Wake Up, Philippines!

Taal: Where history and shopping come together

Posted in Luzon, Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on April 26, 2009

Updated November 02, 2008 12:00 AM

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La Isla Pilipinas Tours’ distinctively innovative, easy-paced day tour of Taal, Batangas, a two-hour drive south of Metro Manila, beckons one to discover its many delightful surprises.

Privately owned 19th century Spanish colonial and early 20th century ancestral homes, exclusively made available only to participants of the tour, present intimate glimpses of the country’s unique past.

The 19th century bahay na bato (stone house) has large wooden doors and a main staircase (escalera principal) which leads into the caida (landing), so called because the women, who lifted their long skirts as they climbed the steps, let these skirts fall (caida) once they reached the top of the stairs.

Large double doors lead to the sala (living room) at the front of the house, while smaller ones on either side of the stairwell open to the comedor (dining room) and to a small bedroom.

The second floor windows use the unique rejas na buntis (iron grills shaped like a pregnant woman’s belly) which, throughout the archipelago, are usually found only on the ground floor windows fronting the street.

Upper windows overlooking the central courtyard have French doors that open into balconies with squash-shaped balusters indigenous to southern Batangas, and a floor of Portuguese azulejo (polished stone) tiles hand-painted with mauve and blue floral designs. These capture the opulence of the Victorian period when the houses were originally built.

The early 20th century ancestral houses also display the vibrancy of the era with their chandeliers of the Edwardian period, the only ones in the country, a tremor (full length dresser) made by the famous Chinese furniture maker of the rich, Ah Tay, the Flemish-styled sala, dining sets by Ortoll and Zaragosa, circa 1930s, and antique santos (images of saints) made of ivory with 22k gold-leaf.

Taal also prides itself with having the largest Catholic basilica in Asia, a reflection of its pre-eminent stature in Philippine economic, political and social history, as an important urban center, next only to Manila, during Spanish times.

Shopping is such a delight at the public market, first constructed during the American period, circa 1925. Since Taal is known for hand-embroidered items, Burdang Taal, one can’t help taking home some of them.

There are also a lot of Taaleño delicacies to take home — suman malagkit (glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves), empanadang gulay, longganisa and tapang Taal, sinaing na tulingan (small-sized tuna caught in the waters of Balayan Bay that are simmered with pork belly and camias), cassava and rice cakes, panutsa (caramelized peanuts), and cacao tableas.

An interesting stop in the tour is a visit to where the country’s most famous weapon, the balisong, is made.

La Isla Pilipinas’ Heritage and Shopping tour will run on Nov. 29 and Dec. 13, with a 10 percent “early bird” discount.

For more details, call 436-6581, 426-0093 or 0915-9269176.