Bicol Food!

As I am writing this post, it is raining. Typhoon Ramon hovers over Agusan and nearby provinces. Rain has a comforting effect on me that it makes me crave for food. We had arroz caldo for lunch and  champorado for dinner. Nothing brings comfort than a hot bowl of goodness in this cold weather.

Now curled up in bed, the sound of spattering rain drones on. This “aircon” weather induces me into craving for Pinoy food. Since the recent trip is still fresh in my mind, I try to remember the texture, taste and smell of Bicol cuisine.

Food adds more joy to travel. Bicol is a delightful place to sample new dishes. Bicolanos have ingenious ways of creating memorable dishes from local ingredients like coconut, gabi leaves, malunggay, fish and sili. Pili nuts grown aplenty in this region and I found myself hoarding pili delicacies to bring to family back home.

My first stop to sampling Bicol food was Geewan. Geewan is a dining place in Naga where Bicolano food is served. My friend suggested that I go easy into incorporating a Bicol dish into our lunch so as not to shock my Bisayan palate. We picked kinunot  to complement the sweet and sour meatballs and pork barbecue.

Geewan's Kinunot

Kinunot is a fish dish cooked in coconut milk (gata) with malunggay leaves. It was pretty good and it set my taste buds on what to expect from Bicol food. My friend asked if it is made with shark meat, the server said no.  Traditionally, kinunot is made with shark meat.  I would not order this if this was shark meat. It would break my heart to eat endangered species.

One cannot visit Bicol and not taste Bicol express and laing. Those dishes are two of the more popular Bicolano creations. I can even take home a bottle or two. But alas! My promo ticket did not allow me to have checked-in luggage. I could not have it hand-carried either. The airports frown at liquid-y stuff.  I even inquired if I can send the bottles thru courier but LBC said they don’t ship breakable items. I have to make the most out of our sumptuous lunch by making myself savor every bite ignoring the tightening of my waistline.

Laing and Bicol Express in the middle (Restaurant: Red Platter)

Laing is gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk the Bicolano way. It has a melt-in-your-mouth quality to it that perfectly complemented the crunch of the crispy pata we ordered.  Bicol express, on the other hand, is meat cooked in coconut milk with chilli (sili).  I have low tolerance for spicy food but, for some reason, Bicol express added a little kick to the grilled pork belly.  It left a little heat on my mouth which was easily washed down with iced tea.

Merienda time called for toasted siopao. The tanned version of the siopao filled my hungry stomach with its compact bun yet surprising soft dough inside. This hearty and meaty snack easily satisfied my hunger pangs.

Toasted siopao (Naga Garden Restaurant)

After all the touristy things we did, we were in search for a warm and comforting bowl of hot soup. Kinalas was the answer to our food craving. When in Bicol, one can easily find an eatery serving this dish. It is a noodle soup with vegetables and strips of soft beef in a flavorful broth. We choose the one with boiled egg added.  Paired with puto and cold soda, I sipped the broth one spoonful at a time alternating it with bites of noodles and meat. The aroma filled my nostrils and beads of sweat appeared on my forehead-a sign of a good soup.  It is hard not to smile after the meal.

My travel companions are the sweetest. Before we left Bicol, my friends surprised me with a birthday cake even if it has been two weeks since my birthday!  They bought a Concorde cake. Although the recipe did not originate from Bicol,  a bakery there makes it their specialty that it was featured in the travel guide my friend was reading. True enough, the layers of meringue make the cake light and soft. The chocolate buttercream was a delight. The cake’s sweetness and mix of a pleasure in my mouth was a delightful way to cap off my whole Bicol experience.

Till we eat again, Bicol!

Wakeboarding in CamSur

In a recent news report, Camarines Sur was the no. 1 tourist destination in the Philippines for 2010. The two main attractions that drove tourists to this part of the country is the Caramoan islands and the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC). In our recent Bicol trip, we planned to go island-hopping in Caramoan but we did not have much time. We did have time to visit CWC!

Wakeboarding is a form of water sport where a person is “towed” by a cable while riding on a board.  It is a like a combination between waterskiing and surfing.  CWC is the pioneer and said to be best wakeboarding complex in the Philippines.

In the middle of the complex is a man-made lake where all the action occurs. A complex cable system is responsible for towing the riders one at a time.

As I changed into a more appropriate outfit, I was contemplating whether I would try to wakeboard or not.  I was on a “let-me-check-it out- first” attitude.  A friend already signed up and we were her cheerleaders. I was her ‘unofficial’ photographer so I was really close enough to observe how it is done.

Beginners are given instructions before riding. I did not listen to the instructions though. I assume that it was on safety and some helpful tips on how to successfully take off and maneuver the ride. Beginners kneel on the board first.

My friend took off successfully in her first try and did five laps around the lake.

She had fun. Another friend tried it and took off successfully. I was close to deciding to try it myself but I succumbed to pressure.  My shyness demons prevailed. Thoughts went into my head: “How embarrassing would it be if I fall?”, ” What if I chip a tooth again?” So, down the drain went my adventurous spirit.  I wish in the future I can muster enough courage to try this one.  There was one friend in the group who planned to try but was unable to because something came up.  Maybe we can both try together next time.

The complex had other amenities like massage services, huts for overnight stay and a swimming pool.

Because I did not wakeboard, I felt the need to do other things so I settled for swimming. It was fun being in the pool with friends even if I do not know how to swim.

For more information, check out their website.

Namiyesta ka na ba sa Peñafrancia sa Naga? (Part 2 of 2)

The reason we went to Naga was to experience the Peñafrancia Festival. My friend made a fair warning that there will be lots of people. We might experience a lot of shoving and pushing.  I psyched myself up to just go with the flow. There were 6 of us braving the sea of people. I did not feel like I was a needle in a haystack.

Although I did not do much research on this celebration, we made a visit to the Peñafrancia Museum and I got a little more insight on the history of the festival.

This is the statue of the person responsible in bringing the image to Naga.

Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias

This is the story. The museum displayed some of the crowns and aureola used on the image. Aureola is bejeweled halo around the image. The Manto is the intricately-beaded covering on the image.

Manto

The museum had dioramas depicting scenes on the history of the Peñafrancia.

One of the dioramas in the museum

This is the scene depicting the procession during Peñafrancia. This is what I experienced. (More story on that below.)

Peñafrancia 2011

We were supposed to attend mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral but with the traffic, we arrived late.

This is just a preview of the throng of people I expect to face.

The procession started at around 3 p.m. so we had the time to eat lunch and roam around. The streets were in a festive mood.

Buntings

There were so many people near the market area. Security was visible. My friends went souvenir shopping. Before 3 p.m. we started to find a good vantage point to view the procession.  The ideal place for us would have been on the steps of the local mall but it seemed like everyone else thought of the same thing. We settled comfortably on the sidewalk. We sat on a garbage bag that our host brought.  Clever.  Oh, did I mention I wore a dress just like what I planned before? Yes. I sat on the sidewalk in my white dress. Only in Naga! I did not mind. I welcome new experiences. New experiences mean new anecdotes. Besides, there are others who also sat on the sidewalk.

I took a photo of the man’s shirt. Voyadores are street dancers or devotees who follow the procession. They surround the image as protection and pushed the cart that carried the image.  Some of them are barefoot.  The downside is that some of them were drunk. I could smell alcohol reeking from where some of them stood. Some can get a little rowdy.

This is what we waited for for more than an hour.

From where I stood, I was drowned in a sea of people. As the voyadores pass by, they look for spaces where they can walk through easily.  A mass of them passed through in front of us that we had to step back. For a few seconds, it felt like being suffocated by different aromas. I feel like I survived a stampede. Personal bubble spaces burst.  It was an adventure for claustrophobic and agoraphobic people. Ha!

Our next stop was to check out the fluvial procession. The crowd has already settled in their positions that by the time we got there, I can no longer see the river. Taller people stood in front of me. No matter how I channeled my inner ballerina, my tiptoes could only lift me as high as the length of my foot.  I only see the fluvial parade through the camera of people in front of me. No regrets though. God knew I tried.

The devotion of the Bicolanos to Ina was evident. Ina is Filipino for ‘mother’.  Our Lady of Peñafrancia is called as such.  To those who are not used to such adulation, it would seem like fanaticism. For me, it was devotion. I am a Catholic but I am not the religious type who follow feasts, rituals and novenas. I am prayerful but in the confines of my home. To show love of God in public with much conviction like these Bicolanos is love. It is love that made these people brave the crowd just to watch the image pass by.  It is love that made some vow to follow the procession barefoot year after year. I might not experience Peñafrancia again since I live far.  I felt blessed that I did.

Let me close this post with a prayer:

Part 1

Namiyesta ka na ba sa Peñafrancia sa Naga? (Part 1 of 2)

Fair warning: long post

The title of the post is taken from the line Lea Salonga sang  in that 2003 music video of “Tara na, Biyahe Tayo!”. The title when roughly translated: “Have you been the Feast of Peñafrancia in Naga?”

February of this year, I found myself scouring the Cebu Pacific website for their promo fare. I was able to book 5 people for a trip to Manila. Little by little, I was about able to find a good deal to fly to Naga from Manila.

My friend was a Jesuit Volunteer and she was assigned in Naga for one year after graduating from college. She was the one who invited me to go with her in this trip. We stayed in her friend’s house so we saved on hotel bills. Her friend’s house was a mansion-in-the-making so it was like staying in a hotel. We had clean sheets and nice bathroom. The room was air-conditioned but the house was designed to be energy-efficient. The large windows when opened invited cool air in the evening.

Unlike my HK trip, I did no research for the trip because one of my friends who also joined this trip was a thorough researcher. Our itinerary was laid out complete with time and date. Our host also made a complementary itinerary to further enhance our Bicol experience.

There was so much to see in Camarines Sur. The  trip was refresher course in geography for me. I have never been in this part of the country.


View Larger Map

If I expand the map, one would find Mt. Isarog figured prominently in the frame.


View Larger Map

Mt. Isarog National Park

We hired a jeepney for the whole day to reach the spots on our list. One of such destinations is the Mt. Isarog National Park.  As the jeepney ascend to the area where our trek would commence, I heard my ear pop. I knew I was in an area with an elevation. After several minutes of walking uphill, this welcomed us.

Mt. Isarog National Park

I felt the muscle in my legs tighten as it received its much-needed toning.  This is the beginning of  an adventure going down to see Malabsay falls.  The steps were tricky as we navigate the trail.

To Malabsay falls

There was even an area where we had to crawl.

At this point, the sunglasses I hung in my neckline fell into a ravine. Our gracious host became my hero for the day. He climbed down the treacherous ravine to rescue my sunglasses even if I said he does not need to get it for me. I’d rather lose my father’s sunglasses than face the risk of him falling. He descended like Spider-Man. The few seconds he spent on the slope seemed like minutes as I was praying to high heavens. My stomach churned as the acrophobia in me kicked in. He handed me my sunglasses before I can even say ‘Amen’.

All the fear and anxiety vanished when I heard the water rushing down from the falls. Mist lightly clung into my camera’s lens but did not succeed into ruining my photos. Malabsay falls was breathtaking.

Pardon me if I had to load lots of photos. It is a sin not to.

Malabsay falls

Emerald Grotto at Calvarrio Hill

A quick trip to Iriga City brought us to this Emerald Grotto overlooking Iriga City with Mt. Iriga at the background.

View on top of the grotto

When I posted the photo above on Facebook, one of my friends remarked that the roofs in this place are nicely painted. Prominent in the photo is the roof of a convention center.

This is the reason we went to Iriga. (Side note: Nora Aunor is from Iriga)

The Emerald Grotto stairs

It is a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Since it is in cave-like structure, there were bat poop in the floor in the crucifix area. When I looked up the ceiling, bats were sleeping ( lower left corner in the photo above).

 Visita Iglesia

Visita Iglesia is a Catholic practice during Holy Week to visit different churches and pray. It was not the holy week but by the number of churches we visited, we were church-hopping one after another. Bicol is full of beautiful churches.  Although my city of Butuan was the site of the first mass in the Philippines, all that is left to us is the ruins of an old church. I guess Spaniards easily warmed up to the good-natured Bicolanos compared to the fierce Butuanons. I guess they did not come back to Butuan after the first mass.

This is the church in Bombon with a leaning bell tower.

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish

We were allowed to climb up the bell tower.

While in Iriga, we dropped by this church.

In Naga, there were four prominent churches we visited.

The Peñafrancia church.

Read some history of the church

Miguel de Covarrubias brought the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia to Naga.

This is the facade of the church.

Peñafrancia Church

This is the Metropolitan Cathedral. It looks like any other old church in the Philippines.

What makes this special is that it has covered gazebo in the middle where can be used as a stage when there is a large gathering of people. An orchestra played music to the devotees who flocked to see the image of the Blessed Virgin.

During the Peñafrancia, mass was celebrated outside, too.

But the grandest aspect of the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Porta Mariae. It reminds me of  the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

This is the view on the other side. Isn’t it majestic?

This is the San Francisco Church right in middle of the busy streets of Naga. It looks like an old church but it was actually a newly-built church.  I attended mass here in Bicolano and I did not understand a word. I tried to follow the mass by observing the rites. I think all Catholic masses had the same sequence.

I like their retablo. It is simple and elegant.

Below is the Basilica Minore de Nuestra Señora de Peña de Francia.

In the ranks amongst churches, a basilica is a notch higher than a cathedral. I think the pope needs to proclaim it as such before it is called a basilica. I bet there are other requirements for such a classification.

The Basilica is the home of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. At the center of this ornate altar is the image of the Blessed Virgin. Devotees can touch the image by climbing up the steps on the side of the altar.

Even Ateneo de Naga University has a beautiful church.

More stories on my Naga trip will be posted in the coming days.

Part 2

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