Travelers are so focused on exploring other parts of the world that we tend to forget about the little adventures that are closer to home. Especially the ones that are practically in our own backyard.
I decided to spend some time touring my hometown of Angono, which is located in the province of Rizal, about 30 kilometers east of Manila in the Philippines. It’s situated along the Laguna de Bay, a lake surrounded by the southern part of the metropolis, Rizal, and Laguna province.
Angono is a fishing village, but is better known as the Art Capital of the Philippines because of the many world-renowned artists that hail from the town. With my camera and curiosity in tow, I stepped out my door and spent some time wandering, researching, and getting to know my town from a tourist’s point of view. Here’s what I found:
The country’s highest merit in art is the National Artist award, and two men from Angono were recognized: muralist Carlos V. Francisco (nicknamed Botong) was awarded posthumously in 1973 for visual arts, and Lucio D. San Pedro for Music in 1991. Both have passed on, and today, the street where both artists were born have their work replicated on residents’ fences to honor them.
The oldest known painter is Juan Senson (1847-1927), who was a mentor of Francisco’s. Other names synonymous with Angono art are Blanco, Miranda, Tiamson, and Vocalan. These families each have their own museum in town, and for a minimal fee, visitors can view works of art by these internationally-recognized talents.
The smaller galleries also offer artistic treasures. They’re hard to find because they’re crammed within rows of houses and shops, but they’re your ticket to contemporary work by the newest generation of Angono artists.
Angono may be a lake town, but it also rests at the foothills of neighboring municipalities. And within these hills lie the country’s earliest known work of art. The Angono Petroglyphs are made up of human and animal figures, and carved on a wall of volcanic rock that date back to 3000BC.
Discovered by Botong Francisco in 1965, the petroglyphs were declared a national treasure by the government in 1973 and are listed in the World Monuments Fund to support their preservation.
A predominantly Catholic town of about 100,000, Angono has become quite the tourist attraction during two religious holidays: Holy Week and the Pista ng San Clemente (Feast of St. Clement).
Throughout Holy Week, a series of processions and activities lead up to Easter Sunday’s Salubong, the reunion of the Risen Christ and his mother, Mary, as portrayed by their images mounted on small carrozas (floats).
What makes Angono’s interpretation of the Salubong unique is the bati, a haunting dance and poem portraying Mary’s sorrow over her son’s death and her eventual joy in his resurrection. The bati is performed by two young women, and concludes in a whimsical display where gigantic birds of colored paper fly in from the corners of the venue. Controlled by puppeteers, the birds meet at the base of large heart suspended above the images of Jesus and a veiled Mary. As they struggle to open the heart, a white bird swoops in and it “magically” bursts open, revealing a little girl portraying an angel. She sings Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven), and as the song progresses, the heart is lowered towards the images. When the song ends, she removes the veil from Mary’s face to mark the dawn of Easter.
On November 23rd, Angono celebrates its fiesta in honor of the town’s patron saint St. Clement, a pope from the late 1st century and martyred when he was tied to an anchor and thrown into the black sea. Costumed children, marching bands and other participants troop to the wawa (lake) for a fluvial blessing. This ends with a boisterous parade through town, with everyone splashing onlookers with blessed lake water and mud. (Note to tourists: bring an extra set of clothes and a good sense of humor. not to mention waterproof cameras.)
This is also when the infamous higantes (giants) come out. Higantes were originally crafted by native farmers to mock their landlords during the Spanish rule. In the 1980s, town artist Perdigon Vocalan began an advocacy to make the higantes a bigger part of town, as well as national, celebrations. Made hollow frames wrapped in fabric, and papier-maché heads, they stand about 12 feet high. A person fits inside, and throngs of higantes become the highlight of the parade as they dance down the streets.
Another thing artist Perdigon Vocalan (who passed away in 2001) was and is still known for is his restaurant. Named after a Filipino dish, Balaw-Balaw is popularly known to specialize in exotic cuisine. Vocalan’s wife Luzvimin and their sons continue to run the business, and include past presidents, celebrities, and Andrew Zimmern among their customers.
This is the whole episode of Zimmern’s Philippine trip, but you can skip ahead to 15:30 to watch the Balaw-Balaw segment:
For dishes of the less-exotic variety, try their kare-kare, a stew made of peanut sauce, vegetables, and meat and the burong dalag which is fermented rice sauteed in garlic, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, and dalag (snakehead fish). Still too strange for your palate? Try the minaluto, a platter of steamed vegetables, seafood, salted egg, and the quintessential Filipino dish, adobo (pork cooked in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce) over a bed of rice.
Food-to-go is best on Sundays: in the morning, Itok’s serves the freshest, tastiest lechon (roasted pig). Mid-afternoon, head around the corner of the municipal hall for Marlon’s fried itik (duck).
It takes anywhere between half an hour to two hours to drive to town from Manila depending on traffic conditions. While it’s best to travel with someone who is familiar with the area, you can also arrange for a guide through the Angono municipal hall, whom you can meet up with when you arrive in town. You can even talk to your hotel concierge in Manila who could point you in the right direction.
The best times to go to Angono are during Holy Week, during the Fiesta in November, or on a Sunday. Because of its close proximity to the city, there’s no need to worry about lodging (though there are some small hotels and resorts around). You can spend an entire day touring the petroglyphs, art museums, and galleries. Or use Angono as your start off point on your tour around the entire Laguna de Bay loop. Old churches, wood crafts, embroidery, sandals, waterfalls, hot springs, and so much more lie in wait. Depending on what you choose to do, you can find yourself right back in Manila by the end of the day.
Fantastic art. Crazy cuisine. Spectacular celebrations. These are the things I discovered in my own hometown. And I can tell you, I had no idea there was that much to experience. So before you set off on your next adventure in a faraway land, step out your door and look around you. There just might be something there that you’ve never seen before.