It's always an enriching experience whenever I join Familiarization Tours. Not only do I get the chance to meet like-minded individuals, I also get to learn more about the locale, its culture, traditions and significant sites. And having been invited to explore Bataan for two days made me appreciate my country more.
Bataan may have had a harrowing history, but the province and its people have definitely risen from their past. Not only have they shown great pride and remarkable courage, they continue to symbolize democracy and freedom for every Filipino.
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Bataan Tourism Center
The Bataan Tourism Center houses the Provincial Tourism Office, Exhibit Hall, Audio Visual Room and Pasalubong Center, which sells some of Bataan's best products, handicrafts and delicacies. I particularly loved the shirt that I received from Kagitingan Project.
The Exhibit Hall was one of the first areas that we explored inside the tourism center. Although small in space, it contained some of the most significant materials that showcased both the province's past (i.e. recovered gun and sword used in warfare) and present (paintings).
Bataan's past was also shown in the form of a World War II Diorama. There was one display that showed the infamous Death March in Bataan, which started on April 11. From Mariveles and Bagac, the Prisoners of War and some civilians marched on to San Fernando, Pampanga under the heat of the sun. From there, they were loaded in boxcars to Capas, Tarlac.
TRIVIA: The Bataan Tourism Center is the first and only one-stop-shop tourism center in the Philippines.
Hardin ni Balagtas (Garden of Balagtas)
Have you ever joined a 'Balagtasan' (named after Francisco Balagtas) while in high school? I never got to, but it was definitely fun to watch, given the poetic verses spoken and thrown between debating poets. If you're familiar with 'Florante at Laura', then you know what I'm talking about.
It was only through this trip that I learned that Francisco (Baltazar) Balagtas, a prominent Filipino poet, lived in Bataan. Recognized as the William Shakespeare of the Philippines for his literary expertise on Filipino literature, Balagtas chose to reside in Orion after marrying Juana Tiambeng. He also became the Senior Lieutenant in the province while developing his love for both writing and the arts. A garden with a monument of him in Orion was also built to honor his legacy.
Saint Dominic de Guzman Church (Abucay Church) and Tomas Pinpin Monument
The Saint Dominic de Guzman Church is a 17th-century Baroque cathedral located at Brgy. Laon, Abucay, Bataan. It was one of the first convent's in the area that the Dominican missionaries named in honor of the founder of the Order of Preachers, Saint Dominic de Guzman.
We also learned about the "Patriarch of Filipino Printing" while going around the vicinity. Tomas Pinpin, who was born in Abucay, was the first Filipino Printer. He was the first native Filipino to publish and print a book in 1610 ("Librong Pagaaralan nang mga Tagalog nang Uicang Castilla"). We even had the opportunity to see the first newspaper printing press before it was transported to a different location.
Our visit was also timely, as Bataan was celebrating "Araw ng Kagitingan" (the Day of Valor is observed every April 9), which marks the greatness of Filipino fighters during World War II. The event was filled with activities that honored the Veterans like the "Parada ng Kagitingan", where creatively-designed floats trooped all the way to the Capitol Compound.
Plaza de Mayor
Plaza de Mayor comes to life at night, especially when the plaza lights start to move rhythmically to the music. Anyone who is willing to get wet for the sake of fun can play by the fountain. But to those who feel like being just plain spectators can stay on the side lines, or go shopping by Galleria Victoria. And should you go hungry, plenty of fast food chains can be accessed within the vicinity.
OTHER NEARBY SITES: St. Joseph Cathedral, City Hall and The Plaza Hotel Balanga. You can also try the delicious gelatos at Stregato Gelateria by Galleria Victoria.
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Shrine of Valor
The Shrine of Valor (Dambana ng Kagitingan), which is located on Mt. Samat in Pilar town, is Bataan's icon. The 92-meter, steel Memorial Cross serves as the Philippines national memorial for the people who defended Bataan, particularly those who sacrificed their lives in order to secure freedom for the country. It is also built with an elevator (non-functioning at the time of our visit) and a viewing gallery.
A marble colonnade can also be seen just below the shrine. It has its own altar, esplanade, museum and war-related depictions, which can be seen around the white row of columns. There's also a glass mosaic on site, which was designed by Professor Cenon M. Rivera. But the rest of the artworks and sculptures were designed by National Artist Professor Napoleon Abueva. The engravings of the Battle of Bataan were also created by Maximo Vicente.
The National Commemoration of the 74th Araw ng Kagitingan was also held here.
Mt. Samat Zipline
I've always been a fan of ziplines, so trying out the Mt. Samat Zipline was definitely an activity that I looked forward to all weekend. Going up to the summit was easy, as a shuttle bus transported us to the top. We were reminded of the safety rules upon drop-off, and were weighed before being strapped with the essentials. The steel wire looked long, but it took me probably a short minute to reach the end of the rope. Nonetheless, the scenery that I went past looked lovely. Plus the strong wind on my face helped cool my body, as it was scorching hot at the time of our visit.
The heat really drained me, so I opted out on the tree-hopping adventure. But some of our blogger friends wanted to do the entire experience (with hard rope courses), so we just watched from below.
While waiting for our friends to finish with their tree activity, some of us walked to the nearby Dunsulan Falls. I was left disappointed upon reaching the area. I would've actually appreciated Dunsulan Falls if the surroundings were always left cleaned and maintained. But there were plenty of trash left in every corner, which was pretty disheartening. I mean, picking up your garbage should be a habit wherever you may be. Even the water looked a bit murky. Now, I don't know the actual depth of the water, but some of the locals who went to climb and jump from the rock walls was like an accident just waiting to happen. It looked dangerous at every angle. I really hope Bataan officials look into this concern, and remedy the situation right away because Dunsulan Falls can be a great attraction if it had the proper conservation.
Galing Bataan Trade Fair
The last stop on our itinerary was the Galing Bataan Trade Fair. We were able to see the bazaar set-up the night before. But we opted not to check anymore since we needed to sleep early, as our call time the next day was 3 AM. Anyway, the trade fair consisted of Bataan's finest products, handicrafts and delicacies. The Kagitingan Project was also present, along with their remarkable line of shirts, bags and more.
WHERE TO STAY
I loved that our overnight stay was booked in The Plaza Hotel Balanga because not only was it a pleasant accommodation, it was also near several noteworthy sites (i.e. Plaza de Mayor, City Hall, St. Joseph Cathedral). Given that it's located in Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga, you definitely won't run out of options when it comes to food, as there are several choices around the accommodation. *A full review will be published real soon!
WHERE TO EAT
For a good spread of Filipino dishes (buffet-style), dine at Ima Flora's Pamangan. They're located at National Road Ala-Uli, Pilar Bataan. Make sure to come in early or reserve a table, as the quaint restaurant fills up in an instant.
There are still a lot of significant sites in Bataan that we haven't seen (i.e. 0km and 00km markers, First Line of Defense Monument, Flaming Sword, Battle of Toul Pocket, Philippine-Japan Friendship Tower, Death March Markers), but would love to discover real soon. But for now, I will continue to honor Bataan and the memory of our brave Filipino and American soldiers, and civilians, who fought and died in the defense of democracy.
Explore & Be Free!
NOTE: The familiarization tour was sponsored and organized by the Bataan Provincial Tourism Office. This 2-day trip was conducted from April 8-9, 2016. Special thanks to Ms. Danica Tigas, Ms. Leslie Jorge, Kuya Roberto Manabat and Ms. Christina Banzon.
Instagram: @BeholdBataan / http://instagram.com/beholdbataan
Phone: (047) 237-4785/ 237-4476