Nighttime in the Ruins

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Many have witnessed the Ruins in Talisay City, Negros Occidental in the daylight. With its elaborate structures and intricate design, it stamps visitors a brand of love that stood the test of time. It might be a good reminder that not all can burn and that some good things can rise from the ashes. The Ruins, regarded as one of the twelve most fascinating ruins of the world, stands in the middle of a 4000-square-meter property originally intended for banquets and huge gatherings. It was opened to the public by Raymund Javellana in January 2008.

I did have my first glimpse of the Ruins back in 2013 just when it was gaining popularity. This buzz was partly due to Roger, the funny tour guide who gives an awesome account of the Lacson family, highlighting the love between Mariano and Maria and their ten children. Visitors would really wait for him to tell the story with so much gusto!

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Last January 2016, accompanied by Jaycee, a friend from Bacolod, I went to the Ruins just a few minutes before sunset. They say the place turns magical. By magical, I really don’t know. Well aside from that, I really had to rest the whole morning because I had an ankle injury from an expedition in Danjugan Island two days back. =)

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So there, I took all the opportunity to capture the Ruins. Tried all the angles, discovered the use of a table sitting in the lawn for a “mirror” effect, and made a whole bunch of wacky poses (which you wouldn’t see here haha). The Ruins at night is really magical! It’s like you’re attending a banquet staged during the early Philippine setting. The lights, and the fountain, did a great job in hyping the atmosphere!

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The Ruins is open from 8:30 am to 8 pm. So whether you like the daylight or not, the Ruins can accommodate you and your friends, perhaps your lover, too. And maybe, just maybe, we can learn that some ruins are not broken. =)

Experience Danjugan Island, Negros Occidental

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I fused my love for travel and my passion for biology to set my opening trip for 2016 to an island called Danjugan [pronounced as Dan-hu-gan, but Dan-yu-gan is pretty cool, too hehe). The island is part of the province of Negros Occidental, 30 minutes aboard a pump boat from Cauayan, a town 3 hours from the capital city of Bacolod. Away from public attention, Danjugan Island has maintained its being a natural gem evinced by multiple ecosystems and a diverse flora and fauna. It was indeed a suitable place to conduct a Botanical Expedition. DSC_1310I was with twenty-six other botanists, amateurs (like me) and experts alike, who were eager to hear the lecture of Dr. Peter Pelzer and Dr. Julie Barcelona. They are top caliber scientists specializing in Philippine flora. At the start of the class, we were introduced to sixteen species of plants which we had to be familiar with after the expedition. Throughout the course, we did many aspects of plant identification using dichotomous keys (even tried to make one for a couple of plant samples), herbarium specimen preparation and plant photography. It was very engaging and informative, given my little background on plants. I now have sixteen more plant species in my arsenal of taxa. =)

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Dr. Peter and some of the expedition participants
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Sonneratia alba, a species of mangrove
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Heliotropium foerthernianum, a beach plant, was one of the last species I was able to confidently pronounce. lol
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One of my aunt’s Christmas gifts was very useful for this expedition. Hehe

Going back to the island, Danjugan is a marine reserve and sanctuary. The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, the organization which manages the place, emphasizes that the place is not a resort but rather an ecotourism destination. It has set a limit to the number of people in the island over a period of time to minimize the disturbance. If you’re interested to visit the place, volunteer or immerse with nature, contact the foundation at experience@danjuganisland.ph. The staff are very friendly and accomodating! Here are few of the photos of the place. Happy New Year!

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Meals are served at the Moray Lagoon Guest House/ Hall
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Moray Lagoon
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When you opt to trek to Typhoon Beach, you pass by some beach crevices that gives you great views
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Solar energy is the main power source of the island
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Wait for the sun to set at Typhoon Beach

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Kayaking is part of the package offered by the island managers.

 

Travel Wrap: 2015 Escapades

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There are many things about traveling that magnetize me. Meeting new people, experiencing local cultures, craving for superb adventures could be the cliches we all are very much acquainted to. Every travel is a personal experience, different from the story of your seatmates on a plane or of the couple right next to you on your solo trip. I had quite a number in 2015. So here’s a blog to wrap them all up!

MOUNT PULAG (with Baguio City)

It was February when I was invited to join a group to ascend Mount Pulag. The highest peak in Luzon (and the second in the Philippines) gained a lot of attention because of the sea of clouds and the miniature bamboos. More than that, it gave a really good challenge to both the physique and the spirit, and to values such as patience, perseverance and friendship. I was with two other Jonathan’s and their friends. It was my first time for a real kind of hike, with temperature reaching below zero degree Celsius! We were just on time to witness the sunrise at 2922 meters above sea level!

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After the hike, we stayed for two more days in Baguio City. This whole itinerary was inspired by the movie “That Thing Called Tadhana”. haha And yes, it taught me a lot of “Hugots” which you can read in this blog post: Mount Pulag and the Ten Life ‘Hugots’ It Taught Me.

PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN

The capital city of the country’s last frontier was not in my list of travel destinations not until a training was scheduled there. Flights, food and accommodation are all for free! I was with nineteen other amazing people training to become this country’s Biosafety Officers (there are only sixty of us in the country to date!). It was my second chance to explore the underground river (the first time I was all by myself, my first solo trip), a UNESCO Heritage Site. This time I had people with me whom I can actually talk to and take my photos, too! Get to know the group and my little drama (haha) in this blog: Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

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EL NIDO, PALAWAN

And since I spent two weeks in Palawan, I wouldn’t miss El Nido even if it meant waking up at 2 in the morning so we can take the four hour drive from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and enjoy the island hopping! It was really nice that my friends/ batchmates were really ‘game’! El Nido is one paradise you shouldn’t miss! I had few photos, though, because I was immersed in the moment. And the best ones are those you can’t capture with your camera. Here’s a simple blog about the place: Exploring the Islands of El Nido, Palawan.

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METRO MANILA

Speaking of Biosafety, I spent some good time in the capital city of the country to train on becoming a Biosafety Officer. We’re to make laboratories in teaching, research and medical labs safer for employees, community and the environment. That’s tough, but we’re on our way. =) Aside from that, some other personal trips had me take the plane for a quick rendezvous with friends, colleagues and mentors. Arts in Island 3D Interactive Museum in Cubao and the Mind Museum in Taguig City were two of my favorites.

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HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM

Middle of the year, I had my passport stamped again for my third ASEAN country, Vietnam. I hosted and facilitated a youth training in Ho Chi Minh City. This place was formerly called Saigon. It was only when I was strolling the night market that I realized that what happened to this place and the whole of Vietnam inspired the musical “Miss Saigon”. I had a deeper appreciation of the place when I visited the War Remnant Museum, a tragic display that there are no victors in wars. Also, Ho Chi Minh City exudes a lot of French influence, and the coffee is a booming industry! Take a quick look a the city in this blog: The City of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

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The Reunification Palace. We opted not to enter because we were pressed for time. Having a photo with it was satisfying already. hehe

ALBAY

Of course, I had random trips within my province. There are a lot of great places in this part of the country, thanks to the majestic Mayon volcano. History, nature, culture, they’re all here. Cagsawa Ruins, which was recently proclaimed a national treasure by the National Museum, is one of the best known attractions of the place. So allow me to talk a little about Albay in this blog: Albay: Let Me Talk About Home.

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This view of Mayon Volcano is on top of Lignon Hill. Take that walk uphill early in the morning to avoid the heat.

DAVAO CITY AND SAMAL ISLAND

Then there was Davao City. I flew in last minute to help my friends facilitate a conference so I was only able to roam the streets at night. It was Kadayawan Festival, by the way, but never had a chance to watch the parade. Nevertheless, I had a great time eating and laughing! A day after work, we spontaneously decided to see Samal Island. The island is such a great place, but we spent 80% of the time for travel because we rode the wrong boat! haha Being lost together can sometimes be great, right? Check out the blog here: Sama Sama sa Samal Island.

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Jump shots are mandatory. Lol

PRIETO DIAZ, SORSOGON

An annual mainstay. I never missed a trip to this place. The biggest mangrove reforestation area in the Bicol Region. We do it every year to do biodiversity surveys. It’s my yearly relaxation place! Prieto Diaz is a smorgasbord of everything I like about my work! My trip this 2015 was extra special because it was my tenth year! My 10th year anniversary blogs are right here: Prieto Diaz and the Ten Years We’ve Shared and Prieto Diaz: Endless Summer and the Sum of the End.

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Ride a boat, relax and have fun!

CEBU CITY

It was for work when I visited the queen city of the South last December but we were able to squeeze in fun and adventure. In fact, we spent less time to talk and plan than what we spent for going around (and fisting cups and cups of Bo’s coffee). I always favor Cebu over Metro Manila because of the city-country fusion. The Cube of the newly opened SM Seaside and the Temple of Leah were on top of my agenda haha. I was with an Engineer and a Lawyer, and a bunch of cool kids! I thought this was my last blog for 2015: The Cube and The Temple of Modern Cebu.

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CAMALIG, ALBAY

Finally, I ended 2015 with a quick visit to Sumlang Lake located in my hometown, ten minutes away from home. I felt guilty for not having been able to take a trip to this place for the entire year and waited until the end of the year to actually see it for myself! It was a great finale, however. Nothing will ever beat a place where Mayon volcano serves as a background. Sumlang Lake became extraordinarily beuatiful because of her majesty! God is the best landscape architect! My finale blog is right here: 2015 Finale: Sumlang Lake, Camalig, Albay.

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I gave myself a travel ban last October so I can save up for two important things this 2016. To continue my blog, I decided to do a throwback series of places I visited before which I haven’t written about yet. Those were the Nalusuan Island Beach Resort and Marine Sanctuary in Cebu, South Cotabato and General Santos City, and Churches of Sorsogon.

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I also did some travel blogs for Pinasmuna.com. One was for the Lenten Season, Visita Iglesia 2015: Seven Churches in Albay, while the other one was for Summer, Beach Destinations in Bicol for Summer 2015. Both blogs I’ve reposted in my personal site. Finally, my Philippine Travelogue blog was my biggest hit this year, which catapulted my blog to the Top 30 travel blogs in the country! It’s a simple summary blog of the places I’ve visited in the Philippines for the past 4 years. You might fancy a quick glance: Philippine Travelogue: The Country’s Top Destinations.

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So there you go. I hope this inspires you to get out there and see the wonders of this planet! If not, I hope this serves whatever purpose it might serve. hehe This year, I am still on a travel ban. That means, I am not going to spend my own money for plane tickets. So if you see me traveling this year, someone else is paying for it. I’m thanking God in advance and I’m hoping I get to meet some of you along the way! Cheers to 2016!

2015 Finale: Sumlang Lake, Camalig, Albay

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I take at least an hour every other day to jog so that I shed off the excess carbs, and I usually do it at the campus where I work at (don’t believe me when I say it’s that regular lol). But the other day, I took off from home and made a route out of whim. Along the way, I saw a sign which says “To Sumlang Lake”. I’ve seen photos about the place in social media and some friends only have good things to say about it. I changed my course, finally heading towards the lake. I was ten minutes away from home, and yes, not that far to be mesmerized by nature.

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Sumlang Lake is a natural body of freshwater about eleven hectares wide. Surrounding the lake are rice fields and coconuts, and some residential areas. The place is beginning to be developed, judging from the new cottages erected for tourists, bystanders and vendors. The lake could just be any ordinary lake, except that it has Mayon Volcano as an impressive background.

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When I arrived, there were many folks lining up for their turn to ride the balsa. Each ride costs 25.00 pesos. I had no plans of riding the balsa, because I didn’t have any penny to spend, and I was alone. My former high school teachers, however, were there waiting for their turn. They were so kind to invite me to join their group! haha

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The boatmen knew where to take the best photos. The whole trip would depend on how many photos you’d like to take. It took us about twenty minutes. We were told that next year, there will be more rides and some alternatives for the growing visits.

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After the ride, I thanked my former mentors and jogged back home. It’s ironic that I’ve been to places far, far away but failed to notice this magnificent wonder just ten minutes away from home. But hey, probably heaven was saving the best for last, at least for this year! My only prayer is that Sumlang Lake do not suffer from over-development, and that people would respect the place by not littering and by respecting the locals. Happy New Year everyone!

 

The Cube and The Temple of Modern Cebu

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My Cebu trip this last month of the year was quick. And although I gave myself a six month “travel ban” so that I can save a bit more, I took this rendezvous with two friends/ colleagues because we needed to plan next year’s programs, and catch up on each other. But really, I took it because it was for free. Hehe

I arrived minutes before lunch time at the Mactan airport. I was supposed to be with one other friend, but he missed the flight. He took the next flight after a duel with the airline staff (although I’m sure it was my friend’s fault why he didn’t make it to the boarding gate on time haha). The meeting was set at dinner so I had a lot of time to explore the new SM Seaside. It took me three hundred pesos from the airport to the mall. Call me crazy or gullible or impulsive or inggitero, but the only reason why I wanted to see the place was because of the Cube. Everyone had photos with it and I thought it was nice to have my photo with it, too. Haha I really didn’t care about the mall, because seriously, it was a mall! (Do I even need to explain that?)

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A Cebuana took my photo and even volunteered to take a few more shots, experimenting on which would make me appear taller, thinner and, well, “gwapo”. Daghang salamat to her! It took us about fifteen minutes to take several shots. I had a few more shots that night when my friends arrived. Taking the photo at day was still a lot better than the changing colors of the cube during the nighttime.

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During the whole afternoon, I decided to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I ordered lunch and took it with me inside the cinema. I sat at the farthest part. Yes, I am a Star Wars fan. Dad took us to the movie house when we were kids to watch the episodes, and I watch reruns every now and then. It was almost six in the evening when the movie ended and that’s almost when my two friends arrived.

We had dinner at the Mooon Café, IT Park and continued the talking and planning and whatnot at Bo’s Coffee. Bo’s Coffee became a staple in the next two days. I wanted to take home their Start Journal. I thought that the next two days would be the best time to collect those coffee stickers because our minds needed some caffeine boost. I completed the twenty stickers within the next twenty four hours! Cheers!

The next day, we decided to visit the Temple of Leah, a new tourist spot atop the mountains of Brgy. Busay, Cebu City. We took the habal-habal from JY square for 60.00/head. Although construction is ongoing, one can already imagine the finished product. It is like the Taj Mahal of India, at least because both are symbols of love.  Leah, who passed away in 2010, was at the center and foundation of this construction conceived by Teodoro Adarna, her husband. Teodoro wanted the temple to serve as a symbol of his “undying love and ceaseless devotion” to his wife, and so that his clan can have a place where they could trace their lineage.

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Architecturally, it mirrors a Greek temple. There is a fountain in front of the massive building while statues of women holding lamps, each one unique from the rest, surround the entire property. Two lions guard the entrance to the temple and a bronze statue of Leah greets visitors entering the edifice. All other embellishments are of top quality, including statues delicately sculpted to truly create the atmosphere of ancient Greece.

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So there, the last trip for this year was quick but substantial. Daghang salamat to Atty Tacs and Engr Alein (and his mom and dad for the warm hospitality) and the young students of Cebu for the sumptuous meal and shared laughters and mischiefs lol. Most importantly, life taught me yet another lesson and that is, I simply cannot stay in one place. Besides, atoms are always in motion, and that is how they create stories. Merry Christmas everyone!

 

SANTA MONICA CHURCH: Birthday with a Spanish Church and a Spanish Bread

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I took the motorcycle to reach the town of Panay, about thirty minutes away from the busy city streets of Roxas. All I had was a bag of Spanish bread I bought from a panaderia which, locals said, sold the best-tasting pastries in that part of the world. And no, I wasn’t exaggerating because that was how two men finishing their day’s share of the Spanish bread described what they were delightfully eating. But what I was about to visit that afternoon of August 8 (yep, it was my birthday!) had nothing to do with the bread, a little of the Spanish, a whole lot of Filipino.

The town of Pan-ay or Panay in the province of Capiz shares its name with the island to which it is part of, and often overshadowed by it. The town was originally called Bamban. Few people do know (including myself until that day) that the town became the center of Spanish settlement, and much of the Spanish influences and architecture are well preserved to this day. For instance, the second oldest street, after Colon street in Cebu City, is in the town, Calle Revolucion. The place is regarded as the heritage town of Capiz.

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One will never miss out the Santa Monica Church, or simply known as the Panay Church. Although it was rebuilt several times, its restoration in 1884 makes it the oldest church in the island of Panay. The architecture features irregularities, a wide façade fronting the church, massive and imposing aesthetics, all reflecting a baroque style of construction.

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The church also houses the biggest bell in the Philippines and fifth in the world! The historical marker at the entrance of the church placed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines said that the bell was built out of seventy sacks of coins donated by the townspeople. How it was brought up is another story, or maybe, a few other stories. No one is certain how, but one account said that people had horses pull ropes to raise the bell up to where it is now in the five-storey belfry. The bell is about 10 metric tons!

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There were smaller bells, too, around the biggest one. When they sounded altogether, its reach could be a kilometer radius.

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At the side of the church is the Santa Monica museum. This is where you register first before climbing the stairs to the bells. When I came back, I had no chance to take a look at the artifacts. It was past five in the afternoon. It was closed already, so is the souvenir store right across the street. The last thing to do was to visit the Fuenta de Vida at the back of the church, an old Spanish well believed to produce large amount of water. It was restored by the town’s tourism office to bolster the cultural heritage inscription of the place.

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It was almost six, and I had to leave. I realized I still had some Spanish bread in the paper bag. I took one, glanced at the church, smiled at myself and blew the bread as if there was a candle on it. As I munched on my goodie, I told myself I was sure why Santa Monica Church is Spanish. But why the Spanish bread was called that, I really don’t know. I shrugged and walked away as I softly greeted myself a happy birthday.

SUMMER THROWBACK: Churches of Sorsogon

One of the oldest in the province, this church is off the national road. We got lost twice!

The province of Sorsogon is the southernmost tip of mainland Luzon, consequently regarded as the gateway to the Visayas and, recently, gaining much attention because of the great beaches (blog about Subic and Paguriran Islands here), and a booming surfing town which I have yet to visit. This province happens to be my birthplace as well, so I always make sure to come back every year to that quaint town of Matnog, in the little hamlet of Laboy.

Sorsogon has a rich history as well, being formerly part of Albay. It shares with it the deeply-rooted traditions and the unwavering faith in the Divine. The churches across the province can tell us much more.

The town of Castilla was once a barangay of Sorsogon, established by the Dominican friars in 1827. Its original name was Bulabog, later renamed to Castilla in honor of the birthplace of the queen of Spain, Queen Isabela I. Castilla became an independent parish in 1876. It would become apparent in the succeeding photos that the parish church of St. John the Baptist of Castilla is one of the oldest, and definitely has the Filipino-Spanish mark of architectural design.

One of the oldest in the province, this church is off the national road. We got lost twice!
One of the oldest in the province, this church is off the national road. We got lost twice!

Similar to Castilla, the town of Barcelona has well preserved its original church established by the Franciscan friars in 1874. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the place. The interior has some renovations for safety purposes but still exudes the colonial era atmosphere. Locals say that eggs were used as binders to build the church, just as many other old churches in the country. Fronting the church is a ruins, being managed by the local government to give visitors and locals alike a glimpse of the colonial past. The sea is a plus.

It was about to rain when we reached the place. That explains the dark sky.
It was about to rain when we reached the place. That explains the dark sky.
Because the rain was pouring heavily, we had the chance to enter the church. We climbed spiraling stairs to get a photo of the interior. We were not sure if that was allowed. Sorry =)
Because the rain was pouring heavily, we had the chance to enter the church. We climbed spiraling stairs to get a photo of the interior. We were not sure if that was allowed. Sorry =)
The century-old ruins fronting the church.
The century-old ruins fronting the church.

To reach the next church in the town of Irosin, one has to climb 74 or 76 steps (I’m not quite sure about this lol, I lost count). Saint Michael the Archangel parish is on top of a hill overlooking the simple life of the faithful parishioners and the active Bulusan volcano. It was recognized as an independent parish in 1876. The church is relatively new, with various renovations and improvements. Irosin is a landlocked town, by the way.

Saint Michael the Archangel Parish Church
Saint Michael the Archangel Parish Church

The town of Casiguran is historically significant because it was the first missionary parish in Sorsogon and was even regarded as the center of the Bicol region. It is believed that the town was often raided by Moros. They built a watch tower to monitor the seas and warn the villagers of possible attacks. The town was established in 1600 and officially regarded as pueblo civil in the 1800. The Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church looks new, though.

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Casiguran Sorsogon
Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Casiguran Sorsogon

The ecclesial domain within which Saint Anthony de Padua Church in Juban is is relatively large. The parish was founded in 1816 and the church was continuously renovated since then to adapt to the changing conditions. The town of Juban was once a barangay of Castilla.

Parish of St. Anthony of Padua Founded 1816 Juban
Parish of St. Anthony of Padua Founded 1816 Juban

Bulusan’s St. James the Greater Parish Church is much more recent compared to its bell tower built in 1631 when the town became independent from Casiguran.

St. James the Greater Parish Bulusan, Sorsoogn
St. James the Greater Parish Bulusan, Sorsoogn

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The parish church of Gubat, Sorsogon shares a patron saint with Juban. It has undergone a lot of renovations. The rectory, however, is one of the oldest in the entire Bicol region, dating back as far as 1778.  Local legends say that Saint Anthony de Padua was carrying the child Jesus during one of the Muslim raids who drove them away, saving the town from pilferage.

St Anthony of Padua Parish in Gubat
St Anthony of Padua Parish in Gubat

There are 27 churches across the province of Sorsogon, and these are just seven of them. The next set soon! For now, if you’re planning to visit the province and explore these churches (as well as other attractions), you can take the plane to Albay and take a bus or van ride to Sorsogon. A whole day can bring you to most of them, given the right navigation skills. And remember, churches are places of worship so let’s keep it sacred at all times. =)