Visita Iglesia 2011 - Laguna Road Tour (Part 1)

After missing a Visita Iglesia trip last year (a friend didn't make it with our reservations), this year's Visita Iglesia turned out a few surprises.

Originally, we were booked for a Batangas Road Trip on a Good Friday. Yup, Batangas again in spite of the fact that we attended the Visita Iglesia Batangas in 2009.

But why Batangas again? Well, for one, I thought the past Visita Iglesia to Batangas was very pleasant. We were able to visit a couple of gardens (Cafe Casarap and Caleruega) that captivated us. DH took home a couple of cuttings from both gardens.

These are the cuttings from a Mysore Clock Vine. This year the Mysore Clock Vine produced its first flowers. The second reason I wanted Batangas was because, save for one stop, the rest of the churches in the itenerary were all new to us.

The kids get excited when visiting new churches. This is because DH and I told them they can make a wish upon entering a new church's door for the first time.

Taal Volcano Disrupts Batangas Travel Tours

Unfortunately, Batangas wouldn't be this year's Visita Iglesia destination. There has been a DOT (Department of Tourism) advisory that Taal Volcano has been acting up and showed signs of pre-eruption.

So all tour operators have been advised to hold off tours there. It's a good thing that our operator offered us 3 options: Get a refund, take the Pinatubo Crater Lake Tour or Take the Laguna Visita Iglesia tour instead (Holy Thursday). DH wasn't too keen on the other 2 options as all she wanted was a Visita Iglesia.

I didn't think the kids would be too thrilled either with the Pinatubo adventure, not for their ages, anyway. So Laguna it is. The road tour was scheduled April 21, Maundy Thursday.

Travel to Laguna

In this road trip, we were advised to wear any of the Lenten colors (supposedly red, purple or pink). It was just optional of course and just to allow easiy recognition of those included in the Visita Iglesia tour.

We were at Alabang a bit early although the other groups were ahead of us there. Traffic became heavy, as expected, when we were approaching the Calamba Toll gates. This is one reason I like road tours, I save myself plenty of driving aggravation.

1st Church Visit - San Antonio de Padua Church in Pila, Laguna

There weren't any wide roads leading to the town of Pila, but what's peculiar with this church location was there was hardly any traffic. Maybe we were early in the day, but I also noticed there weren't too many business establishments and vehicles along the streets.

Pila and adjacent towns along the shores of Laguna de Bay are considered by archaeologists as one of the oldest settlements in the Philippines. The community is one of three such concentrations of population known archaeologically to have been in place before A.D. 1000. (source:

As explained by Tour Guide Peachy, the church is located in pueblo style setting. The Town Hall is just across the church and in between them a big park. There are historic buildings, some of them houses, lining the square.

All of us wearing different shades of red and pink. As it was still a bit early, there were still a few churchgoers.

Since I've not been to very old churches lately, it's a strange feeling to see churches with ancient tombs inside. I've seen these before, but looking at the church's interior above, you'd think they would've transferred these tombs to a side chapel.

Well, at least that's where I expect to see tombstones, and not inside the church itself. Also, the interior walls have been repainted anew and the old tombstones seem to be out of place.

Outside a side entrance, there's a small garden with a fountain. Here, Che feels a bit chilly as it was cool in this garden. This was also the time when we took a restroom break after being cooped up in the bus for hours.

DH stops to buy some salted eggs from a vendor. The eggs, as claimed by the vendor came from Victoria, Laguna which is known for duck eggs. DH said they were cheap at Php 8 apiece, and those with broken shells at Php 7.

2nd Church Visit - Immaculate Conception Church in Sta Cruz, Laguna

From Pila, we proceeded to Sta. Cruz for the Immaculate Conception Church. The statues outside have bright colors that seem to have been newly painted.

Against the solemn gray backdrop of the church, I think the bright colors gave a "cartoony" effect on the statues as shown below.

A marker saying this church was once destroyed by fire and then rebuilt.

The 2 doors of the church had wood carvings on 3 panels. The bottom panel on one door shows a scene from Noah's ark. If you look close enough, you'd see the dove carrying an olive branch on top of the ark. I'm sure the other panels have significant carvings in them too but are not recognizable to me.

3rd Church Visit - Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Pagsanjan, Laguna

The last time I was in this town was more than 25 years ago. That was when my workmates and I went to Pagsanjan Falls.

Of course, nothing is familiar anymore. Coming to this church we passed alongside the Pagsanjan river that leads to the falls.

Here's a marker saying that the church was originally constructed out of bamboo and nipa. I thought that was a bit strange as it seemed all historic churches were all built from stone.

Did you know that the name Pagsanjan came from the tagalog word Pinagsangahan?
Pagsanjan perches on the riparian delta formed by the confluence of two cool rivers called Balanac and Bumbungan. Originally named Pinagsangahan, meaning "branching" or "juncture", the town was given a Hispanic name by early Spanish colonizers, Pagsanjan, because they found it extremely difficult to pronounce its polysyllabic name. (source:

DH and Renz reading something about Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei at a side chapel.

It's almost noon and Pagsanjan church is teeming with churchgoers. Here, Sandra leads Renz out the church doors past the unlighted carrozas on display at the side.

Outside the church, we met a mutual friend and a former officemate, Vicky. What a coincidence!

Going back to the bus, DH managed to pick a few rose cuttings that were planted at the perimeter of the church. Then I remembered from the Tour Guide's story how roses figured prominently in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
According to tradition, Juan Diego, a simple indigenous peasant, saw a vision of a young woman on December 9, 1531. While he was on the hill in the desert of Tepeyac near Mexico City, the lady told him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. He told the local bishop, who asked for some proof. He went back and saw the vision again. He told the lady that the bishop wanted proof, and she said "Bring the ROSES behind you."

When he looked behind, he saw a bunch of ROSES growing. He cut the ROSES, placed them in his poncho and returned to the bishop. When he arrived to the bishop, he said he had brought proof. When he opened his poncho, instead of ROSES there was a picture of the young lady in the vision. (source:

LUNCH - The Beatles Place in Pakil, Laguna

The next stop would be Pakil town for lunch. The streets became harder to maneuver as we headed towards Pakil Church. I heard a bit of grumbling from some of our co-passengers - the snooty ones who didn't want to walk out in the sun.

Eventually, the tour bus driver suggested that we just walk towards the restaurant. It was already impossible to ride the bus there because of the traffic snarl. Traffic enforcers directed the driver to move somewhere else.

We had lunch in a small restaurant called The Beatles Place, a few walking steps from Pakil Church.

And yup, they have big posters, souvenirs and images of the Fab Four on the walls.

We weren't the first to get in the restaurant and so got a table with 6 seats near a wall. Soon we realized that the tiny round table was really just for 4 people and 2 seats were just added.

When almost everyone was in the restaurant, DH spotted an empty table in a corner. We transferred to that table which, luckily for us, was closest to the buffet table.

And so we were the first in line when lunch was called out. Here, Renz and Sandra are famished and enjoy their food. Hmmmm, yummy! That's the buffet table behind them.

What did we have for lunch? Well, from the plate below, clockwise: Ensaladang Pako (Fern Salad) which is pretty much standard in these areas of Laguna, Pritong Talong with Bagoong (which had pork bits), and Laing. The Bagoong's pork bits were so large that Sandra thought it was actually the Binagoongan dish.

But wait. There's more!

There was Okoy (shrimp crackers) that was dipped in white vinegar and then a fruit dessert. Beverage was ice-cold fresh buko juice. But something new to us that was served was this Ginataang Tinapang Tilapia sa Mustasa (Smoked Tilapia Fish with Mustard Leaves in Coconut Milk) dish.

Actually, I told Karen to ask one of the waiters at the buffet table what it was. After seeing Karen ask and go back to our table, the owner, Teresa Saldana Sanchez, followed her. The owner approached our table to explain to us how the dish is prepared. How cool is that!

This is one of the things I love about packaged tours with meals. You get to taste a local specialty that's offered at the restaurant. Plus, it beats having to prepare and lug baon or homemade meals with plates and utensils.

After a hearty meal, a photo taken with my mini-tripod on the table.

The Beatles Place restaurant is located at Baño St., Bgy. Baño, Pakil, Laguna.

See Visita Iglesia - Laguna Road Tour (Part 2) for a continuation of this post.

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