Reminiscing in San Miguel de Mayumo (Bulacan)

Church of St. Michael the Archangel

We were now on the final leg on our Lakbay Norte 2 tour and our final destination was the marble quarrying, first-class municipality of San Miguel de Mayumo, a town rich in history within the equally historic province of Bulacan.   Our special Victory Liner bus first dropped us off at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel where we were welcomed by Mr. Jose G. Clemente and Ms. Amelia Aquino, both of the Bulacan Tourism Convention and Visitors Bureau (BTCVB); Mr. Jimmy Corpuz, head of the National Historic Conservation Society; and municipal tourism officer Ms. Divina Quetua.  This Baroque-style church, with its statue of St. Michael the Archangel slaying the dragon at the center panel of the pediment, was built (or rebuilt) in 1848 by Fr. Juan M. Tombo and was completed in 1869 by Fr. Francisco Arriola.  Maximo Viola, the financier of the printing of Rizal’s Noli me Tangere, is buried in a vault within the church.  After the church tour, we all cross the street to pay a courtesy call on Mayor Roderick Tiongson at the municipal hall (built in 1874). 

Simon Tecson Mansion

Being an hour behind schedule, we had no time to tour, on foot, San Miguel’s 25-30 ancestral houses (the town is called the “Vigan of Bulacan”) scattered around the town proper as we had to drop by Biak-na-Bato National Park, site of the Biak-na-Bato Republic.  These bahay na bato were built with different styles of architecture and colors during the Spanish and American eras, all existing testimonies to the abundance and prosperity of the past. Instead, we did a slow tour via our bus, along the town’s narrow streets, with Mr. Clemente commenting on each house we passed. In the past, landed barons running haciendas in Central Luzon built their grand residences or vacation houses in San Miguel de Mayumo where they hosted lavished parties or soirees.

Bahay Paniki Cave

We arrived at the 2,117-hectare Biak-na-Bato National Park by 5 PM.  Our 1-hr. tour took us past Gen. Aguinaldo Cave (Emilio Aguinaldo‘s headquarters in 1897 and site of the Biak-na-Bato Republic) all the way up to Bahay Paniki Cave, located upstream from the Balaong River.  Probably the largest cave in the area, the cave has a rather deep natural indoor swimming pool fed by an underground stream.  Thousands of fruit bats fly in and out from dawn and dusk but we were not to witness this as approaching darkness would make our return trek difficult.

Lakbay Norte media group with BTCVB

It was already dark when we returned to the park’s new pavilion for a snack of ensaymada (a brioche made with butter and topped with grated cheese and sugar) and arroz caldo (a rice porridge flavored with chicken)  After a short press briefing and photo ops, we all returned to bus for our 2-hr. return trip to Manila.  However, the grateful town and its people wouldn’t let us go without bringing home some pasalubong of the town’s famous delicacies.  Waiting for us at the bus were pastillas de leche (delicious, mouth-watering candy made from sugar and pure carabao’s milk), tableya (old fashion Philippine chocolate), minasa (cassava cookies), yema balls (a sweet custard candy made with condensed milk and egg yolks) and chicharon (fried pork crackling). 

Bulacan Tourism Convention and Visitors Bureau (BTCVB): c/o Ciudad Clemente Resort, Paombong Bulacan.  Mobile number: (0927) 669-5655. E-mail:

Heritage Walk in the City of San Fernando (Pampanga)

The turn-of-the-century, Victorian-style Augusto P. Hizon house

On the last day of our 5-day Lakbay Norte 2 media tour, we were to attend a cooking demonstration by local culinary expert and historian Lilian “Atching” M.L. Borromeo in Mexico, Pampanga, but we were early for once so our special Victory Liner media bus made a brief stopover at the provincial capital city of San Fernando, parking along A. Consunji St.  in Brgy. Sto. Rosario.  A number of,Spanish and American-era ancestral houses were located here so much so that a number of us, me included, alighted and made a walking tour for some photo ops while the others stayed in the airconditioned comfort of the bus.  

The Lazatin House

The Hizon-Singian House, built in 1870, was occupied during the 1896 revolution by Spanish Gen. Antonio Ruiz Serralde. During World War II, it was used by the Japanese Imperial Army as a military hospital and barracks (1943-44) and, during the liberation period until the end of 1945, served as headquarters of 6th Army of American Gen. Walter Krueger.  The Lazatin residence, built in 1925, exemplifies the architecture prevalent during the American colonial period. During World War II, it served as a residence of Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma. On January 27, 2003, both houses were declared as Heritage Houses by the National Historical Institute. Other ancestral houses along this street include the Consunji house, the turn-of-the-century, Victorian-style Augusto P. Hizon house and the Pampanga Lodge and Restaurant (the first site of the Pampanga High School when it first opened and, later, of the Harvardian College).

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando
Finally, on my own, I visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, located in front of the City Hall.  Started in 1756 by Fr. Sebastian Moreno, this church was finished by Fr. Mariano Alafont in 1781. Burned during a big fire in 1939, it was rebuilt in 1950 by Arch. Fernando Ocampo. The church has a Tuscan interior, a round and majestic, Baroque-style dome which rises from the rotunda of the transept, and a 4-storey, hexagonal bell tower which tapers up in uneven levels. Check out my Business Mirror article “Tripping on History and Culture in Pampanga.”
City Tourism Office: A. Consunji St., Brgy. Sto. Rosario, City of San Fernando, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 961-5684

Church of St. James the Apostle (Guagua, Pampanga)

Guagua’s Church of St. James the Apostle

From Bacolor, we next proceeded to Brgy. Betis in the woodworking (furniture, guitars, pool sticks, etc.) town of Guagua, my late father’s hometown, where we were welcomed by Sangguniang Bayan member Anthony Joseph “Tonton” Torres and Guagua councilor Roy Sunglao at the 17th-century Church of St. James the Apostle. The church, now honored as one of 26 National Cultural Treasures by the National Museum, has a profusely ornamented, two-level, German Baroque façade with decorative, coupled columns and skillfully arranged flora,  spirals and intricate curvilinear carvings decorating the projecting portico. The church’s wooden entrance doors are intricately carved with the “Dreams of Jacob” from the Old Testament.

The breathtaking trompe l’oeil dome

Its awe-inspiring interiors are something else. The huge, elaborate retablo is furnished with authentic icons, while spectacular murals of 19th century artist Simon Flores, as well as the father-and-son team of Macario and Jose Ligon (finished before World War II), fill the walls. The interpretation of the Bible is painted on the entire wooden ceiling and the breathtaking trompe l’oeil dome, truly the Philippine’s version of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican. At the center of the plaza, fronting the church, is the first artesian well in the Philippines, built by Fr. Manuel Camanes in the late 19th century. Before leaving Guagua, I bought some yema and pastillas as pasalubong.  Check out my Business Mirror article “Tripping on History and Culture in Pampanga.”

Pampanga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (PCVB): c/o Everybody’s Café, Nepo Mall, Brgy. Del Pilar, City of San Fernando, Pampanga.  Mobile number: (0917) 245-4834.  E-mail:

Church of St. William of Aquitania (Bacolor, Pampanga)

Church of St. William of Aquitania

We were now on our fifth and last day of our Lakbay Norte 2 media tour and come morning, after a hearty breakfast at Sands Resto Grille in Lighthouse Marina Resort, we were on the road again in our special Victory Liner media bus, this time to return to Pampanga and  visit two of the province’s famous churches—one noted for its resiliency in the face of calamity, and the other for its artistic beauty. In Bacolor, we were met at the town’s Church of St. William the Hermit by Mr. Poch Jorolan of the Pampanga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (PCVB). This church, one of the oldest and largest churches in the province, is a survivor. Probably built in the early 17th century, it has survived damage from the 1645 and 1880 earthquakes, a fire in 1672, as well as heavy damage during the British occupation, being restored each time. However, the Mt. Pinatubo eruption produced lahar flows on September 3, 1995,  forcing its more than 50,000 residents to evacuate to safer ground and burying the church  up to one-half its 12-m. height. Its 4.9-m.-high main entry disappeared. However, this bastion of faith refused to follow the footsteps of the half-buried Cagsawa Church (Albay) and Guiob Church (Camiguin), all victims of the violent eruptions of Mt. Mayon and Mt. Vulcan Daan, respectively. Bacolonians painstakingly dug up the ornately-carved main and side altars, century-old statues and  the retablo (altar backdrop) of the Lady of La Naval from the mud and relocated the retablo under the dome in order for it to fit.  They also built a new concrete floor almost at the level of the windows.  The profusely and intricately ornamented window of the choir loft now serves as the new main entrance.

Pampanga.Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (PCVB): c/o Everybody’s Café, Nepo Mall, Brgy. Del Pilar, City of San Fernando, Pampanga.  Mobile number: (0917) 245-4834.  E-mail:

Water Fun in Subic (Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales)

The popular and entertaining banana boat ride. 
That’s me up front

Aside from our relaxing overnight stay at Lighthouse Marina Resort at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, members of our Lakbay Norte 2 media group were treated to a round of watersports activities courtesy of Networx Jetsports along the Subic beachfront.  While the others opted to just watch or swim, a number of us, me included, dabbed on a lot of sunblock lotion and donned  life vests to try out what was on offer.  While others eagerly jumped into the jetskis, a number of us (Nina Fuentes, Melissa Dizon, Karlo de Leon, Ivan Mandy and yours truly) hopped on the popular and entertaining banana boat ride.  The boats, pulled by a powerful jetski, could accommodate a maximum of 10 persons.

Returning to shore after our dunking

Once on board, we all held on to the bar in front of us and tried to balance ourselves as the jetski  slowly pulled the banana boat. We all bent down to maintain our balance and when the boat turned left, we leaned to the left, when it turned to the right, we leaned to the right.  The jetski tried to catch the us off guard (and off the boat) by going fast and slow and succeeded on two occasions. It was fun for me but distressing for Karlo and Mel as they both irretrievably lost their expensive shades to the sea (luckily mine was hooked to my ears).  Getting back on board the boat was also difficult for some (including me).  I’ve tried banana boating before in Boracay but that ride was tame and uneventful compared to this one.  Rates for the banana boat ride are PhP250 er person, minimum of 4 and maximum of 10.

Jetskiing is addicting

Next on my itinerary was the addicting jetskiing, a first for me.  It is said by many that by riding the waves, it quenches the need for speed and gives one a feeling of power.  Upon climbing the jetski, a safety strap was attached to my wrist to ensure an automatic stop in case I should fall off, thus avoiding possible injury.  After basic instruction on how to operate the jetski, I was off and on my way, riding the waves standing up but making sure to get back on my seat as I made a slow turn.  I avoided places where people were swimming. Jetskiing was truly what it is hyped up to be.  Too bad there was no one to record my moment, either on film or video.  Jetski (Yamaha VX 110, 4-stroke engine) are  rented for PhP1,900 for 30 mins. and PhP3,000 for 1 hour. 

A Hobie Kayak Tandem

Karlo and I also tried out the Hobie Kayak Tandem.  The clear, calm waters surrounding Subic make it an ideal kayaking site for novice and experienced paddlers.  Our kayak was different from the kayaks I’ve tried before as this one had a kick-up rudder system and a hand-controlled steering system at the rear (where I was seated).  The Hobie Kayak Tandem rents for PhP500 for 30 mins. and PhP800 for 1 hour while the single rents for PhP300 for 30 mins. and PhP500 for 1 hour.. Networx Jetsports also offers parasailing (PhP1,500 per person, 10 mins. airtime), speedboat cruises (XR 1800-2001 models, maximum of 5 riders, PhP10,000 for 1 hour) and Pelican pedal boats (PhP400 for 30 mins. and PhP700 for 1 hour).  Networx Jetsports was established in 1997 by Emmanuel “Dong” B. Arcilla, an avid jet ski racer.  

Networx Jetsports: Waterfront Road, Subic Freeport Zone, Zambales (beside Gerry’s Grill).  Tel.: (047) 252-3469 .  Mobile number: (0922) 812-9832.  Email:  Website:

The Lighthouse by the Bay (Subic, Zambales)

Our special Victory Liner media bus approaching 
Lighthouse Marina Resort
After our very filling, 2-restaurant food tour in Clark, it was now time for some R&R for our Lakbay Norte 2 media group at Subic Freeport Zone.  We left Clark for Subic around 12:30 PM and we arrived at Lighthouse Marina Resort just before 2 PM where we were welcomed by members of the Greater Subic Bay Tourism Bureau. Considered as the number 1 hotel among 17 in Subic, the 3-storey Lighthouse Marina Resort, owned by the Avecilla shipping clan, is a sleek and ultra-modern 34-room boutique hotel capped by a 20-m. high lighthouse. Designed by the architectural firm Palafox Associates in almost austere Italian architecture, it has an elegantly simple facade.

Our assigned suite

We checked into a warmly appointed airconditioned suite with king-size bed, a 42-inch, wall-mounted LCD cable TV, minibar, fridge, coffee/tea facility, IDD phone, writing desk, DVD/MP-3 player, in-room safe and electronic door lock.  The bathroom, similar to the one I’ve seen at the Marriot Hotel in Manila, has glass walls (with electronically raised or lowered curtains for privacy).  A novelty, though, is its free-standing tub reminiscent of Old World baths.

The resort’s icon

The white and maroon lighthouse, the resort’s icon and the most photographed landmark in the port, was done in surprisingly detail very faithful to naval architecture specifications.   Fronting the swimming pool, the tower is home to the 720 London Music Bar, its counter, which accommodates 15, is shaped like a ship’s bow. Lighthouse Resort sales representative, Ms. Jozen Curva toured us up the lighthouse to admire the stunning, panoramic view of Subic’s harbor.The grand, high-ceiling lobby has huge floor-to-ceiling clear glass windows, an ensemble of Citterio-inspired lounge furniture and a grand piano, all done in beige colors. Sands Al fresco, where we had breakfast the next day, offers sumptuous grilled food, seafood, Mediterranean and international cuisine.  Wi-fi service was great here. 

Lakbay Norte 2 Media Group

Lighthouse Marina Resort: Subic Bay Moonbay Marina Complex, Waterfront Road, CBD, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales, Philippines.  Tel/Fax: (047) 252-5000 and (047) 252-7545.  Toll Free Manila Number: (632) 711-0019.  Manila Sales Office Tel:(632) 892-3534 Fax: (632)815-8296.  E-mail: Website:

An Evening of Kapampangan Dance and Cuisine (Angeles City, Pampanga)

The third day of our Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)/North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2 media tour did not end with our tiring but rewarding Pinatubo trek and our P.D.C. Spa Town pampering as our media group was invited for dinner at Angeles City in Pampanga, a major provincial destination as almost 3 days of our 6-day tour were to be spent in this history and culture-rich province with its many Spanish and American-era architecture. It was already night time when our special Victory Liner tour bus finally made its way to bustling Angeles City, arriving at its 2-storey Museo Ning Angeles.  As dinner guests of the Kuliat Foundation, we were all warmly welcomed at the entrance by Ms. Herminia Pamintuan, wife of City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan; Ms. Joy Cruz and Ms. Prisca Cantor, special projects head and treasurer, respectively, of the Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB); and museum curator Ms. Jiji Paras.

An array of Kapampangan dishes

The menu was truly impressive with a choice of vegetable salad,  paellachorizo pizza (courtesy of Armando’s Pizza, the Kapampangan pizza), kare-karebatute (stuffed frog), crabs and kakanin for dessert. We were also regaled with a cultural dance performance by a dance troupe.

A night of dance

Our food caravan didn’t end here as we were still invited to late-evening cocktails sponsored by Mr. Abel Villavicencio of Flying V (a Lakbay Norte 2 tour sponsor) plus an acoustic night-out at Island Grill in Clark with Mr. Gabriel “Bing” Sangil and tourism officer Mr. Angel Maniti.  Visibly tired after a full day of hiking, spa treatments and dining, we all thankfully retired to our rooms at the Clark Star Hotel looking forward to the next day.  At this juncture, media colleague Gabby Malvar unceremoniously left the tour as he had to bring his ailing daughter Isabel (she had stomach problems) home to Manila for treatment.  Check out my Business Mirror article “Tripping on History and Culture in Pampanga.”

Museo Ning Angeles: Old Municipio Bldg., Sto. Rosario St., Angeles City, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 887-4703.  E-mail:  Website:

Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB): The Boardroom Business Center Bldg., 7160 Claro M. Recto Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 499-1146.  E-mail:

Museo Ning Angeles: Showcase of History, Culture and Kapampangan Cuisine

The 2-storey Museo Ning Angeles, also called the Angeles City Museum, is located adjacent to the Holy Rosary Cathedral.  Showcasing the Kapampangan lifestyle and culture, this city museum was established in 1999 through the Kuliat Foundation and is housed in the former City Hall built in 1922. On display are interesting handiwork of Angeles City artists and rare photographs relating to the Philippine-American War and the history of the city.

Museo Ning Angeles

The museum also has a charming diorama exhibit of  Ninay Dolls (created by Patis Tesoro, an Angeleña) showing various episodes of Kapampangan lifestyle (weddings, fiestas, woodcarving, etc.). One of the museum’s permanent exhibits is the Angeles City Hall of Fame, honoring Angeleños who have excelled in serving the city and have made significant contributions through their different fields of endeavor.   There’s also a display on the  evolution of Philippine revolutionary uniforms (1806-1906)It also has a museum shop selling locally-made products. 

Evolution of Philippine revolutionary costumes
Diorama Exhibit

A special exhibit, the Culinary Arts of the Philippines, at the second floor, was inaugurated in October 2007.  It showcases different Filipino cuisines from various regions in the country.  Also on display are a collection of native kitchen tools used in ancient times.  Its library has a collection of books about Philippine recipes.  

Culinary Arts of the Philippines Exhibit
Museo Ning Angeles: Old Municipio Bldg., Sto. Rosario St., Angeles City, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 887-4703.  Open Mondays to Saturdays.  Admission: PhP10.  E-mail:  Website:

P.D.C. Spa Town: My Very First Spa Experience (Capas, Tarlac)

Volcanic Ash Spa Treatment

After our visibly tiring and tiring Pinatubo trek, a late (4 PM), a 5-course Filipino lunch awaited this visibly spent and famished bunch of media men, travel bloggers, camera crew and NPVB/MNTC personnel at P.D.C. (Pinatubo Development Corp.) Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac, also the jump-off point for our early morning Pinatubo trek.  Also awaiting our tired bodies and aching muscles was a relaxing and rejuvenating series of spa treatments unique to Pinatubo in a first-of-a-kind model in fitness therapy and well being. 

Mud Pack Treatment (L-R, Me, Dandi Galvez, Gabby 
Malvar and Art Villasanta)

But first, we had to shower away the dirt and grime of the trail hike from our tired bodies.  I, and the rest of the guys  (Dandi Galvez, Art Villasanta, Karlo de Leon, Frank Dizon, Gabby Malvar, Ivan ManDy) as well as some of the ladies (Nina Fuentes, Izah Morales, Isabel Malvar and Melissa Dizon), opted to try out first the volcanic ash spa treatment (I don’t know if we availed of the sulfur or salt treatment) while others were having their soothing signature massage in the 100-pax massage parlor.  Here, we were buried for 30 mins. in a relaxing body wrap with heated, sulfur-laden volcanic ash to remove body wastes by drawing out toxins and impurities that are embedded deep within the skin’s pores. Volcanic ash is said to be high in sulfur which not only helps our body not only to resist bacteria but actually to destroy it. It is also said to lessen body cholesterol.   

The Signature Pina-Thai-Tsu Massage

Next was a facial and body mud pack. When applied to our skin’s surface, the soothing wet clay lifts, firms and exfoliates, softening and stretching our skin to make us look revitalized and healthier with a more youthful looking complexion.  After a while, we took to the showers again to remove the dried up clay.  Our final pampering, to improve blood circulation and relax our tired muscles and joints, was the Spa’s 1 hour and 20 minute signature massage – the “Pina-thai-tsu,” a unique combination of a traditional Thai and Shiatsu massage, with a few local massage techniques (hilot) added in.  There’s nothing like an ideal series of treatments to soothe our tired muscles and joints, improve our blood circulation and invigorate our body after a long and punishing day of trekking, making the most of this fantastic Philippine experience that is Pinatubo.  The whole 3-course spa treatment costs PhP1,500 per person or PhP500 per treatment   

P.D.C. Spa Town: Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac c/o Pull Travel Destination Corporation, Clark Office: G/F Oxford Hotel, MA Roxas St. cor N. Aquino Ave., Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 499-0629, 493-0031 and 615-0454. Email: Website:

Pinatubo: Scratch This from my Bucket List (Zambales)

Our 4 x 4s  traversing dry lahar fields and small streams

Mt. Pinatubo was prominent in my Bucket List of places to visit and I readily joined the 5-day, North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) and Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2 Tour as it figured prominently in the itinerary.  We were now in the third day of the tour and we left Microtel Inn & Suites Luisita  (Tarlac) very early in the morning, eating our packed breakfast on our special Victory Liner bus along the way.  By 7 AM, we arrived at our jump-off point for the trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s 2.5-km. wide Crater Lake – P.D.C. (Pull Travel Destination Corp.)  Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas in Tarlac.

The Trek Begins….

Normally, trekking via the Capas Trail (the easiest route to Mt. Pinatubo), passing by lahar deserts, would have taken us a grueling 6-8 hours on foot. However, five 4 x 4, 5-pax (including our driver) all-terrain vehicles, a mix of short wheelbase land cruisers and homemade jeeps, were made available for our use.  These were to negotiate some of the watery and rocky paths across Crow Valley, unreachable by other kinds of vehicles.  The drive through the valley, though at times bumpy, was exhilarating, with spectacular views of the Cabusilan Mountain Range.   After an hour, we arrived at the base of the mountain, the jump-off point of our trek.  From here, it was to be all 2-3 hours (dependent on our fitness and ability and the size of our group) of footwork, through the valley and up a mountain path, to the Crater Lake. Normally, a very hot trek, especially during the summer months (when the light gray volcanic ash reflect the rays of the sun), we were fortunate this day as it obviously rained the day before and it was quite windy.  Just the same I applied sun block lotion and wore a cap, shorts, sturdy rubber  sandals, plus my a comfortable light blue and white MNTC-supplied T-shirt.  

A surreal but serene landscape

The trek, though very tiring, was truly exhilarating as we traversed sometimes fairly flat and dry lahar riverbeds and oftentimes rocky ground and crossed numerous small creeks and rivers by jumping from boulder to boulder or, in my case, I just getting my feet wet under the cold water (truly a different kind of experience).  After a short, final hurdle up paved steps, we reached our destination – viewpoint for observing the magnificent crater and it turquoise-colored lake created during the 1991 Pinatubo eruption.  The viewpoint was developed to cater to us tourists.

Boating at the Crater Lake

After a few minutes of rest and quietly admiring the beautiful scenery set before us, most of us went down the paved steps down to the lake where a number of us rode boats, in two trips, and were rowed to the other side of the lake by an Aeta boatman.  The others, including me, contented themselves with dipping our feet in the cool lake waters while two others (Karlo de Leon and Melissa Dizon) took to swimming its deep water. Upon the arrival of the second boat load, we all made our way back up to the rest area, bade farewell to this magnificent creation of nature’s fury and made our way back to our respective vehicles.  The return hike was easier and done in half the time it took to get there as it was mostly downhill. The uphill climb to our vehicle’s parking area was the most strenuous.  As soon as everyone was accounted for, we all returned to our assigned 4 x 4s, too tired to even take pictures, and made our way back to P.D.C. Spa Town.