Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Road Trip: San Pablo, Calamba, and Los Baños
Lake Sampaloc, San Pablo City, Laguna
Today I made good on my promise to myself to see more of my own country. But just as we all learn to walk by taking baby steps, I started by taking a short day trip to one of the destinations close to Metro Manila.
Up until I reached the Buendia-Taft LRT terminal, I wasn't quite clear on where I would be going. Pagsanjan, by way of Santa Cruz? Taal Lake, by way of Talisay? San Pablo City? Ultimately, the choice was made for me when I spied a bus headed for Lucena.
I asked the conductor if the bus would stop along Sta. Cruz. No, he said. Would it stop at San Pablo? The answer was in the affirmative. I must have seemed like a buffoon when I said I'd drop off anywhere in San Pablo, but since he did not bat an eyelash, he must have made the acquaintance of several other buffoons of my ilk. P104, he deadpanned, was the bus fare to 'anywhere in San Pablo City.'
We headed off at around 8:30 am, cruising down the South Luzon Expressway. On this Wednesday morning, travel was smooth and speedy and I found myself mesmerized as the landscape changed from one of billboards and buildings to grassy fields and rolling hills.
As we entered the Laguna area, the imposing Mt. Makiling loomed ahead. Clad in heavy green foliage, Mt. Makiling attracts the eye like no other, rising like a bosom around the rice fields that surround it. The mountain would be a prominent feature throughout the trip.
Pretty soon the signs all said San Pablo City, and some fellow passengers started getting off at different points. I was wondering when the ideal time to disembark would be, but my friend the conductor made that decision for me. They let me off at the fork between San Pablo and Lucena.
That was actually an ideal place to begin the next leg of my journey. Several tricycles touted for passengers to locations not plied by jeepneys. I hopped aboard a San Pablo City jeepney instead.
Pretty soon I was in the heart of San Pablo City, a bustling town abuzz with activity. It's a mid-sized city, as far as Philippine cities go. It doesn't really boast of any of the larger brand-name malls, though there are a couple of local ones.
San Pablo City, I am told, is a major transportation hub to many of the other smaller towns in the Laguna area. Judging from the jeepneys headed for other destinations, I can well believe it.
My first stop, as is usual with me, was the local cathedral. Fortunately, it wasn't too hard to find, located as it was in the heart of the city. The cathedral's name corrected my misimpression that San Pablo was named after St. Paul the Epistolary; rather, it was named after St. Paul the First Hermit.
Sadly the cathedral was closed, and my camera failed on me. Taking it all in stride, I decided on a city stroll instead.
I regret to inform you all that my lunch stop was at the local Jollibee fast food joint. It would have been more romantic to say that I partook of the local fare, but I opted for the quickest and safest alternative.
On this tangent, we need to ask ourselves: are fast food joints the new bellwether of civilization? Their tentacles reach into every nook and cranny of populated areas, offering the safe choice of mass-produced same-tasting unhealthy food. Distasteful as the idea may seem, we cling to them to fill our psychological need for predictability. But I digress.
Not finding much of interest in the city proper, I was tempted to take a jeepney to nearby Calamba. A quick check on the Internet told me that it would be wrong to leave without first visiting one of the lakes around San Pablo.
San Pablo is otherwise known as the City of Seven Lakes because of its proximity to, well, seven lakes. Resorts abound, so the San Pablo web site says, around these lakes.
Not having enough time, I opted for the closest one available, Lake Sampaloc.
From the town center, Lake Sampaloc is a tricycle ride away. It's actually close enough for a long walk, but I decided not to trouble myself.
Lake Sampaloc is fairly small, its whole expanse visible with a short sweep of the eye. Fishpens dot its surface, and fisherfolk ply their trade. The ever-present Mt. Makiling watches over the lake in the distance.
Lake Samapaloc is bounded by a small hill on the side of the San Pablo City town proper. The top of the hill is a public park. There are several stone steps leading down to a promenade along the edge of the lake.
The lake itself is none too clean, afflicted with the pollution that often plagues bodies of water in the country. A sad fact. Happily, there are signs of a cleanup underway. If they can fish in it, well, certainly there's hope.
A plaque on a rock on the park overlooking the lake outlines the sad story of Lake Sampaloc. Apparently, it's in a better state now than it was before, as it was then the site of several sleazy bars.
At this point, I jiggled my digital camera some more and got it to work. Finally! I was able to take some shots.
Having had my fill of San Pablo, I decided to explore another site. The jeepneys to Calamba beckoned once more. I took another tricycle back to the city center.
Calamba-bound jeepneys are clearly marked and wait for their fill of passengers close to the cathedral. They leave every half-hour or so, depending on the number of passengers. Mercifully, the conductors don't pack them to overflowing, so the ride is fairly comfortable.
Fare from San Pablo to Calamba is P33, and the ride takes roughly an hour. Not something I'd recommend to tourists seeking to travel in comfort, but the road is smooth enough and it should do in a pinch.
The jeepneys don't actually enter the Calamba town proper; instead, they head on to a place called Crossing. I followed the example of a couple of fellow passengers and took another jeepney which said "Calamba Bayan."
I took the jeepney on a matter of faith, and again dropped off near the cathedral, the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. What should I see close by, but the Rizal Shrine!
Jose Rizal, national hero of the Philippines, was born in Calamba in 1861. The restored family home is now a museum, complete with replicas of the furnishings as they might have stood in Rizal's time. On the walls are various tidbits of information on the life of Rizal.
On the grounds of the shrine are a replica of the nipa playhouse that Rizal and his sisters used. They also have a museum of Rizal memorabilia: sculptures, knick-knacks, clothes, and most unsettling of all, a piece of his suit on the day he was executed.
As a souvenir of this trip, I picked up Leon Ma. Guerrero's biography, "Rizal: The First Filipino."
There was little else to do in Calamba, so I decided to take a jeepney marked "UP College." Now, I thought this was nearby, but it turned out I was wrong. It was actually headed for the next town of Los Baños!
Kilometer after kilometer sped by and I persisted hoping to catch site of the University of the Philppines. Yet we were already deep into town and I still had not caught sight of the hallowed halls of wisdom. Finally, I quit my quest and stopped at a local mall to catch refreshments.
The mall was right along the highway, and so it was a good place to while the time away while waiting for the next bus. Several airconditioned buses heading for Manila actually do stop for passengers there, some headed for Cubao, and some for Buendia-Taft (marked LRT). Not long after, a suitable bus arrived and I was headed back to Manila.
Altogether, the day was quite enjoyable. It showed to me how much there was to see around the Philippines outside the malls, and how easy it was to get around if you didn't mind roughing it up a bit. Travel was actually relatively cheap, and I can imagine doing this at a leisurely pace, hoping from one town to another day by day. Sometime soon, I will have to consider taking the land route from Manila to the southernmost tip of Luzon, and from there, on to Panay island.