Monday, November 30, 2009


I know. It looks like a scene out of the Swiss Alps or the Italian Dolomites. Mount Apo is considered sacred by timeless tradition. It has a cosmic force and energy which is felt by most everyone who comes in contact with it. The breathtaking orchid, Waling Waling - known by its biological name as Vanda Sanderiana grows best on Mount Apo. It is 35 cm. in diameter, its colors are cinnamon tinged with blue and red and a shocking pink. Observe the pine trees on your left. Usually pine trees grow on temperate or mild zones. It can get cold in the high slopes of Mount Apo.
Mount Apo in Davao, Mindanao

Boracay in Aklan province in the region of the Visayas.
There are thousands of beaches like these. It came as a surprise to me and to my sister that most of the beaches in the United States, Europe and Northern Africa are tatty, compared to our gorgeous ones in the Philippines. Uncle Rudy, Aunt Dahlia's husband , Lucrezia's favorite uncle and one on Fray Paco's favorite "hoomans" came from Capiz, close to Boracay Beach.
Pagsanjan Falls, Batangas, Luzon Province
The falls are near Taal Volcano and lake. The Ortigas - Nieto clan used to go on excursions to the falls. It was a real undertaking. The Sikh bodyguards and a private army of 50 men, up to their necks in daggers, bolos, guns, machine guns and hand grenades. A dozen pygmies armed with blowguns. Fray Paco with his two attendants ( twin dwarves) The Chinese Amahs, the Filipino yayas or ayahs looking after more than two dozen children, the uncles, aunts, cousins, the armed lookouts who perched on the rocks adjacent to the falls. That took meticulous organization and preparation. Dona Esperanza, the Matriarch, oversaw everything. After the massacre at Montalban,( which was less than 30 minutes away on foot) wherein 41 members and friends of the Ortigas-Nieto clan perished, the members of the clan when traveling en masse took great pains against attacks or ambushes by the Communist guerillas or mercenaries working for X governments. Only Lucrezia and the Mayor of Montalban survived the slaughter at Montalban, although the Mayor lost an arm. It is difficult to conceive that such beautiful natural scenery could conceal so much bloodshed and death.
"Beauty can be a terrifying thing, " Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky tells us.

An aerial view of part of the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan

The island closest to the camera with a piece of pearly white beach jutting out is Punta. It means point in Spanish. The islands are mostly uninhabited and are now used for recreational
visit and excursions by boat, banca - prau or yacht. Some have airports for small aircraft and helicopters. During the War in the Pacific, the Ortigas -Nieto clan riding on sturdy bancas/praus sought refuge in Punta, the 6th of December 1945, just before a vicious typhoon struck.
This jewel of a beach is in Gubat, Sorsogon, Bicol Province in the southern part of Luzon. White beach, Aquamarine water and a turquoise sky with royal blue thrown in. The photograph hardly does justice to this gems. The powerful warlord Tung Lok, dropped anchor further up. Whales, dolphins and Orcas came to these waters; they still do. The fish, plankton and other marine creatures seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of food for them. Lord Tung Lok's sailors hunted for coral in the waters and gold in the caves which abounded in Sorsogon. "Sugar gold " they called it because they could just scrape them off the walls, so thick and profuse was the gold. Hemp and abaca grew effortlessly. Sometimes the plantations had four or five harvests. The famous Manila Rope is a by=product of the abaca plantations. The "Katala" the pirate ship of Don Pedro de Freitas often came to Sorsogon for rest and recreation.

"It is said that the most beautiful women in the Philippine Islands, no, in Asia, are to be found in Bicol province. That strange amalgam of Spanish, Malay, Chinese,and Polynesian make for unique looking women," he informed his men.

Fray Paco loved journeys to Sorsogon. He could crack Pili nuts till his stomach almost burst. Pili nuts are considered the non plus ultra of nuts. They are rich in vitamin B,C, D, E, potassium, magnesium and strontium. They grow exclusively in Bicol province which means that onlythe rich can afford to eat them. Poor farmers in Sorsogon have endeavored to plant them, often with disastrous results because their upkeep is costly.

Lucrezia's father Edmund was born in Sorsogon of wealthy landowning Spanish - Chinese and Malay on his paternal side of the family. German - Spanish Jews made up his maternal side.

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