A Laguna Road Trip: Liliw, Nagcarlan, and San Pablo

Blogger Martin Flordeliza visits tsinelas shops, an underground cemetery, and a few peaceful lakes in this multifaceted province.

By Martin Flordeliza
October 31, 2011


Laguna is a perfect place for a road trip--it's close to Manila and has a wide range of sights to see. Blogger Martin Flordeliza of the Walks of Kulot takes a trip to Liliw, Nagcarlan, and San Pablo and shares what these towns have to offer.



The Slippers Capital of the Philippines

laguna_liliw_slippers_martin_flordeliza.jpgApproximately 100 km from Manila is the peculiar little town of Liliw in Laguna. After driving past a welcome banner that said “Welcome: Tsinelas Festival 2010, August 29, 2010”, we finally knew we were in Liliw. Colorful triangular flags hanging from trees welcomed us, but unfortunately, the town had just celebrated their annual Tsinelas festival a few weeks before our visit, and it was a normal day again for the people in Liliw.

We stopped by a nearby tricycle outpost and asked for directions where we could find stores selling what the town is known for—slippers. Following the directions from the friendly tricycle driver, we finally reached a long stretch of road with stores selling slippers. The town was quiet with few visitors from nearby towns.

Bili na po kayo, may pang-lalaki”, a vendor called, inviting me to check out slippers to buy for myself. I wanted to check out the other stores first, so as a gesture of respect I just nodded with a smile. Slippers, sandals and flip-flops are sold in different designs and colors. I realized women would enjoy splurging here to satisfy their footwear fancy.

I entered a store with a huge signage in red bold letters saying “Gawang Liliw,” recalling my first pair of slippers from Liliw which my grandmother bought for me before. “Gawang Liliw yan, di yan madali masira!” (That’s made from Liliw, it won’t wear out easily!”) she told me. True enough, they lasted ‘til I outgrew them.

The Red Church of Liliw

laguna_liliw_church_1_martin_flordeliza.jpgJust across the giant slipper installation near the Liliw Municipal Hall is the Liliw Church, also known as the Saint John the Baptist parish. The church was restored after being burned during the Spanish colonization here in the Philippines. Upon entering the church gates, we found white-washed statues of famous Catholic saints and martyrs that stood as if they were silent guards of the church. The church’s façade was striking with its red brick walls. It emanated an old dignity and gave me a feeling of being transported back to the old world.

I entered the church and I saw a few visitors offering their silent prayers. The altar looked regal with its intricately designed golden carvings with an army of saints standing behind glass windows. I stopped for a moment to offer a prayer for the safe trip we had.


Via Sta. Cruz, Laguna: Take a bus at Buendia or Cubao going to Sta. Cruz, get off at the Sta. Cruz bus station, and wait for jeepneys going to Liliw.

Via San Pablo City: Take a bus going to Lucena and get off at San Pablo. Take a jeepney from the town proper. You will be passing the towns of Rizal and Nagcarlan through a national road before reaching Liliw.


Nagcarlan’s Underground Cemetery

laguna_nagcarlan_cemetery_martin_flordeliza.jpgOn our way to the city of San Pablo, we made a quick stop at Nagcarlan’s Underground Cemetery which was along the highway across a Petron gasoline station. Outside, an archway welcomed us. A brick pathway led us to the main chapel where the underground cemetery was situated. A trip to the cemetery might be an eerie experience for some, but I find Nagcarlan cemetery inviting, with its well-tended lawns, Baroque architecture, and a rich history which dates back to the Spanish era.

The underground cemetery was built in the year 1851 by a Franciscan missionary and during that time, only the rich and influential people were allowed to be buried inside. Not until the end of the Spanish colonization did things change, when the government opened the cemetery to the locals of Nagcarlan and nearby towns. Today, the cemetery is under the preservation of the National Historical Institute and is considered a national historical shrine.

Going down to the crypt

laguna_nagcarlan_cemetery_crypt_martin_flordeliza.jpgAfter listening to the caretaker/guide give her spiel about the crypt, we hurried going down the granite steps. “No flash photography please,” were the guide’s final words to us—maybe she knew we would take photos because of the cameras dangling around our necks.

The air was humid down in the vault and suddenly the air smelled like soil dug from the earth. The crypt gave a different feeling compared to the tombstones outside. I couldn’t read the names written on the epitaphs because of the poor lighting below—only yellow lights from small light bulbs illuminated the whole place and a measly amount of sunlight came from the only window below. The tiles were worn out and some parts of the walls were engraved by vandals.

I closed my eyes and I could imagine the number of weeping families who went down there to lay their loved ones to final rest. I opened my eyes and I felt I was renewed, grateful to be alive.

The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Entance is free of charge, but donations are welcome for the maintenance of the cemetery.


The City of Lakes

crop_laguna_san_pablo_lakes_martin_flordeliza.jpgBack on the road, we travelled for about 15 minutes to Brgy. San Lorenzo in the city of San Pablo, where one of the famed seven lakes of Laguna can be found. We almost drove past the worn out tarpaulin banner that says “This way to Pandin Lake” which we could barely read because of its faded colors.

A friendly lanzones vendor who also seemed to be the parking attendant asked us to park our car in an empty lot just beside the highway. We obliged and as we were about to get down from the car, the woman—who had a smile plastered on her face—approached us with her basket of lanzones. Trying to be polite, we told her that we would buy after we’ve seen the lake. She beamed with a smile and said “Mamaya ha, diretso lang kayo dyan. Malapit lang. (Don’t forget to buy later. Go straight ahead, the lake is near).“

Following her directions, we went straight along a pathway with tall grass and horse dung along the way. It wasn’t near after all; we trekked for almost 15 minutes until we reached an uphill path. I could just hear the splashing of water and I felt cold from the fresh breeze. “We must be here.” I murmured, and with just a few more steps we finally reached an elevated platform overlooking the lake. The view was just amazing—a treat for lazy trekkers like us.

Laid-back afternoon on Lake Pandin

laguna_san_pablo_lake_pandin_3_martin_flordeliza.jpgWe went down the hill to get a closer view of the lake. A few houses made from bamboo stood on stilts hovering over the mouth of the lake. The green murky water was accentuated with pink stems from a gathering of lotus plants floating on the surface of the lake. From afar the mountains looked like a giant green carpet covering the lake.

A small community lives by the Pandin Lake. When we arrived, a group of children were enjoying an afternoon swim. It looked like part of their daily routine, as we gathered from their tanned skin and amazing stunts as they turned somersaults in the air straight into the deep waters of the lake. Swimming in the lake seemed to be inviting, but without any plans to do so, we instead rented a bamboo raft from Kuya Sion, who served as our boatman and guide.

Our Lady’s Grotto

Moving through the lake, I was actually afraid that our raft might tip over. Although I know how to swim, the thought of creatures living in the lake’s dark green waters was daunting. “Safe po lumangoy diyan Sir. Walang piranha dyan tilapia lang.” (It’s safe to swim there, Sir. Don’t worry there’s no piranha just tilapia”) was Kuya Sion’s giggly reply when I asked him if we could swim.

We were in the middle of the lake when Kuya Sion reached something from the water—it was a black rope connected to a branch of a tree on the other side of the lake. We helped him pull the rope as our raft moved forward gently. When we reached the other side of the lake, we were greeted by an image of Our Lady of Lourdes standing on rocks at the foot of the mountain. The expression on the image’s face seemed smiling at us. I suddenly jumped from our raft, feeling safe knowing Our Lady was watching over us.

The Couple Lake

laguna_san_pablo_lake_yambo_martin_flordeliza.jpgMag-asawa kasi tong Pandin at Yambo, yun ang sabi sa alamat. (According to legend, Lake Pandin and Yambo are married.)” Kuya Sion explained on our way to Lake Yambo. Lake Yambo was just on the other side of Lake Pandin, the two divided by a mountain in between them. We climbed a muddy and slippery pathway lined with coconut trees on the sides of the mountain to get a better view of Lake Yambo. The lake was bigger compared to Lake Pandin and according to Kuya Sion, the lake is used as a breeding ground for tilapia fingerlings.

After a few minutes, we went down the mountain and went back on shore to visit another lake in San Pablo City.

The Sampaloc Lake

laguna_san_pablo_lake_sampaloc_martin_flordeliza.jpgJust in time—before sunset—we arrived at the Sampaloc Lake, the largest and most famous among the seven lakes in San Pablo City. From the white balustrades overlooking the lake, I watched the sky change in a medley of different colors—from blue and violet to yellow and orange—with the holy Mt. Banahaw serving as a perfect backdrop against the still Lake Sampaloc. Light from the sun highlighted the soft edges of the clouds. I couldn’t help but stare at the sky, because I did’t want to miss its rare transformations. As this happened, everyone in the park was glued at the view of this magnificent phenomenon.

It was a typical Saturday in the town of San Pablo. Families, lovers, and groups of friends flocked the park near the lake to enjoy a laid-back afternoon. At that moment, I realized how simple life is in this small little town—kids spending their weekend afternoons near the lake with their friends, sharing stories, playing games like piko, patintero, or habulan; lovers cuddling under the mango tree; and families picnicking near the lake. Lake Sampaloc seemed to be an important place for the people in San Pablo. More than the scenic sunset and the lake, it’s a place they keep coming back to because of the significant memories they’ve made there with their family and friends.

For a tour of the lakes, contact Kuya Sion, our Lake Pandin boatman and guide at 0929-9789565.

Browse through the gallery below for more scenes from Martin's trip.

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