Caleruega Retreat Center (Nasugbu, Batangas)

Dominicum (Caleruega Retreat Center)

After a filling lunch at Josephine’s Restaurant in Tagaytay City, Mark, Jandy, Vicky, Marc, Bryan and I opted to go on a sightseeing trip.  Back on Mark’s Starex van, we traveled a further 15.7 kms. (25 mins.) to the town of Nasugbu, in the adjoining province of Batangas, where we were to visit the much hyped up retreat center and wedding venue called Caleruega. Designed by Arch. Yolanda D. Reyes (Dean of UST’s College of Architecture) and built in 1995, Caleruega was set up as a venue for retreats and seminars of the Dominican institutions.

Mark (center) and Vicky (right) exploring the grounds

 

The much-publicized wedding of Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong gave Caleruega its early exposure and, today, it is a lovely setting for an out of town wedding for brides and grooms.  Even movies and television ads producers have taken notice.

United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) 1996 Design Award in Architecture

From the highway, we turned into of a long, rough, bumpy and isolated road, at the end of which is the sprawling, 8-hectare property owned by the Dominican Fathers. We parked our van just outside.  Past brick-paved rotunda and fountain is the Dominicum (which we mistook to be a chapel), the receiving hall for visitors and those having their retreats at the place.

Perched atop an elevation with a 21 steps leading up to it, its two level Moorish and Spanish-style facade has a segmental arched main entrance flanked by square pilasters and niches with statues of Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Sienna, both doctors of the church, at the ground level.

Stairway leading up to the Dominicum

The main entrance is topped, at the second level, by a semicircular arched window with the stained glass image of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order.  This window is flanked by smaller semicircular arched windows with stained glass images of his father’s coat-of-arms on the left and his mother’s coat-of-arms on the right.

Stained glass window depicting St. Dominic

The four square pilasters (two reaching up to the pediment) are topped by pineapple (probably hinting at its proximity to Tagaytay)-shaped finials.  The undulating pediment has a bell-gable (espadana) at the center.

Grand stairway

Inside is a grand, elegantly curving staircase (unfortunately, off limits to visitors), a gift house (where one can buy souvenir shirts, trinkets and religious items) on the left, a mess hall on the right and a corridor that leads to the gardens.

Mess hall

From the Dominicum, pathways, following the natural curves and slope of the hill, lead us into a garden bursting with color and life. It was easy to fall in love with the serenity and beauty of this gorgeous retreat sanctuary with its abundant and colorful varieties of flowers, lush plants and trees and walking paths.

In the comforting company of nature, one can sit on solitary park benches, found in niches, and gaze at the 180-degree view of cobalt-blue skies,  the rolling, verdant hills and mountains and the plains. Caleruega’s tag line, “Closer to Nature, Closer to God,” is a fitting description of this nourishing sanctuary.

Lining the pathway are functional dormitories, cottages and overnight guests plus an interesting gazekubo, a conference hall that mixes the elements of a gazebo and a bahay kubo, with adobe stone walls roof made with once brown pawid (now green with small plant growth).

Gazekubo

The many signs and symbols of the Dominicans were abundantly integrated into the architecture.  The motif of the Dominican star (Joanna of Aza, St. Dominic’s mother, saw a star on her son’s forehead, a sign that he would eventually spread light to the world), as well as the sun, can be consistently seen in the refreshing fountain on the driveway, capiz windows, grilles and even inside cottages in the retreat center.

There were also viewing decks where one can witness the stunning show and the magical moment of the sun setting between the two rugged peaks of Batulao (incidentally, the name Batulao is derived from the words bato, meaning “stone,” and “ilaw or “light”), creating the perfect mood for love. St. Dominic’s Point, another beautiful vantage point, has a statue of St. Dominic, his feet lined with a star formation of fuchsia plants.  Rosary Lane, framed by the rolling hills of Mt. Batulao, has a statue of the Mother and Child sitting in prayer, each clutching a rosary.

At the peak was the famed, stunning and quaint Transfiguration Chapel with its Moorish-style facade done in red brick and painted concrete. When we arrived, a wedding was ongoing inside the chapel.  Patterned after the original Caleruega Chapel in Spain, it can fit only 150 people.  Its door has a brass sculpture of seven grapevines (symbolizing the Seven Sacraments).

Transfiguration Chapel

The chapel’s interior, finished with varnished wood and painted concrete, has a lectern with Biblical images of the mustard seed while the tabernacle has a burning bush design.  The altar, made from a carved tree trunk, signifies the Stem of Jesse in the Book of Isaiah. The birds, at the communion table, symbolize God’s providence.

The chapel interior with its centerpiece stained glass window featuring the Transfiguration – Moses on the left, Jesus at center and the prophet Elijah at the right

The stained glass windows of the chapel, giving a very soft and warm glow to the interior (an atmosphere conducive for prayers and reflections), were impressive. On the facade is the seal of the Dominican Province of the Philippines. Inside is the centerpiece of the church floor to ceiling stained glass of the figures of Transfiguration (Jesus, Moses and Elijah).

The author at the Transfiguration Chapel

In front of the chapel is “Thy Will Be Done,” a metal sculpture with arms outstretched done by Baguio City artist Benhur Villanueva. Surrounding the chapel are carefully selected plants and trees (the planted pine trees even mimic the Mediterranean setting where St. Dominic was born in 1170 in Caleruega in Old Castile).

Thy Will Be Done (Benhur Villanueva)

Caleruega is a lovely, quiet and soothing addition to the 39 Catholic houses (retreat houses, formation houses, seminaries and contemplative groups) tucked along Tagaytay Ridge as well as over a dozen Christian lay communities and prayer houses.

Caleruega Retreat Center: Bgry. Kaylaway, Batulao, Nasugbu, Batangas.  Mobile number: (0921) 270-9890 and (0921) 830-4226.  E-mail: caleruega_philippines@yahoo.com. Open daily, 8 AM – 12 noon and 1 – 5 PM. A mass is held every Sunday at 11 AM.

How to Get There:
Coming from Tagaytay City, board a Nasugbu bound bus and ask the driver to drop you off at Evercrest where there’s a tricycle station.  Here, you can hire a tricycle for a two-way trip to Caleruega.

Ten Commandments Building (Baguio City, Benguet)

Dominican Hill in Baguio City is now famous for two things – the century-old, haunted Diplomat Hotel Ruins and the newer, giant Ten Commandments Building. This new tourist attraction in Baguio, right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Front view of building

This A-shaped, 12.19 m. high “prayer building” has two slanting slabs of stone carved with the imposing 152.90 sq. m. (1,645.8 sq. ft.) Bible’s Ten Commandments (a copy of the rules supposedly handed down by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai) that broke the Guinness World Records as the world’s first and tallest facility that features the Ten Commandments.

Concrete slab carved with the Ten Commandments

This PhP5.5-million building was commissioned last February 2011 by Nueva Vizcaya businesswoman Grace Galindez-Gupana, chief executive officer of ABS Gen Herbs International Corp. and founder of  the Kingdom of Jerusalem Halleluyah Foundation International (KOJHF, a religious group), and built by contractors from Nueva Ecija. The Ten Commandments building topped her previous world record, attained in 2009, when she built a similar 65 sq. m. tablet on a hill outside Manila.

It was turned over to the city government in July 2011 and officially unveiled on October 26 in the presence of  Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan, Menashe Bar-On (Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines), Minister Abraham Okoliko of the Nigerian embassy and the Guinness representative Vic Fabellana. The Israeli ambassador also led a “tree planting” of an authentic Jerusalem-grown olive tree in front of the Ten Commandments building. It houses an altar and a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.

Gupana, who seems to have a penchant for setting world records, claims her company now holds seven records, including developing the world’s largest national flag (an 18,847-sq. m. Israeli banner which can cover an area of two football fields) unveiled at the Baguio Athletic Bowl; producing the longest banner (composed of giant flags representing the Philippines, Israel and the two Koreas); the longest drawing of the Biblical serpent, dragon and beast mentioned in the Book of Revelations (5 kms. long and 7 m. wide), and the largest blood pressure checkup session that gathered 2,302 people and organizing the largest diabetes screening session for 503 people, the largest blood identification session involving 260 people, and the largest cholesterol test session for 527 people. The authenticity of these world records could not be independently confirmed.

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant

Ten Commandments Building: Dominican Hill Property, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

Diplomat Hotel Ruins (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author outside the Diplomat Hotel Ruins

The Dominican Hill Retreat House, an abandoned structure atop Dominican Hill commonly known as the Diplomat Hotel, is a favorite spot for photography, airsoft tournaments, film making, wedding receptions and photography, cosplay photoshoots and many more. In spite of it being in ruin, almost every tourist that goes to the City of Pines makes it a point to visit this place because it is one of the most panoramic and picturesque spots in the city. However, due to its brutal and grim World War II history, it is considered by paranormal believers to be haunted.

The century-old Diplomat Hotel Ruins. At far right is the Ten Commandments Building

The building had its beginnings in May 1911 when American friars of the Dominican Order (or Order of Preachers), along with a few Spanish members, made plans for the construction of a vacation house for them and the nuns of their order in Baguio. A 17-hectare hill property was first acquired from Americans who reside in Baguio. The hill where the building was to stand was christened as “Dominican Hill.”

Plaque installed by the National Historical Commission

The building was designed by Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P., a civil engineer and one of the members of the order.  He was the same architect of the main building of the current campus of the University of Santo Tomas.

The cross at the front of the hotel. Below it is a bas relief of a probable Dominican shield with a crown on top and a dangling rosary

Construction, said to have started in 1913, was supervised by Fr. Ruano himself. On May 23, 1915, it was then inaugurated. At the time of its construction, it was considered the grandest and most expensive stone structure in the city.

Prayer Mountain and Tourism Center

On June 1915, to take advantage of tax exemptions, the order set up a seminary named Colegio del Santissimo Rosario.  However, due to the very small enrollment (only 6 students enrolled in 1917), the school closed two years later and the building was reverted to its original use.

Baroque scroll ornamentation at jambs and the top of the main entrance

During World War II, the people fleeing from the Japanese sought refuge within its walls. Because of its commanding view of the city, the Japanese Imperial Army turned the compound into their headquarters and garrison. Within the courtyard and its grounds, the Kempeitai (Japanese secret police) committed barbaric acts such as torture, rape and decapitation of priests and nuns, as well as refugees.

The rehabilitated west wing of the building

On April 1945, during the liberation of the Philippines, the American forces bombed the place, partially hitting the right wing of the building while Japanese forces committed suicide. Between 1945 and 1947, the building underwent restoration.

The east wing of the building

In 1973, Diplomat Hotels, Inc. acquired ownership of the property and thoroughly remodeled the interior into a 33-bedroom hotel, all the while retaining the unique features and Dominican ambiance (the large white cross and the emblem was retained) which were earlier established by the Dominican friars.

Fireplace at hotel lobby. Tony Agpaoa is said to haunt this area

The hotel was managed by Baguio-based entrepreneur Antonio Agapito “Tony” C. Agpaoa, the sensational and controversial faith healer (later branded as a hoax by many) famous for psychic surgery who claimed to perform surgery with his bare hands without anesthetic.  The hotel became the haven of his patients that came mostly from abroad and they stayed here while being healed.

Multi-tiered fountain at Courtyard No. 1. Babies and little children were said to have been murdered here during the war

In the 1980s, Agpaoa suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with brain hemorrhage. On January 1982, the 42 year old Agpaoa died of his ailments. Since his death, the hotel ceased operations and was abandoned. Following its abandonment, the place was looted and sacked.

Similar fountain at Courtyard No. 2

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, formerly known as the Ministry of Human Settlements, took over the ownership of the hotel. The Presidential Management Staff (PMS) came next.  During the June 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, the building also sustained significant damage.

Exhibit at west wing

The property on the hill (currently named as Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park) was conveyed to the City Government of Baguio in April 2004 and, on April 5, 2005, was declared a National Historical Site through TCT No. T-85948.

Grand stairway leading to second floor

The entire property was declared as a historical site through City Resolution No. 168, series of 2013. The Deed of Conveyance and City Resolutions provided for the rehabilitation of the old building and the development of the property into a park by obligating the city.

One of the 33 hotel rooms

It is now under the maintenance of the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO). In May 2012, as part of the development of Baguio Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park as a preserved heritage site and to promote tourism, two new function halls for weddings, training and workshops in the hotel’s west wing were inaugurated. On September 1, 2014, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared it as an Important Cultural Property. 

Still intact bathtub at bathroom of one of the hotel rooms.

This 2-storey building, an example of classic Baroque architectural design with its striking details and admirable design, is a fusion of European church design, blended with local materials and motifs. Its rusticated facade has a porte cochere over a driveway.

The author

The ground floor, with semicircular arched windows, and the second floor, with rectangular windows, are separated by a horizontal cornice. The cornice, at the roof deck level, is located above corbels.

Headless ghosts of nuns and priests are said to haunt these hallways.

Planned out as a castle complete with crenelations, it has a massive fortress-like character. This is also the first hotel in the country, and even in Asia, to have a cross on its gabled main entrance. From this stone crucifix on the roof deck, a panoramic view of the city can be seen. Its roof also has water collecting devices. Inside are two courtyards, both with multi-tiered fountains.

Second floor hallway.  Note the still intact, circa 1970s crazy-cut marble flooring.  Floor beams are supported by decorative coorbels

If ghosts, spirits and the paranormal tickle your fancy, then this so famously haunted, eerie, bleak and abandoned building is definitely for you.  Considered as one of the most haunted places in Baguio City and the Philippines, even since the Diplomat Hotel was open, employees and guests would report hearing strange and eerie noises coming from the building and seeing headless ghosts, with their heads on a platter, constantly roaming the hallways.

Secondary stairway

However, even after the hotel shut down, those sightings would continue.  The people living nearby were often disturbed at night by sounds coming from the Dominican Hill. They would hear banging of doors and windows, clattering of dishes, voices of screaming people who seem to be agonizing, as well as rattling and clanging sounds alternating with total silence.  Adding to the eerie atmosphere is the derelict condition of the hotel.

Fireplace at east wing

As previously mentioned, during the World War II, numerous nuns and priests (forced to serve as helpers for the soldiers) were beheaded here and this is believed to be the reason why headless apparitions are often seen, during the night, inside the hotel. Crying coming from kids and babies, a common noise, are attributed to the massacre of numerous children done at the fountain.

Roof deck

Others say these are the restless spirits of Agpaoa and his patients.  Many years ago, a fire broke out in a portion of the hotel and several guests who were then staying at the hotel were trapped inside and died.  According to one of its caretakers, a woman who used to work there as a nurse committed suicide, for unknown reasons, by jumping from the rooftop where the cross is situated.

Cross seen from the roof deck.  A nurse was said to have jumped to her death at this area

A lot of documentaries have been written about this mysterious hotel.  It was featured on television programs such as Magandang Gabi, Bayan‘s 2004 Halloween Special, AHA! and Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho. Right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, is the fairly recent, A-shaped Ten Commandments Building, a “prayer building” which serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Ten Commandments Building

 

View of Baguio City from Diplomat Hotel Ruins

Diplomat Hotel: Dominican Hill, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador,  Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open 6 AM – 6 PM.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto (Baguio City, Benguet)

The author at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

The Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto (or simply the Grotto or Lourdes Grotto), a Catholic shrine and place of prayer and meditation, is one of the most popular attractions in Baguio City.  Located on Mirador (meaning “prospect point”) Hill, in the western part of the city, this very familiar and much photographed spot is particularly crowded on Sundays and during Holy Week, when pilgrims and devotees come to seek the blessing of the Virgin Mary.

The 252-step stairway leading up to the grotto

Visitors to this popular tourist destination have increased in numbers over the years. On Good Friday, it is estimated that about 10,000 people visit the grotto.  To reach the shrine, visitors must climb 252 steps or drive a light vehicle up a winding and steep paved road. When you reach the top of the stairs, it is traditional to light a candle.

The century-old Lourdes Grotto, an integral adjunct of the Mirador Jesuit Villa, was constructed in 1913 at the initiative of Fr. José Algue, S.J., the director of the Manila Observatory. It was made of the same limestone, probably gathered on Mirador Hill, and was built, in slow stages, by Jesuit scholastics (seminarians), brothers and fathers, usually during the summer when Jesuits on vacation would augment the community’s population.

Jandy at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

The stairway, from the grotto to the foot of the hills, was completed five years later. The steps began as stones laid on the ground but was later covered with cement.

Candle gallery

Prayer area for devotees

Inside the grotto is a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The image, of polychromed molave, was carved by noted sculptor Isabelo Tampingco, whose name is inscribed (“I. Tampingco Manila 1913”) at the back of the statue. Above the statue are inscribed the Latin words Tota Pulchra Es Maria (“You are beautiful Mary,” part of an old Catholic prayer of the same title). An excellent view of the city can be had from the grotto.

View of Baguio City

On March 2007, work began on the grotto’s upper most section. For the convenience of pilgrims, the upper most landing was extended by more than 150 sq. m. and handicap access was provided. The stairs leading up to the grotto, damaged during the July 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake, was repaired and a center rail added for the convenience of the elderly.

Kapilya Nina Hesus at Maria

Within the shrine is the Kapilya nina Hesus at Maria (Chapel of Jesus and Mary).  Commonly known as the Lourdes Grotto Chapel, inside is an image of the Divine Mercy on the left and Our Lady of Lourdes on the right.

Interior of Kapilya Nina Hesus at Maria. On the left is the statue of the Divine Mercy while on the right is the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes

Also within the grounds is The Shrine of The Risen Lord, a big statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms.  Made on the spot by skilled sculptors from Black Nazarene Enterprises (the sculpture atelier of Bernie Caber), it was dedicated on February 11, 2008, the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous.

Walkway leading to The Shrine of the Risen Lord

The statue will be the culmination of a planned outdoor Stations of the Cross whose bas reliefs will also be designed by Bernie Caber.  It will begin near the parking area at the vehicular entrance of Mirador Hill and will follow a penitential path through the rock formations of Mirador Hill.

Shrine of the Risen Lord

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto: Dominican Hill Rd., Mirador Hill, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet. Open daily, 6 AM – 7:30 PM.

How to Get There: From Zandueta St. (Baguio Central District), jeepneys travel to Lourdes or Dominican Hills.

Heritage of Cebu Monument (Cebu City, Cebu)

Heritage of Cebu Monument

The Heritage of Cebu Monument, a visually and contextually interesting tableau of concrete, bronze, brass and steel sculptures in the historic Parian District, shows scenes of significant and symbolic events in the history of Cebu back from the time of Rajah Humabon to the recent beatification of the Cebuano martyr, Pedro Calungsod.

Battle of Mactan

It was built on the site of the St. John the Baptist Church which was demolished in 1875 by the diocese of Cebu.  This work of art stands on a traffic circle, with narrow streets flanking the sides. Across the street is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House.

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Galleon Trade

The late, multi-awarded Cebuano sculptor Eduardo Castrillo designed and conceptualized the monument and, with the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, together with donations from other private individuals and organizations, funded the construction of the monument.

Plaque

Construction began in July 1997 and, after three years, the monument was inaugurated on December 8, 2000.

Magellan’s Cross

The structures carved into the huge monolith are the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the St. John the Baptist Church, the Magellan’s Cross, and a Spanish Galleon while scenes depicted are the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his followers to Christianity, the local revolution against the Spanish rule, a procession of the Santo Niño, a Roman Catholic mass, and the April 21, 1521 Battle of Mactan between Lapu-Lapu and Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The persons depicted in the monument include the late president Sergio Osmena Sr. and St. Pedro Calungsod.

Spanish Galleon

Heritage of Cebu Monument: Sikatuna St., Plaza Parian, Cebu City, Cebu.

How to Get There: Jeepneys along Colon Street, with the signboard showing “SM” and “Pier,” pass by the monument. You may also take a taxicab as most drivers are familiar with the place. From Ayala Center or SM, it is a 15-20 min. taxi ride.

The Jesuit House (Cebu City, Cebu)

The author at The Jesuit House

The grand opening of One Central Hotel & Suites had just ended and, as we still had a little over an hour to make it to the Jesuit House (claimed to be the oldest dated house in the Philippines), Rona, Rhea and I took a taxi to quickly get there. However, the driver only spoke Cebuano, which none of us spoke, and, coupled with that, didn’t know the destination.  But, thanks to Waze, we were able to make our way there.

Check out “Hotel and Inn Review: One Central Hotel & Suites

The entrance to the Jesuit House (also called Museo de Parian sa Sugbo) was through the main gate of Ho Tong Hardware along Zulueta Street. A streamer, with the words “Welcome To The Jesuit House of 1730,” hangs on the hardware gate. Most people, including us, would probably  have just passed by the area, ignorant of the historical treasure inside as a towering fence, built to protect it from theft (it still is a warehouse for the present owner’s business),  hides the house from street view.

At the office, we paid the admission fee and waited, at the adjoining coffee shop, for museum curator Christian Joseph Bonpua who was to guide us through the museum. The knowledgeable and versatile Christian was well versed in the history of the Jesuits in relation to the Philippines (considering he was a graduate of the Dominican-run University of Sto. Tomas), sharing a lot of historical and current facts. 

Museum curator Christian Joseph Bonpua

He  presented a birds eye view of the history of the Jesuit house during the Spanish and American periods of history via a video presentation.  The Jesuit House is actually two houses connected by a bridge.

“Ano de 1730” plaque atop the entrance (photo: Ms. Rhea Vitto-Tabora)

During our guided tour, Christian pointed to a low relief plaque, bearing the date “Año 1730,” on the inside wall above the main house’s entrance door, an artifact in itself. However, the house’s history remains murky, even contentious.  Some historians argue over the exact year of the house’s construction, some saying that the date on the relief plaque was not 1730 but 1750, pointing out that the third number from the left resembled “5” more than “3.” One piece of evidence hints that the house was built even earlier.

Airconditioned ground floor gallery

In his book Pictorial Records and Traces of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines and Guam prior to 1768, published in 1936, Fr. William Repetti, S.J. (1884-1966), a seismologist (he was Chief of the Section of Seismology and Terrestrial Magnetism of the Manila Observatory, 1920 to 1936) and archivist of the Jesuits, noted the existence of this house, identifying this old structure as the “Jesuit House of 1730.”

It is also widely believed that a tower once stood beside the house. An old, badly damaged painting of the house showed that it was attached to what is believed to be a watchtower for spotting seafaring raiders. In his book, Fr. Repetti also included a reproduction of this old painting of the house. Today, pictures of Fr. Repetti’s visit as well as a framed drawing of that painting hangs on the Jesuit house wall.

However, recent restoration works proved that the house could even be older than 1730. A coin, found buried in one post of the original house, was dated to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).  Broken ceramics, also pointing to the Ming Dynasty, were also dug out.

Display of pottery shards

It gives the idea that the house may have gone through a number of transformations and that its first owner may  have been Chinese (the Chinese were among the early settlers in the area). In her book Life in Old Parian, memoirist Concepcion G. Briones happily noted that the house has now come full circle – somehow it is back to Old Parian hands (as the current owner is Filipino-Chinese).

Japanese porcelain shards

Chinese influence in the house construction can be seen in rafters that feature a design resembling a pagoda plus the intricate carvings on the trusses also show that Chinese artisans may have worked on it.  Sy believes the Jesuit house is even older than the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House because its second level, like the ground floor, is still made of cut coral stones, indicating it was built before a Spanish decree disallowed this practice.

Statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola

The decree, indicating that the second level of all houses should be made of wood, was made to prevent the loss of life after a number of houses using coral stone on both floors were destroyed and many lives were lost during a strong earthquake.

Check out “Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

The remarkably preserved house, sitting on around 2,000 sq. m. of land, served as the residence of the second highest official of the Jesuit society in the Philippines.  Other priests of the order or deacons going to or coming from other provinces for missions were also received here. Historians say that the Jesuits were indeed in possession of the house until 1768 when, following their suppression in Europe, they were expelled from the Philippines. The Jesuits are credited to have introduced masonry construction to the Philippines.

Old movie projector

In 1910, after having been built and occupied by the Jesuits, this huge stone-and-tile mansion bordered by two streets on a lot in old Panting, adjacent to Parian, was bought by Don Luis Alvarez y Diaz, the Alvarez family patriarch.  The Alvarez family, originally from Asturias (Spain), settled in Cebu via Lawis, Leyte.

Scaled model of a Chinese junk

Who Don Luis brought it from is still mystery but, based on a lead provided by Edwina Link-Harris (Don Luis’ granddaughter), it is surmised that it may have been from Don Cristobal Garcia, a Spaniard and a Tabacalera agent of the then municipality of Cebu who returned to Spain. At one point in time, Don Jose Alvarez leased the house to Gov. Sergio Osmeña who used it as a meeting place for Cebu’s elite. The Alvarez family are the current owners of Montebello Villa Hotel.

Diorama of the the old Parian area, showing the now non-existent Church of St. John the Baptist, the Jesuit House and other landmarks.

During World War II, the house was also used by the American forces.  In the 1960s, the house was leased to Peping “Jap” Rodriguez, an Alvarez kinsman, for use as a club. Within the decade it again changed hands, this time going to the Sy family. Jaime “Jimmy” Sy, the current owner, inherited the property from his father.  Jimmy, who operates Ho Tong Hardware, is married to the former Margie Vaño of the Old Guard, related to the Sanson-Velosos, the Coromina-Fortiches, and the Escaños.

Stairs to second floor

Dr. Michael Cullinane (associate director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies), an American historian on the Philippines, has a different version of the house’s history. Unearthing the earliest record on the house, he revealed that it once belonged to the pious Villa family of the Chinese mestizo principalia (local aristocracy). Around 1880, the Villas gave the house to the Jesuits on certain conditions, including one on the dedication of specific prayers for living and dead members of the family.

Azotea

Jimmy questioned this claim, saying that, even before 1880, the house was already in the possession of the Jesuits as indicated on the Jesuit seals, carved in two separate places in the house, which are definitely in the 18th-century style, as well as the legend “1730,” which is definitely in 18th-century calligraphy. Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, a Jesuit art historian and professor based at the Ateneo de Manila, supports Jimmy on his contention as the Jesuit presence in Cebu was not reestablished until the erection of Our Lady Queen of China, Sacred Heart Parish in 1952, debunking the 1880 deed.

The two-storey house, along the defunct main entrance on narrow Binakayan Street, has cut coral stone walls with original molave (tugas) hardwood floors of alternating planks of dark and light shades, carved decorative corbels that support the ceiling, stout posts made from the trunks of trees, and a terracotta clay tile roof (a double row of tiles, with each row with a tile atop the other, facing down and cupped by a single tile facing up in the kulob-hayang pattern).

Antique sala set and television

The ground-level interior space (zaguan) has terracotta flooring.  It has 3 m. high ceilings and big door and window openings. Its second floor is connected, by a covered wooden walkway, to a smaller house.  The smaller house is the building we entered. A bipartite building, the smaller house’s lower storey is of coralline limestone while the upper portion is wood, typical of Fil-Hispano colonial houses.

Antique cash register

Antique typewriter, cameras and telephones

According to a 1989 essay written by Fr.  Javellana, the smaller house is believed to have served as an azotea or recreation area.  Another possible explanation, according to Sy, for why this structure was built separately but close to the main house and connected to it at the second level through a wooden bridge, is that it could have functioned as a kitchen situated outside of the house in case of fire.

Jukebox

This house annex, though still retaining its original wood reliefs, the corbels that support the ceiling, the huge, uncut tugas posts and big planks of tugas floorboards lined side by side, already has a galvanized iron roof and renovated modern walls. The presence of disjointed smaller corbels indicates that the ceiling was much higher today than when it was first built.

Tugas (molave) post and coralstone wall at second floor

The original wooden staircase leading up to the livable space on the second floor, described by Fr. Repetti as having a newel post and decorated with intricate carvings or motifs (similar to the monastery of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño), is also gone. It is said that, when they left, the Alvarez family brought the banister and post with them and used these in a house they had built in Bohol.

A towering concrete fence, resting on the original fence of coral stone (said to be older than the house), hides the house from street view. The original entrance to the property, through a narrow road called Binakayan near Colon, has been closed off to protect, on the gate’s lintel, the monograms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Though the Sys do not live in the house anymore, they turned the house into a semi-public museum in 2008, making it as a repository of antique furniture and other items (including a jukebox, old GE electric fan and an antique payphone) they’ve collected over the years, thus preserving it as a testament to Cebu’s rich cultural heritage.

Kitchen

In addition to the antiques collected by the Sy family, the museum also features a diorama showing the house during the Spanish era as well as the old furniture owned by the previous owners and items (Ming Dynasty coins, pottery shards, animal bones, etc.) that were unearthed at the location and displayed at the airconditioned ground floor gallery.

Cross at fence

Typical of its time, everything about the house was generous, almost grand and made to last generations. Even with the clutter of warehouse items, the innate importance of the Jesuit House was immediately apparent to us visitors.

Bas relief at the coralstone fence

The Jesuit House: Hotong Hardware, 26 Zulueta St., Brgy. Parian, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu. Tel: (032) 255 5408.  Admission: PhP50/pax (PhP15 for students). Open daily, 8 AM – 12 noon and 1 – 5 PM.  The museum is one of the stops of the annual Gabii sa Kabilin where locals and visitors alike can take a tour of the rich heritage of Cebu City.

How to Get There: The Jesuit House, across the Heritage of Cebu Monument built right on the old Parian plaza, is a few steps away from the obelisk that marks the start of Colon Street at its northern end. Taxi drivers may not be familiar with the Jesuit house so just say you want to go to the Parian Fire Station, which is 10-15 mins. away from Fuente Osmena.  From Ayala Center, take a 13C jeepney and drop off at the Heritage of Cebu Monument. From Colon, take the 01K jeepney and also drop off the monument. 

Casa Gorordo Museum (Cebu City, Cebu)

The author in front of Casa Gorordo Museum

From the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, Rhea, Rona, Javelyn and I walked the short 140 m., via Eduardo Aboitiz St., to the Casa Gorordo Museum.  Upon entry, we first registered ourselves at the museum office and paid the PhP120 per pax admission fee.

Check out “Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

As a guided tour was still ongoing, we waited for our turn at a patio that now serves as an airconditioned waiting room for visitors, its furniture partially made of bamboo.

Visitors Waiting Room

Near the patio is the zaguan, the old basement storage area for crops and livestock.  After a few minutes our guide arrived in the person of museum curator Florencio Moreno II who explained the rooms and the artifacts.

Javelyn, Rona and Rhea with museum curator Florencio Moreno II

Located at the middle of the historic Parian District, this historic, two-storey, former bahay na bato (a typical architectural type during the Spanish colonial period) was built in the 1850s and was originally owned by Alejandro Reynes y Rosales.  In 1863, it was bought by Juan Isidro Gorordo, a Spanish merchant.

Plaque installed by National Historical Institute

According to historian Resil Mojares (author of the book “Casa Gorordo in Cebu: Urban Residence in a Philippine Province 1860-1920”), four generations of the Gorordo family, from 1863 to 1979, have lived in this house, including Bishop Juan Perfecto Gorordo y Garces (1862 to 1934), the first Filipino bishop of Cebu.

Portrait of Cebu Bishop Juan Gorordo

In 1980, it was acquired by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI). Between 1980 and 1981, after it was acquired by RAFI, the house underwent extensive renovation and restoration works and, on December 15, 1983, was officially opened to the public as a museum. On September 24, 1991, Casa Gorordo Museum was designated as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute.

Paintings and Farming Implements

In 2005, to replace aging elements, a major second renovation was undertaken. In late 2013, it was again closed to give way to an enhancement project and reopened to the public on November 2016 with an upgrade aimed at elevating visitors’ experience by incorporating more interactive presentations and digital technology.

1939 Schwinn Mead Ranger Bicycle

The museum is maintained by RAFI through its Culture and Heritage Unit. The foundation aims to promote, through the museum, the importance of history and culture to the kids and millennials. RAFI also continued the house traditions of the Gorordo family, which include the Sinug sa Casa Gorordo (the original Sinulog steps done a day after the festival’s grand parade), the Kuwaresma procession, Pista ni San Juan and the display of the Gorordo Belen.

Mobility in Early 20th Century

The house, surviving two turbulent revolutionary conflicts and the Second World War, showcases mid-19th century and early 20th century Philippine culture and lifestyle.  It has an enriched artifact collection reflecting the lifestyle of Cebuanos from the late 1800s to the pre-World War II years.

Courtyard

It has a courtyard, a terra-cotta tile roof with Chinese upturned eaves, bayong (mahogany) wood sidings, ground floor with coral stone blocks (glued with egg whites), tugas (molave) and narra hardwood flooring and capiz windows.

1860s Tankard

1880s Flat Iron

The stonewalled ground floor displays contemporary paintings by Cebuano artists; miniature furniture sets; a 1939 Schwinn Mead Ranger bicycle; an 1860s tankard, an 1880s flat iron (plantsa); a corn mill (gilingan ng mais); models of vehicles used in Cebu; ceramics; pottery; eighteenth and nineteenth century agricultural implements (plow, tools, etc.) and other household objects such as a duwang (a large hardwood basin), four big palo-palo, clothes wringers and dryers, and a wooden for ironing clothes.

Miniature Furniture Set

Now an interactive museum mixing a little bit of old and new, Moreno also showed us a 3D virtual map (the only one in the city that has this map), an interactive exhibit that showcases the history of Cebu City from 1614 to 1945.

Mini Theater

At the mini-theater which can accommodate 30 to 40 people, we were shown a short, 10-min. film that traces the development of the payag or bahay kubo (native house) to become the balay nga tisa (house with clay tiled roof) such as Casa Gorordo. There’s also a diorama of Cebu’s social life with prominent families, originally from or linked to Cebu’s Parian district, listed.

Interactive Exhibit of Prominent Cebuanos in Old Parian

After a short flight of four stone steps which ends in a descanso (landing), we went up a higher flight of wooden stairs with banisters that lead us to a caida (anteroom) and the sala (living room) fronting the street and flanked by two bedrooms.

Stairs leading to the second floor

Intricate wood carvings on the ceiling divide the house into function rooms. The sala has rattan sets and Vienna chairs, cabinets and tables.

Second floor living area

The bedrooms have canopied, four-poster beds, made of narra or molave, with delicate carvings; rocking chair and baby crib.

Master’s Bedroom

Ladies’ Room

The Ladies’ bedroom has a crescent moon-shaped mirror said to bring good luck.

Crescent-shaped mirror of Ladies’ Room

The library has old photographs of Cebu during the early American era, books (including faded copies of Rizal’s novels) and an old globe with the former names of countries.

Old globe with the former names of countries at Library

The office has nineteenth century period furniture.

Comedor (Dining Area)

The comedor (long dining hall) showcases gold and silver kubiertos (silverware), antique plates and tazas (cups).

China Cabinet

The kitchen, with American colonial fixtures, also has eighteenth century water jars and cooking utensils.

American-era, ceramic Berkefeld Water Filter at kitchen

There’s also a chapel as Juan Gorordo, the first Filipino Bishop of Cebu, was one of the house occupants.

Chapel

Prior to leaving the museum, Rona, Rhea and I engaged in some cosplay by having our “period photos” taken, at a photo studio (obviously a late addition), wearing period costumes.

Victor gramophone

Other interesting items include a giant grandfather clock, a Victor gramophone and an 1890 Singer Sewing machine.

Azotea (Patio)

The second floor also has an unusual trellised azotea (patio), overlooking the garden (where there’s a deep but not functioning well), with 80-year old flower vines (called the “Bridal Bouquet”).

The unused well at the courtyard

Recently, the patio has been the venue for book launchings and lectures.

Museum Shop

Across the patio is a museum shop (which also underwent enhancement) that sells Casa Gorordo Museum-branded merchandise that cannot be bought from other stores.  From here, a stairs leads down to a ground floor coffee shop.

Museum Cafe

Casa Gorordo Museum: 35 Lopez Jaena St., Cebu City, Cebu. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 AM to 12 noon and 2 to 6 PM.  Closed on Mondays and holidays. The museum offers different informal guided tour packages, ranging from P120 to P180. The P180 rate will include a tour guide, free use of tablets (to scan the QR codes affixed to the items on exhibit, which give more detailed information), free earphones, a booklet, a souvenir item, and a free drink at the museum cafe.  A 20% discount is given to senior citizens, students (13 to 18 years of age), and undergraduate college students. Tel: (032) 411-1767 (RAFI Culture and Heritage Unit) and (032) 418-7234 loc. 532.  E-mail: rafi.chu@rafi.org.ph. Facebook page: RAFI-Casa Gorordo Museum.

Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House (Cebu City, Cebu)

Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

After breakfast at One Central Hotel, we still had time to kill before the 1 PM grand opening of the hotel, so I, together with lady media colleagues Maria Rona Beltran, Rhea G. Vitto-Tabora and Javelyn J. Ramos, decided to do some museum sightseeing.  Outside the hotel, we hailed a jeepney that took us to the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, part of the Casa Gorordo Museum Complex.

Check out “Casa Gorordo Museum”

After paying the PhP50 admission fee to a lady receptionist clad in old Filipiniana dress and logging our names in the visitors’ logbook, we were toured around the house by a well-versed guide.

L-R: Ms. Maria Rona Beltran, Ms. Rhea G. Vitto-Tabora, Ms. Javelyn J. Ramos and the author

The Spanish-Colonial era Yap-San Diego Ancestral House, in Cebu City’s Parian District (founded in 1590 after the arrival of Chinese traders), is said to be the first Chinese house built outside of China.

Listening to our guide explaining the history of the house

Often referred to by the locals as the Balay nga Bato ug Kahoy (“House of Wood and Stones”), this ancestral house was built, sometime between 1675 and 1700, and is considered as one of the oldest existing residential structures in the country and a proof that the Parian district in Cebu City was a bustling barangay where houses are often designed with a second storey.

The house was originally owned by Don Juan Yap, a Chinese merchant, together with his wife, Doña Maria Florido.  They had three children, namely: Maria, Eleuterio and Consolacion.

Portrait of house owners Val and Ofelia Sandiego

In the 1880’s, their eldest daughter, Maria Florido Yap, married Don Mariano Avendano San Diego from Obando, Bulacan, who was, at that time, the Parian’s cabeza de barangay (district head). Since then, the structure had become a busy center of activity in Parian.

In 2008, the house was handed down to the aforementioned Val Mancao San Diego, Doña Maria’s 10th generation great great grandson, and his wife Ofelia Zozobrado-San Diego.

An art collector, one of Cebu’s famous choreographers and a heritage icon, Val believe that this ancestral house was part of Cebu’s history and heritage so he carefully restored his ancestor’s home and turned it into a private museum.

Fine china

And though there have been offers to buy the house from him, he still continues to ignore such proposals and vows never to sell this historical house in his lifetime, no matter what the offer is.

Religious statuary

Though Val and his family don’t live in this house, every so often, during weekends, they still come over to stay at the house. This ancestral house was been featured in the book Chinese Houses of Southeast Asia of noted Chinese cultural historian Ronald G. Knapp (2010, Tuttle Publishing)

An antique harp

This 2-storey house, its design combining Spanish and Chinese architectural influences, has a ground floor built with coral stone, glued with egg whites, and a second floor built with tugas (molave) and balayong wood. The curving roof was made of tisa (red terra cotta clay tiles) from China, each piece weighing 1 kilogram.

Four-poster beds

Outside is a beautiful garden (a boat from the 1800s is currently being used as a flower bed) and a still functional old well (its water is only used for the plants).

The beautiful garden

The ground floor was unpaved (since it was only used as a warehouse or kamalig) but, before we ascended the second floor’s creaking staircase, we had to wear shoe cover booties to protect the hardwood floor upstairs from scratches.

Stairway

The house was filled with well-crafted life-sized statues, religious icons and images of santos, especially of the Sto. Niño (including one sitting on a rocking chair) and angels, in every size and material imaginable (the family was known to be deeply religious).

Dining Area

There’s also an impressive array of new contemporary and ancient artworks; priceless, century-old antique pieces; a wooden harp; fine china and cutlery; antique décor; clay jars for storing water and Cebuano-made native period furniture made of balayong, tugas and narra.

Most the old items which were preserved here came from Carcar, Cebu. The front door has a knocker that came from a Chinese temple.

The bedroom had a four-poster bed and a wooden baby crib. Also at the second floor is a banggerahan with its rack for drinking glasses and cups. Having survived natural calamities and earthquakes, the house has retained over 90% of the original structure.

Yap Sandiego Ancestral House: 155-Lopez Jaena corner Mabini St., 6000 Parian District, Cebu City, Cebu. Open daily, 9 AM – 7 PM. Admission: PhP50 per person.  Tel: (032) 514-3002, 514-3003 or 253-5568. Facebook: www.facebook.com/Yap-Sandiego-Ancestral-House-214835631903226/

How to Get There: From Marina Mall, ride a multicab or jeepney that carries a ‘highway’ signage and tell the driver to drop you off at Maguikay. From there, ride any Mandaue jeepney (with a “Catedral” or “Colon” signage) that will take you to Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral or Colon Street. Upon reaching these landmarks, The Yap-San Diego Ancestral House is just a walk away. At SM Cebu or near Radisson Blu Hotel, you can ride a jeep with 01K code. Go down at Shamrock and take a short walk to the right where you’ll find the Parian Plaza and its Heritage of Cebu Monument. The house is just a few steps away from it.

Check out “Heritage of Cebu Monument

10,000 Roses Café (Cordova, Cebu)

10,000 Roses Cafe

Part of One Central Hotel & Suites-sponsored tour of Cebu City

The 10,000 Roses Café, opened last February 6, 2017, is one of Cebu’s newest craze.  It has a stunning garden in the open area of the facility that are “planted” with 10,000 artificial white roses that are filled with LED lights, the first in the Philippines.

About 3 feet tall, these roses dance with the sea breeze during day time.   Around 6 PM every night, they are lit and transformed into magical lights that glow at night. That’s why it’s best to go there before sunset until closing time.  Because of its unique theme, it instantly became a hit and is, undeniably, the most popular and most sought-after café.

Cordova Tourism Center

Lantaw Floating Restaurant

Located at the end of Cordova Tourism Center, just next to Lantaw Floating Restaurant, many visitors frequent the place to have their pictures taken in a different kind of setting.  It is owned by interior designer Miguel Cho who was inspired by the more than 25,000 LED Roses of the famous Dongdaemum Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea.

View of the 10,000 Roses from the Cafe Viewdeck

A perfect spot for photographers, the café, situated on a reclaimed wharf property, has a viewing deck, surrounded by glass walls, that offers an amazing view of Mactan Island, the skyline of Cebu City, the neighboring cities and municipalities, the island’s mountain range, the sea and, of course, the roses.

10,000 Roses Cafe

The coffee shop and restaurant serves drinks, pasta, panini, sandwiches, potato fries, nachos with salsa, cheese plate, fruits plate, salad and varieties of coffee, teas and beer.  The ground floor has a modest indoor dining area, with modern and stylish seating, which can accommodate 20 to 25 customers.  The alfresco dining area can accommodate additional 40 to 60 customers.

Indoor Dining Area

Al fresco dining area

The 10,000 Roses Café: Brgy. Day-as, Cordova, Cebu.  Tel: (032) 496 7023. Open daily, 10:30AM to 11PM. Admission: P20/person.

One Central Hotel & Suites: Cor. Sanciangko and Leon Kilat St., Cebu City 6000, Cebu.  Tel: (+6332) 888-8000, 888-8111 and 888-8168.  E-mail: info@onecentralhotel.com. Website: www.onecentralhotel.com.

Return to Wawa Gorge (Rodriguez, Rizal)

Wawa Gorge

The day after my grandson Kyle’s 6th birthday, I together with the rest of my family joined employees of E. Ganzon Inc. in distributing relief goods to residents of Sitio Wawa in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban, it was renamed after Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Sr., Montalban’s first mayor and Senate president, in 1982) in Rizal. Last August 11-13, the area was hit by flash flooding that also destroyed the bridge that connects Sitio Wawa with Sitio Sto. Niño.

Sitio Wawa

This wasn’t my first visit to this area.  The first time I was in Wawa was way back in 2004 when I was a guest in a demonstration tour, for teacher representatives from 9 different schools, hosted by Lakbay Kalikasan. At Wawa Gorge, we engaged in the adrenaline-pumping sport of rappelling at the gorge’s metal footbridge.

Check out “Rapelling at Wawa Gorge

Sitio Wawa lies is in between the 426 m. high Mt. Pamitinan and 424 m. high Mt. Binacayan.  Its abandoned reservoir is visited mostly by hikers as the jump-off point for the trek to either beginner-friendly mountain, two of three mountains in the well-loved trilogy hike (the other is 517 m. high Mt. Hapunang Banoi). Guide fee is Php500 per group.

Mt. Pamitinan

The two mountains form a scenic view that appears like a portal to the sky, hence the name wawa, the Dumagat term for “entrance.” Sitio Wawa is a habitat of the Remontado Dumagat, mixed-blood offspring of lowlanders, who fled the Spanish colonizers, and of Negritos, the original setters in the area.

Mt. Binacayan

Legend has it that a giant of extraordinary strength named Bernardo Carpio (our version of Hercules or Atlas) who, in olden times, was trapped by an enkanto (enchanted creature) between Mt. Pamitinan and Mt. Binacayan. He caused earthquakes, landslides and flooding in nearby villages every time he struggles to free himself from his chains or keep the boulders from crushing him or from colliding.

Parking lot for visitors

José Rizal was said to have made a pilgrimage to Montalban to pay homage to Bernardo Carpio, a versatile symbol of freedom. In recent times, Lavrente “Lav” Diaz has used the legend as organic symbol in his 2016 historical fantasy dram film Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (“A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery”). The riverbed is said to have a boulder with a hollow that forms what look like a gigantic footprint, attributed by locals to Bernardo Carpio.

The E. Ganzon, Inc. group. The author is at left

Historically, the site was used as a hide out by the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio who made one of Pamitinan’s caves as the Katipunan’s secret headquarters.  Here, Bonifacio and eight of his men entered the cave on Palm Sunday and came out on Good Friday. Here, they declared independence from Spain on April 12, 1895, over a year before the Revolution started.

The children of Sitio Wawa

Some 500 meters of narrow passage away from the mouth of Pamitinan Cave is the bulwagan (“hall”), a cavern over 50 ft. high and about 50 ft. in radius.  Inscribed on the cavern wall, in what looks like charcoal (possibly soot from a torch), are the words Viva la Independencia.  The Pamitinan pilgrimage is held here in April.

A currently closed hanging bridge

In 1943, the cave was turned into a Japanese armory. Mary Japanese died here from American fire. In 1977, a concrete marker commemorating them was fixed on the cliff wall over the cave’s mouth, above which is a metal plate, inscribed with Japanese characters with English translation, that reads: “Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and let them share Your glory.” In 1985, the cave was declared a National Geological Monument.

The narrow paved trail. along a ridge, leading to Wawa Dam

It is closed for rehabilitation until further notice.  In 1996, the area was declared a Protected Landscape managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism.

A waterfall emanating from a cave

After lunch at one of the area’s eateries, we decided to make the 500-m. trek, along a ridge, to Wawa Dam, the prominent landmark of Sitio Wawa. Along the narrow, paved trail are stores selling organic vegetables (eggplant, squash, gabi, takway, puso ng saging, pandan leaves, etc.), river shrimps, crabs, eels, carp, charcoal, assorted fruits (bananas, papaya,) etc., snacks and beverages to tourists.

The author at the steel footbridge near the dam

On Tuesdays and Fridays, foot traffic is heavy on the trail, with young men carrying sacks of fruits and vegetables.  After crossing a metal footbridge, we reached the slightly arched dam.  Coupled with the beautiful landscape of 80-160 feet high white rock walls, limestone crags and marble boulders, the dam was perfect for photography.

Wawa Dam

Wawa Dam, also known as Montalban Dam, is an 85 m. 9279 ft.) long  and 12 m. (40 ft.) high gravity dam constructed over the Marikina River. The slightly arched dam is situated in the 360-m. (1,180 ft.) high Montalban Gorge or Wawa Gorge, a water gap in the Sierra Madre Mountains, east of Manila.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy with the dam in the background

The waters of the Upper Marikina River basin, its headwater said to be in Quezon province, runs through the gorge and descends to the lowlands of the neighboring town of San Mateo and Marikina Valley. During summer, cottages are built at the foot of the dam but, as it was the rainy season, they remove the cottages because of the heavy impact of water.

The old, roofless American-era watchtower flanking the dam

The dam was built in 1904, during the American colonial era, started operating in 1909 to provide the water needs for Manila. It used to be the only source of water for the greater Manila area but it was closed in 1962 due to deterioration and lack of water supply and abandoned when it was replaced by the La Mesa-Ipo-Angat watershed system.

The sparsity of its water was most likely due to the logging and quarrying in the mountains. However, due to insufficiency of water supply for Metro Manila, there is now a strong clamor to reuse the dam. Wawa Dam is also pictured in their official seal of the local government of Rodriguez.

The reservoir behind the dam

For those who are not fans of mountain hiking, Wawa Dam’s has picnic spots. If you don’t want to bring your own food and beverages, sari-sari stores, food stalls and a wet market are available in the place. You can rent a bamboo cottage (Php150-500) and toilets are Php10 per use (bring your own toiletries or buy them at the sari-sari stores).

The roofless interior of the old watchtower

Wawa Dam: M. H. Del Pilar Street, Sitio Wawa, Brgy. San Rafael, Rodriguez, RizalPhilippines.

How to Get There:

By Car: Despite the usual traffic, the fastest route to Wawa is via Commonwealth Ave., then take Payatas Road going to Rodriguez Highway until you reach M.H Del Pilar Street. Inside Wawa Village, there’s a parking space where the locals look after your car for any amount. Travel time is around 1.5 to 2hrs.

By Public Transportation: In front of Jollibee, Farmers, Cubao, Quezon City, there’s a UV Express Terminal where you can take the van going to Rodriguez (fare: Php50 per head).  Drop-off at Montalban Terminal.  Here, you can ride a tricycle going to Wawa Village (fare: Php20 per head). From  SM North/Trinoma, you can also ride a UV Express van (fare: Php50) going to Eastwood Montalban and drop off at Eastwood Ministop. Then, ride a jeep going to Wawa (fare: Php8). From the parking lot, you have to walk for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, from Cubao/SM North/Trinoma, you can ride a bus or jeepney going to Litex and, from there, ride a jeepney going to Montalban Town Center and another jeepney to Wawa. This is much cheaper but a bit of a hassle.