Often mistaken as being part of Cavite or Tagaytay than Batangas because of its name, Taal Town is a heritage town, much like Vigan that showcases heritage houses and structures dating as far back as the 1800s. I’ve been to this town south-west of the Taal Lake before but have never really explored the place yet. So when an invite came to tour Taal Town again with Nokia and test out its latest Nokia N86 8MP on field, I thought it would a great time to explore further. It’s a full afternoon of exploration and all photos and video here are taken with Nokia N86’s 8mp camera-phone with a whopping 28mm wide angle Carl Zeiss Tessar lens.
Leaving Manila a little past 7 in the morning, our guide Ino started his lecture on board the Van on our way to Taal. We learned from Ino that Taal came from the word which means “True or Original” and that the town is formerly the capital of Batangas. Communities used to live near the lake but after the great eruption of Taal Volcano in 1754, a lot of the communities were devastated and there began the Exodus of Batangas towns.
Taal Town’s main capital used to be in San Nicolas where the massive Basilica de San Martin de Tours or commonly known as Taal Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in South East Asia, can be found, but moved to Caysasay after the eruption. Picking themselves up from the ruins, the people showed their perseverance and rose from the ashes rebuilding each towns strengthening their faith and refining their culture.
We had an unexpected delay on our way to Taal town as there were sudden roads closed to large vehicles. We were supposed to go through the Laurel and Agoncillo road but heard a bridge there was damaged so we had to make a detour and use the road on the other side. It took longer but it was enough for us to tinker around with the N86 handset and checkout its features. It got this Panorama Mode which is cool aside from its wide angle lens.
Arriving past noon, we know we had to make each of our stop quick. We were welcomed at Escuala Pia just in front of the Taal Basilica. It’s a school founded by the church in 1839 and now serves as the Historical Center of the town. Our host prepared a showcase and demonstrations of cultures and objects which Taal is known for. A group of ladies doing some fine embroidery famous in Taal. There’s a display of different types of balisong (butterfly knife) and a brief demonstration of its handling.
Outside there’s also a demo on panutsa (a sweet delicacy of peanut and brown sugar) making, sawali weaving and broom making. Ino sneaked in a few lectures again about the Taal Basilica. I remember visiting this Basilica before and I had trouble fitting the whole church in the picture. It’s a good thing the N86 has a 28mm lens that it was able to put the whole church in from the steps. Like the first time I went there, the size of this Basilica still impresses.
We went inside the church but there was a line of funeral processions so we had to keep quiet and moderate our movements inside the church. The interior is huge but a lot of the designs were no longer original because of the damage caused by an earthquake. The only original structure that remained is the half dome ceiling at the altar.
We sneaked out of the church and took a very quick ride to Villavicencio House which I think we can actually walk to from the church. Also known as the “Goldilocks” house because of its yellow and blue paint on the facade, the well preserved house sports a Nouveau design and yellow walls inside making it bright and pleasant. Ino explained the trait of “Transparency” among Filipinos, a trait of not being black and white but being on the gray and transparent side of things. It shows in the transparency of the barongs, the way the capiz windows and also the house dividers don’t really offer privacy and would let the air circulate around the home.
Another treasure the Villavicencio house holds is the rare Mesa De Altar in the master bedroom. There are only 15 pieces of this furniture and the one in the house is the Mesa De Altar One. This piece is highly priced by collectors and is said to worth more than a million.
We had a very delicious Filipino lunch there then started burning them as we walked through the streets of Taal Town and started descending the ancient steps leading to the Sanctuary of Caysasay, Home to the Virgin of Caysasay. The exterior isn’t much but the interiors were beautifully painted. Awaiting there is the popular group known for performing the Subli.
A 30 seconds video of the Subli performance
The Subli is a Philippine folk dance originating from Batangas. It’s a ceremonial devotion dance in honor of the Holy Cross or Mahal na Poong Sta Cruz. The word Subli actually means salisi or exchange which explains the characteristic of the dance. I’m actually impressed by the performance of the group. The male footwork while doing palm claps where very dynamic while in contrast, the ladies were very graceful and were gliding elegantly on the floor. Ino told us there were times these dances could go on for days. I did not have a chance to capture their still motion so I used the video since the N86 can record videos VGA at 30fps.
We made a little side trek from the church to the Sta Lucia Arch where the miraculous Sacred Well of the Virgin can be found. They were selling empty water bottles there so you could fill in the miraculous waters which said to have healing properties. My faith wasn’t that strong when I saw how dirty the stream beside it looks like after the storm. Maybe next time.
Our last stop was the Casa Tortuga. We were hesitant to go down the van and check out the ancestral house since we were running late already but after smelling the special palabok prepared for us with the Spanish Tsokolate E, we just had to stay for a while. It’s a nice old house, a bit dark compared to the Villavicencio but still with character. It got its name from turtles which usually play by the river beside the house.
It was a jam packed afternoon albeit short in time. It was fun discovering new things here in Taal, I’ll surely be back here for a more in depth and slow pace exploration. Thank you very much for Nokia for bringing us there and letting us use their excellent camera phone, the Nokia N86 8mp.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.