Each time wanderlust or circumstance brings me to a place for the first time, I try to understand the locality better by speed-reading on the history, visiting the town plaza where a monument is occasionally erected in memory of a storied past, or inquiring on how the place got its name. Most often, Philippine localities are named after historical figures or events, venerated saints, natural landmarks like mountains and bodies of water, or flora and fauna that abound in the area. But once in a while, a place’s name could be steeped in myth or fiction giving it a certain charm that pulsates on generations end. Such is the mystery of Liliw.
A municipality of Laguna, Liliw is situated in Mount Banahaw-San Cristobal Reservation’s environ and is one of the province’s highland towns. At the town’s plaza, a monument was erected and dedicated to Gat Tayaw with these inscriptions – he cleared the roads, built bridges across rivers, cultivated the lands, and established the town in 1570. It was Gat Tayaw who initiated the naming of the town he founded.
According to the story handed down through generations, Gat Tayaw erected a bamboo and commanded that the town be named after the bird that alights first on the pole. It was, however, a crow that first descended and to avoid bad luck, Gat Tayaw and his followers moved the pole to the town’s southern part. A beautiful bird alighted and its song comprises of liw-liw-liw hence the town’s rebirth. Gat Tayaw governed Liliw for over three decades while his brothers also ran the first barangays that comprised the town. Interestingly, a web search on who Gat Tayaw was would bear no result. It seems that there was neither accessible information on his forebears nor account of his leadership at the onset of Spanish rule. The myth of the bird that perched on Gat Tayaw’s bamboo pole and the mystery of the great man himself render Liliw a certain charm that’s quintessentially Southern Tagalog.
My first trip to Liliw was on a December and its cool climate was the first reason why I fell in love with it. Since I relocated to Batangas, I often visit Liliw during weekends. Fortunately, I have a high school classmate who now lives in Liliw after marrying one of its hospitable sons. On these weekends, I recharge by waking up early to catch Mount Banahaw while it is yet to be blanketed in clouds, taking solitary walks, or hearing the early morning mass in the town’s century-old church.
For ladies and gents bitten by the travel bug, most especially those urbanites seeking refuge from the hustle of city life but don’t want to totally miss out on modern conveniences, charming Liliw would be an ideal getaway.
For the culture vultures
Liliw’s sloping town proper can be easily explored on foot. A stroll for an hour or two would acquaint travelers with small-town staples such as the presidencia or town hall, plaza, church, ancestral houses, market, and business establishments. Most notable is the Gat Tayaw Street or tsinelas lane that abounds with shops for affordable, locally-made sandals and slippers, among other crafts. Liliw’s economy is driven by its production of slippers that rivals Marikina’s shoe industry. Every year, towards the end of April, the town holds the Tsinelas Festival with events such as parades, showcase of designs, and street parties.
Culture vultures would most likely be charmed by the ancestral houses along the streets of Liliw. Some of these houses are converted into restaurants and shops though there are a few that have become decrepit, abandoned by the ages. At the vicinity of the presidencia, a high-rise platform welcomes visitors for views of the town, surrounding mountain ranges, and Laguna de Bay from a distance.
For the faithful
At the heart of Liliw is the century-old Spanish baroque parish church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Though built in 1885, the parish dates far back to 1578 when it was an annex or visita of neighboring Nagcarlan. Just like many Philippine churches, the parish had survived fires and earthquakes. The church is notable for its red bricks and adobe with a façade featuring a sculpted image of Jesus’ baptism by Saint John. Inside, the church is adorned by exquisite stained-glass windows and gold-relief retablos. Atop the church’s three-level belfry, visitors are entreated to sprawling landscapes as well as man-made and natural features such as Liliw’s brooks and streams.
For the nature lovers
Because of its elevation 1,200 meters above sea level, Liliw is blessed with a much cooler climate compared to other parts of Laguna. From December to January, temperature could drop low to 18 degrees Celsius. One of Liliw’s borders is the town of Majayjay and both are separated by the Maimpis river, one of the tributaries of Mount Banahaw. This is located approximately three kilometers from the town proper and easily reached on foot or tricycle. Very recently, River Front, a secluded and humble resort opened its door for travelers eager to take a dip in the ice-cool river or in its pool or spend the night in the middle of forest greens.
For the foodies
When it comes to fine dining, Liliw is synonymous with Arabela, a quaint restaurant serving various cuisines including pasta, pizza, and cakes that are way too pretty to be devoured by sweet tooths. Meanwhile, a stroll around Liliw especially on Sundays introduces travelers to food stalls, bakeries, and shops offering traditional Filipino delicacies for immediate intake or for pasalubong. The town also has a couple of coffee shops and newly-opened restaurants or a traveler may just check in at 7 Eleven for that pair of chips and soda.
For the faithful who thirsts for more
Travelers enraptured by Liliw would be delighted to discover that its neighboring towns are also equally charming, possessing century-old churches, among other qualities that are quintessentially Southern Tagalog. If traveling via San Pablo, Nagcarlan precedes Liliw, a town that hosts two century-old landmarks-the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery and San Bartolome Apostol Parish Church. Approximately 20 minutes after Liliw via jeep or tricycle is sleepy Majayjay, Laguna’s last town before Lucban, Quezon. In Majayjay one may find the only designated National Cultural Treasure in all of Laguna, Saint Gregory the Great Parish Church. Lastly, on Liliw’s northeast is Magdalena, which is gaining ground these days for its white water rafting via the Balanac River. The town is also home to Santa Maria Magdalena Parish Church, location of several FPJ films.
Liliw is 2-3 hours away from Manila. Travelers may board buses heading to Sta. Cruz, the provincial capital of Laguna, and from there, Liliw is reached by jeep by about a 30 minutes. If via San Pablo, visitors get off at SM City and hail a jeep to the city proper. Jeepneys bound for Liliw are stationed in the vicinity fronting the cathedral of San Pablo and travel time is approximately 45 minutes.
Drop me a message about your Liliw experience. And do let me know if you’ve solved Gat Tayaw’s myth!