It was this day last year when I went on a tour of the town of Taal in Batangas, one of my most memorable Independence Day excursions ever. This was actually not my first time there, but this trip was made memorable thanks to some old friends who came with me and some new friends I met as well.
I wrote about that trip in Manila Bulletin; allow me to share that article I wrote in full:
For many people, the name “Taal” would automatically be associated with that small volcano in Batangas found inthe middle of the lake that also bears this name. Thus the mention of the existence of a town in Batangas called Taal, from which the volcano and the lake got its name in the first place, should elicit a lot of surprised reactions.
The fact that the volcano and the lake was named after the town underscores the historical and cultural significance Taal has played not only for Batangas, but also for the whole Tagalog region and the country as well that not many people know about. This underrated gem has so much to offer that makes it worth the visit.
A WALK BACK IN TIME
Being a town with more than 200 years of history, Taal bears a rich, unique heritage that has managed to survive and thrive in the face of modernism. The most visible example of this heritage is the presence of many structures, some dating as far back as the late 18th century. Some may be reminded of Vigan with such scenery, but Taal is a bit different in that each of the structures have their own architectural style and look that span time that should delight even those who do not have a trained eye for design.
Historically, Taal has played a prominent role in our history with a number of notable individuals and families who were born or have lived here. There are the Dioknos from which came the senator Jose W. Diokno, the Villavicencios whose matriarch Doña Gliceria contributed significantly to the cause of the Philippine Revolution, and the Agoncillos, particular the couple Felipe, the first Filipino diplomat, and Marcela, who helped make the first Filipino flag. Some of their residences have now been converted into museums that are open for visitors who wish to learn about life in a bygone area. Perhaps the more notable of these museums would be the one used to be owned by the town’s illustrious Ilagan-Barrion family, now converted to become Galleria Taal, the first and only camera museum in the country and in Southeast Asia that is home to hundreds of cameras dating as far back as the 19th century. (all units still in working condition too)
One can also appreciate learning Taal history in a fun way. A visit to Villa Tortuga gives one the opportunity of experiencing history come to life by dressing up in period costumes and have your photos taken there as well. Dress up as a 19th century illustrado or even some infamous Damaso. It’s a different twist to cosplay that should make it an unforgettable experience.
FAITH STANDS HIGH… LITERALLY
Taal may not be popular as a Catholic pilgrimage site, but the presence of Asia’s highest Catholic church, the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours should be worth a visit. The present Baroque-inspired structure was built in 1856, and it is said its towering height symbolizes the Taaleño spirit to rise above adversity as the town has managed to prove many times like in calamities brought about the volcano’s eruptions.
Then there is Taal’s Marian patron, the Our Lady of Caysasay. Believed to be one of the oldest Marian images in the country, the Our Lady of Caysasay also is notable for being the first Marian apparition in the Philippines that was verified by the Vatican. The well where the apparition was said to have occurred is visited frequently these days for its purported miraculous powers and a church was built in the lady’s honor in 1620 which stands to this day.
Many people know very of the balisong, the Philippine butterfly knife, as one of Batangas’ trademark products. But not many know that Taal is actually its birthplace. In fact, it is the town’s barangay named Balisong where much of its production is based, thus the title given to the town as “the balisong capital of the Philippines.”
There is also the “burdang Taal,” the hand embroidery tradition of the town in the making of garments made from pineapple and abaca like the Barong Tagalog. What makes the burdang Taal Barong Tagalog different would be the intricate designs handwoven into the garment, something that has become the template for Barong Tagalog design and would also give Taal a monicker as “the Barong capital of the Philippines.”
As far as culinary delicacies go, Taal has some to boast as well. Some Taal delicacies to try out would be the maliputo, the fish from Taal Lake, the marinated meat products Tapang Taal and Longganisang Taal, and the just-right sweetness of the Sumang Taal. Of course, being in Batangas, one cannot miss out having a drink of hot Batangas coffee more popularly known as the Kapeng Barako.
With so much to offer than what is described within the confines of this article, the best way to appreciate it is a visit to this storied town. Who knows, you may be surprised with what Taal has in store.
From Manila, Taal can be reached by taking the bus headed for Lemery; Taal lies right next to it. One can also take the bus going to Batangas City and drop off at the Tambo exit of STAR Tollway then ride a jeepney going to Lemery.