Published: June 16th 2011June 9th 2011
Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna
This is our national hero's ancestral house in the town of his birth, right across the town church where was baptized. On June 19, 2011, we celebrate his 150th birth anniversary.
Laguna is a province south of Manila. This Sunday, June 19th, marks the 150th birth anniversary of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Calamba, Laguna is his place of birth. Their ancestral house has been rebuilt through the years and it is only the well that remains of the original structure. To celebrate his 150th birthday, the ancestral house--- now aptly called Rizal Shrine --- is all spruced up for this Sunday's celebration. So with the other Rizal Shrines and Monuments scattered all over the country.
I dare not join the festivities this Sunday. Instead, I visited his home province on 2 separate occasions. Once to revisit the Shrine or ancestral house itself, for some history lessons.
Another time to bask in the peace, tranquility of Mount Makiling in the nearby town of Los Banos, Laguna. On both occasions, I didn't miss to try the local mozzarela called "kesong puti"
literally meaning white cheese --- cottage cheese from water buffalo's milk. By "intentional accident", I also discovered a gem of a restaurant in the University area .
Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna
Calamba, Laguna is an hour and a half drive from Manila. It
Interiors of the Ancestral House
For sure, he wasn't born into poverty. The ancestral house is the typical "bahay na bato" or stone house in those days. It also has a sprawling garden.
comes right before the town of Los Banos, so called for its hot springs. A famous resort town where both the healthy and not-so-healthy take their "healing baths". When I was a child, there were 4 must-visit summer destinations for our family. The farthest is Baguio City
, the summer capital of the Philippines, up North. The second most-visited and always an ideal day or weekend trip is Tagaytay City
, a resort town I can never grow tired of. The third is somewhere near the suburbs , then called Balara
where we held many picnics by the reservoir. It has since been converted into an eco-park , haunting me in my dreams to visit one of these days. (Soon!) And the fourth is Los Banos
for a swim in the hot springs --- IN SUMMER! Don't ask me why. But such were family traditions we dared not mess up with. A trip to Los Banos then was almost always coupled with a short visit to the next-town's Rizal Shrine. Perhaps to instill some sense of patriotism and appreciation of Rizal's heroism in our then young minds.
The house sits right across the town church where the national hero himself
The Indigenous Fan
See that curtain-like thingy hovering over the dining table? That was meant as a fan to cool the diners, as well as swat away the insects! Obviously, someone should be swinging that bar!
was baptized. A sprawling garden tells you that our national hero was not born to poverty. Rather, he comes from a well-to-do family. He wasn't your typical warrior or military general who liberated the Philippines. But his 2 novels stirred a hornet's nest, so to speak. Those novels stirred a race , then ruled by the Spaniards for over 300 years, to think on its own. To claim national pride and courage to liberate itself from foreign rule. Rizal was a doctor of medicine, a novelist, a linguist, a traveler, an agriculturist, an engineer, and many other things. In my book though, he is a poet par excellance. (Check out this link
. I quote from a poem (as translated) he wrote just before he was executed in 1896.
“I die when I see the sky has unfurled its colors
And at last after a cloak of darkness announces the day;
If you need scarlet to tint your dawn,
Shed my blood, pour it as the moment comes,
And may it be gilded by a reflection of the heaven’s newly-born light.”
If you ask me, this great man sounds like a hardcore romantic in my book. That's my hero. Our hero.
Another time we visited, we stayed overnight in this place which was intended as an Arts Center somewhere around Mount Makiling. A lovely one-storey bungalow with 9 rooms on a promontory overlooking Laguna de Bay.
Somewhere in the distance, one
Laguna de Bay Beckons
Makiling Arts Center sits on a promontory looking out to this view. Staying overnight here is well worth it for the sunrise and sunset views you get.
sees the lights of the city. It is truly an ideal place for both artists and artist-wannabees. This corner of Laguna surely breeds heroes and artists. Need we wonder now why and how Dr. Rizal was so inspired?
All rooms here have a balcony where one can choose to sit and wait for the sunrise , or nurse a pinot noir till the sun sets. I brought a book with me. It remained unread. It was enough to sit around and welcome the breeze on a summer day. More so if you didn't forget to buy on the way to this Arts Center the famous cottage cheese made from the local water buffalo's milk. Check out this link
No wonder too that the legend of Mariang Makiling is still very much talked about to this day. A famous nymph claimed to reside within the forests, Mariang Makiling is said to be quite a beauty who has inspired many poems, novels, paintings and other art pieces. Rizal was no exception.
After a good night's rest, we woke up to a simple breakfast of cottage cheese and the local bread called "pandesal"
. Had mine
This unassuming, unpretentious place is a gem in the "wilds" of this Laguna province. We were surprised to find Mediterranean dishes and uber-yummy desserts available here.
laid out on a bed of mache greens left over from the previous night's dinner. With a good brew, I promptly took my place out in the balcony for more moments of peace and serenity. That, before going off on a stroll. What a lovely morning! Nothing beats a good rest, and a good breakfast to start the day, ei?
An Unexpected Gem In The "Wilds"
The second time around, we chanced upon a tiny bistro heretofore unheard of. The foodie in us longed for a good lunch on the day we visited Rizal Shrine and I worried there isn't a decent dining place around outside of your regular food chains. Laguna may not be that far from Manila but you get a big slice of country life here. Most restaurants here serve traditional Filipino food, along with the American-inspired food chains. And so it came as a truly pleasant surprise to find Dalcielo
along the lone street leading up to the University of the Philippines in Los Banos. (Believe it or not, I "tweeted" asking where we can find a good place to eat in Laguna, and someone --- a famous TV news anchor ---
Pako (Local Fern) Salad
Dalcielo served this salad with the local salted eggs , tomatoes and onions, along with its own vinaigrette.
tweeted back to tell me to check out this place. Aaaah, this online community sure makes it a very very small world indeed!)
Dalcielo impressed me right away with its wide range of pastries and baked goodies. The moist, uber-tempting chocolate cake sits on top of a shelf which also showcases yummy-looking muffins, cream puffs , cookies and bread. On another shelf, one finds the local cheese or cottage cheese. Home made, I am told. Going over the menu, we took pleasure reviewing many of our favorite dishes. Callos. Lengua Estofado. Pako (Fern) Salad. Seafood Paella (worth the wait). Grilled Salmon On a Bed of Spinach. Desserts which include panacotta with either strawberry or mango, sans rival, chocolate cake, and so much more. Don't ask me to recommend a few. Not fair. I recommend ALL. Everything we tried, we liked. Everything we ate, we savored. As it turned out, the place is owned by a former manager of a leading Italian Restaurant in Manila. There was only one waiter, but the owners and someone who claimed to be the Cashier cum Restaurant Manager were all lending a hand to make it a dining experience we would enjoy. Every
Can you resist this cake?
Dalcielo bakes this very decadent chocolate cake. Having filled ourselves good, we didn't leave room for this cake. The owner gifted us with a big slice to take home. What a lovely gesture!
so often, the owner would sneak in to the kitchen to cook up whatever we ordered. I am amazed how the owner (call her Marissa) managed to look "fresh" and unfazed coming out of the kitchen with her "creations". Hmmmm. Talent. And a lot of heart, I must say. For more food photos, check out this link
So there. If you happen to be in Manila and long for a day trip, Calamba and Los Banos in Laguna are only an hour and a half drive south. Check out the ancestral house of our national hero ---- the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary lasts the whole year --- and drive by Dalcielo for lunch or dinner. Then you can check out some of the hot springs in the area, maybe even spend a night there. If you are a group, you may even wish to rent one of those houses with a swimming pool (filled with warm water from the springs) for US$100-150 , bring your own foodstuff to cook and have a party. Just ask around the area near Montevista Resort along the highway in Los Banos. Right across it is a village with
Seafood Paella @Dalcielo
The sinful option is to have this with crab roe. Hmmmm. Very sinful. We were cowards. We chose to have it without. Healthy version, pls.
a number of houses available for rent for a night or two.
There are more photos below