I DON’T think there is a city anywhere in the world that has the advantage of having seven lakes. It may not be as important now, but in the past, the seven lakes offered a place for people to live and for culture to flourish.
an Pablo City in Laguna province has an overabundance of bodies of water – seven of them – which are actually maar craters formed by phreatomagmatic eruptions, when ground water comes in contact with hot magma pushing up near the surface. Its higher elevation on the slopes of Mount Marayap (that stands for ‘native lemons grow’) and rich soil provided abundant harvests for its early settlers.
Originally named Sampalok, it was first discovered by Capt. Juan de Salcedo whose troops arrived on this upland village by the lake in 1571 and where he discovered a flourishing trade among the natives. In 1586, a makeshift church made from light materials was constructed by the Augustinians in honor of San Pablo de los Montes. In 1599, a mission convent was built next to the church.
In 1647, Sampalok was converted into a municipality and its name was changed to San Pablo de los Montes. Originally part of Laguna province, it was annexed to the province of Batangas in 1756 before it was returned to Laguna in 1848.
The present church was built in 1714. According to art historians, the Augustinians started the construction of the facade and the bell-tower “to impress the parishioners with the massiveness of the church.” Between 1737 and 1783, the Augustinian mission turned San Pablo into one of the richest and most progressive towns at the time.
San Pablo continued to thrive as the center of trade for copra from Laguna and Tayabas, sugar cane and coffee beans from Batangas, and abaca from Bicol. During the end of the Spanish era, the illustrados (educated class) of Laguna built their houses along streets surrounding the church. During the American occupation, the town gained better access to international trade and by 1926 started its campaign for independence from the province of Laguna. Finally, in 1940, by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 520, San Pablo became one of the first charter cities in the Philippines.
How to get there
San Pablo City is 84 kilometers away from Manila. For those with private vehicles, the best way to reach the city is to drive south by the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), continue to the SLEX Extension and then exit at Santo Tomas. Continue driving at the national highway via Alaminos before reaching San Pablo. An alternative is to exit at Calamba, continue driving to Los Banos, turn right after Bay and continue driving at Calauan before finally reaching San Pablo.
Those travelling via public transport can take any bus going to Quezon province at the Buendia and Cubao bus terminals. They will pass by San Pablo. Fare is between P130 to P140.
Where to go, what to do
Worth either as a daytrip or a weekend adventure is the exploration of the seven lakes. Start with the twin lakes of Pandin and Yambo. The entry point is at Barangay Santo Angel. The trek to the first lake of Pandin takes about 15 minutes. Yambo can be accessed from Pandin. The Samahang Mangingisda sa Lawa ng Pandin offers a day tour to the two lakes. The tour costs P360 per person inclusive of lunch, the use of a bamboo raft and a local guide.
The picturesque Lake Kalibato can be accessed also from Santo Angel at the end of the zigzag road near boundary of Rizal town. From there, the trail leads to a small water stream to the gully that serves as the entrance to the lake. After a 15-minute trek, visitors are rewarded with the sight of Lake Kalibato framed by the view of the mystical Mount Banahaw and Mount Cristobal.
The lakes of Palakpakin and Mohicap are both located besides the interior roads of San Pablo. From Santo Angel, take the barangay road of San Lorenzo to reach San Buenaventura. Lake Palakpakin is at its closest at the small concrete bridge in San Buenaventura. About a kilometer away is Lake Mohicap. To reach this lake, park at an old chapel in Santa Catalina, then climb to the series of stairways leading to the pathway to Lake Mohicap. At 14 hectares, Mohicap is the smallest among the lakes.
Lake Bunot is located less than three kilometres from the city center and can be accessed thru Sabang Road.
The largest of the seven lakes – Sampaloc – has regained its grandeur as the king of all the lakes through continuous programs involving conservation activities.
Sampaloc Lake is where the people of San Pablo City wake up in the morning to do their exercises and close the night with a cold bottle of beer while enjoying the cool air coming from the lake. It is where the young hang out to savor the tasty fare of ihaw-ihaw (roasted) favorites and fresh buko (coconut) juice as the sun sets over the lake.
Besides the seven lakes, there are other attractions in San Pablo. Start with the San Pablo church. Its facade is of Neo-Classic style with Doric coupled columns, and its four-storey octagonal bell tower is crowned by a balustraded pointed roof. Inside the church, the main altar piece is made of first-class wood and adorned by several well-carved images of saints.
Around the town center are old stone houses dating back from the Spanish and American era. Look for the old house at Magcasi Road that was used for the set of the 1980s horror flick “Tiyanak” or more commonly known as “Ang anak ni Janice.”
Also partly located in San Pablo is Villa Escudero. This 800-hectare hacienda-resort has been showcasing Philippine culture, history and traditions in a rural setting since 1981.
Where to stay, what to eat
Villa Escudero, Casa San Pablo, Tahanan ni Aling Meding and Sulyap Gallery give visitors the chance to relieve the grandeur of living southern style. Accommodations, however, on these plantation settings do not come cheap. An alternative is to get lodgings at any of those inns and motels along the national highway.
San Pablo is also the best place to sample traditional Tagalog comfort foods in a garden setting. But for the more adventurous type, the cholesterol-laden Bat and Balls soup and the Goto Mami near the train station are the must try items. Most of the carinderias or small eateries are located right next to funeral parlors.
Another place worth exploring is the busy city market where local delicacies like suman (rolled rice cake) and puto (steamed rice cake) are available all day long. Right in front of the Land Transportation Office in the city are several stalls selling local bibingka (native rice cake), which are cooked using dried coconut husks. Also in San Pablo is the original Collette’s Buko Pie that is said to have popularized the art of making pies made from coconut meat. From August to October, the roads leading to San Pablo are lined with makeshift stalls selling locally harvested lanzones and rambutan.
This is San Pablo City – it allows you to rest your weary body and nourish your soul.