Long before Pinoy car owners became “road-trippers” or “weekend warriors” of today, leisure driving around the country’s scenic highways and byways has been a favorite pastime.
The areas in Metro Manila’s doorstep are the logical choices because of their proximity and suburban allure. Among the top-of-mind destinations back then was the town of Pagsanjan in Laguna, the gateway to a majestic waterfall which has become a tourism icon.
Four decades later, it still a worthy getaway with more interesting sights and sounds to add spice to the adrenaline-pounding “shooting the rapids” boat ride all the way to the tell-tale waterfall.
Pit Stop 1: Puerta Real. Coming from the South Luzon Expressway, the Puerta Real (Royal Gate) is the town’s sentinel which has been proudly standing at the población to welcome travelers. It was built in 1878 by the Spanish authorities to memorialize the Pagsanjan’s glory days as Laguna’s provincial capital from 1688 to 1872.
One of the country’s few remaining stones arches, it was declared by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure last year because it is “an outstanding landmark which epitomizes the ideal blend between aesthetics and function”. It will be officially recognized as a national historical landmark by the National Historical Commission on Dec. 6 as part of 350th municipal founding day and the annual Lagaslas Bangkero Festival.
A postcard-pretty landmark during the film camera era and an Instagrammable image in the social media age, the Arco Real never fails to amaze first-time passers-by for a snapshot. Calle Rizal, the town’s main artery, has well-preserved colonial-era homes in the traditional bahay na bato or stone house architecture. A handful of them have been converted into dining outlets to give them a “Vigan-like” charm.
Pit Stop 2: Shrine of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. Any dutiful Catholic on a road trip would surely pull over a church for a brief prayer to seek traveling mercy from the Almighty. This church, uniquely positioned at a T-road of the town by the river bank, is an ideal place to spend moments of meditation and a travel back in time.
Founded as a parish in 1687, and with the first bamboo and nipa sanctuary built in 1690, it is the first to be dedicated to the Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose patronal feast falls on Dec. 9.
On one side is the church is the Chapel of the Tilma, where the stone where Virgin Mary is believed to have made an apparition in Guadalupe, Mexico is enshrined. On its walls are framed liturgical vestments of its former priests, lending it a museum-like ambiance.
Pit Stop 3: Pagsanjan Falls. Despite the emergence of new tourist hotspots, many travel bugs still consider this as a must-see for the thrill it brings and not just for nostalgia’s sake. Originally known as Magdapio Falls, it was named by the Americans after Pagsanjan for being the entry point, and the branding has remained such despite being actually located in nearby Cavinti.
The three-hour tour comprises of a challenging upstream ride where you’ll encounter 14 rapids, occasional stops at cascades emanating from rock cliffs, a bamboo raft ride to the falls, and the downstream ride back to your point of origin.
Guests are encouraged to coordinate with municipal authorities for the boat rides to ensure a memorable adventure and avoid being victimized by unscrupulous persons.
To showcase the other aspects of the Pagsanjeño way of life, municipal authorities under celebrity couple ER Ejercito and Maita Javier hatched the Bangkero Festival more than a decade ago as a tribute to the boatmen. The event-packed festivity offers a myriad of activities you can do in Laguna’s tinseltown after the wild river ride.
Pit Stop 4: Food Trip. One of the motivations to a taxing road trip is the rewarding food trip that follows. The town’s vibrant restaurant scene, which has grown in recent years, has made it a foodie haven. Millennials call it a “food crawl”, because you will literally crawl because of the delectable food available.
The note-worthy restos are Calle Arco, Balai Ilocos, Titadel’s Fiesta Cuisine, Terima Kasih, Emin and Mila’s Canteen, Aling Taleng’s Halo-Halo, and El Panchito’s Fil Mexicano Resto. The latter, offers perhaps the hippest dishes which will tickle the taste buds of both the titos and titas and the Gen-Y alike with its all-time Pinoy and Mexican favorites.
Pit Stop 5: Farm Tour. Swing by Villa Socorro Agri-Eco Village and Farm Resort which has opened its doors to visitors who want to get exposed to agribusiness 101 or just have a back-to-basics overnight experience. Guests can do forest bathing which winds up at the winding Balanac River, witness the production of the Sabanana banana chips in the sprawling plantation, or get a taste for farm-to-table meals.
If the agrarian charm is irresistible, visit the neighboring Costales Nature Farms in Majayjay and Vonwelt Nature Farm in Magdalena which will give you a fresh outlook on farming.
Pit Stop 6: Fantastic View. This municipal facility can be reached through a 292-step landscaped staircase for a spectacular view of Laguna Lake, which is best seen at sunset. Once completed next year, it will have a giant statue of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, prayer garden, public park, and a multi-purpose hall-slash-emergency evacuation center.
On the way home, take the Laguna Lake Loop which passes through the rustic lakeshore towns and the stunning zigzag in Rizal province, which is worthy of another road odyssey.