A Scouser, a Greek and a Scotsman rode out of Makati on motorbikes t’other day …. 2 Royal Enfield classic bikes were the main order of the day (now being imported into the Philippines) and the trip through Cavite, Batangas and Laguna was on the cards. The Scouser’s Filipina wife thoroughly enjoyed the trip despite her initial doubts, and the first order of the day was to escape from the hell of Manila traffic …. into the bliss of the Batangas countryside and beachside at Matabungkay.Once through the recent tunnel near Caylabne in Cavite the raw hillsides were an encounter with bliss. A four foot monitor lizard scurried across the road as we roared through the greenness and purity of nature. The Coral Beach Club was a pleasant break from the ride, before the one hour trip up to Tagaytay, and a place with a magnificent view of Taal Lake with a room at $US15 a night. The next morning an early sunny ride winding around the west side of Taal Lake to the historical wonders of Taal Heritage town. There our first visit was to the biggest Catholic church ever built in the whole of Asia, and then the Camera Museum next, with photos from the Philippines as far back as the 1880s. There are several museums in this town which is the 2nd best preserved Spanish town in the whole country after Vigan in Ilocos Sur. The town is brimming with beautiful classic styled Spanish houses on every street corner. A garden break at a classic Spanish house converted to a hotel -Paradores Del Castillo – within its quiet solitude, before we pressed on to Los Banos, and the abundance of its hot spring water pools that are thanks to the active volcanic springs from Mount Makiling with its bubbling mud pools on its upper slopes. A long nights rest re-invigorated us all before we flew back on the Southern Expressway into Manila to be swallowed by the aggressive angry traffic that is the increasing hallmark of Manila.
Taal Heritage Town – Bonding with Time *** *** *** A few hours ride south of Manila,just west of the southern tip of Taal Lake, lies a small classic town that is brim full of visual and historical interest. On the hill top looking over the town itself is the impressive Catholic Church of San Martin de Tours. Built in 1856 and reputedly designed after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and it has the modern reputation of being the largest Catholic church ever built anywhere in the whole of Asia. A walk up the ancient stone steps within the belfry brings one to a stone balcony with a magnificent view over the town and beyond, as far as Mindoro Island on a clear day. A host of paintings and artefacts adorn the church premises and it is a worthwhile spirited and soulful visit. Nearby in the town there are several museums, all within old Spanish houses, one a camera museum with photos from the Philippines dating back as far as the 1880s. Even an ancestral home of one Filipina heroine from the revolution against the Spanish, Gliceria Villavicencio known as the Godmother of the Revolution, can be visited with prior arrangements. The seamstress of the first official Philippine flag was also born here, Marcela Agoncillo, and her house is still heralded as a national shrine, and is a worthy visit and full of memorabilia and rooms preserved in their original styles. The streets are awash with classic Spanish town houses of many shapes and sizes, and a walk down a long flight of ancient stone steps takes one to Caysaysay church and a well which both have mysterious stories surrounding the miracles performed by the Virgin of Caysaysay who lived here in the late 15th Century. Needless to say the water from the well is thought to contain curative powers.
It is said that a man in his life should accomplish three things,“ he should produce a son, plant a tree and write a book.” I produced a son called Bali 18 years ago, planted a cherry blossom tree as a celebration of marriage 20 years ago, and hope to publish a book within the next couple of months on the Philippines. I believe there is one other thing a person should do passionately, and that is travel. The best education you can have is to travel far and wide. After all education is not about filling a bucket, but about lighting a fire. I yearn to travel more, for as far as we know, we only have one life in which to see what there is in this world. I admire and envy Buddhists, for they are smart enough to believe in reincarnation, and can get other chances to explore the realms of the earth on other occasions. I admire the Balinese, for they are Hindus, and believe that heaven is like Bali. This allows them to live in heaven each day o f their earthly life. I admire the Tibetans, for they inhabit the roof of the world and in their presence you feel you are amongst a proud and knowledgeable people They are a people who are atone with nature and their harsh environment. I admire the Zulus in South Africa, and felt honoured to be in their presence, for they too emit an aura of hereditary power and powerful pride. Their warrior history is a remarkable tale. In South America I felt the shame of the destruction of the Inca nation, but was lucky enough to walk on their ingeniously built roads through the Andes mountains. In Singapore and Hong Kong I saw what can be achieved through foundations laid by a powerful colonial presence.
The Batanes Group of Islands are only a destination for the real traveller, but when reached are a magical mystery tour of a unique kind, blissfully suspended in time. One quirk of nature somehow reflects the uniqueness of this space, where, on Itbayat IsIand, the coconut crabs are even keen enough to climb the trees.