Back to Your Roots in Bataan

TRAVELOGUE 101

Back to Your Roots in Bataan

Barangay Ibaba, Bagac

La Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

 

 
Orani, Bataan

Mount Natib

 

 

I

Intoduction

Going back to my roots as a Filipino is one of the most beautiful experiences I can have especially when exploring Philippines. Apart from seeing all the places with a religious and cultural spring of nostalgia, I received most of this emotion when I visited the talked-about Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar which is developed part of Bataan showcasing restored Spanish-Filipino houses from all over the country. This place is actually representative of the Filipino heritage and culture during the Spanish colonization.

What is greatly interesting about this place is that each house or casa has a story to tell and each of these casas have been picked up from different places all over the Philippines to be restored and rebuilt exactly as the original with most of the pieces from the original houses are still intact. And here, in Las Casas, they were able to place every casa in such a way that it looks like an actual town in Bataan. This was the place I opted to get—and I simply had such an amazing time during my stay here.

One other thing that I had not seen in such a long time when visiting Bataan was Mount Samat National Shrine or best known as Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor). Visiting this place had given me a surge of nostalgia from the wind flying all around me as well as taking the trek up to the Dambana. We will talk more about all these wonderful sights later.

II

Planning Your Stay

When looking to stay at Bataan to see the sights, planning is a crucial part of your travel especially if you are on a tight budget. For this trip, I traveled with my family and we had planned to stay in Bataan for 3 days and 2 nights. Although you have the option of staying at hotels or inns scattered around Bataan, we opted to stay at Las Casas which you can also avail for promos. As a matter of fact, staying in Las Casas overnight is more worth it than availing to enter the place for a day tour.

We were able to stay there for that amount of time mostly spending our time in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar and dropping by Dambana ng Kagitingan for a visit before heading back to Manila.

III

Road Trip to Bataan

What I found exciting when traveling to Bataan is that there are options to get there. Although you can simply buy a ticket going to Bataan in the different bus stations along EDSA, you can also opt to bring a car for an easier and less hassle way to travel. We took our Eon to drive up from Manila to Bataan at 8:00 AM—the enjoyment of going on road trips got to us. Listening to the music blaring from the speaker, the sight of trees curving toward the highway like arches keeping us safe from the heat of the sun.

If I will be recommending a bus companies to take when booking for a bus, there will be great options for you. There are some big companies like DLTB, Alps, and Isarog—these companies are ones that have good service and great buses. They all have their good and bad qualities, though which you might also want to take into consideration.

Traveling took us about four (4) hours including the stops and the traffic in Manila and we were able to pass through NLEx, to San Fernando, Pampanga, and through SCTEx to get to Balanga, Bataan. This would be the best way to go especially when avoiding traffic—as much as possible, you might want to travel early in the morning to avoid the morning rush, which is if you are traveling on a weekday.

DLTB also have great buses that are a mix between ergonomic and regular designs. They have some good quality buses, especially if you are looking to take the 2-by-1 bus or lazy boy bus; they have a good service and can send you on your way on time—I would not say this is consistent, however, since it would depend on the bus that you take. Their price are the same as Isarog so taking this bus might be difficult if you are on a budget.

This is the beauty of traveling by car—you would not need to follow a timetable and you would have the freedom to take stopovers as much as you like. You can either take as much time as you want on your road trip or ride as efficiently as you prefer. Unlike when taking the bus, you would have some unnecessary time constraints that you might not like when traveling.

IV

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

Checking In

I honestly did not know what to expect when we finally reached the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Yet the moment we arrived, I felt that I was immediately transported back to Spanish era Filipinas.

The reception area was placed in a casa close to the entrance of the place and it had a restaurant on the second floor of the casa. We were able to book a deluxe room beforehand with two queen sized beds and one extra bed. When we finally reached where we were checked in, you would not believe that the rooms where you can stay are all inside homes or casas which all came from elite and noble families from different parts of the country which all have their own story to tell.

Almost every casa is built with a Spanish casa architectural design from the ground up as well as the interior designs. Every land covered by Las Casas was designed as close to the Spanish era Filipinas as close as possible. It definitely would feel as if you were in a different time period, whether during the day or at night.

The Tour

We had a chance to go on a scheduled walking tour which was given by the staff of Las Casas to tourists who checked in as well as for tourists who availed of the day tour. With this experience, we were able to see all the houses and facilities as well as the history to every casa in the place. From the old home of Jose Rizal to pre-Spanish houses designed like Maranao or Badjao houses.

Going through the tour made me immersed so much more in the Filipino culture during the Spanish colonization. It was a great coincidence that during our stay, there was also an exhibit of the different churches all over the country which were devastated by natural disasters. We were also able to able to see the whole story of the death march presented as an exhibit in one of the casas—it was a great prelude to our planned visit to Mount Samat National Shrine after our stay in Las Casas.

One of the buildings that stood out the most in Las Casas was the old Hotel de Oriente which was, at one point in time, the great dame of hotels where American first-timers in the Philippines lodged as well as elites during this time. This was the most prestigious hotel as well as the cuisine served in the hotel was first class. The halls were wide with long stairways, the ceilings were high like skies and the rooms felt like a dormitory with the spaciousness. Every room was well ventilated as each window in every room was wide open.

The hotel was also famous for its well-known guests during that time, one of which was the great late Jose Rizal who occupied room no. 22, which faced the Binondo church. His sister, Lucia, was also there to accompany him. It was a great experience to have had seen this grand hotel in its beauty. This hotel had been replicated exactly basing on archived records and surviving photos.

Unfortunately, the walking tour only allowed for us to tour the whole grounds but not the inside of the hotel. The place, however, does allow for a tour of Hotel de Oriente which will cost about Php 200.00. After the tour, I was able to stroll the grounds and explore the different details that made up Las Casas.

Unfortunately, the walking tour only allowed for us to tour the whole grounds but not the inside of the hotel. The place, however, does allow for a tour of Hotel de Oriente which will cost about Php 200.00. After the tour, I was able to stroll the grounds and explore the different details that made up Las Casas.

What made any work of art beautiful is the detail that had been placed with much effort and passion. And just like any man made art, Las Casas was an artwork in the shape of a real estate which was largely reminiscent of the historical value the Hispanic times had upon the Filipinos. From the dirt ground and roads to streets made of cobblestones with sidewalks and street lights which are lanterns—although Las Casas is lighted with modern, electric streetlights—with a developing church, hotels, as well as what used to be a large shopping center during those times.

The intricate details on the each house made for a beautiful artwork that is Las Casas and the emotion and vibe that I experienced there made all the difference—this place has become the ideal place to be if you are interested in going back to the actual historical culture of Philippines.

Going Solo

I was able to rent a bicycle where you will register for a walking tour and they would provide you with a bicycle you can use for about an hour. It was amazing bicycling at top speed along the street and through the houses. Though it would be a fair warning to mention that because the roads are made of stones, you would expect some rough biking experience. I was going around at top speed because the stone streets would not be too much of a nuisance for me. I parked the bike on a grassy area in front of the church under construction and hung out, sitting on the grass in front of the lake by a tree which I used as a shade. It was the perfect place to feel the peace without other tourists walking around and the perfect place to feel the wind while writing a poem.

One of the more amazing added value in the experience there was the tram system which was comprised of a tram you can ride on just like the cable car in Europe; in this case, it was like a short train you can ride on taken by the old system of making it work. You can ride this tram if you do not feel like walking or are simply looking to experience this. It started from the end of the street where the guests’ rooms are to the house where the walking tour starts. This brief, yet peaceful ride, is best experienced sitting right on the tram and hearing the old engine moving to and fro the grounds. It takes 20 minutes for the tram to cool down before traveling the other way once again, it provides much time for you to do what you need to do before riding on it. This is operated by one of their staff.

When it comes to detail, I believe Las Casas had been the winning point; even the staff all over the place were dressed in the clothing Filipinos during the Hispanic times were wearing. The baro’t saya allowed for the people to experience being in the era like you would not believe. When evening came, Las Casas shined with the lights from the street lamps as well the restaurants in the grounds. Each casa was lighted and it felt like we were in Venice with the lights of the casas shining upon the lake emitting a soft glow extending further.

For Dinner

We explored the place and found different restaurants and cafes scattered around the grounds where you could dine. They had Italian and Filipino restaurants and we were able to have dinner at one of those restaurants placed in a casa right between Aguinaldo’s old house and the bridge to the church. In the restaurant, they had a beautiful interior providing for an intimate setting with the soft glow of the lights from the chandeliers. There were two musicians playing a duet with their violin and piano, a third player was there to play the cello and it was such a beautiful sound when they all played together.

My ears were filled with gentle, swaying music that played renditions and instrumentals of various romantic songs. The experience was dining for satisfaction of both the stomach and the ears. They served various Italian dishes which were intricately created, making my mouth explode with flavor and spice. With a wonderful glass of wine along with the cuisine, it truly became one of the most exquisite dining experience in Bataan.

This was certainly one of the best experiences that I would never forget—and this is especially so for the Filipino art lover looking to immerse in the history of the Filipino culture. And it would be the experience that you would look for if you are looking to get back to your roots in the Filipino culture.

V

Mount Samat National Shrine (Dambana ng Kagitingan)

Before leaving Bataan, we have already had in mind to drop by Mt. Samat. The ever famous land where the history of the Death March is displayed. It was a good thing that we were able to see the exhibit of Death March in Las Casas which provided a refresher on everything that actually happened during the event. Getting to Mount Samat required that we drive up passing through those familiar fire trees that are ever blooming during the summer. The shrine was easily recognizable because of the enormous cross on the hill looming the whole land.

Mount Samat National Shrine, Pilar, Bataan

Before leaving Bataan, we have already had in mind to drop by Mt. Samat. The ever famous land where the history of the Death March is displayed. It was a good thing that we were able to see the exhibit of Death March in Las Casas which provided a refresher on everything that actually happened during the event. Getting to Mount Samat required that we drive up passing through those familiar fire trees that are ever blooming during the summer. The shrine was easily recognizable because of the enormous cross on the hill looming the whole land.

The Colonnade

The building was a huge museum-like site that held so much reverence for the Filipino and American soldiers whose lives were lost during the Battle of Bataan as well as for those who were in the Death March. It was commissioned for the 25th anniversary of World War II; the complex features a war museum underneath the building which displays a collection of paintings of the Philippine heroes as well as armaments used by the Filipino, American, and Japanese forces during the war.

Getting inside that place made me feel almost like I was also a part of the event. Seeing the uniforms, the arms, and the paintings and stories of the soldiers who fought during the war. It was almost like I was there, it felt like I was living a Letters from Iwo Jima kind of movie. The colonnade itself was so elegant in architectural structure. Made from marble surrounded by an esplanade, there are high relief sculptures which shows depictions of the war—this was made by the National Artist Napoleon Abueva. There were also insignias of the USAFFE division units made of bronze—this was made by Leonides Valdez, Talleres de Maximo Vicente, and Angel Sampra and Sons. These insignias have flagstaffs for the flag of each division.

What struck me the most when looking at the whole colonnade is the centerpiece which were three huge stained glass murals, four large bronze chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and an altar in the middle. A narrative of the Battle of Bataan was inscribed on both walls of the colonnade. All the details on the making of these aspects of the colonnade was such a breath of fresh air, especially when the wind breezes all around you.

The Memorial Cross

On the top of Mount Samat, just beside the colonnade, was the Memorial Cross which towered at 555 meters above sea level and has become considered the world’s second tallest cross. It is looming over the land, standing as grand as can be. The Cross is made of steel and reinforced concrete with an elevator leading to the gallery or viewing deck at its arms or wings. The exterior, if you want to see it, is made of chipped granolithic marble which have sculptural slabs and relief which depicted the important historical figures and events in the Philippines like the execution of Jose Rizal. This was created by Abueva and he titled it “Nabiag na Bato.”

The view of the Cross provided so much appreciation on my part especially as an art lover. I have often noticed that artworks made by the Filipino have so many cultural and historical value that art and history in the Philippines have been so intricately woven together. This was what overwhelmed me the moment I saw the Cross looming over me up close, and it was that feeling that I will have fondly remembered.

It was only unfortunate that I was not able to get to the viewing deck or gallery at the top of the Cross because the lift was under construction. Nevertheless, it was one of the most profound experiences for me when it comes to going back to my roots as a Filipino. Visiting Mount Samat National Shrine is but one of the many places you can go to in experiencing and immersing yourself in the historical culture of the Filipino people—and it was at this place that I fully comprehended the reverence I have for the importance of appreciating the deep-seated history in the Philippines.

 

It is true that visiting Bataan will give you so much experience when it comes to the history of the Filipino culture—whether you are a foreigner or a fellow Filipino. You may opt to go to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar and be transported back to the Spanish colonization where every noble and elite Filipino family had their casas or homes set up as heritage in reverence to the historical culture of the Filipino people. Right up to the very detail in each house, construction, and even the staff, you will feel like you are also a part of the culture during the era. That is what visiting this place will give you, becoming completely immersed in this period of time.

You may also opt to visit the Mount Samat National Shrine which will allow you to be immersed in the World War II experience with the Battle of Bataan and the Death March. You will see the sights, the stories, and the emotions that was experienced during that time and it will feel almost like you were there as well. Going to this place as a tribute to the fallen men during that time would be the greatest act of reverence you would have made in giving value and worth to the history of the Filipino people. Whichever you may want to choose in visiting, one thing will be for sure: you will experience what it is like to be truly Filipino.

 

iV

Final Thoughts

It is true that visiting Bataan will give you so much experience when it comes to the history of the Filipino culture—whether you are a foreigner or a fellow Filipino. You may opt to go to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar and be transported back to the Spanish colonization where every noble and elite Filipino family had their casas or homes set up as heritage in reverence to the historical culture of the Filipino people. Right up to the very detail in each house, construction, and even the staff, you will feel like you are also a part of the culture during the era. That is what visiting this place will give you, becoming completely immersed in this period of time.

You may also opt to visit the Mount Samat National Shrine which will allow you to be immersed in the World War II experience with the Battle of Bataan and the Death March. You will see the sights, the stories, and the emotions that was experienced during that time and it will feel almost like you were there as well. Going to this place as a tribute to the fallen men during that time would be the greatest act of reverence you would have made in giving value and worth to the history of the Filipino people. Whichever you may want to choose in visiting, one thing will be for sure: you will experience what it is like to be truly Filipino.