An increasing number of disaffected city dwellers abandon, if only for a few days, the chaotic traffic gridlock, noise, and toxic-laden motor vehicle exhausts for the relative serenity of the province for some clarity and pastoral experience. A short distance from the yammering and sooty sidewalks of Metro Manila (133 kilometers, to be exact) lies a ridgetop world of forested uplands called Lucban.
The road to Lucban cuts through terraced rice fields bright and shining with their varying shades of green during the rainy months and in shimmering gold before the stalks are harvested. Think of vast tracks of plantations preserved in antebellum beauty. Despite the great embrace for urbanization of its neighbors—Lucena City, Tayabas City, and Sariaya, for example—Lucban has retained a strong sense of the bygone years with development carefully controlled and runaway commercialization guarded; the town’s slow, relaxed atmosphere is where it’s at.
There are no bus stops in Lucban, no traffic lights, no traffic gridlocks, no graffiti-fouled walls. And there is no need for face masks as hedge against air pollution. Mt. Banahaw’s cool, billowing breeze takes care of that. Towering at 1,400 feet above sea level, and coddled by the crisp air of Mt. Banahaw, the fog-shrouded approach to Lucban is a gentle zigzag dance with tall coconut palms bent towards the road. The hillsides, contoured for leisurely windings, are carpeted with ferns twisting in the wind, as well as wild flowers and orchid blossoms in a riot of yellow, purple, and all shades of red.
Lucban old folks speak with awe of tales and narratives attributed to Mt. Banahaw. Gods, they said, used to inhabit the mountain slopes, making sure no one desecrated their home. Mountaineers and trekkers would get their comeuppance for trash and ruined vegetation they would leave behind.
The national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, had fond memories of Lucban. To this day, a group whose members are called “Rizalistas,” still venerate the hero’s resting place.
Apolinario de la Cruz, (1815-1841) known as “Hermano Pule” was born in Lucban. He founded the “Cofradia de San Jose,” which rebelled against the Spanish authorities in Quezon Province and was one of the earliest groups to stoke Filipino nationalism.
Spanish-era mansions still exist, circling the old municipio, which speak of flamboyant senoras and the fabulous lives of rich hacienderos who made sure their farm harvests were plentiful.
Witness to Lucban’s history is the four-century-old church built in 1595 in honor of St. Louis de Toulouse which is considered one of the oldest thriving churches in the Philippines. Stone walls called quince-quince, which together with a well-manicured garden and smaller grottoes, evoke ancient ambience.
Lucban is a remarkable summer stopover. The famous Pahiyas Festival is the event to watch out for. Established by the church’s Franciscan priests, the annual thanksgiving is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, for a bountiful harvest. Each year, a religious procession of San Isidro image atop a carroza decorated with farm produce and farm animal figures winds through the streets past houses with facades bursting alive with kipings (paper-thin sheets of rice starch dyed in rainbow colors and molded on cabal and banana leaves) strung in all imaginable art shapes and other Pahiyas embellishments—suman, rice grains and stalks, vegetables, fruits, flowers, woven coconut fronds, and young coconut fruit. Come nighttime, the houses outshine the stars with thousands of lights.
More than its history and Lucban longganisas (those finger-sized decadence!), Lucban’s reputation as a culinary magnet is another draw—pansit habhab served in banana leaves and eaten in the rough, and lechon never disappoint. Lucbanins like to pamper their guests with an extravagant “sampler approach”—a little from this huge mangkok and a little from that bandehado, plus a little more of this and that. In much the same way, there will be some point during the feast when a guest will likely be offered a glass of lambanog or basi, two popular and extremely full-strength local wines. Go easy after a glass or two and don’t say we didn’t warn you. “Barikan pa!”
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