It was a while ago, when I had the chance to go to Bicol at the invitation of a friend to attend the Our Lady of Penafrancia Pilgrimage. Our Lady of Penafrancia is the patroness of Naga City in Bicol, a canonized replica of the Our Lady in Penafrancia, said to have been discovered by Simon from an apparition. The largest Marian Pilgrimage in the Philippines, millions of folks come to join in prayer and festivity. I have witnessed how weary travelers come to church and sleep on the floor waiting for the mass and procession.
Part of the celebration is band parade and competition participated by schools in the area, colorful, but it must be tiring for them having to stand erect in full costume under the heat of the sun.
Not my first time, I was sponsor to a wedding of a friend and law school classmate, so many years ago, she probably has grandkids now, he he.., it was an up and back trip that I didn’t have a chance to appreciate the sites and marvel on the Bicol flavors. This time it was different, I wanted to take pictures and just savor everything there is about Bicol.
Bicol is at the end of Southwestern Luzon with several provinces. They have their own language (I was rightfully corrected by my goddaughter, that a dialect can’t be understood by all, it stands on it’s own whereas language, although of different intonations and spellings can be understood by all) Did that make it sound more complicated.
Anyway, Bicol is a tourist destination, with farming and fishing as source of its livelihood. There is a province known for its metal production of knives and cutting implements. It was rather painful to see the rice fields damaged by a recent typhoon and hearing the lamentations of a landowner that they had to borrow money for seedlings and fertilizer only to sustain such a damage. They end up being buried in debt, and we thought that owning properties can sustain one’s existence. NOT.
Pili, a nut with a very hard shell, almost like almond. But the nut has more oil, the single nut is encased in a husk that is also edible.
Bicol can be reached by plane or land transportation, in our case we drove more than 8 hours from Manila. There were patches of heavy traffic, the roads were not that wide and there were trucks plying with supplies from the city. It was not a boring road trip as the scenery along the way is breathtaking. Going through the zigzag of Atimonan, Quezon with a well appointed rest stop. If you’re going to drive though, note that there are never ending road widening projects in some cities along the way.
This is where the majestic Mayon Volcano is. The most photographed Cagsawa ruins sit at the foot of the perfect cone volcano. It has erupted quite a number of times, in fact when we were, the volcano was threatening to erupt, spewing smoke. Residents were evacuated to the the next town, a safe distance. Fortunately, after weeks of living in the town hall and schools, leaving behind their means of livelihood, livestock and plants. Image below is from the website bicol website, I wasn’t able to take a good picture because of bad weather.
Anyway, we were told that the church was damaged by the eruptions, however there were articles refuting such a historical fact. Old photos and accounts of residents and historians noted that the damages sustained by the church is caused by the lack of maintenance. The church was built without combustible materials and the tour guide was saying it was glued egg whites, although I can’t find anything online about it. CAn’t verify the veracity of such claims. Wow, if that were true there must be an abundance of eggs at the time, I think it was the early 1800s.
Bicol being one of the first areas in the Philippines converted to Catholicism boasts a number of old Catholic churches, I was able to take a few pictures, impressive antique churches that were able to withstand time and the harsh weather of the area. Very impressive, and unlike in Europe where most old churches were just a thing for tourists to admire, these churches are still in use.. it was a wonderful feeling to be able to commune with the Lord in such a quiet environment, no distractions.
We went on a hike wanting to see the famous waterfall on the Mt. Isarog National Park, hah, of course I didn’t make it, they made it but I had to content myself with the beauty below. It was refreshing to see such natural beauty. What’s amazing for me, that is, is there are folks trekking laden with pots of food and other stuff for a picnic. I suppose there is a clearing somewhere near the top where folks can savor food and good company with such such a beauty in the background.
Street foods are a site to feast on too, with colorful rice cakes and other fried items, because of the Feast of Penafrancia, there are more vendors than on a regular day. It is an opportunity because of the influx of visitors.
The famous toasted siopao (more like meat rolls) originated from Bicol, they also have their own version of noodle soup, called “kinalas”. The broth is from boiled roast pork, beef, or chicken. Boiled until the meat has fallen off of its bones. It is topped with meat, boiled egg with a thick brown sauce. A noodle fan myself, I’d say it is not any different from the mami or ramen but the mixture of flavors is something that hits the spot especially on cold days.
Spicy with coconut milk are basic flavours of Bicol dishes, like pinangat, it has meat or fish wrapped in taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and top with thick coconut sauce. Taro leaves lined to the pot with fish are also cooked in coconut milk and spices for the famous laing. Shrimp paste is compacted in little cubes, ooh it smells but great to season almost any dish.
Being near the ocean, Bicol boasts a lot of seafood and dried fish, what a joy to go around their market and see different varieties.
Just like any big city, Naga City has an array of white linen restaurants, corner street stalls, of course the quick and easy fast foods, fusion, and international cuisines. Can’t complain about where to eat, after all eating is a favorite Filipino activity, we eat when we’re celebrating, we eat when we’re sad, we meet friends to eat, and so on.
We had lunch at Baste’s Garden restaurant, it is simple and inexpensive Filipino fare, the main attraction is that there is a mini zoo in the huge property. Monkeys, alligators, birds, and such. Facilities are simple but clean, service staff are courteous.
There is a row of restaurants on Ceriza along Magsaysay Avenue, we went to Chef Doy’s, a Filipino restaurant, not foofo but the decors is distinctly Filipino, food is good, the spicy ones didn’t appeal to me as I don’t care for them but all the others are absolutely delicious. You know what makes food more appetizing is the presentation, they get plus points for that, it is comfort food an uumph.
Then we went to the Grissini restaurant in the same neighborhood, also good, the decor reminds me of California, it’s not original, but you know with so many restaurants popping up everywhere original decors or flavors are hard to comeby. Almost everything has been tested and tried, the criteria then is whether or not it touches your palate the right way, hit the spot, so to speak.
Grissini did that, their thin crust pizza is good, what my tastebuds are expecting, we shared plates of vongole, red sauce, and alfredo. We had to return the vongole for a retouch. Not sure why, it is always the case with this kind of pasta, the combination of white wine and clam juice. Not sure if the sauce does not match the pasta. All in all though, it was a great experience.
For dessert, aside from the usual rice cakes, the city boasts of good coffee shops, it was a great meal closer, palate cleaner.. yummy
Still so many places to visit, so little time, on your way back, don’t forget to get some delicacies, or try the longanisa from Lucban.
What a wonderful trip it was, a great way to reconnect with a friend and enjoy the sights and flavors of the place. Sorry, this was a long post, there are still places to see.. till next time.