ILOILO: A DAY OF NON-STOP SURPRISES

We came to Iloilo a week before the annual Dinagyang Festival just before the festivities were bout to begin, but that did not stop us from having the best time during our stay. There are lots of things to do in Iloilo! Sadly, my friend and I only had a day to explore as much as we can. By the end of the day, we were all smiles as we pat ourselves on the shoulder for a job well done.

Our productive day tour at Iloilo was made possible by our tour guide/driver Kuya Kenneth from Urban Inn, a budget friendly hotel where we checked in. We booked a tour from the hotel the night before so it was all set the next morning.

(1) BREAKFAST AT MADGE CAFE

The following morning, my friend and I decided to skip the hotel breakfast and walked a few blocks to La Paz Public Market to find two things: Madge Cafe and authentic La Paz Batchoy. After a few turns around the market, we first spotted the iconic Madge Cafe.

 

Madge Cafe has been featured countless times on television and it’s easy to see why. It has been a popular place for locals and tourists alike because of the good food they serve here – especially the COFFEE. Every cup of their signature kape is made the old fashion way, by hand. Their unique way of brewing their coffee gives it a distinct strong taste. Even their hot chocolate was thick and luscious. They also offer affordable breakfast meals, bread and native snacks.

I ordered the black coffee with toasted pan de sal and butter on top. As a coffee lover, I enjoyed the strong flavor of their coffee – pretty legit if you ask me.

The cozy ambiance inside the cafe instantly made me feel at home. The homemade goodness of each food served as well as the warm smiles of the people having their breakfast added an undeniable charisma to the place. People from different walks of life go here every morning to start their day and who wouldn’t want a taste of the exquisite coffee here.

*The food here is affordable. For less than 100 pesos, I got my cup of black coffee and buttered pan de sal. 

 (2) BREAKFAST PART 2 AT NETONG’S LA PAZ BATCHOY

So we got our fill at Madge Cafe, but we won’t pass the opportunity to taste authentic La Paz Batchoy from its birthplace at a corner eatery in La Paz Public Market. NETONG’S LA PAZ BATCHOY is one of the pioneers in serving this famous local noodle dish. I’ve always known the taste of La Paz Batchoy in instant cup noodles. After a few more turns, we located the stall at the corner of the market. Finally, I got to sample this comfort dish.

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Nothing beats the original! I gotta admit, no Pinoy noodle soup dish even comes close to the flavors of La Paz Batchoy. Every bowl is a complete  meal on its own. I ordered the basic one on their menu which was the Super Special bowl which was packed with freshly cooked noodles in a bed of hot soup and topped with anything from innards, pork crackling, meat and spring onions. What makes this special is the distinct garlic taste on the soup. And this was only the Super Special Bowl. I wonder what the EXTRA SPECIAL BOWL and the MEGA BOWL would look like!

*The Super Special bowl sells for 90 pesos. You can customize your bowl by adding egg or extra noodles.

(3) JOURNEY TO GARIN FARM

After that double breakfast feast, we headed back to Urban Inn to start our day tour. Kuya Kenneth suggested that we start at Garin Farm because early morning was the best time to visit. It was about an hour and a half  drive from Iloilo City all the way to district 1 in San Joaquin. Though it was a long drive, there was never a dull moment during the trip. Kuya Kenneth was giving tidbits along the way. He was enthusiastic and engaging.

After almost seeing half of the province, we finally reached our destination. A large white gate with a huge sign of Garin Farm welcomed us with the words AGRICULTURE, LEISURE AND PILGRIMAGE

Different crops like local vegetables were planted all over the farm area and animals like chickens, turkey, buffalo among many others were raised.

A quick walk on a cemented pathway pass the farm was a beautiful scenery. There was a view dock with a restaurant overlooking what seemed to be a man-made lake with a small island and gazebo at the center. The green trees at the background added a calm aura to the place. There were only few people that morning so it was a perfect day for some peace and quiet with nature surrounding me.

When I thought I was enjoying the best view of Garin Farm, I spotted the entrance to the Pilgrimage site. Kuya Kenneth could not stop gushing about the ‘surprise’ that was in store for me at the end of the journey. This place is usually crowded during weekends and especially during Holy Week where people come to pay pilgrimage.

 

A huge staircase with 456 steps is what separated me from a gigantic Divine Mercy Cross at the top. I tried to count the steps for myself but I was sidetrack by the breathtaking view of the entire farm as I climbed up.  Lifesize images of the stations of the cross in every certain corners of the staircase gave pilgrims opportunities to recite the Way of the Cross.


It was a long way up the Cross but it was worth it. There was a tunnel at the side of the cross with a surprise waiting for me. I have to stop writing about it here. I would not want to spoil the surprise. It was the highlight of my Garin Farm trip.

(4) MIAGAO CHURCH

My tour of Iloilo would not be complete without visiting a local church. Apparently, the Miagao Church I was about to visit was no ordinary one. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 together with three other churches in the Philippines.


The picturesque facade of the Miagao Church is of Baroque Romanesque style and has survived fire and earthquake through the years. It is definitely one of Iloilo’s top historical gems.

(5) SNACKS AT CAMINA BALAY NA BATO

Not far from the Miagao Church was an ancestral house not only famous for it’s historical roots, but also for their food. CAMINA BALAY NA BATO is a well preserved stone house that exhibits the type of living of Illustrados (rich people) during the Spanish era. Everything from the walls, floors, ceiling, furniture and cutlery are preserved with the utmost of care by its 4th generation owners. To keep the traditional Filipino hospitality alive, the house accepts lunch and dinner reservations for guests who want to try sumptous local food and experience dinning in this historical house.

The owners did a great job preserving the house as well as everything inside of it.
The very accomodating staff gave us a tour of the house, guiding us in every room and providing us trivias along the way. At the end of the tour, we got to sit down on one of the dinning tables and try their signature TSOKOLATE DE BATIROL (hot chocolate) which they served in dainty cups and paired with cookies and bread. The staff even taught us the correct way Illustrados had their hot chocolate – always carry the cup with your pink up. Well that was an interesting way to hold a small cup!

How to drink from a cup like an Illustrado? Put your pinky up!
The hot chocolate was rich, thick and flavoful. The crunchy bread was perfect for dipping since it soaked up the chocolate well. It was nice to just sit there, have a cup of hot chocolate while admiring the house. It was the best way to end the tour of the balay! But the best part though was free hot chocolate refills! I just had to ring the bell and a woman comes to refill my cup!

The house also patronizes their local products. The entrance of the balay doubles as a souvenir shop where local goods such as traditional textile weaving, chocolate tablea, local spiced vinegar and delicacies are sold.

Local spiced vinegar can be purchased here along with other pasalubong items.
We were lucky enough to see how traditional textile weaving was done! Right outside the house, a woman was busy weaving using a wooden contraption. It was a meticulous task that requires concentration and dexterity.

A woman was making patterned textile the traditional way.


(6) DESSERT AT MOLO MANSION

Next stop was another ancestral house called the Molo Mansion. Once an abandoned house due for demolition, it was renovated by a private company and converted into a function hall, restaurant and souvenir shop. The classical white design of the building attracts tourists to its magnificent charm. I’m glad this house was saved. At least its historical and cultural significance was preserved.

The second floor of the house is reserved for special events, but the first floor is open to the public as it was turned into a souvenir shop.

Behind the Molo House is Table Matters, an outdoor restaurant that serves an array of dishes including artisinal ice cream flavored by the Blue Ternate Flower, which gives it a vibrant blue color and subtle floral taste.


The house is also famous for its Pancit Molo. Since we were still full, we decided to skip the meal (I think I found another excuse to go back.)

(7) ILOILO BUSINESS PARK

As we drove back to the city, we stopped by at the Iloilo Business Park. Once an airport, it was converted into a premier financial district where new buildings house BPO offices, shopping center, residential condominiums and the state-of-the-art Iloilo Convention Center.

The Iloilo Convention Center is a modern architectural masterpiece that would definitely make the province proud.

(8) ILOILO RIVER ESPLANADE
We took a quick stop at the Iloilo River Esplanade, a great place for recreational activities. The developed riverbank stretches for 1.2 kilometers complete with paved pathways suitable for walking or jogging. Street lights also light the pathways at night for a romantic ambiance overlooking the Iloilo river. I wish I had more time to spend here. Maybe go for a jog next time! 

(9) JARO CATHEDRAL

Another beautiful cultural and religious destination is the Jaro Cathedral which was built in 1874. A unique part of the Church is a staircase located at the facade. It leads to the shrine of  Our Lady of Candles. The inage of the lady is encased in a glass box (pretty odd for an image to be displayed outside of the church). Devotees climb up the stairs and say their petitions to Our Lady


The Cathedral is a popular location for weddings and it is easy to see why. The somber lighting reflected against the white walls create a romantic feel.


(10) CASA MARIQUIT

The last heritage house in our itenerary was the Casa Mariquit owned by the family of former Vice President of the Philippines Fernando Lopez. The house was named after his wife who’s nickname was Mariquit.


There were no entrance fees at Casa Mariquit, however, donations are highly encouraged. The caretaker of the house single-handedly curated and arranged the family memorabilia as well as made repairs on the entire house. He also acts as a highly entertaining tour guide for guests.

(11) BONUS DESTINATION: PROVINCIAL CAPITOL

Since we were back at the city, we decided to end the tour by exporing the provincial capitol. The restoration of this building was amazing. The interior was white and classic. It looked more like a hotel rather than a government building. I was pretty impressed by the aesthetics of it.



PASALUBONG CENTERS:

We did our pasalubong shopping before our return flight back to Manila. We booked a van transfer from Urban Inn to to airport and Kuya Kenneth was accomodating enough to take us to The Original Biscocho Haus and Deocampo’s Barquillos.


SOMETHING TO RETURN TO:

Unfortunately the Iloilo Museum was closed when I got there. It was a little disappointing that I haven’t got a chance to see what was inside. But hey, I’ll surely be back to see it next time!

As for food, I will definitely return to try Roberto’s Siopao and Pancit Molo!

Our tour started at around 7:30am and ended at about 4pm. With all the places we’ve visited, I could not believe that we packed those in one day! I did not even feel tired since the surprises kept on going. Kuya Kenneth was a great host and guide. He’s been doing his job for many years now but the enthusiasm he had in everything he did was consistent. He made the trip extra special. I named him ‘walking encyclopedia’ as he was pitching us with historical facts and trivias. I know he had been doing it for quite a while but I felt his passion as he guided us to each stop. Great Job Kuya Kenneth!


*If you ever check in at Urban Inn Iloilo, I highly recommend booking a tour with their resident driver Kuya Kenneth. Tour prices start at 2000 pesos plus gas for about 200 pesos and you have the entire van to yourselves. You get to tour and experience all the stops that I wrote in this article. 

OFF TO GUIMARAS

After a long day of adventure around Iloilo, we had to take a quick bite at Frank’s Famous BBQ, a homegrown restaurant that serves affordable grilled meat choices, plus unlimited Java Rice. I gotta admit, their pork barbeque was picture-perfect! The meat meat was like thick ribbon carefully laced on skewers. Tasty and tender too! 


After that meal, we had to race to the Port going to Guimaras, as boats on sail until 5:00 or so… Goodbye for now Iloilo! (To be continued…) 

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PAOAY CHURCH: A NATIONAL TREASURE WORTH VISITING

Paoay Church has been on top of my bucket list for years. I first learned about it on a tourism ad while waiting for a train at an LRT platform. The picturesque Paoay Church was the star of the ad and sure enough it caught my interest. Since then, I’ve always wanted to travel to Ilocos and visit this magnificent place.

It was only this year that I got to explore the province when a friend invited me on a road trip. With a backpack and some comfortable slippers, we went on a four day journey to the North that I will never forget. I will get to the details of that on a separate article but for now, I want to share my most favorite part of the trip — THE PAOAY CHURCH.

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What’s not to love about Paoay Church? From the entrance to the church interiors, the place is stunning.

The Church of Saint Agustine of Paoay or commonly known as Paoay Church is located at Paoay Ilocos Norte. It was almost a 2-hour bus ride from Vigan, Ilocos and a short tricycle ride to the quite town. We could see the iconic bell tower from afar as we drove nearer to our destination.

It was easy to see why the Church of Paoay was no ordinary structure. The moment I stepped foot on the church grounds, I knew I was in a different zone. The religious building is famous for its Spanish Baroque architecture. Distinct designs at the facade, walls and buttresses make up the fascinating exterior. A huge bell tower stands separate beside the church. Because of its great historical and cultural significance, it was declared a National Cultural Treasure and in 1973, and in 1993, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective group of Baroque Churches in the Philippines. Such huge honor for a humble church.

We took our first steps on the patio. The prickling morning sun could not stop us from exploring the vast area where a huge PAOAY stone marker stood on the side. The walkway to the church facade was long and wide, almost intimidating to walk at. Nicely trimed grass and bushes surrounded the brick path.

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The patio was well maintained. The grass and bushes were trimmed and the brick pathway was long and wide. 

 

The church exterior was mind blowing. There was not a bad angle as I took photos of every stunning detail of the walls, which were weathered and added more appeal to it. I feel goosebumps everytime I go visit a church for the first time and being at the entrance of Paoay Church gave me another level of it. It’s places like this that I dream of traveling; places that make me feel inspired, motivated and grateful.

The church interior was massive and spacious. Restorations were visible during our visit but there was no stopping the people from celebrating holy mass. I said my prayers and paid homage before leaving.

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The ceiling was currently undergoing restoration. I’m excited to see how it turns out.

I excited on the side of the Church and went to the JARDIN DE SAN AGUSTIN, a garden with a variety of plants and flowers, a walkway, stone statues, and a few benches to sit on. It was a calming and relaxing place to hang out after praying inside the church. It was also a good place to reflect as various quotes about God and words of wisdom were scattered all around the garden to inspire visitors. I took a few photos of quotes that I loved and spent a few minutes enjoying the place as I sat down one of the shaded benches.

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Scattered around the Jardin the San Agustin were inspirational quotes to ponder on. 

Not far from the garden was a small souvenir shop to cater those who want to take home a piece of the historic church. The shop has almost everything you need for pasalubong and keepsakes.

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Don’t forget to stop by at the souvenir shop and purchase some pasalubong.

After hours of exploring the Church of Paoay, it was finally time to go. After one more glance of its beautiful exterior, I knew it has left a lasting impression on me. Such a beautiful place. And to visit it at a perfect day, with only a few people and a sunny morning, I was able to fully experience the magic, and serenity of it. It may took a while but I’ll definitely be back, knowing that restoration efforts are ongoing to make this magnificent place better. The Church of Paoay being a National Treasure and a World Herritage Site is still lives up to its titles. Truly a destination worth putting on top of my bucket list.

 


The historic Church of San Agustin de Paoay is located at Marcos Ave, Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

 

OUR LADY OF CAYSASAY : A MUST DESTINATION FOR SPIRITUAL UPLIFTING

I’ve been to many churches in the Philippines and I’ve seen quite a lot of images and amazing religious architecture , but my journey to Our Lady of Caysasay is probably the most memorable I’ve had (so far). I’ve never heard about this place until about a year ago after friend told me about it and planned to go there. After doing research about this place, it quickly got a lasting impression on me.

Apparently, not a lot of people including Catholics, know about this place. In 2012, the shrine of the Our Lady of Caysasay received special status from the Vatican City, granting pilgrims who visit there, the same plenary indulgence as those who visit the ancient basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. In the Philippines, there are only two churches given that special status by the Vatican;  one being the famous Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan and the Our Lady of Caysasay.

The Church of the Our Lady of Caysasay is located in a remote town in Taal Batangas. It was about a 5-hour drive from Manila and it was not easy to navigate to the site even in a private vehicle as there were no road signs leading to the church. Navigation apps were helpful but we were constantly stopping to ask locals for directions the entire time. After passing by the Taal Lake and passing through small barangays, we finally reached our destination.

The Church of the Our Lady of Caysasay was not as grand as most churches I’ve visited. But I had yet to find out what was waiting for me during my visit

We were greeted by a small, simple church in the middle of a wide patio. The walls were painted in pale yellow with white details. It was a Friday, and we got there close to noon so the sun was at its peak.

The church interior was a humble site. The decor was simple, not much intricate gold detailing nor wood carvings. The walls were painted in white and appeared to be weathered. The altar was a simple display of the image of Our Lady of Caysasay in the center. It was easy to think that the church was not well-known. There were only less than five other people when we came to visit. The peace and quiet surrounding the church walls was deafening. I felt a deep sense of sadness and belonging as I knelt down and said my prayers before we continued.

The inside of the church was simple, with only minimal designs and neutral colors. There was almost no one inside other than a caretaker. Nevertheless, the silence and holiness of the place was perfect for personal prayers and reflection.

 

The most fascinating piece of decor inside the church was a painting of a fisherman holding a net with the image of the Lady on  it. This is how the wooden image was found in 1603, when it was caught on a man’s net while he was fishing on the Pansipit river. It was considered the oldest image of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines and the first Marian apparitions to be documented by Spaniards. Until today, the image is deemed to be ‘miraculous’.

A painting on the Church wall depicts the history of the miraculous image of the Virgin of Caysasay

The back part of the church is where you can get up close with the image. It serves as a prayer room and also souvenir shop. It was then that the lady in the souvenir shop told us that the image displayed at the church altar was a replica of the original Our Lady of Caysasay which was currently housed at the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours.  Nevertheless, we took turns in saying our petitions to our Lady.

Behind the white railings, you can get a glimpse and hold the replica of the image of the miraculous our Lady of Caysasay while saying your petitions.

 

Our pilgrimage did not end there. Apparently, The Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay was  located couple of blocks away from the Church where the original apparitions took place. With the help of a couple of kids selling sampaguitas, we walked from the church and into a village where a narrow path led us. Banana trees surrounded a walkway to the shrine which gave a little shade for us. An old, carved stone marker stood at the end of the road which was called a ‘sacred place’ where twin wells stood at the center dubbed the ‘Well of Saint Lucy’.

A huge stone marker with carvings of the image of the miraculous Virgin Mary housed two wells that were said to be miraculous. This is the site of the first apparitions of the Lady of Caysasay.

 

Pilgrims  travel from afar to pray at the well of St. Lucy. The water from the well is said to be holy, miraculous and has healing properties. A man was fetching a bucket of holy water when we got there, and a family was praying at the grotto beside it.  The man said that the family came back to offer flowers and thanked the Our Lady of Caysasay for their answered prayers. He said that everyone who came to Caysasay always come back to offer flowers for their answered petitions. It was an overwhelming experience just by standing in front of the marker and witnessing religion, history and culture clash into one amazing moment.

I left the shrine with a grateful heart and in good spirits. Somehow my troubles seemed to be lighter after my encounter with Our Lady of Caysasay. It was a long trip ahead of us but every moment I’ve had in that church and shrine gave me the new strength to carry on. People who have visited that place probably had bigger problems and perhaps more serious petitions that I do, but the devotion to Our Lady of Caysasay does not have boundaries. Everyone who comes to this place can experience personal and spiritual healing. I strongly advise everyone to visit this place and experience the miraculous Caysasay.

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The Church of the Our Lady of Caysasay is located in Brgy Labac, Taal Batangas. We rented a private car from Pampanga to Manila. With the help of navigational apps, we were able to find the church and shrine. A replica of the image of the Virgin Mary was displayed on the church altar, with the original being housed at the Minor Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours in Lipa, Batangas. The original wooden image is sometimes displayed at the church of Caysasay to cater to prilgrims.

CENTER FOR KAPAMPANGAN STUDIES: PROMOTING A WONDERFUL CULTURE

Inside the prestigious grounds of Holy Angel University stands the Center for Kapampangan Studies, an area covered in tinted glass walls that may look like an ordinary office from the outside. It was a weekday afternoon when I came to visit. Though I’ve been to the University many times before, it was only a few years ago that I’ve heard about this center. After much anticipation, it was finally time to roam around.

I secured a visitor’s pass at the main entrance. At the logbook I had to write my purpose for visit, so wrote what I came here for. The lady guard probably did not believe me (or did I look too suspicious?) so she kept probing me . I said I have no other business but to go the Center for Kapampangan Studies. I took the opportunity of her curiosity so I asked for some directions. After much deliberation of my visit, I was free to go inside.

It was my first time to go to the center so I was relying on signboards to keep me on track. Another guard at the Don Juan D. Nepomuceno buildinh pointed me towards the direction of the Laus Deo Semper. Within those tinted glass walls was the CKS. From the outside, it looked like and ordinary office. There was only way to find out if I came to the right place.

Behind those tinted walls is the Center for Kapampangan Studies. For first timers, it may be a little difficult to find it because it looks like an ordinary office from the outside.
The entrance of the gallery greeted me with a huge retablo (altar) masterfully crafted by skillful Kapampangan artisans that display icons of patron saints of the different towns of the Province, including the Virgen delos Remedios at the center, which is the patroness of Pampanga. This larger than life retablo was a breathtaking display of the religious devotion mixed with uncomparable skills of Kapampangans. I was blown away for a moment and took time examining this amazing work of art.

This retablo gave me goosebumps. What an amazing masterpiece and a way to welcome guests at the center.
The gallery may seem small but the area was  spacious enough to make room for a few exhibits that are unique to the province like antiques, memorabilia and a nice display of  important events in Kapampangan history . The ambiance of the place and the silence of the area was conducive to my viewing and learning pleasure. It was a nice afternoon to escape and get transported to another era.

The center offers display of artifacts related to the Kapampangan culture as well a collection of antiques and fun historical facts.
A library stood at the other side of the gallery which can be doubled as a great study area and a nice place to just brainstorm and get creative. I loved the vibe that this room gave me. The lighting and interior design was classic.

The upper floor offered more museum space for more displays and a small library featured historian Dr. Ambeth Ocampo’s extensive Filipinana collection.

The dim lights added to the mystery of this exhibit.

Historian Dr. Ambeth Ocampo’s collection of Filipiniana books are showcased in a library at the third floor.
The Center for Kapampangan Studies goes beyond the museum to promote and preserve Kapampangan culture. The team behind it constantly makes their purpose and presence known by organizing events, writing articles, research and publishing works to keep the Kapampangan culture and spirit growing.

I enjoyed this tour at the center. I encourage Kapampangans, especially the young generation to come visit this place to learn more about our culture and hopefully inspire more to love and care for our heritage. I admire the people behind these projects. May they continue to advocate and preserve this one of a kind province that is Pampanga.


 

The Center for Kapampangan Studies is located in the Don Juan D. Nepomuceno building at Holy Angel University, Sto. Rosario street, Angeles city. Admission is free and is open during weekdays from 8am-8pm and on Saturdays from 8am-5pm. I once went there on a holiday but it was unfortunately closed for the day.

PAMINTUAN MANSION: MORE THAN JUST AN OLD HOUSE

In the heritage district of Angeles City stands an old mansion occupying an entire corner block where jeepneys usually load and unload passengers. It’s easy to notice this ancestral house because of its vintage architectural design but most people who walk by tend to ignore it or maybe they got used to seeing it everyday. Only a few people have actually visited it. Little did we know that there is more to this old house than its timeless design.

It is easy to notice Pamintuan Mansion as it sits on the corner street block and displays its timeless design.

A stone marker posted on the wall indicates the rich history of this house. Not only did politicians once lived here but it was also occupied by famous revolutionary leaders and was made into a headquarters during the war.

This marker gives a brief description on why this mansion is considered a national historical place.

The rooms inside the house suggested luxury and comfort. A huge staircase welcomed guests to the spacious living rooms where vintage furniture, and various woodwork were carefully preserved througout the years. Every detail of this house was mindblowing, from the metal stamped ceilings to meticulously carved wood panelings and huge chandeliers. Some of the big rooms were converted into galleries that showcased different historical and cultural content.

Every room of this house has its own charisma and design. Antique wood work adorned the living rooms and bedrooms.

After touring the rooms, we went to the best part of the mansion. A staircase small enough to accomodate one person at a time, led to the rooftop which gave a picturesque 360 degree view of the streets around including the Holy Rosary Parish. What a best way to end the tour.

The tour ended at the rooftop, the best part of the mansion where a statue stood up the roof.

 

The Pamintuan Mansion is located in 1251 corner Miranda street and Sto. Entiero  street, Angeles City (just a few meters away from Santo Rosario Parish). The best time to go is in the afternoon to get the best view of the city sunset from the rooftop. Admission is free. It is open daily except on Mondays from 8am to 5pm.

PACO PARK: A PARK WITH A UNIQUE CHARM

I’ve been wanting to visit Paco Park for a very long time now and I finally got the chance to go there on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon.

After a quick lunch at SM City Manila, I decided to take a leisurely walk to the Park with the help of Google Maps. It was a 15-20 minute walk along small roads. I passed by The Church of San Vicente de Paul, a chapel located next to Adamson University so I stopped by to say my prayers.

The Chapel of San Vicente de Paul has walls painted in white and grey tones that is really calming and pleasing to look at.

 

After walking at a straight path, I reached my destination. I could not see the park from the outside because it was completely covered with a circular stone wall. The gates were opened and two stone markers hang on both sides of the gate. These markers not only told a brief history of the park but also showed its historical and cultural value.

Paco Park was once a cemetery where it used to house remains of national heroes including Jose Rizal and GOMBURZA. It was declared as a National Historical Shrine in 1998 by the office of the President.

Two markers show the brief history and historical value of this Park.

 

Upon entering the gate, I saw the ticket booth and paid 10 pesos for the entrance fee. It was then that I saw that there was another circular wall covering the main park. The spaces between the inner and outer walls served as a walkway with plenty of space for trees and benches. But the real magic is behind the inner walls.

Two walls enclose the park. This inner wall holds the entrance to the park itself.

 

The park inside was trully a remarkable sight. At the center was a huge fountain with flowing water. Trees surrounded the entire area, providing ample shade. Shrubs and neatly cut grass covered the entire picnic area. I saw a group of students filming on one side, another group doing homework while sitting on the grass. A few families and couples were having their picnics around the park while another couple was having their prenup pictures.

A huge bird house stood at one part of the park and a small chapel stood at the back of the fountain which was unfortunately closed for the day. But what fascinated me was the inner walls of the park which were covered with holes that seemed to house tombstones. I walked around while breathtakingly looking at these holes and some even had tombstones. What a remarkable sight! Now no once can deny that this was indeed a cemetery before.

If you walk around the park you will clearly see holes that can house tombstones.

 

These walls were my favorite part. It gave it a distinct brand that is only of Paco Park. The placement of the holes around the circular wall was an eerie but stunning piece of art. I could not count how many times I’ve circled around, mesmerized with these walls. And the surprises did not stop there. Within the walls were stairs which led to the top of the inner wall. Yes, there was another walkway on top of the wall and it offered the best view of everything in Paco Park.

This walkway on top of the wall was an unexpected surprise. It gave me an amazing view of everything in the Park.

 

I stayed for quite a while because I kept walking around and on top of the wall and taking pictures. Paco Park topped my list of the most beautiful parks I’ve visited. I’ve never been to an enclosed park filled with mystery and surprises. There were a few parts of the outer wall under construction. I reckon those to be pocket parks with more seating and dining areas in the near future. I can’t wait for the renovations to be done so the next time I come over to visit, there will be new surprises in store for me.

Paco Park is located at San Marcelino and General Luna Street, Metro Manila. It was a 15-20 minute walk from SM City Manila but there are tricycles and taxis to take you there. It opens daily from 7am to 4pm. Entrance fee is 10 pesos.

FIVE THINGS I’VE LEARNED ON MY FIRST HIKE

I wasn’t always a fan of the outdoors. It was only a year ago when a friend invited me to join a minor climb that I realized how fun it was to go on a hike and just experience the beauty of nature and get away from urban life. I will be sharing my experience at Mt. Ulap in another post so in the meantime, I’m going to share some insights on my first ever hiking experience.

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Mt. Ulap is a good mountain for beginners. It is mostly covered with trees so trekking the easy trail is 

1. RUNNING HELPED ME.

I’ve been running for quite a while and I’ve been joining a few half marathons during the past few years and all I can say is that ‘Thank God I’ve had practice.” Climbing a mountain is no joke. Even if Mt. Ulap was for beginners, our tour organizer told us to at least be physically fit to do it. I’m not a skinny girl so having to carry my body and a backpack with me while fighting my way against gravity was quite a challenge even for someone like me who runs. 

2. I WORE THE WRONG SHOES.

I never thought I would be doing it on a regular basis so on my first hike I decided to wear my old Nike Lunarlon running shoes. I did not want to risk getting my current running shoes dirty or torn and I was not planning on buying trekking shoes so I settled with my those. By the time we were descending on the rough mountain path, the soles of my shoes started to peel off! It was hilarious and pretty dangerous since my shoes lost their grip, I kept sliding and falling on my butt! I had to hold on to every tree branch and every rock just to keep me standing and I was extra careful the entire time. I then bought hiking shoes on my next hike.

3. I WAS WEARING SHORTS.

Yes, the runner in me chose to wear running shorts instead of tights and leggings like most of the girls in our group were wearing. I would not say it was a poor choice, considering that it was a minor climb. There were no shrubs nor tall itchy grass on the trail so I was fortunate not to get any rash on my legs. I had awkward tan lines on my thighs though at the end of the hike much like the end of every run. Since then I’ve worn shorts over thighs to protect my legs from plants and insects.

4. I ASKED AND I DID MY RESEARCH.

Doing something new for the first time is always exciting but also terrifying. Hiking is not just something you can do at the spur of the moment so like any other new ‘hobby’ it pays to do a little bit of research. Weeks before, I started searching on the Internet about the basics of hiking, what to bring, what to do and what not to do. I also researched on the mountain we were about to climb so at least I know the trail difficulty and what to expect during the hike. It also pays to ask the group organizer for advice since they’ve probably been up there for a couple of times. Getting in touch with group mates is also an effective way to gather information on what they will bring and wear to the hike.

5. IT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING.

My first hike was very rewarding in many ways. I’ve never thought how fun it was to be outside and enjoy the company of strangers who would soon be my regular hiking bodies. Hiking is all sorts of therapies rolled into one. It nourished my mind and body at the same time. The trail maybe difficult but the view of the mountains as we crossed every challenging terrain just made it easy for us to bear. The company of people, sharing laughs while sharing trail food was just therapeutic. And the view at the summit was the most rewarding thing of all. After my first hike, I did not want to stop there. I climbed my third mountain ever since and I’m looking forward to more outdoor experience.

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We were all smiles when we reached a popular peak in Mt. Ulap. A group picture is a must to mark this memorable event.