Text and Photos by Euden Valdez
IT can be observed that in the Philippines, modernization and industrialization are creeping in even in the countryside. What were once farming and fishing villages are now developing cities and municipalities.
Take for example Angono in Rizal. This quaint, little town facing the massive Laguna de Bay is now a first class municipality thanks to trade and commerce. It has indeed come a long way from being a barrio of neighboring Binangongan.
But despite its progress, its people keep true to their agricultural roots and they do so in colorful canvasses, beautiful music, giant sculptures, and other forms of art.
Angono, after all, is the “Art Capital of the Philippines.”
This Traveling Journo Ph discovered and so much more in a visit on April 28 and 29.
An art crawl
Angono has produced National Artists Carlos “Botong” Francisco for Visual Arts and Lucio San Pedro for Music and it continues to hone more artists—young and old, acclaimed or aspiring.
In return, these artists give back to their hometown by opening galleries and museums to showcase their talent to fellow Filipinos and even foreign visitors.
These establishments have made Angono a tourist destination. Start at the Blanco Family Museum that showcases two generations, or five decades, of paintings of the Blanco family starting from the late Jose “Pitok” Blanco down to his seven children. They are, from eldest to youngest, Jan, Joy, Michael, Noel, Glenn, Gay and Peter.
A tour at the museum immediately gives visitors a glimpse of Angono’s agricultural past. Fishermen are reflected in the Laguna Lake, or with kanduli (catfish), the bounty of lake, while women are seen amidst lush crops and big trees.
Also prevalent are paintings of the town’s two major festivals: San Isidro’s festival every May that gives thanks to the farmers' bountiful harvest, and the town fiesta commemorating the fishermen’s patron, San Clemente, every November. The latter also coincides with the Higantes Festival that showcases the artistic bearings of Angono.
Artworks beyond Angono also showcase countryside scenery and festival revelry. In general, the Blanco museum depicts the Philippine culture in realist strokes and colorful canvasses.
Not far from the Blanco Family Museum is the Botong Francisco Mural Street where the house of the National Artist still stands. Along the street, walls of the houses have been painted with the works of Francisco. However, these murals have been turned into concrete sculptures to last longer.
Guests may visit Francisco’s house to see his memorabilia including the National Artist medal, old books, paintbrushes, newspaper clippings, old photographs and so much more. It also serves as "The Second Gallery" of the paintings of his grandson, Carlos “Totong” Francisco, the only one in the family to follow in his footsteps.
Both Blanco museum and Francisco house are found in poblacion area. Meanwhile, the Nemiranda Atelier and Balaw-Balaw Restaurant and Gallery are just a block away from each other in the uptown area.
Nemesio “Nemiranda” Miranda’s atelier is home to massive sculptures of Philippine folklore characters like Maria Makiling and Bernardo Carpio. It also displays a wide range of paintings from the father of Imaginative Figurism, as well as select works of artists from the Angono’s Ateliers Association.
The lake’s bounty
Balaw-Balaw was established by the late Pedrigon Vocalan, who was as passionate in painting as in cooking. Today, his apprentice Dennis “Adonis” Almazar runs the restaurant and gallery as manager.
In an interview with TJPh, Almazar recalls how Vocalan thoughtfully made Balaw-Balaw’s menu in such way that it proudly serves Laguna de Bay’s bounty. On top of the list is the balaw-balaw, considered one of Angono’s most traditional dishes.
According to Almazar, balaw-balaw are small shrimps caught in the lake, which are fermented with cooked rice for one week. The paste is then sautéed and spiced. The restaurant produces and sells homemade and bottled balaw-balaw for P65 only.
So how do you eat it at home? He shares a simple recipe of sautéed eggplants with garlic, onion, ginger and the balaw-balaw.
Other famous native dishes served by the restaurant include Kanduli sa Miso, Fried Itik, and fresh catch from the lake that day.
Once their appetites are satisfied, visitors then revel at the works of Vocalan, as well as of Almazar who still paints despite his full-time job.
On the mezzanine are Vocalan’s earliest paintings, while on the second floor are his meticulously crafted sculptures in different sizes. There are life-size pieces that will sell for over a million pesos, reveals Almazar.
TJPh also observes the kinship and camaraderie among Angono’s artists. Almazar, for example, brings art collectors to other galleries if they don’t find acquire any piece from Balaw-Balaw.
A national treasure
Hidden in the mountains bordering Angono and Binangonan are ancient petroglyphs, proclaimed a National Cultural Treasure.
Present at site was Ms. Esparanza of National Museum who readily briefs visitors about the Angono-Binangonan Petrolyphs.
She shares that no less than National Artist Botong Francisco was the one who discovered the rock carvings in 1965. She continues that the discovery led to archaeological excavations by experts who believe that the petroglyphs were made in 3,000 BC. Stone tools unearthed around the site suggests that the petroglyphs were carved in the Neolithic Age, or at least a millennium before the birth of Christ.
The site of the rock art is a rockshelter measuring about 63 meters wide, eight meters deep and five meters high. All throughout this rockshelter, our oldest ancestors carved 127 animate figures like turtles, frogs and humans.
It was declared a National Cultural Treasure for historic, aesthetic, scientific and social significance. Thus, a trip to the petroglyps is a must when in Angono.
Laidback at the lakeshore
An immersive day for arts, food and petroglyphs calls for a leisurely ending. The perfect place for this is the Angono Lakeside Eco-park.
Here, locals spend a laidback time among friends and families as they wait for the sun to set. The young ones set out for the playground, while the elderly sit and watch from the benches. Some fishermen catch fish as a hobby.
Visitors can pay P20 for a 10-minute boat tour in the lake that will surely take one back in time. As the capital's skyline looms in the horizon, a local harvests camote tops from his banca. The stark contrast of modernization and tradition is then painted crimson by the setting sun.
After enjoying this scenic view, spend the rest of the night at the "banchetto" dining. Street food like boiled sweet corn, dirty ice cream and cotton candy, and grilled turo-turo is everywhere, while specialty food like burgers, ice-blended drinks, sushi, and nachos is served in stalls.
To conclude, Angono offers a wealth of experiences that will enrich culturally. This accessible destination from Metro Manila is a sure-win fix for travelers.
The Office of the Mayor sponsored Traveling Journo Ph’s accommodation at Angono’s Scrapyard Resort. Visit its Facebook page for more information.
is a former dyarista, now digitista who has been writing whenever the tides, the winds, the earth take her somewhere familiar, somewhere new.