Aside from the world-renowned tropical islands in the Philippines, one of the reasons why our home country is a must go-to destination is our rich culture shaped by our history. It’s evident not just in our traditions and cuisine, but also in our architecture. When you travel to a number of rural destinations in the country, you can still see old houses with Spanish influence since we were under their rule for over 300 years from 1521 to 1898, but there are only a few of them that stand today.
Luckily for our generation, a treasure trove of these houses are now well preserved in a one-of-a-kind open-air museum and heritage resort in Bagac, Bataan – Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Just 3-4 hours of travel from Manila, the capital city, you can already step back in time and get a taste of what it felt like to walk in the cobblestone streets of old Philippines at Las Casas. Now we can proudly say that we’ve traveled not just to the most beautiful spots in the country, but to 18th century Philippines too.
Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the Philippines, the secluded small village of Buscalan in the mountains of Kalinga holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I got the best travel souvenir yet – tattoos from the legendary mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist) of the Butbut tribe herself, Apo Whang-Od. She is now 100 years old, and in her hand lies centuries of tradition.
You’d think that for a couple who loves to travel, we’d have a planned trip for the Holy Week. We didn’t. We intended to stay at home for the long weekend. But come Thursday night, I found myself packing my bag for a trip with no destination in mind because of Beep.
I was strongly against going on a trip without reservations, especially on a Holy Week! But Beep successfully talked me into it, promising that each of us in our group of 4 will only spend a small amount for a 3-day trip to who knows where.
When our group reached a stopover at NLEX, we were choosing between Baler or Bataan (and maybe Zambales). We decided to head to Bagac, Bataan after doing a quick Google search for beaches where we can camp without riding a boat. Compared to Baler or Zambales, Bataan isn’t as popular of a beach destination so we bet all our chips that there wouldn’t be as much tourists in Bataan as the other two.
“Are you from Bicol?”, was what I remember someone asking me back in high school when I told him that my favorite food is laing, a Bicolano dish cooked with dried taro (gabi) leaves, coconut milk (gata), and chili peppers for a kick. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I hate eating vegetables, but this vegetable dish won over other more popular and meat-based Filipino and international dishes.
I am not from Bicol. I was born in Iloilo and grew up in Manila and only tasted laing when someone in our house cooked it – not even authentic Bicol laing. The truth is, I haven’t even been to Bicol yet, not until last week when I spent 6 days in the region with Beep and our friends.
More than the destinations, I was excited to finally eat laing in the place where it came from. “My Mom’s laing is better than this
“, my friend Steff, who grew up in Bicol, assured me as we ate the dish in one of the most famous carienderias
in Legazpi on our first few hours in the region – and what we were eating was already one of the best laing I’ve had.