Exploring Rizal: PHILOTA Familiarization Trip
It’s officially the start of summer and people are starting to travel from one place to another. Most people look for far places that require more than one mode of transportation. Such is the case for Manila and NCR residents. Most would go to tourist destinations like Cavite, Laguna, and Batangas in CALABARZON. However, what most travelers fail to see because of the desire to look for far places is the beauty of local destinations like Quezon and Rizal.
We fail to notice nearby destinations because they are so close that they become ironically invisible to the eyes of most travelers and vacationers. This is why the Philippine Tours Operators Association (PHILTOA) decided to launch a tour campaign that aims to rediscover CALABARZON destinations.
“Our advocacy is to promote the culture, heritage, food, festivals and natural wonders of our local destinations especially those places with a lot of potential just like the Province of Rizal and road less travelled places in Quezon like the town of Real,” Cesar Cruz, President of PHILTOA said.
“Our goal is to help local tourism stakeholders in promoting their property and partner them with our members in order to create a tour package that offers great value for tourists.”
And just like that, I, along with other tour operators, members of the media, and other travel writers, explored Rizal in the PHILTOA Familiarization Trip.
Our first place in our itinerary for the day was at the Petroglyphs in Binangonan. When we got there, we were welcomed by Roden Santiago from the National Museum. Roden toured us and shared to us lots of information about the Petroglyphs, the oldest known work of art in the province of Rizal. The Petroglyphs, more formally known as the Angono Petroglyphs, is an ancient art work engraved on a rock wall.
The Petroglyphs was declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as a National Cultural Treasure in 1973. The old work of art is also included in internationally renowned lists like the World Inventory of Rock Art in 1985, the World Monuments Watch, and the World Monuments Funds. Aside from that, the Angono Petroglyphs is also included in the Philippines’ tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The ancient Petroglyphs have so much recognition and significance, that it’s almost surprising how I had not heard of it sooner. It is really no doubt that these man-made wonders are being overlooked by us. Nevertheless, I was glad to know that the Familiarization Trip was doing a good job rediscovering hidden wonders such as this.
After marveling at the mysterious Petroglyphs and a short visit at Thunderbird Resorts for breakfast and occular inspection, the group proceeded to the Angono Municipal Hall. Our itinerary mentioned that there will be a simulation of the famous Higantes Festival just for us, but we did not expect to see more than a dozen of colossal higantes come our way! Colorful higantes paraded in front of us, and some of them were even better at posing for a selfie than me too, apart from their awesome dancing skills.
After dancing our way out from our merrymaking with the higantes in the Municipal Hall, we proceeded to Angono’s Art District. Our first stop was at the house of the national artist, Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Fun fact: “Botong” Francisco was the one who discovered the Angono Petroglyphs that we visited earlier. That is why even if the Petroglyphs is geographically located in Binangonan, it was still named after “Botong” Francisco’s municipality, Angono!
“Botong” Francisco’s house had a small museum that showcased the Franciscos collection of WWII artifacts and replicas of Botong’s paintings. Not far from the small museum corner was Botong’s grandson’s artworks, who, like his grandfather, took the path of the arts. Botong’s grandson specializes on abstract paintings.
Before visiting the next art galleries, we were able to stop by Angono Lakeside Park—an area formerly occupied by informal settlers, but was developed by the local government as a park where locals and tourists can enjoy the view of the lake with the Manila Skyscrapers as a backdrop.
We continued our exploration of the hidden beauties of Rizal at the Blanco Family Museum. The art gallery showcased the artworks of each family member. We were toured by Michael Blanco, one of the sons of the local master painter, Jose “Pitok” Blanco. Michael told us the story behind each displayed work of art. We wanted to marvel a little longer, but we unfortunately had limited time.
We visited Nemiranda Art House next, a tribute to the Angono-born artist Nemosio “Nemi” Miranda Jr. “Nemi” was famous for his “Imaginative Figurism”. The gallery consisted of different art forms, and I noticed that most of the paintings are portraits of different kinds. The art house, we were told, was currently being expanded, and we were told that they will be offering bed and breakfast accommodation inside the art house too. Who doesn’t want to wake up in the morning with those beautiful pieces of art?
Our artistic exploration was followed by an artistic lunch to Balaw-Balaw Restaurant and Art Gallery. The restaurant is an art gallery as well and I recommend that you visit it when you are in Angono. They offered us a variety of Filipino and local Angono Cuisine, but what was more interesting was the inclusion of exotic food like frogs and crickets. We weren’t challenged to eat those during our visit, so we instead feasted on their famous Minaluto, Adobong Itik, vegetable dishes, and other seafood delights.
After having scrumptious lunch at the artistic restaurant, we left Angono for Binangonan once again. Upon reaching our after-lunch destination, we stopped by the Binangonan Recreation and Conference Center to meet some local officials.
Since we were staying overnight in the same facility, our group decided to visit Morong first, which is just a few minutes away from Binangonan. There, we visited St. Jerome Parish Church. We were told that the church was built under forced labor during the Spanish Colonization Era where men, women, and even children were involved. Despite the rather dark history, however, St. Jerome Parish Church stands today as a bright and beautiful Baroque façade.
After offering prayers, we headed back to Binangonan for a courtesy call to the Mayor. Afterwards, we headed back to the Binangonan Recreation and Conference Center to check in at their accommodation facility.
After leaving our baggage in our respective rooms, we had a sumptuous dinner together with the Mayor, followed by a short tour of the recreational facilities.
I headed back to my our room after finally concluding the day. We visited a lot of art galleries, and I truly appreciated the hidden beauty of the local destination of Rizal. Rizal is so beautiful, artistic, and cultural. Each street, each corner, each house, each art gallery had a story to tell. Art works weren’t just aesthetic too, they contained in them traditions that have been passed from generation to generation.
It is a shame that the beauty of this destination is oftentimes overlooked, but now that I have revisited these artistic towns, I will continue to share this story to everyone. Because sometimes, the most beautiful places are just right next to us, but we fail to see.
Up Next: Exploring Real Quezon, Pilillia and Tanay Rizal