24 November 2011

San Nicolas: View of Taal Lake With a Different Perspective

Ruins of the old St. Martin de Tours church in San Nicolas.

Because I have lived in Batangas practically all my life, I had always known that there was a place somewhere in the province that went by the name of San Nicolas. I just did not know where it was.

I do now. After spending the better part of the morning last Tuesday exploring the nooks and crannies of neighbouring Taal, my host took me on a drive down the road less travelled.

One is seduced, if one lives in an urban area, into thinking that the world is shrinking; and that open lands have become a commodity entirely for the imagination. That this is no more than an urban myth one starts to realize the deeper one drives into the western section of this province.

There are still acres upon acres of land that are certifiable throwbacks to an era when the entire province was known for its agricultural produce. Sugarcane, coffee, black pepper, sintunis (a type of citrus) were what this province’s farmlands once upon a time were planted to.

The plantations may not be as diversified as they once were; but the vastness of the open spaces still available was what immediately struck me as we left the highway at the Tawilisan junction to drive into this remarkably well-paved offbeat country road into San Nicolas.

Perhaps, if one is a city mouse, such a drive may not necessarily be appealing. However, even city mice may find themselves revelling in the lush greenery and the freshness of the air, if nothing else.

Along the way lay the ruins of a church. Little of the church remains; but some of its walls, portions of which were fascinatingly built with corals from the sea, attest to the ferocity of the midget volcano a stone’s throw away when it bellows in anger.

Inside the ruins of the old church.

Indeed, history tells us that the ruins are all that remain of the original Basilica de San Martin de Tours, first built by Augustinian missionaries as early as 1575 and rebuilt in 1642. A massive eruption in 1754 destroyed the church as well as the original town of Taal that was originally located closer to the lake than it is today.

The ruins are the scarred remains of what must have been a proud edifice razed to the ground by that fateful event more than two and a half centuries ago. Indeed, inside the walls, there is nothing to see but Nature trying to reclaim what man built upon.

One does not look at ruins, though, with the eyes; for the ability of the eyes to see is pitiably limited. Rather, it is only with the mind that one can look at ruins and be able to discern what once was, what could have happened and, finally, what has happened since.

The San Nicolas Public Market.

Ground-level view of Mt. Tabaro, often the post-card face of Taal Volcano.
Driving on into a small town center right next to Taal Lake, there it was: the secret San Nicolas had kept from me all these years because I never went before. Everything, I had seen before: the lake, the Maculot, the volcano islands, Tagaytay and the countless little municipalities that surround the lake.

Most people get to see these very same sights from the vantage point of a ridge somewhere up in the mountains of Tagaytay; and I was no different. What San Nicolas offers is exactly the same; but with a different perspective. It is more up close and personal; and, in a way, I found the views so much more breathtaking!

Perhaps, the waters of the lake could have been more placid. Yet, angered as they were by the brisk northeasterlies, the views all around were just as lovely to behold.

A promenade by the lake.

Mt. Maculot from an angle seldom seen.
The Maculot was the opposite side of what I normally have the privilege to see, framed by the lamp posts of a lakeside promenade. Because the shores were free of fish cages, there were clear views of the volcano islands; and it was almost peculiar to look up rather than down at them.

Along a small wharf, townsfolks sat with fishing rods. Hoping to reel in a decent-sized maliputo, perhaps?

San Nicolas. The site from where the town of Taal originally rose. When Taal packed up and moved away from the reaches of the volcano, San Nicolas – in time – rose from what the embers and ashes left bahind.

A wooden wharf by the lake.

It is the smallest municipality in the province of Batangas with a land area of a mere 14.34 square kilometers and a population of about 20 thousand. It is, perhaps, a bit too much to say that it is the province’s best keep secret. That said, how many countless others from the province have never – like me until last Tuesday – been to San Nicolas to take in its different perspective?

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