As soon as we hopped out of the van, he drove off. Our driver dropped us off where the road almost meets the sea, and just left us there with no explanation, no suggestion on where to go or what to do, no fcks at all. I looked at my equally confused co-visitors and let out a gentle laugh. We all thought we signed up for a tour. Apparently, what they meant for tour was simply a ride.
For a brief moment there, I doubted whether we were in the right city. Although along Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira looks more like a Mediterranean town with a North African attitude. The citadel is predominantly white, rising from a rocky shore, accented by cerulean boats. Gelato shops mark some corners, and European restaurants punctuate some streets. Yet, a walk is impossible without running into locals clad in djellabas and being treated to the aroma of cumin-mixed tagines. And while it is home to multiple ethnic groups, it is distinctly, undeniably Moroccan.
“So where do we go?” said one of the Londoners in our group. Shrugs were our response.
It wasn’t really a problem. Essaouira is quite small, and many of the key attractions are within a few minutes’ walk. Some of us followed the crowd to the beach. Some followed the walls to the medina. But we followed the irresistible scent of grilled fish, which led us exactly to the place we wish to visit in this side of Morocco — the ramparts.
The first thing I said to myself when I stepped in the town of Lucban was “OMG, I belong.” I’ve always loved anything bright and vibrant. It’s like if I die and I get reincarnated into a Philippine Festival, I’d probably be Pahiyas. (Not that festivals are living things. But you get the point.)
The Pahiyas Festival is celebrated every May 15 in Lucban, Quezon, in honor of the municipality’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore the Farmer). It’s the locals’ way of giving thanks for the bountiful harvest over the past year. After an early morning mass at Lucban Church, a parade goes around town, passing by houses that are adorned with vegetables, fruits, handicrafts, and kiping, leaf-shaped paper-like decors made from rice. The grander, the better. The more colorful the house is, the more people it attracts.
If Pahiyas is your kind of festival too, make sure that you’re well-prepared for a visit.
Almost every decade, a new destination rattles the world of Manila-based beach chasers. In the 1950s, Matabungkay was put on the tourist map after two German travelers “rediscovered” it. In the 1970s, all roads led to Puerto Galera after UNESCO declared it a protected area. In the late 2000s, the hype was all about Anawangin, reborn 20 years after the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
The search for the nearest it beach paradise doesn’t stop. We always need a go-to destination where we could forget about the constant jolts of the city — traffic, noise, air pollution. Who could blame us, really? The more people Metro Manila takes under her wing, the more we want to escape her claws. We love Manila, yes, but when it comes to beaches — let’s face it — she will break your heart (and poison you, if you swallowed enough). Sometimes, all we want to do is run away from her and have an affair. With nature, that is.
But where do we go now? The things we have loathed about the city have snuck their way out to the countryside. Matabungkay, trash problems. Puerto Galera’s White Beach, overdevelopment. And Anawangin, ah, some boatmen in Pundaquit now call it Divisoria for a reason. We’ve expanded our search to a couple of hours further to include outlying islands. Some of them are a bit difficult to reach and requires multiple transfers. A few of them can still be a bit swarmed during summer weekends, but they’re not as insanely crowded as the popular ones.
If you’re always on the lookout for a beach destination that will make you feel like you actually left the city, here are 10 suggestions.
It’s funny how, sometimes, we know so little about the places closest to us.
I grew up in a small Batangan municipality called Lemery, next to the more famous historic town of Taal. Lemery and Taal have always been twin units: Lemery used to be part of Taal during the Spanish era. Their poblacions lie next to each other, separated only by the narrow Pansipit River. My sister owns a house in Taal. My nephew goes to school in Taal. During my teen years, I was there every weekend. It’s practically my second home. Yet, when someone asks me for a restaurant recommendation in Taal, I usually don’t know what to answer.
The truth is, when I’m in Batangas, I don’t eat out. And to be fair, there are not that many options. Taal hasn’t really exploded as a tourist town (yet) and most locals would rather cook at home or dine at one of those fast food chains. So when we were driving and spotted an inconspicuous signage that read “Cafe at the Ranch,” I had to stop. We turned onto the dirt road next to the sign, which led to MGM Ranch. In the middle of it stands an old bahay-na-bato, the traditional dwelling of noble families during the Spanish era, which houses a restaurant. It looked like your typical ancestral house, which confused us a little bit. For a moment, we thought we made a mistake or maybe the cafe wasn’t open for business anymore, so we had to ask somebody. Open it was! Lucky, lucky us!
I had never felt the carnivore in me more alive than on that Black Saturday. After a week of avoiding meat in observance of the Lent, I decided to end it with a bang. But finding a good Japanese restaurant in Pampanga isn’t that easy, as options are rather limited.
I was born and raised in Pampanga. When I finally moved to Manila, people always tell me that Pampanga is the Philippines’ culinary capital. But when I’m asked what Pampanga’s culinary capital is, I’m always taken aback. But I’m sure Angeles City is a top contender. Angeles City’s primary draw is its food. It harbors a number of notable restaurants that Manila-dwellers travel two hours for. It is also the birthplace of sisig, a dish that has made its way to dining tables all throughout the country, among others.
It’s no wonder that when gluttony takes over my entire being, the first thing I do is drive to Pampanga’s City of Angels. And drive we did that Black Saturday in search of a good meatshack. What we found instead was a Japanese restaurant, Yufuin.
As with many other first times in life, I was mostly excited and a little bit scared. Before the big moment, I imagined that a gazillion silly thoughts would run through my head. How long will it last? Can I film the entire thing? What if the balloon pops? Is it worth it?
But I had none of them. While you’re probably thinking about another equally enjoyable activity, I’m talking about hot air ballooning. You see, it was my first time hot air balloon ride. To my surprise, all worries evaporated as soon as we rose an inch off the ground. There was just no room left in a mind already getting filled with awe. As we went higher, the view revealed more of the surreal landscape. I had to hold my jaw in place, lest it drop to the snow-white hills below.
Batangas is known for many things: centuries-old churches, irresistible delicacies, a volcano within a lake, a strong accent, and the balisong (butterfly knife). But more than anything else, the one thing that first comes to mind when Batangas is mentioned — beaches. Even the Eraserheads knew this, when they sang about driving to the beach.
This early, I have to tell you that Batangas doesn’t have powdery beaches that are as white as the Oscars. If you’re looking for Boracay-like sand strewn over kilometers of shore, you’re gonna be disappointed. That’s not to say that a trip to a Batangan beach won’t be enjoyable.
Fringing the southwestern tip of Luzon, Batangas harbors an impressive shoreline, made up of various types of beaches. Some are sandy, some pebbly, some rocky. Some are totally secluded, others fully developed. Each has its own charm. Each has its own market. But the top thing that makes Batangas beaches popular is its proximity to Manila. Just a three- to four-hour drive from the capital, this Southern Tagalog province offers an easy respite to the weary urbanite.
Here are 10 beaches in Batangas that are worth the trip.
It was a road trip that needed to happen.
My friend Victor had been in the Philippines for a few months already, but he had never really gone anywhere since he returned from Canada. Just weeks before, he lost a parent to cancer. “I need a break,” he said. So even when I was still a very nervous driver, I picked him up and took him to one of the most serene places I know — Calatagan, Batangas.
I have fond memories of Calatagan. I grew up in Batangas, and I remember camping with classmates on the shores of Calatagan as early as 11. (Yep, my feet were already restless even when I was little.) I remember the countless starfish that hid in its calm, shallow waters. I had come back again and again but it never seemed to change much. Other than several giant companies that scrambled to get a chunk of its shoreline, it seemed to refuse to embrace harsh development.
But although I would always find myself in Calatagan, this was my first time in Burot Beach.
Me vs Michelin is a column featuring the writer’s experience and random musings while dining at a Michelin Star restaurant. This is not a review.
Hindi nakaka-Project 8, oo, but eating at Michelin star-rated restaurants in cities we visit has been a fascination. AWUW. Kahit one star lang, ma-feel lang ang feeling na sa Ayala Alabang nakatira. Try natin ‘tong food blogging, pero San Joaquin-style pa rin.
Ah, so ganito pala ang lasa ng totoong soba. Sensya, bilang soba from the root words Nissin Yakisoba lang ang alam kong soba. Nanibago pa ang MSG-trained taste buds ko sa white cold soba, pero okay naman. (Shet, hindi nakaka-foodie ang okay naman, pero ganun talaga, okay naman!)
Born and raised in a Catholic household in Batangas, I was used to spending a day of the Holy Week on the road for our family’s annual Visita Iglesia. Also called the Seven Churches Visitation, Visita Iglesia is a Roman Catholic Lenten tradition that originated in Ancient Rome. Back then pilgrims prayed at seven basilicas on the evening of Maundy Thursday as penance.
It was brought to the Philippines by Augustinian missioners in the 1560s, but it has changed over the years. It doesn’t need to be on Maundy Thursday anymore, and one can make more than seven stops. I remember waking up early in the morning, squeezing myself in a fully packed rented jeepney, and hopping from one church to another under the scorching summer sun.
Batangas is predominantly Catholic. For over 300 years, the Spaniards built a number of stunning churches and monuments all over the province. It is also home to some sites that the faithful believe to be miraculous. No wonder it is a favorite visita iglesia destination for many.