing where to start is a huge help. If you plan to sleep somewhere other than your guest house, get in touch and let them know, because they will report you missing and we will go out looking for you.

11. Please be modest. This is a small, conservative town, and we like it that way. Please save the revealing clothing for the beach, and save the displays of affection for your private space. We are not known for nightlife: business in Sagada closes at 10PM. If you like to party all night that’s fine, but you’ll have to do it somewhere else. There is no commercial sex here, so please don’t waste your time looking for it.

12. Please give your share to help us preserve our environment. All visitors (tourists, non-Sagada residents) must register at the Municipal Tourist Information Center and pay Php35.00 for the Environmental Fee. Your receipt will be checked upon entering caves and other tourist areas.

Below is the Tagalog translation:

Pupunta ka ba ng Sagada? Basahin muna ito!

Ito ay mga gabay para sa mga nais bumisita sa Sagada. Basahin at intindihin ang mga sumusunod bago tumungo doon:

1. Igalang ang lokal na kultura at pamumuhay ng komunidad. Panatilihin ang distansya mula sa mga ritwal o ano mang mga lugar na tinutukoy na sagrado. Huwag hawakan o buksan ang mga kabaong sa kuweba ng libingan. Huwag tatangkaing sumali o kunan ng litrato o bidyo ang ano mang ritwal na walang direktang pahintulot mula sa namumunong nakatatanda. Huwag abalahin ang Misa sa simbahan o kumuha ng mga bidyo o kaya litrato sa loob at paligid ng simbahan sa oras ng Misa.

2. Igalang ang bawat tao sa komunidad. Ang mga taga-Sagada ay hindi mga eksibit o palabas sa isang museo o zoo. Humingi ng pahintulot bago kumuha ng mga litrato o bidyo ng mga tao, lalo na ang mga nakatatanda. Huwag itanong kung “Nasaan ang mga Igorot?” Kami ang mga Igorot. Sinusuot namin ang mga tradisyunal na kasuotan para sa mga mahalagang okasyon. Huwag ninyo asahan na magpakuha kami ng litrato suot ang bahag o tapis para sa inyo, dahil hindi namin gawain iyon.

3. Kumuha ng mga kinakailangang permit o pahintulot para sa pagkuha ng litrato, pelikula, o panayam sa komunidad para sa pananaliksik. Makipag-ugnayan sa Office of the Mayor at siguraduhing ikaw ay kumuha ng permit at nagbayad ng ano mang mga kinakailangang bayarin. Ang permit na ito ang magtutukoy kung ang iyong aktibidad ay pinapayagan o hindi sa komunidad. Ang mga gabay (guide) ay hindi pinahihintulutan na kumuha ng permit para sa nasaad na mga gawain.

4. Pamahalaan ang iyong mga inaasahan (manage expectations). Ang Sagada ay isang komunidad, hindi isang museo. Kung gusto mong makita ang buhay namin noong unang panahon, may isang mahusay na museo sa Bontoc; bisitahin niyo ito. Huwag isipin o sabihin na “nawala na ang aming kultura” dahil lang sa hindi na kami nabubuhay sa mga tradisyunal na mga bahay o nagsusuot ng wanes at tapis para sa pang-araw-araw. Kami ay mga katutubo at malalim ang aming pagkakakabit sa aming mga tradisyon at kultura. Kami din ay moderno at may pinag-aralan, kumportable sa anumang buhay o propesyonal na kapaligiran na inaalok ng mundo.

5. Maglakad hangga’t maaari. Ang paglalakad ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng karanasan sa Sagada. Ang hangin dito ay sariwa at malinis; hindi ka gaanong pagpapawisan. Ang tanawin ay kamangha-mangha, at mas ikalulugod mo ang mga ito kung ikaw ay maglalakad kaysa sa nakasakay ka sa isang metal na kahon. Ang Sagada ay isang maliit na bayan at magkakalapit ang mga lugar dito. Kung ikaw ay lalabas para mamili sa mga tindahan, maglakad ka. Kung ikaw ay pupunta sa mga kainan galing sa hotel, maglakad ka. Kung ang iyong hotel ay nasa labas ng bayan, dalhin lamang ang sasakyan hanggang sa pasukan ng bayan at maglakad ka mula doon. Kung may sapat kang lakas para pumasok ng mga kuweba, mayroon ka din lakas para maglakad papunta sa mga kuweba. Maglakad ka. Mabuti ito para sa iyo, mas masaya, mas marami kang makikita, at makakabawas sa aming problema sa trapiko.

6. Huwag mag-aksaya ng tubig. May kakulangan ng tubig sa Sagada, lalo na sa panahon ng tag-init at mga panahong dagsa ang mga turista. Para matugunan ang mga pangangailang ng mga turista sa pag-konsumo ng tubig, ito ay maaaring humantong sa paggamit ng tubig mula sa aming mga bukid at palayan kung saan ito ay lubhang kinakailangan para sa aming mga pananim. Kung ikaw ay aakyat ng mga bundok o papasok sa mga kweba, mas mainam na maligo ka pagkatapos at hindi bago pumunta. Mangyaring maligo nang mabilis at magtipid ng tubig.

7. Huwag magkalat ng basura. Ang pagtapon ng basura sa daan o sa ano mang lugar ay kahiya-hiya, at hindi katanggap-tanggap: huwag kang pasaway. Sa kasalukuyan, ang Sagada ay walang municipal waste disposal system; bawat pamilya at negosyo ang nangangalaga ng sarili nitong basura. Kaya bawasan niyo ang basura niyo. Hangga’t maaari, kung ano ang dala ninyong basura ay dapat dalhin ito pag-alis para maitapon sa tamang lugar.

8. Maging mabait sa mga taong namamahala ng mga kainan. Maliliit ang mga kusina ng mga kainan namin, at hindi namin kaya magluto para sa marami. Kapag sinabi naming wala na kaming maihahain na pagkain, ito ay nangangahulugang naubos na ang pinamili namin noong araw ng palengke. Hindi kami naghahain ng mga pagkaing linggo o kaya buwan na nakatago sa freezer. Para makakuha ng mas mahusay na serbisyo, mag-order kayo ng pagkain ng hindi bababa sa 3 o 4 na oras bago kayo kumain. Sa ganoong paraan, mayroon kaming sapat na oras para ihanda ang iyong pagkain at maihain ito agad pagdating mo sa kainan.

9. Maging responsable sa paggamit ng sasakyan. Ang aming mga kalye ay makitid, at ang pagparada sa daan ay lumilikha ng malubhang problema sa trapiko. Sa katunayan, ang pagparada sa daan ay ipinagbabawal ng lokal na ordinansa. Sundin ang mga batas, kahit na hindi sumusunod and iba o kaya ay may magsabi sayo na maaari kang pumarada dahil pag bawal ay bawal. Kung sinabihan kang umatras o tumabi para makadaan ang ibang sasakyan, lalo na ang mga bus, makisama ka. Kung ang pagparada mo ay nakakaharang sa trapiko, umalis ka at ilipat mo ang sasakyan mo sa tamang paradahan. Huwag magsakay o magbaba sa gitna ng daan. Tumabi ka para makadaan ang ibang sasakyan.

10. Tulungan kaming mapanatili kang ligtas. Ang Sagada ay isang bayan sa kabundukan na puno ng mga yungib, bangin, kanyon, sapa at mga gubat. Ang mga ito ay magaganda, pero maari ka ring madisgrasya o kaya ay mawala. Ginagawa namin ang lahat ng aming makakaya para panatilihin kang ligtas, pero kailangan din namin ang tulong mo. Kailangan mong umupa ng gabay (guide) bago ka payagang pumasok sa kweba. Para ito sa kaligtasan mo, hindi para kumita kami. Mangyaring nakarehistrong gabay (accredited guide) lang ang upahan, at respetuhin ang nakatakdang bilang ng bisita sa bawat gabay (guide to guest ratio). Hindi namin pinapayagan ang mga bata o minor de edad na maging gabay, para sa kanilang kaligtasan at para na rin sa iyo. Mangyaring huwag umupa ng mga bata bilang gabay. Iniririkuminda din namin ang mga gabay para sa paglalakad o pamumundok. Kung talagang pinili mong maglakad nang walang gabay, maging responsable ka at sabihan mo ang mga tao sa guest house kung saan mo planong pumunta at kung anong oras mo planong bumalik. Magdala ka ng mobile phone at siguraduhing may listahan ka ng mga emergency number. Kung mangyari ang di inaasahan at mawala ka, hahanapin ka namin, anumang oras ng araw o gabi at sa anumang panahon. Pag-alam namin kung saan magsisimula, magiging malaki itong tulong sa amin. Kung balak mong matulog sa ibang lugar, makipag-ugnayan sa guest house mo at ipaalam sa kanila ang iyong balak, dahil sila ay magbibigay-ulat na nawawala ka at kami ay lalabas para hanapin ka.

11. Maging disente sa ano mang paraan. Ang Sagada ay isang maliit at konserbatibong bayan, at ito ang nais namin. Maaaring huwag magsuot ng mga damit na para sa pamamasyal sa dagat, at huwag rin magpapakita ng mga pisikal na ekspresyon na maaaring magpahayag ng malisya sa publiko. Hindi kami kilala para sa nightlife: sarado na ang mga tindahan sa Sagada ng alas-10 ng gabi. Kung gusto mong mag-party sa gabi, humanap ka nalang ng ibang lugar na pupuntahan. Walang commercial sex dito, kaya huwag nang mag-aksaya ng oras sa paghahanap nito.

12. Tumulong sa pagpapanatili ng ang ating kapaligiran. Lahat ng mga bisita (turista at hindi residente ng Sagada) ay dapat magrehistro sa Municipal Tourist Information Center at magbayad Php35.00 para sa Environmental Fee. Ang iyong resibo ay titignan bago ka pumasok sa mga kuweba at iba pang mga lugar na dinadayo ng turista.

Ang mga panuntunang ito ay inihanda ni Steve Rogers at Tracey Santiago, at isinalin namin ni Tracey sa Filipino.

Mei_Watermark-4

 

 

Source: Website of Ivan Henares. You can visit his site for more interesting reads on history, heritage, and travels. The link of this post is at: http://www.ivanhenares.com/2016/03/pupunta-ka-ba-ng-sagada-basahin-muna-ito.html

For comprehensive guide and tips on Sagada, this is a good source managed by the Sagada Genuine Guides Association: http://sagadagenuineguides.blogspot.com/

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This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please do plant a tree/s on your birthday/s.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Misa de Aguinaldo – a journey of love and thanksgiving

Christmas reminds us of the most powerful LOVE that we will ever experience. [Nativity scene at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City. Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Christmas reminds us of the most powerful LOVE that we will ever experience. [Nativity scene at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City. Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

It is a little embarrassing to admit but I have never ever completed the nine-day Christmas devotion and novena called Misa de Aguinaldo (may be literally translated as “Gift Mass” but usually referred to as “Simbang Gabi” in Tagalog). When I was still young and single, I tried so hard to attend the mass for nine days but it is indeed tough to wake up at such a very early hour.  The mass usually begins at 4:00 or 4:30 am so that means one has to be up by 3:00 am (or earlier) if s/he wants to be seated at the Church before the mass begins.

Now that I am  older, and hopefully, wiser, I am all the more inspired and determined to try my best to attend most if not all the dawn masses for nine days. I told myself, this year is a perfect time to give it my best shot. It’s a long overdue “gift” to God and if I can inspire a few more souls to do this, too, I will be very happy. It is actually a little tougher this time because I am no longer in my youthful days (wink!) but I feel I am in a better place because I now have a husband (a perfect companion!), who is also determined to go on this simple spiritual journey with me, and of course, willing to drive us to the churches every day for nine days.

We decided that we will be visiting nine different churches in Quezon City (QC) instead of simply going to the nearest church because we want to make the journey deeper and more meaningful. We also want to share the experience with others, with the hope that it will inspire you to embark on your own simple devotion and thanksgiving with your loved ones as you prepare for Christmas. We’re also considering this pilgrimage as a perfect way to read more about the lives of our saints and the history of our churches. We hope this post can also be a helpful guide to those (especially QC residents) who are not yet sure where to go and in what time do the dawn masses actually begin. (Note: I had written this blog over the 9-day period so beginning from Day 5, I began writing the entries on a daily basis. The first post covered Days 1 to 4 and was published last Dec. 20 and Day 9 entry was published today, Dec. 24.)

DAY 1 (December 16): Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish (established in October 1941)

#28 Scout Ybardolaza St., Kamuning, Quezon City; tel nos. (02) 929-0419 and 415-435

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:00 am.

We decided to begin our Simbang Gabi here because this is among our favorite churches as a couple. We used to live in New Manila so we often attended Sunday masses here or the Pink Sisters Convent. (Admittedly, there is a minor planning error on our first Simbang Gabi because we thought the mass here will also begin at 4:30 am, similar to the schedules of the other churches! Fortunately, we arrived early enough to make it to the Gospel but because we were late, we had to stand outside, near one of the doors.) We considered it another blessing because one of our favorite priests (and the current parish priest), Reverend Father Jerome Marquez, SVD, officiated the mass, our first Simbang Gabi as a married couple. We admire him because his sermons are always heart-felt and he manages to inject stories and humor when he shares the Word of our Lord. We also appreciate the fact that he is the type of priest who blesses the churchgoers (after the holy masses) with the blessed water so diligently and passionately that many are reached (of course, those in front may feel like the water is some glorious rain pouring down on them–I am sure no one is complaining!) [Father Jerome, if you are reading this, know that many of us really thank you for such simple act of sharing God's touch--keep the blessed water pouring over us and God bless your strong arms!]

The Advent Wreath in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Advent Wreath in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

On this special day, the Gospel is from Luke 7:19-23, where the story of Jesus miracles and healing is shared. Father Jerome also spoke about the true meaning of the Misa de Aguinaldo, that of thanksgiving because we were given the best and most important “aguinaldo”, through Jesus Christ. The mass also reminds us to honor Mama Mary, the Mother of God, because she bore Jesus for nine months and became the instrument through which we were able to experience God’s love. As a Catholic, we grew up knowing our sacraments and Church teachings but embarking on this simple devotion made me appreciate our faith and traditions more. Looking at the huge crowd and families who woke up earlier than usual and walked/commuted or driven to the church at a very early hour is moving and inspiring. I felt a sense of community.

DAY 2 (December 17): Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary (formally established in 1988, although, according to Erineus*– I assume he is a blogging priest–it used to be an old chapel prior to its formal establishment)

Daily Mirror St. cor. Bulletin St., West Triangle, Quezon City; tel. nos. (02) 372-1037 and 371-9102

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Facade of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Facade of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

This beautiful church is a newly-discovered place of worship for me and hubby (JR). It was only our second time to visit this church and the first time was borne out of a desire to discover new churches in our immediate neighborhood. It is a beautiful church and upon checking in Google, I discovered it is among couples’ favorite churches for weddings, particularly those who prefer the intimacy of smaller venues.

We were happy to be seated near the front as we arrived around 4:15 am. We also appreciated the fact that the early church goers were reciting the rosary prayer before the mass. Therefore, early-birds who really want to do more prayers may want to arrive at 4:00 am so you can also join the rosary prayer.

The Nativity Scene at the Parish of Hearts of Jesus & Mary [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Parish of Hearts of Jesus & Mary [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

For this second day of the Simbang Gabi, the Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) and sermon centered on the genealogy of Jesus Christ, taking all of us into the generations of people and families before and during the time of our Savior. The priest spoke about the need to know and understand human frailties and stories of the people in Jesus’ time because it is only through this appreciation can we also understand our humanity and our participation in the divine mission. This mass reminded me once again of our human weaknesses–how it is so difficult to remain good and hopeful in the middle of chaos, confusion, and struggles. This will always be the biggest challenge to all of us, people from all walks of life and faith–we are often confronted with questions like, “How do we remain in the right path amid a world where there is hatred, hopelessness, and wars?” In the Philippines, we are asked to reflect on questions like, “How do we remain steadfast and pure when, everyday, we see and experience poverty, corruption, and spiritual loss?” I hope these questions will accompany us as we prepare for Christmas and greet another year.

The altar and center aisle of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar and center aisle of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

*As we end the Day 2 reflections, I would also like to invite you to visit the blog of Erineus, where he shared the moving story of Sandy Greenberg. (The complete credits are in his blog.) The link is here.

DAY 3 (December 18): Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish (established in 1957)

South Lawin Avenue, Philam Homes, Quezon City; tels. nos. (02) 929-8280 and 928-8930

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am. (Note: The church is fully air-conditioned so bring a light jacket or sweater as it can get a little chilly at these early hours.)

Santa Rita de Cascia Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Santa Rita de Cascia Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Like the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, this is also another favorite church for weddings. More than the beauty of the place, this Church has a special place in the hearts of devotees because it a shrine for Saint Rita of Cascia, known as the “Saint of the Impossible.” She is known to have interceded for many miracles and healing. (If you want to know more about the life of St. Rita of Cascia, you may go to this link.) JR and I also discovered this church very recently so we also looked forward to our second visit, and this time, for the 3rd day of our Simbang Gabi.

The Advent Wreath in Santa Rita de Cascia Parish [Image by JR Suarin]

The Advent Wreath in Santa Rita de Cascia Parish [Image by JR Suarin]

For this day, the gospel is from Matthew 1:18-24, which narrates the visit of the Lord’s angel to Joseph, informing him about the birth of Christ through Mother Mary. The officiating priest spoke about the importance of the meaning of Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation. He narrated a bittersweet love story where a lady eventually fell in love with the mailman who brings the letters of her overseas-based boyfriend! It was a very interesting sermon, inspiring anticipation–the priest narrated it with such humor that many people laughed when he eventually reached the end of the story, revealing how the love-struck lady waited for the letters everyday, maybe eventually seeing the face of her boyfriend in the mailman! How is the story related to our communion with Christ? It reminds us how we are truly loved–it may sound ‘cliche-ish’ but there is no other way to say it: Jesus had to come down here, live like us and with us, and to suffer for us. I think it also reminds us how important it is to be physically present for our loved ones. In our busy and preoccupied lives these days, we sometimes forget the importance of authentic presence in the lives of those around us. I hope that this simple story will remind all of us to simply be there for others (even if they are total strangers) who might need our love and presence. More importantly, perhaps, let us be present in the moment, making each one an opportunity to say “thank you” simply because we are there, right on that spot.

DAY 4 (December 19): Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish

Zamboanga St, Brgy. Nayong Kanluran, Quezon City (near West and Quezon Avenues)

The Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Although we live in a neighboring barangay, this is the nearest Church to our home. I hope I can share more about this Church but there is really no official account or document available online. This is another special church to me and JR because when we first visited it, we didn’t realize that it was the Feast of Christ the King and so, by the work of serendipity, we were blessed with the chance to join a procession (another first to our life as a married couple!) It was another simple soulful experience because we didn’t have lunch yet (we had a heavy brunch) and the route of the procession was rather far. By the time the procession and mass ended at about 8:00 pm, we were already hungry. However, it was moving for us because we felt it was a perfect way to find the simple “home” of St. Jude in Quezon City, offer a little sacrifice, and participate in a community prayer.

Of course, Saint Jude Thaddeus, compared with the other saints, is quite familiar to many of us. He is known as the “Saint of Hope and Impossible Causes” but aside from this and the fact that he is among Jesus’ 12 Apostles, we know little about him, right? I therefore encourage you to get to know more about him. You may go to this link for a more detailed account. Meanwhile, the website of the National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus (Philippines) is found here.

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

For our 4th day of Simbang Gabi, the Gospel (Luke 1:5-25) is about the story of the visit of Archangel Gabriel to Zechariah. Angel Gabriel told him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, will be blessed with a child. Because both were old, Zechariah did not, at first, believe the angel. The Gospel reminds us about faith. We can all relate to the story of Zechariah, right? Sometimes, especially in our most trying moments, it is difficult to keep our faith. When we are faced with challenges, it is very very difficult to remain faithful and hopeful. We all have our imperfections and weaknesses and problems make the journey even more difficult! When we experience sufferings, we sometimes doubt God’s presence.

Today’s mass reminded me to believe more in God’s love and miracles.  I feel that I am not a credible ‘messenger’ of God’s love because of my  mistakes and sins and sometimes, I really get scared or have some doubts…but, yes, I am humbled that, in the most crucial times, I experience his wonderful miracles, big or small.  I am sure you have those experiences, too. Let’s keep those miracles in our hearts and make them our sources of  hope, strength, and inspiration. Let us be the small miracles for others. Through this post, I am also sending a prayer to you who are reading this piece at this very moment–I wish you strength, joys, and an even stronger faith! Whatever you may be struggling with at this point, I know you can do it, with God’s graces. Keep the faith.

DAY 5 (December 20): Santo Domingo Church or the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval (first established in 1587 in Intramuros; one of the original structures constructed in 1864 and destroyed in World War II, 1942; the current building in Quezon City inaugurated in 1954)

#537 Quezon Ave., Quezon City; tel. nos. (02) 712-62-71 to 74

The Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am. (Praying of the rosary begins at 4:00 am.)

The Santo Domingo Church, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Santo Domingo Church, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Santo Domingo Church was not in our original list because we have nine churches listed down already but then JR suggested  that we also include it. I readily agreed not only because it is an important church in our history, it is also another church that I enjoy visiting. (I’ll tell you another reason: lighting candles there is a very calming experience). Of course, many of you may already know that the Church had been declared by the Philippine government as a National Cultural Treasure in October 2012. Through this declaration, the Santo Domingo-La Naval is recognized as both an institution and a structure and a repository of modern art.

It has a very rich history and a survivor of a difficult past and massive destruction. For instance, the June 1863 earthquake destroyed the Church as well as other buildings and churches built around this period. Another massive earthquake, a huge fire, and the ravage of World War II had destroyed it. However, the miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary survived all these calamities and destruction. Nowadays, Our Lady is enshrined at the left side of the altar (if you are facing the altar). [Sources of the historical notes are given in the links below.]

The Nativity Scene at the Santo Domingo Church [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Santo Domingo Church [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Among the things that really touched me about today’s Simbang Gabi was the massive crowd. The church, with its 5,000** seating capacity, was full so that many people stood by the doors, outside, and on the floor at the front of the altar. JR and I noticed that people (especially the young ones) who cannot find seats automatically sat down on the floor by the altar. This is the first time that I have seen such a practice in a sort of ‘formal’ church setting. Whoever began this practice or allowed this practice must be commended and thanked because it really shows how much the church is reaching out to more faithfuls especially the youth. I liked the idea of allowing young people to be ‘free’ in expressing their faith and that includes allowing them to sit on the tile floors! I see this to be an act of ‘opening up’, embracing our differences, and participating in a more genuine communion, Catholics or not. (I do believe in a non-discriminating God; our membership in any faith or church institution must not get in the way of our spiritual growth. The physical or material structures, documents, traditions, and images are important for our expression of faith and learning but let us not forget that the true path is only through the heart.)

The huge crowd at the Sto Domingo Church in today's Simbang Gabi (20-Dec-15). [Image by JR Suarin]

The huge crowd at the Sto Domingo Church in today’s Simbang Gabi (20-Dec-15). [Image by JR Suarin]

JR and I also appreciated the whole ceremony, homily, and the sermon. There were several officiating priests (if I remember correctly, four priests assisted the lead officiating priest) and while the ceremony looked a little bit formal, the atmosphere was still celebratory. The Gospel from Luke 1:39-45 took us into the journey of Mother Mary to Elizabeth. The sermon was very touching because the priest spoke about the difficulties of waking up at such an early hour, even saying something like, “Alam ko na mahirap gumising sa oras na ganito, masarap matulog at managinip, di ba?” The crowd laughed and one can feel that this statement somehow showed the priest’s joy and delight in seeing the huge crowd, very early in the morning, praying together. As I had written earlier, it gives me joy to see these early morning crowd, going to Church and praying together, not really worried about losing some sleep and bigger eye bags. :)

This is another joyful experience for me and JR and I hope that this piece is also inspiring you to celebrate and prepare for Christmas through simple devotional practices like the Simbang Gabi.

If you want to know more about Santo Domingo Church, please visit this link. There are good accounts–with pictures–of the original structures in Intramuros in this link and this link.

**Sourced from several blogs and articles but the Pilgrim’s Knapsack blog mentioned that the Church has 7,200 standing capacity while the sitting capacity is 2,000.

DAY 6 (December 21): Saint Paul the Apostle Parish

#3 Sct. Rallos cor. Timog Ave., Mo. Ignacia & Sct. Santiago St. Brgy Laging Handa, Quezon City; tel. nos. (02) 414-5503 / 371-9690

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

This church is very familiar to me as I am a QC resident for many years already. I have always liked this church because it is probably among the first churches in QC that established 24-hour adoration chapels. The location helps a lot as well because it is along Timog Avenue so I can imagine that this is a favorite refuge for urban dwellers who may have the sudden urge to pray and meditate at any time of the day.

Saint Paul the Apostle is the patron saint of missionaries, evangelists, writers, journalists, authors, public workers, rope and saddle makers, and tent makers (Catholic Online, n.d.). St. Paul was originally a Jew and later converted to Christianity.  He was known as “Saul, the persecutor of the Christian church” before becoming the great missionary evangelist (Peach, n.d.). In fact, his conversion is one of the most important points in Church history (Ciresi, 2002).

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

For today’s Simbang Gabi, the gospel is actually the same as yesterday’s (Luke 1: 39-45). At first, I thought that the officiating priest was making a mistake but after a few seconds, he also explained that it is indeed the same as yesterday’s. The story is centered on the visit of Our Lady, Mother Mary, to Elizabeth, the lady who was blessed with a child despite her old age. In this visit, Elizabeth felt the baby in her womb to have “leaped with joy” upon hearing the voice of Mary.

This is a beautiful story, isn’t it? I am sure that many of us have personally experienced such “leaps of joy” from the wombs of expectant mothers (or for those who have been mothers already, the leaps of joys from your own babies). Can you then imagine the overwhelming leap of joy of a baby who has just heard the voice of Mary? This is probably among the most heart-warming stories in the Bible. It reminds us about the powerful meaning of Jesus’ birth and the gift of our Virgin Mother as well as the unfathomable joys of experiencing God’s voice and miracles. We all want to imagine how Elizabeth’s baby inside her womb felt! I am sure words are not enough to describe such kind of joy.

The ceremony was also very memorable because, for the first time, I have seen female altar servers! For me, this is a very liberating experience, one that must be practiced more widely. I really think women should also be allowed to serve at the altars and not relegate the role to male sacristans strictly. I have nothing against male altar servers but it is simply beautiful to see both male and female altar servers serving the Lord through the Holy Mass. I wondered about the practice (i.e., if it is already allowed in Catholic churches) and told myself to Google about it after mass. Indeed, the practice is allowed with the permission and guidance of diocesan Bishops, as per the 1994 statement of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. I don’t want to misquote the complete explanation so please go to this link for a better read. (I also read that there is still an ongoing debate about this practice but it may take years to resolve so let us hope that the church will be able to find a path that is both wise and inclusive.)

The altar of the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish (after today's Simbang Gabi). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar of the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish (after today’s Simbang Gabi). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

As in the previous days, today’s Simbang Gabi is another joyful experience. It was also uplifting when so many people  raised their hands when the priest asked whom among us has so far completed the Simbang Gabi. It was indeed great to see such commitment and devotion and the church full to its capacity (and even beyond) on the 6th day of Simbang Gabi.

DAY 7 (December 22): Santuario de Santa Philomena, Most Holy Redeemer Parish (established in 1994 although it began as a small chapel in the 1960s)

Malac St., Masambong, Quezon City (near Del Monte Avenue); tel. no.  (02) 365-1011

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:00 am. (For more details on the schedule, please refer to the image below, before Day 8.)

Most Holy Redeemer Parish - St Philomena Shrine, at dawn [Image by JR Suarin]

Most Holy Redeemer Parish – St Philomena Shrine, at dawn [Image by JR Suarin]

We came to know about the life and martyrdom of Saint Philomena recently and feel blessed that her shrine is not very far from where we live.  She is known as “The Wonder Worker“, a saint to go to if you are experiencing extreme difficulties. She was martyred at a very young age (only at 13!) so her life is a source of inspiration and hope. She is also known to have interceded in many miracles and healing.  To know more about the life of Saint Philomena, please go to this link. There is also a good but shorter write-up in this link. I urge you to read her story because it is really moving.

The Nativity Scene at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Today is also our second visit to the Santuario de Santa Philomena- Most Holy Redeemer Parish and just like our first visit, the church is full. It is relatively smaller so we appreciated the extra chairs that the administration has placed adequately by the side hallways and beyond the doors. Today, we reflected on the Gospel from Luke 1:46-56, a continuation of the reading yesterday, where we reflected on the visit of Mother Mary to Elizabeth. Here, we reflected on God’s mercy and how He has “has filled the hungry with good things.” The priest also reminded us to think about and pray for our dearly departed loved ones as we celebrate Christmas. This is an important reminder because Christmas somehow makes all of us preoccupied with the preparation of food, gifts, and parties so that, sometimes, we forget those who are no longer with us. The sermon reminds us to pray, not just for our dearly departed loved ones, but also for those who offered their lives for us–our heroes, martyrs, saints,  and nameless others  who have given up their lives while doing their mission.

The altar and center aisle of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine, taken after today's Simbang Gabi. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar and center aisle of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine, taken after today’s Simbang Gabi. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Speaking of mission, the priest also encouraged us to reflect on our own personal missions. I think this is a good piece of advice as we also begin another year. What is in store for all of us in 2016? Are we in the right place, where God wanted us to be? I pray that all of us will find fullness in 2016 (and beyond)–where hope, inspiration, joys, peace, and abundance are deeply enjoyed and shared, and where we are all mindful of and thankful for the promises of God.

Schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

DAY 8 (December 23): Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (established in 1950)

#40 Lantana St., Cubao, Quezon City; tel. no. (02) 725 5962

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

We have not experienced attending mass here (before today’s Simbang Gabi) but we have a beautiful memory of this magnificent cathedral. It was on a Holy Thursday this year when JR and I were doing Visita Iglesia. It was our 7th church for the evening, our last stop before going home. Because it is an important commemoration, we assumed that all churches will be open the whole evening or at least until late in the evening. We were therefore surprised that upon arriving at the Cathedral, the staff were already closing the heavy doors. (There were still few people inside but the staff were no longer allowing newly-arrived visitors to come in.)

The Altar of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Altar of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Of course, I am the type of person who simply does not give up so we approached the male staff assigned at the main door and begged him to let us in. At first, he said that it is no longer possible as the church is closing for the day already. I tried appealing a second time, explaining that we were doing our Visita Iglesia and that this is our 7th church already. You can just imagine our joys and gratitude when he pushed the door further to let us in, with a hesitant but gracious smile! God indeed answers in small and big ways! (Whoever you are, Kuya, salamat po sa pagbubukas ng pinto!) Upon entering, we were immediately embraced in awe by the sheer beauty of the place. The Cathedral is a work of God, manifested in the great talents who envisioned and built this magnificent house of prayer and worship.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral_The altar and center aisle (taken in panorama view). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the altar and center aisle (taken through a panorama view). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

I recalled that special evening as we sat at the Cathedral today, my eyes and heart taking everything in, from the magnificent altar and painted ceiling, to the glittering Christmas lights and cool morning breezes that graciously come in from the opened doors, as if dancing with the music of the birds. It is a beautiful morning.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral (showing a part of the facade). [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (showing a part of the facade). [Image by JR Suarin]

For today’s reading (Luke 1:57-66), we are again transported to the story of Elizabeth and the birth of his son, whom they named “John,” contrary to the tradition of naming sons after the names of their fathers.  The priest talked about our similar tradition where we give importance to the name of our fathers so that we continue their names for our sons, and simply add suffixes such as  “Jr.”, “II”, “III”, etc. Of course, traditions are important in that we give honor and meaning to our past and there is nothing wrong with continuing the names of our fathers.

However, we are also reminded that births indicate new beginnings. We are invited to open up and welcome new directions, in the same way that Elizabeth and Zechariah opened up to and embraced the great mission that God has planned for John. Similar to the sermon yesterday (7th day of Simbang Gabi), the priest also spoke about the importance of embracing our purpose and  mission.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the left side (if one is facing the main entrance). This image was taken through a panoramic view. [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the left side (if one is facing the main entrance). This image was taken through a panoramic view. [Image by JR Suarin]

Let us then reflect again on our lives and our choices, with a renewed hope and faith, appreciating once more that we have God to give us clear directions. I know it is easier said than done, right?! It is sometimes difficult to find clear directions! We are always confronted with “crossroads”, not really knowing which is the better path. But know what? It is alright to get lost sometimes. Even when we’re driving around, I’d always tell JR (he drives and I am his navigator), “I am also not sure where we are going, ok? I will just follow my instinct and inner map (sorry, I have no word for that “thing”) so we might get lost, too, so just chill…hehe…I am sure we will eventually find our way!” I guess that pretty sums up what I want to say today. Let us relax (chill!), do our best not to get lost, but if we ever lose focus and directions every now and then, we will eventually reach our destination.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the regular Sunday masses. [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the regular Sunday masses. [Image by JR Suarin]

DAY 9 (December 24): Saint Joseph’s Convent of Perpetual Adoration (also known as the Pink Sisters Convent)

#71, Dona M. Hemady Avenue corner 11th Street, New Manila, Quezon City; tel. no. (02) 722 8828

Simbang Gabi here begins at 5:00 am.

Saint Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration (Pink Sisters Convent), New Manila, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Saint Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration (Pink Sisters Convent), New Manila, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

We deliberately reserved Day 9 for Saint Joseph’s Convent of Perpetual Adoration (Pink Sisters Convent) because we wanted to ‘celebrate’ this simple pilgrimage by going to the Church that we often visited when we were just newly-married. As I mentioned earlier, we used to live in New Manila and the Pink Sisters Convent was within a walking distance from our old address. We would sometimes take the car but I would definitely count our leisurely walks as among the simplest but happiest moments in our lives as a newly-married couple. The quiet neighborhood is ideal for walks (and jogging!) and so JR and I would really relish those moments when we can just talk and laugh together like kids. There used to be a quaint coffee and pastry shop along Hemady Street and I remember dropping by there after praying at the Pink Sisters’. However, we’ve noticed that it is no longer there now.

As many who have already visited the convent will also appreciate, the place invites one to simply be in the moment, pray, and reflect. We had missed going to this place so much so we decided this will be our 9th church for the Simbang Gabi. As always, we felt the solemnity of the place immediately, as we took our seats near the statue of Saint Joseph. Before the mass began, an old lady who came from the right side (by the aisle) nudged us to move to the left. (Later at home, JR and I would discuss that we found this episode a little amusing…we surmised that we had taken the favorite spot of the old but gracious lady!) The lady turned out to be a very sweet one. While I was writing down my prayer-petition, the lady handed JR a small prayer card with the favorite prayer of Pope Francis. Isn’t that so sweet?! The simple gesture touched us so much so I want to share the prayer with you. According to JR, the lady said that it is a very powerful prayer and that Pope Francis prays it every day. Here it is:

A simple but touching gift of prayer from the old lady who sat beside us in today's Simbang Gabi.

A simple but touching gift of prayer from the old lady who sat beside us in today’s Simbang Gabi.

I hope you can also keep this and make it a daily prayer. (To the old lady who sat beside us today, please know that we appreciate your kind gesture so much! Thank you! May God bless you with more joys, continuing good health, and abundance.)

The Nativity Scene at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

We were happily surprised that the officiating priest in today’s Simbang Gabi was the same priest who officiated the mass during our Simbang Gabi at the Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish (on Day 2)! It was like a reunion. :) I had wanted to approach him after the mass but he was busy conversing with some of the churchgoers when we saw him outside after the mass. JR and I were also taking pictures happily of the nice garden and I didn’t notice his leaving. Sayang, it would most likely make him glad to know that we were blessed with the opportunity to hear mass (through him) twice during this year’s Simbang Gabi!

The Gospel (from Luke 2:1-14) brings us back to the time when Jesus was born in a manger and an angel announced His birth to a group of shepherds watching over their flock. The priest shared several stories but the most important one that I had carried with me was about his discussion on poverty. He said that poverty is not just about physical or material poverty but also about spiritual and moral poverty. I think this is a timely reflection as we celebrate Christmas and end another year. When we think about poverty in the Philippines, we are often confronted with issues on hunger, unemployment, inequity, crime, and corruption.

The altar at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

However, it is very rare indeed that we are encouraged to dwell on or analyze spiritual poverty. Our books, literature, mass media, and school curriculum sorely lack encouragement on how discourses on poverty and social development may be dealt with, strongly anchored on philosophical and spiritual underpinnings. Why so? I think there is a need to look into this area more deeply. For one, the Philippines is a very ‘Christianized’ country, but ironically, it is still perceived as having  among the most corrupt governments in the world. It does not make sense, right? We are very prayerful and God-fearing people but on one hand, we cannot seem to produce (and vote for?) honest leaders. I am sure many of you are wondering how can a God-fearing nation allow corruption to destroy our people and institutions this far. I have the same questions.

This has really been a beautiful Simbang Gabi experience. After the mass, we enjoyed the well-kept gardens of the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

This has really been a beautiful Simbang Gabi experience. After the mass, we enjoyed the well-kept gardens of the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

This has really been a challenging but very uplifting and joyful journey for me and JR. Words are not enough to describe completely the inner joys and peace that began to grip me (slowly at first), as we went through our simple pilgrimage.  I am not sure if I am just imagining it but I feel a renewed serenity and trust. (I am almost teary-eyed as I type this!)

The thing is, I am not your typical religious Catholic. I don’t like labels but would likely consider myself more of an ecumenical type of believer if someone will ask me (that is, I don’t feel any discomfort attending services or praying in other churches/faiths because I believe that there is only one Supreme Being even if we call him in many different names). I would then refrain from labeling this as simply a Catholic exercise. I am also, still, a work-in-progress. I am sure there will still be sad and challenging days. And I am very sure, I will still get cranky and ‘ballistic’–particularly over poor customer service, my perennial source of frustration–every now and then (wink!). However, these renewed joys and trust are unexpected gifts; they brought me to a place beyond what our traditions and rituals normally bring us. It was really tough (!) to wake up at such an early hour for nine straight days but it is certainly nothing compared with all the graces and miracles of our lives (and this refers to all of us, not just to Christians or Catholics!). It is like being bitten by a very small ant in exchange for a life of endless joys and abundance!

We are also grateful for the chance to do this and be able to pray and grow together again as a married couple. I am sure that many of you out there would also like to do this but circumstances and obligations do prevent you from enjoying a similar journey. Nevertheless, I would still encourage you to try doing it next year (or in any other year), even in your own churches and traditions, and who knows, you’d end up writing about it in a blog, too. :)

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy and love-filled Christmas! (With this blog is a special prayer for you who are reading this right now–may you solve all your problems and challenges through God’s graces, fulfill your promises, enjoy a blessed and joyful life, grow spiritually, and experience great abundance. If you are touched and blessed with this blog, please do share and together, let’s create a better Philippines, a more love-filled world, for all!)

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Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. This is  the garden at the back of the convent (near the exit gate) and where you would find a statue of St. Joseph and Jesus. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. This is the garden at the back of the convent (near the exit gate) and where you would find a statue of St. Joseph and Jesus. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

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All photos were taken through a mobile phone camera (LG G4). This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

References:

Catholic Online. (n.d.) Saint Paul. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=91

Ciresi, S. (2002). The life of St. Paul. Retrieved from https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8219

Peach, D. (n.d.) Apostle Paul, Biography and Profile. Retrieved from http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/apostle-paul-biography-and-profile/

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015-2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Fireworks, an exhibit by and a journey with Sandra Torrijos

[Note: Once again, I am honored and humbled to have received an invitation to the exhibit of the works of Ms. Sandra Torrijos, my favorite painting mentor.  (Thank you, Sands! The invitation means a lot to me as a friend and a former student who learned a lot from you.)]

Siga, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Siga, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

FIREWORKS: April 10 to May 15, 2015 in Cocina Juan

There is fire in every one of us. Our inner fire is that source of strength where every thing becomes possible. When I asked Sandra the reason behind the title, she told me this:

“Fireworks because art, life, is passion. It is my way of igniting my love for colors and textures and the human form particularly women expressions. I really worked intensely on these pieces to make positive the cycle of changes that are happening in my life now. Kailangan (It’s necessary that), despite everything, we have to look at the positive side of life, God wants us to be happy. And a big part of that is to be creative.”

I can only agree. Her art works are sending us messages of hope and empowerment. Take for instance the sculpture titled, Siga (sorry, there is no direct English translation but it is how Filipinos call a  neighborhood tough guy]. The word siga is not normally used to describe women so this somehow applauds the power of women to protect themselves and make their own choices despite societal prejudices.  It also reminds us of our own power to survive and fight against adversities, whether as a man or woman. Indeed, Sandra’s works are testaments to how arts and creativity bring so much joys;  they are forms of communion with God, the source of life, colors, and arts.

As many people close to Sandra may already know, she has been shuttling between home in the Philippines and Germany. For half of the year, she lives in Germany where she  is nurtured “in a place conducive to long meditations, with a small library and a lovely European tiger cat, a small garden to marvel at God’s daily miracles, and a loving companion.”  I was curious as to her thoughts about this dual-country residency so I asked her,  “What are your most important lessons /insights as you reside in these two equally beautiful but diverse countries/cultures?” What she said is something that many of our overseas Filipinos (and all of us who travel) can truly relate with:

“Well, it is not easy to be living in two cultures. It is like being on a pendulum. What is important is you know who you are, and you know your life mission. All these will then be your fulcrum or center so you can keep your balance and be a productive member of the community.”

In the show are 20 paintings and 4 wood sculptures. Sandra said that the sculptures were like an “afterthought”. Sandra thinks that “they gave a nice contrast to the paintings. Moreover, not many people have seen my recent sculptures.” I, myself, had not seen much of Sandra’s sculptural works so it was such a pleasurable and inspiring afternoon for me even if it was a very quick visit in between my day’s errands. (I was sad to have missed the Opening Night but I ensured I will be among the first to see her works even before the show opened that evening!) I enjoyed looking at the Tres Marias for it reminded me of my best girl friends who are continuously infusing my life with woman’s instinct (ok, Rose A., you know this is about a private joke among the four of us as we did the road trip in Malaysia!), laughters, wisdom, faith, and wonderful friendships and companionship.

Tres Marias, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Tres Marias, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Sandra is a nature-lover and this shows in her works. There is a painting titled, Mango Tree, and this is based on the beautiful tree in Sandra’s garden. Sandra speaks fondly of it, knowing that she may not be able to see it again as they are now selling their family house in Quezon City. When she said, “The painting serves as a remembrance,” there was a little ache in my heart because I know what it means to miss someone or something that is really special to us; something that is connected to us as human beings. I am sure that Sandra was thinking of all those years she sat or played under the tree or enjoyed its luscious fruits when she said that.

Mango Tree, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Mango Tree, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Damayan, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Damayan, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Sandra invites us to value our heritage. The painting, Damayan, speaks of our culture that encourages community support. Sandra said “it is how we are, women and men, too. I think it is embedded in our culture especially our NGO culture.” It is something that we need to embrace more these days especially as we grapple with societal, environmental, and political challenges. Damayan reminds us that we are all connected as brothers and sisters; that the weave of life binds us all so that one’s kind and loving gesture ultimately redounds to ripples of happiness around him.

As many of Sandra’s friends and followers will know, she has been working a lot for women’s rights and empowerment and all of us I will agree that our world is in a better state because of women like her: generous with their time and talents, always ready to raise the bar higher for women and their dreams. Sandra salutes women who lead and through the painting, Madam, she celebrates “the big woman who can be everything. She is the boss.” Of course, we will all have different interpretations–after all, true art does not dictate–so I will leave it up to you to read her thoughts and listen to her message.

Sayaw, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Sayaw, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

The painting, Sayaw and the sculpture, Ako, carry important messages, too. In sayaw, Sandra somehow reminds us to dance with joy, to lift our spirits and simply dance in full abandon! In Ako, she may be telling us to value our own worth, to believe in our good self.

Ako, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Ako, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Meanwhile, the painting, Soul friends, seems a sweet testimony of how friendships have touched Sandra’s life. Her approach in her art inspires us to be more grateful of the big and small things in our lives. We are reminded to say “thank you” to the friends who continue to stand by our side, rain or shine.  I have been touched by kindness today and the past weeks (R.A., this post and the painting below also carry my BIG thank you message to you!). I am humbled by the kindness around me and I will forever love, share, and give back because I, too, have been showered with magic, with wonderful friends and earth-angels, with divine interventions, and with the most powerful love in the person of my husband!

I have not been much into painting lately although a few months back, I did try to squeeze in some painting time in my schedule. I am glad that I received the invitation because it reminded me to start practicing again. More than that, it was a perfect gift at this phase in my life. Hubby and I had established a social enterprise last year (and currently setting up another another start-up)  so it has been quite challenging and exciting, like a roller-coaster ride. Looking at beautiful art creations has a sort of calming and uplifting effect and so my gratitude comes from that deepest part where love resides. Thank you so much, Sandra! Your art makes us feel divinity while allowing us to embrace our humanity.

Once again, you have opened up your doors and invited us to another soulful journey.

Soul Friends, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Soul Friends, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Cocina Juan is located in 100 Maginhawa Street, Teachers Village Quezon City.

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Tiago dares you to try progressive Filipino cuisine

Interiors at Tiago's Restaurant. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Interiors at Tiago’s Restaurant. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

It was the fourth of the month last Friday and hubby and I thought it will be nice to celebrate our monthsary in a new ‘find’. We drove around Tomas Morato area and passed by Chef’s Bistro but we didn’t know where to park (its sidewalk is full of parked vehicles already) so we continued on toward the other side streets.

We ended up in Scout Fuentebella and there we saw, just several meters away from Tomas Morato, what appears to be a cozy restaurant with a simple yet catchy name, “Tiago” and underneath it, a tagline that says, “Progressive Filipino Cuisine.”  Our curiosity was ignited but, admittedly, we hesitated a bit about trying it out.  For one, JR asked me, “Do you think this is related to the restaurant, “Elias?” And that got me a little anxious, too, because while some of the food in Elias could probably be good, most of what we have already tried there thus far were just “so-so.” You know. Those type of food that you cannot even remember anymore after a day or two.

Of course, those who know much of Philippine history and Jose Rizal know that like Elias, there is a character in Jose Rizal’s Noli me Tangere named “Kapitan Tiago.”And that is why we hesitated about trying this Tiago. We somehow surmised that Tiago and Elias would have the same owners, ergo, the same quality of food. (I was also thinking to myself that Kapitan Tiago’s character in the novel is not among the more virtuous and untarnished ones and I believe Jose Rizal intended to give him such a persona to show very important parallelisms.)

However, even with these ‘silly’ reasons for our hesitation, curiosity got the better of us. We also believe in giving start-ups and “new kids on the block” a chance because we also plan to build our own cafe-restaurant in the future. After all, you cannot discover new treasures if  you never give new things a try. We realized it was a good decision because the food selections in Tiago, living up to its unique and provocative tagline, are appealing to the taste and satisfying. I used the word ‘appealing’ because I always consider good food as something that always connects to the person who is eating it.

The food in Tiago, at least those that we have tried, ‘connected’ to us in a delightful and satisfying way. (New readers should know that I am happily married to a chef-in-progress and so it is not that easy to please my taste buds.) :)  We especially liked their Relyenong Pusit (stuffed squid in ground pork and shrimp), priced at P275.00. JR is still curious as to how the sauce was made. It is thick but with just the right texture and creaminess. The squid was cooked so well that it is not ‘rubbery’. The stuffing is perfectly cocooned, giving the squid dish its very comforting taste. It tasted so ‘new’ but it also somehow reminded me of some of my most favorite comfort food. I am very particular with squid dishes so this easily passed my ‘stringent’ standards.

Stuffed squid at Tiago - certainly worth another monthsary visit! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Stuffed squid at Tiago – certainly worth another monthsary visit! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Their version of Pinakbet (called Pinakbet Warm Salad, priced at P175.00) also appealed to me because I don’t like too much saltiness in my food. The chef did not go over-board on the bagoong (shrimp paste) so it was just perfect and more appetizing with its creative use of dilis (dried long-jawed anchovy fish) as ‘toppings’. It also looks nice in pictures! (See an ‘evidence’ below.)

The 'pinakbet with a twist' at Tiagos. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The ‘pinakbet with a twist’ at Tiagos. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Not to be outdone, their Tinapa Rice (fried rice with smoked fish), priced at P145.00, is also delicious. Of course, food critics might say that one can never go wrong with tinapa rice because smoked fish is naturally tasty but Tiago’s version seems prepared with utmost care because it is not too salty and the taste of tinapa is not overpowering.

One thing that we also like about Tiago is that their menu selection is not very long. Of course, we do patronize good restaurants with, incidentally, long list of menu but we think that the best approach to nurturing your clients and staying long in the industry is to focus on food that you are very good at. You can always develop new dishes along the way or  ‘improvise’ on your current ones.

Finally, we commend the service of the staff who are friendly and attentive. (Just a note that this statement must be validated by future visits because we arrived at the place in the “quiet hours” after lunch so the staff did not have much clients to attend to.)

Tiago has certainly made our monthsary lunch (very late lunch!) enjoyable and we thank Tiago’s owners and kitchen team for giving Filipino food lovers another reason to smile about. Tiago encourages us to be proud of our roots and heritage and we congratulate the owners for taking a new path in Filipino cuisine. Tiago certainly dares us to become more inventive, unique, and progressive.

[meilBOX is not strictly a food blog but being married to someone who enjoys cooking (and is good at it!) motivates me to write about food and restaurants. Just a note that when I write about restaurants, hubby and I do pay for our meals and we also never introduce ourselves to the chefs, staff, or owners. That way, we can be sure that my posts will be credible and unbiased.]

Contacts:

TIAGO | Progressive Filipino Cuisine

85 Scout Fuentebella St., Brgy. Sacred Heart, Quezon City (near Tomas Morato) | Tel. (02) 413 0616 | Open Tuesdays to Sundays, from 11:00 am to 1:00 am | Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tiagocuisine/info

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Boljoon, CEBU: Where time stops and asks you stay a little bit longer

Boljoon, Cebu. (Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Boljoon, Cebu. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

It was my friend, Chin, who mentioned Boljoon to me. Her mother hails from this  quiet coastal town in Southern Cebu and the minute I laid my eyes on it, I had thought that her mother was one lucky woman, indeed. Boljoon is a sight to behold. It is that enigmatic smile that you just cannot forget, or that painting that won’t leave you, however hard you try.

Just the name itself intrigued me; it was a name that evokes of history and mystery. And so, when I had the chance, I dragged along my husband (who luckily hails from Cebu) and his wonderful Papa and Mama, and ‘Kuya’ Dale, who have all been so warm and sweet, enveloping me with the love of family, ensuring that this ‘adopted’ daughter of Cebu can laugh with the winds and play with the waves. Ahhh, this is truly a wonderful world. And there is a God.

These photos are shared with you with my deepest hopes that you, too, can visit Boljoon someday.

The blue skies and the wispy clouds, beckoning you to reach up and touch them. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The blue skies and the wispy clouds, beckoning you to reach up and touch them. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

Boljoon Church: One of the oldest (original) structures in the Philippines. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Boljoon Church: One of the oldest (original) structures in the Philippines. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

The old church as night time approaches. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The old church as night time approaches. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

Oh, the joys of youth! This moment told me one thing: there is authentic beauty in the simplest moments. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Oh, the joys of youth! This moment told me one thing: there is authentic beauty in the simplest moments. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

Boljoon asks you to think of the past, too, and know that there are treasures and memories left behind so that our present will hold more meaning. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Boljoon asks you to think of the past, too, and know that there are treasures and memories left behind so that our present will hold more meaning. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I pray, I love, I laugh. Thank you, our Supreme Being. You are here on the tiles, on the ceiling, on art itself, and in the hearts of people, Catholics or not, just because you are LOVE itself. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I pray, I love, I laugh. Thank you, our Supreme Being. You are here on the tiles, on the ceiling, on art itself, and in the hearts of people, Catholics or not, just because you are LOVE itself. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)
There is beauty in silence. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

There is beauty in silence. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I listen and wait and wonder. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I listen and wait and wonder. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

I walked this path. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I walked this path. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

The angels are overjoyed and sing happily! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The angels are overjoyed and sing happily! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

Boljoon, we shall be back and definitely stay longer. :) Thank you for embracing us! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Boljoon, we shall be back and definitely stay longer. :) Thank you for embracing us! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

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Contacts:

CLUB FortMed

Boljoon, Cebu, Philippines
Telephone Numbers:
(6332) 482 – 9050 / (6332) 482 – 9051
Email: info@cebu-clubfortmed.com

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Hidden Gems of Nueva Vizcaya

Enroute to Nueva Vizcaya, I was able to capture this picture of Mt. Arayat (Pampanga) from the vehicle's window. The "banderitas" added more charms to the beauty of the mountain. :) [Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Enroute to Nueva Vizcaya, I was able to capture this picture of Mt. Arayat (Pampanga) from the vehicle’s window. The “banderitas” added more charms to the beauty of the mountain. :) [Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I had been been traveling the past three weeks for a project where I am involved with right now. These travels, while work-related, allowed me some time for quick sight-seeing and perfect opportunities to plan for a longer visit in the future.

Enroute to Ifugao, I had a chance to stay overnight in Nueva Vizcaya, mostly to visit the newly-constructed Trauma Center of the Veterans Regional Hospital in Bayombong. I will refrain from discussing work in this post as I am still finishing my reports and have yet to ascertain the extent of information that I can share but let me express my appreciation to the hospital’s personnel for welcoming me and the engaging discussions. I am truly impressed with the turn-out of the new building as well as the seemingly improved services that the hospital team is able to give to trauma patients with its new building and equipment. Just to give you an idea on how the new Trauma Center looks like, here is a picture.

Trauma Center of the Veterans Regional Hospital in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Trauma Center of the Veterans Regional Hospital in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

As you will notice, its design is very modern and can easily compare with the more modern hospitals in key cities of the Philippines. Going through the hospital complex and talking with the doctors and personnel there certainly gave me so much hope for the future of hospital and health care in the Philippines.

As the intent of this post is really to share with you the simple gems that I found in Nueva Vizcaya (and nearby provinces) during the quick visit, let me proceed with this image that I took of the countryside while traversing the national highway (I believe this was taken somewhere in Nueva Ecija).

Philippine countryside offers beautiful sceneries. This one is taken somewhere in Nueva Ecija. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Philippine countryside offers beautiful sceneries. This one is taken somewhere in Nueva Ecija. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

My neck hurt a bit at some point because I just cannot stop looking outside the windows. The wide expanse of rice fields and mountains–although some parts are quite denuded (calling the attention of our DENR officials and local governments!)–invite inspiration and inner joy.

One of the first things that  impressed me upon arrival in Nueva Vizcaya was the way the surroundings of the Provincial Capitol easily provided nice leisure grounds for the residents. It was surrounded by simple parks, pathways (perfect for running/jogging), and basketball and tennis courts. In fact, the provincial government even built the Tribu Biscayano Village, a theme park that showcases the unique culture and traditions of our Nueva Vizcaya and Cagayan Valley/Cordillera ancestors mainly through replicas of native huts, which was said to have been built by tribal folks coming from the Isinai, Gaddang, Bugkalot, Kalanguya/Ikalahan, Iwak, Kankana-ey, Ibaloi, Ayangan, Tuwali and other IP groups. (Source: nuevavizcaya.gov.ph)

The Tribu Biscayano Village honors the rich culture and heritage of our indigenous people. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The Tribu Biscayano Village honors the rich culture and heritage of our indigenous people. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I felt this was a good way to honor and remember our cultural heritage. I salute the local government of the Province and its current and previous leaders as well as those anonymous workers who have obviously built the capitol grounds and the Tribu Biscayano Village out of a desire to give its residents a safe, culture-rich, and enjoyable places where they can spend quiet afternoon walks and engage in sports/games with friends and colleagues. It is very rare that I encounter Capitol grounds with such consideration. The trees everywhere also give the kapitolyo a nice greenery.

The visit to the province gave me a chance also to quickly reconnect with my friend, Maita, a true-blue ‘Novo Vizcayana’, who is seemingly becoming a household name as she lovingly manages and nurtures Ayuyang Bar. Ayuyang, a favorite hang-out place in Solano, was built by her brother and his friends–and I suppose, with much support from Maita herself and their whole clan–out of the love for Pinoy music, arts, and family traditions, and a desire to provide a ‘sanctuary’  for kindred souls who need to unwind and simply enjoy quiet moments and conversations. (“Ayuyang” cannot be directly translated to Tagalog but it connotes “a place for refuge, rest, or relaxation.”) The photo below shows a part of Ayuyang’s interior.

The stage area in Ayuyang Bar. Notice the intricately-crafted sculptures and other art works that adorn the bar. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The stage area in Ayuyang Bar. Notice the intricately-crafted sculptures and other art works that adorn the bar. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

One does not often encounter such places even in culture-rich provinces so Ayuyang has easily captured my heart. Here is another picture that I really liked. The smaller wheel at the background provides a nice contrast to the bigger wheel.

Ayuyang Bar invites you to linger and savor the quiet moments more. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Ayuyang Bar invites you to linger and savor the quiet moments more. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

In Ayuyang, I had experienced the best version of chicharon bulaklak (deep fried pork mesentery). No kidding. I am not really a big fan of chicharon bulaklak but the smell of Ayuyang’s version is enough to cajole me. And my gosh, it is yummy! The sawsawan (dip), a local vinegar (sukang basi) with generous amount of garlic, made the dish even more unforgettable. Ahhhh….a trip to Nueva Vizcaya should be in my bucket list again.

Another nice revelation is Balai Gloria, a hotel and events place that must be gaining popularity, too. It has nice gardens, a swimming pool (although it seems currently not in use) and a restaurant that serves a wide range of menu. Food is probably not the best in this part of the Philippines but the few I have sampled did not give me reasons to complain about. The kinilaw na tangigue is actually good. The photos below show a bit of the place.

Balai Gloria is worth a visit. If you do not mind simple accommodations and the chance that loud music might be playing in the background if an event is still taking place as you prepare to rest for the night, then this is a good option. (I noticed though that the music stopped shortly before midnight so the administration must be enforcing a sort of 'curfew' for the playing of music.) This photo shows a cottage by the pool. I think this is often used for private parties such as wedding receptions. Check Balai Gloria if this cottage can also be rented out for family accommodations. It seems perfect for the whole family as it has its own living room, bar, and what looked liked a small kitchen. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Balai Gloria is worth a visit. If you do not mind simple accommodations and the chance that loud music might be playing in the background if an event is still taking place as you prepare to rest for the night, then this is a good option. (I noticed though that the music stopped shortly before midnight so the administration must be enforcing a sort of ‘curfew’ for the playing of music.) This photo shows a cottage by the pool. I think this is often used for private parties such as wedding receptions. Check Balai Gloria if this cottage can also be rented out for family accommodations. It seems perfect for the whole family as it has its own living room, bar, and what looked liked a small kitchen. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The Balai Gloria grounds. The building on the right (partly shown here) is an events venue where I noticed a seminar taking place that week. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The Balai Gloria grounds. The building on the right (partly shown here) is an events venue where I noticed a seminar taking place that week. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

 

The small bridge leading to Cafe Angelo, the restaurant-bar of Balai Gloria. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The small bridge leading to Cafe Angelo, the restaurant-bar of Balai Gloria. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

On the way to Ifugao the next day, hungry and in search of a “local” restaurant, I chanced upon Myra’s Special Pancitan, along the national highway (still in Solano). It looks like a typical ‘hole-in-the-wall’ sort of eatery but I would highly recommend its Pancit Lomi! See the proof below… :)

The pancit lomi in Myra's Special Pancitan is highly recommended. I still prefer the lomi version of a hotel in Calapan (I will mention the place in my next blog) but still, this is the No. 2 in my list. :) (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The pancit lomi in Myra’s Special Pancitan is highly recommended. I still prefer the lomi version of a hotel in Calapan (I will mention the place in my next blog) but still, this is the No. 2 in my list. :) (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

On my way back to Manila (after staying in Ifugao for a few days), while cruising along the national highway somewhere in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, I checked my email and realized that my superior sent me an urgent email a couple of hours earlier. In the email, she gently requested me to finish a simple document by COB that day. I quickly sent an email promising that I will find a coffee shop where I can stop and work on the file. I thanked the heavens when, suddenly, in a spot that must be located in the highest point of the mountain ridges of Sta. Fe, I saw a simple but cozy restaurant where I can work because Globe Tattoo signal is working! (Thank you, Lord, for nice cafes/restaurants that suddenly appear even up there in the mountains!) The placed, called Cafe Mijares & Restaurant, has striking red paint so you can easily spot it (although the way its location was “angled”  makes it easier for people enroute to Bayombong to see it rather than for those coming back. The signage was also on that side of the road). Here is another picture that shows the facade where the restaurant’s fruit stand is also located. Hope this picture can help you in finding it if you also needed a place for stop-over. :)

If you find yourself needing a place for a stop-over or a quick meal, or even a perfect spot to check emails or work (!), here is a place where internet signal is working. Cafe Mijares sells fruits and vegetables, too! (Photo taken in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

If you find yourself needing a place for a stop-over or a quick meal, or even a perfect spot to check emails or work (!), here is a place where internet signal is working. Cafe Mijares sells fruits and vegetables, too! (Photo taken in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I can easily go on and on and this will most likely become a long list. However, I leave it up to you to discover your own gems, knowing that every moment brings new discoveries.

Follow my footprints and create your own. I wish you a great journey!

Contacts:

Ayuyang Bar | 115 Magsaysay Street, Solano, Nueva Vizcaya

Balai Gloria | Washington Street, Solano, Nueva Vizcaya | Tels. +63 78 326 5417 +63 922  859 6449

Myra’s Special Pancitan | National Highway, Brgy. Quirino, Solano, Nueva Vizcaya (across a small office called Royale Business Club)

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© 2014 meiLBOX /Mary Anne Velas-Suarin. Photos used here are protected by copyright/intellectual property laws. Please seek permission if you need to use or re-post them.

This is not a paid blog.

 

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