San Pablo City in Laguna is known as the City of Seven Lakes: Sampaloc, Pandin, Yambo, Calibato, Bunot, Mohicap, and Palakpakin. I’ve never been to San Pablo before so I was excited when I signed up for an Independence Day trip with GoExplore to check out some sights in San Pablo. GoExplore promotes a more authentic travel experience and advocates 4 P’s in all their tours: Patronize local businesses and products, Protect the environment, and Preserve our cultural heritage. Awesome way to discover new places, don’t you think? =)
I met up with my birdwatcher friends, Tinggay and Marites (a partner in GoExplore), and the rest of the group early Sunday morning. It was also good seeing familiar faces from a previous trip to Lucban, Quezon for the Pahiyas Festival. We soon left the city and headed towards Laguna. Our tour leaders for the trip were Miguel and Gin.
Our first stop was the St. Paul the First Hermit Cathedral in San Pablo City proper. The church was undergoing some major renovations and the morning mass had already begun when we arrived. I took a peek inside the crowded cathedral but did not linger much. The outside of the church was bustling with activity! There were a lot of vendors selling religious items, balloons, and fans. There were also a number of children selling roses and garlands of sampaguita.
What interested me were the brick red candles being sold by the bundle outside the church. The bundle contained two candles, a human wax form, and a prayer. There was a small area in the parking lot where you can light the candles and say a prayer. It was quite interesting to me seeing those candles, because usually you just see the more conventional white candles or vigil candles being offered in churches.
Our next stop was the Sampaloc Lake. It is the largest among the 7 lakes in San Pablo and I was happy to see that the lake’s vicinity was clean and well thought-of. There is a view deck which gives a great view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It also has a statue of Andres Bonifacio. From the view deck, you go down a set of stairs to the lakeside area which has been developed into a park or plaza. You are welcomed by a giant tilapia statue. There were some people milling around and children riding bikes when we got there and there were some fishball stalls too.
Of course I scanned the banks and nearby fishpens for birds! There were a number of egrets perched on the bamboo poles, a couple of Striated Swallows flying overhead, some Striated Herons, and Little Grebes.
We then moved on to Cafe Lago, a restaurant by the Sampaloc Lake owned by Mr. Mandy Marino. Mandy is one of the strongest advocates of Sampaloc Lake who continues to work for its conservation and preservation. We were happy to meet him over our drinks and chat with him about his ongoing journey. He shares that conservation efforts began before 2000 and the state of the lake then was very different from what it is today.
When we finished our shakes and our chat, we said goodbye to Mandy and we headed towards Pandin Lake. Pandin Lake is said to be the cleanest of the 7 lakes and has a twin lake, Yambo.
We soon arrived at the parking area just along the highway and started the short trek to the lake. It was midday when we got there and even though it was a very short walk, it felt like a long one mainly due to the heat. There is also a short uphill portion, so best be prepared with proper footwear (that can also get wet on the raft!), a hat or umbrella, and water to rehydrate. The walk was picturesque until you get to the portion where they put up a wall on both sides, covering the view of the countryside…
Just at the sloping portion of the walk, I saw the lake. It was so refreshing to see the water surrounded by so much green after the hot and dusty walk!
After snapping a few photos, I quickened my pace to get to the lake. It looked like a small community by the banks of the lake. There were roofed benches and chairs, sari-sari stores that sold cold drinks, a small bathroom building where you have to pay a minimum fee to use, and a water pump which is the only place to wash up if you decide to swim in the lake. The bamboo rafts were all parked by the shore.
We boarded our raft and were soon floating across the lake. The raft is moved across the lake by two bangkeros pulling on a rope tied from one end of the lake to the other. Usually, women serve as bangkeros in Pandin Lake, but that Sunday, it was their husbands who were there. We had a delicious lunch of inihaw na liempo (grilled pork), hipon sa gata (shrimps in coconut milk), inihaw na tilapia (grilled tilapia), ensaladang pako (fern salad), and hot steamed rice. We even had bananas and leche flan for dessert!
Being on the raft on the lake was really refreshing. Being surrounded by trees and bird song (Elegant Tits were singing the whole time!) and with my feet in the water, I felt relaxed and happy. Tinggay and the others in our group went for a dip in the cool water but I chickened out upon learning that the lake was 200 feet deep! Nope. Maybe next time.
We were given two hours on the lake and then we had to go and move on to our next stop, the Sulyap Gallery Cafe and Restaurant.
Sulyap is also another very picturesque place to visit in San Pablo, but in a different way from the lakes. Aside from being a bed and breakfast and cafe-restaurant, it features old houses and a museum. Our group had some drinks in the restaurant (sago’t gulaman, brewed coffee, hot tea are some items on their menu.)
We checked out the Sulyap Museum next. The building used to be the old Southern Luzon Colleges building. There were a lot of interesting artifacts and the tour guide shared a lot of intriguing tidbits about the items on display.
As the sun faded, we left Sulyap to do a quick pasalubong stop at the original buko pie makers, Colette’s. We were treated to freshly baked buko pie before hitting the expressway and heading home.
It was a day well-spent with friends, old and new. There is a wonderful feeling in discovering a new place and in gaining new experiences, and I am really grateful I shared my first San Pablo trip with such great people! I agree 100% with GoExplore’s tagline: don’t just travel, go explore! =)
Thank you, Marites, Gin, and Miguel of GoExplore for an awesome trip to San Pablo! Til our next adventure! =)