Whenever friends ask me to take them on a road trip that will not require much physical activity except getting in and out of the car, and sampling local flavors, the first place that I always suggest is to go to Lucban, Quezon province.
There is no other town in Southern Tagalog that best represents the wealth and grandeur of the rich Tagalog heritage. From the way they till their lands to the way they celebrate their fiestas to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, it simply explodes with rituals and traditions that have been preserved from many centuries.
Lucban has a very interesting story. Its name was derived from lucban, which is Tagalog term for pomelo. Legend has it that three hunters, named Marcos Tigla, Luis Gumba and Lucas Manawa, from the nearby town of Majayjay lost their way while hunting wild animals at the foot of Mount Banahaw. Resting on a shade of a tree, the three hunters saw an uwak or crow and believing it’s a bad omen they moved to another place and rested again. This tree was a lucban where they saw a couple of salaksak or king-fisher chirping a beautiful song. The superstitious trio took this as a good sign and thus settled in this new place called Lucban.
The present stone church of San Isidro Labrador was built in 1738. It sits on the ruins of the previous church built in 1595 that was destroyed in 1629, and the second church which was constructed between 1630 and 1640 but was seriously damaged by fire in 1738.
Like most of the towns in the Philippines, the streets were constructed around three focal points: the church and the convent; the municipio and the plaza; and the public market. In Lucban, these are located right next to each other. The town planner also took advantage of Lucban’s location on the foot of Mount Banahaw and built canals where fresh spring water flows freely to each and every home.
How to get there
The usual way to go to Lucban is to drive south to SLEX, exit to Santo Tomas, turn right to Alaminos, pass by San Pablo, enter Quezon province via Tiaong, then proceed to Lucban via Sariaya and Tayabas. Visitors can park along the side of the road leading to Lucban or at Kamay ni Jesus. This route takes about four hours or even longer during the Pahiyas Festival.
The shorter and more scenic route is via Majayjay. Drive south to SLEX, exit to Calamba, turn left to the road going to Los Banos. Continue driving until the road forks at Jollibee Pagsanjan. Turn right to Magdalena, then continue driving to Majayjay, where a backroad leads to Lucban. This route takes about three hours.
What to see, what to do
Planning to visit Lucban, why not time it this May 15? This is the time when the Philippines’ most colorful festival is celebrated in this small town of Lucban.
The Pahiyas Festival has a very interesting history. When the Spaniards arrived, they introduced San Isidro Labrador, the Spanish laborer who died in May 15, 1130 and was beatified in 1619. He was known for his goodness toward the poor and animals.
The people of Lucban originally bring their best harvest to the church, then later on added the hanging of their harvests to windows and doors, and then to the whole façade of their houses along the procession route of the festival.
However, this somehow changed when one of the local boys was able to travel to Mexico during the Galleon era and saw how tacos were made. He made a local version made of ground rice, water, salt and natural dye. This gave birth to the kiping that rice farmers would hang instead of the usual rice stalks.
The name “Pahiyas” was added during the 1960s to describe the evolution of the Feast of San Isidro Labrador where the people of Lucban would decorate the houses along the procession route.
During Pahiyas, the usually quiet streets of Lucban come alive with tens of thousands of tourists who all come to celebrate this unique festival in honor of the patron saint of farmers.
The procession starts and ends at the San Isidro Church, but the route changes every year. Along the way, there will be band marching, parades of festival queens and their consorts, paagaw or throwing of paper money, higantes (big effigies) and even politicians making an early election campaign. Some local residents would even invite visitors into their houses to share the fruits of the good harvest. On the evening of festival, the best-decorated house receives the Grand Pahiyas prize.
Beyond the Pahiyas, travelers to Lucban can also visit other attractions such as the nearby Kamay ni Jesus, where healing masses are held every other Saturdays. It also boasts of the 50-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer.
On the back road going to Majayjay are the river resorts of Samil and Malamig, where visitors can cool down in the cold spring water of Mount Banahaw. Not very far is the favorite destination of many backpackers – the refreshing Taytay Falls of Majayjay. For a minimal fee, you can actually camp out even for days at the bosom of this lush nature’s paradise.
Where to stay, what to eat
Lucban’s premiere hotel, Patio Rizal, is always fully booked many months ahead. Visitors may also try getting a room at Batis Aramin Resort at Kamay ni Jesus, or Nawawalang Paraiso or Natagpuang Paraiso, both in Tayabas. But for those who wish to enjoy nature at its best, they can camp out at Taytay Falls.
Lucban also offers its own unique take on Filipino food.
The original longganisang Tagalog, which is actually the local adaptation of the Spanish chorizo where chopped pork and pork fat are seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and then fermented, cured and then smoked inside the dried pork intestine, are given with extra flavorings such as powdered oregano, achuete and vinegar to give it the unique taste and piggish aroma of longganisang Lucban.
There is also the Hardinera, the local version of the meat loaf where instead of using ground meat, diced meat is used. It is actually more like a baked menudo, but it is steamed and not baked.
Then, there’s this unique noodle dish called pansit habhab. Habhab means eating the food directly from the plate to the mouth without using a spoon or fork.
This is Lucban, simple and grand, plain and colorful, making every visit pleasurable, fiesta or not.