MANILA, December 29, 2004 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Welcome to Pahiyas de Lucban," greeted gracious resident manager Barry Suarez, who takes care of the cozy mountain resort of 20 Spanish villas nestled at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Quezon Province. "Here is your welcome drink, lucban juice," he enthused, explaining that lucban means pomelo in Quezon.

Legend says three hunters from Majayjay, Laguna, namely Marco Tigla, Luis Gamba and Lucas Manawa, came upon a plain at the northeastern foot of Mt Banahaw after losing their trail. Despite their having seen a blackbird, which is considered a bad omen, they trekked on and were attracted by a couple of colorful kingfishers singing atop a leafy pomelo tree. The area eventually became home to Lucban.

Whether you take a leisurely drive from Antipolo, passing through the scenic coastal towns of Siniloan, Mabitac, Pakil, Paete and Pagsanjan to the town of Lucban, or via the Los Baños route on excellently paved highways, there is much to enjoy in this province, which abounds with numerous tourist attractions.

Named after its native son and Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, this elongated province, with its serene coastlines, mysterious forests, glorious waterfalls, pristine beaches and great cuisine, lies just southeast of Metro Manila. Centuries-old churches and stone and molave houses stand witness to time and history gone by. Here, sturdy trees sway to the cool mountain breeze since kaingin or the practice of slash and burn is strictly prohibited and monitored by the provincial government under the auspices of its environmentalist mayor, Moises Villaseñor.

Founded in 1578 by the Spanish priests Juan de Pasencia and Diego de Iropesa, who converted the town’s 1,600 inhabitants to Christianity and home to the world-famous Pahiyas festival, Lucban is nestled at the foot of the majestic Mt. Banahaw and native land to hero and martyr Apolinario de la Cruz, or more popularly known as Hermano Pule.

The well-appointed Pahiyas de Lucban lodging is an excellent nature-themed getaway with its several springs and waterfalls. It is the best retreat to explore Lucban’s rich cultural heritage.

My good friend and Happy Feet proprietor Lia Anonas and I hied off to the nearby Flower Farm just a few steps away from Pahiyas de Lucban, which is an affiliate of Days Hotel Philippines. It was delightful to walk under the canopy of giant trees. It was like being in the south of France as we strolled through the 14-hectare property of Dr. Reynaldo and Leticia Palines. Their greenhouses were filled with bromeliads, anthuriums and other tropical plants in full bloom, which are sold at a fraction of their prices in Manila. Lia and I felt like little children set free in the glorious Floriad in Holland. We explored the property further – the gazebo with its quaint manmade fountain, the natural spring pool and the well-appointed log cabin of the Palines that is a showroom of fine wood carvings, masterpieces by Anita Magsaysay-Ho, exotic fabrics and colorful locally-made furnishings.

We also met the buntal weavers Manang Pelang, Pita, Sabel and Josie, all over 55 years old, who exquisitely weave buri palm into export quality hats. It takes them a day to weave one beautiful hat, which they create with so much love and passion.

As we strolled down Lucban’s main avenue, we admired the 400-year-old church whose bells still peal daily at 4 a.m. Vestiges of its colonial past are evident in the antique houses in yellow and salmon hues, charming Spanish bay windows and intricate French balustrades.

At the town hall, Lia saw the statue of Hermano Pule. Lia read the inscription about the naively idealistic young man who desired to be a clergyman but was discriminated against. This disappointment led to the establishment of a religious organization open only to natives. This religious movement, established in 1840, was called the Cofradia de San Jose. Although Pule was beheaded in 1841, his movement participated in the revolution in 1890, allying itself with General Miguel Malvar of Batangas.

In the town proper, we explored the community’s cottage industries. Home to flavored lambanog, we sampled its variants in banana rum, brandy, bubblegum cherry, watermelon and pink lemonade flavors and more. We tried the habhab noodles made at the Old Center Panciteria, which was built in 1937, and the Abcede Lucban Longanisa where these tasty sausages are flavored with spices and garlic. At Koffee Klatch, we sampled the best broas, galletas, polvoron and cassava cake. In this quaint town, there is a bakery in every corner selling Spanish-inspired delicacies. We also admired the famous rice kiping chandeliers and wind chimes that are made of abaca and plastic that local entrepreneurs export abroad.

It is said that in 1734, Captain Francisco de los Santos and Juan Suarez, both of Lucban, toured the industries in Acapulco to see what technologies they may bring home. They learned how to make taquitos using local materials like galapong.

We paid our respects at the newly constructed Kamay Ni Hesus Healing Church and the Grotto of Healing and Purification at Bgy. Tinamnan in Lucban. The life-size Stations of the Cross were simply awesome. They seemed to be like paintings come to life, serving as a backdrop to the magnificent church at the foot of the mountain. What better time to contemplate on our mortality than during this yuletide season? One cannot miss the footprints in the park, which are huge tiles with footprints of devotees intentionally cast on the cemented ground, with personal greetings and praises of thanksgiving to the Lord. They reminded us of the handprints of Hollywood stars at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. We read each tile. Touching messages included "Count your blessings," "God is good all the time" and "Lord, I’m home."

If you are looking for cool mountain air and a dip in clear mountain springs and waterfalls, consider Lucban as your next destination. You can hike through its lush forest, explore the old churches and homes, as well as sample its exquisite cuisine. If you wish to go beyond that, leave your footprints on the tiles at the Grotto of Healing and give glory and thanks to the Lord for the blessings of the years past and the coming New Year.

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For inquiries, call the Pahiyas de Lucban at (042)540-2226 (Lucban office) and 892-6919 (Manila office) or e-mail Call the Flower Farm in Lucban at (042)540-2592, and the Kamay Ni Hesus Healing Church at (042)540-3085.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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