Starweek Magazine

Pray and play in Pangasinan

- George Bernard Perez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Guinness World Records, pilgrimage churches, secluded beaches, historic sites. The province of Pangasinan seems to have it all.

The province is home to notable Spanish-era Roman Catholic churches, and at the same time hosts some of the most enticing getaways north of the metropolis.

Pangasinenses pray hard, evident in the massive churches which reflect their piety and religiosity. It doesn’t have to be a Holy Week Visita Iglesia in order to marvel at and appreciate the religious architectural heritage of the province.

The Manaoag Shrine is a must-visit for pilgrims and those seeking special petitions, even for those passing by en route to other destinations.

The massive church complex, one of the most visited in the country, is also home to an ecclesiastical museum chronicling the religious development of Manaoag. At the outer wall of the church is a pasalubong (souvenir) center where one can bring home the best delicacies and handicrafts of Pangasinan.

Aside from Manaoag, other remarkable houses of worship include the postcard-pretty Church of St. James the Fortress in Bolinao and the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Calasiao, a National Cultural Treasure.

St. Joseph Church in Alaminos City and St. Isidore Parish in Labrador sport simple lines, but their interiors spring a pleasant surprise. The Parish Church of the Epiphany is of the same mold, but its antiquarian massive bells lend it an old world charm.

Other pilgrimage-worthy churches are those of Binmaley, Bayambang, Aguilar, Bugallon and Dagupan City, the seat of the archdiocese.

After praying hard, visitors and locals alike play hard as they hie off to the nearest beach hideaway to enjoy the natural environment the Almighty has gifted them with.

With the rich Lingayen Gulf, undulating mountains and the mighty Agno River system, plus inland and beach resorts, Pangasinan is a playground that would surely satisfy.

Can you hop a hundred islands in a day? Try it at the Hundred Islands National Park in Alaminos City, definitely a must-do. Leap-frogging in this 123-island group has become more exciting with the advent of helmet diving in Governor’s Island where one can descend to the seabed in special scuba gear for non-divers.

If you and your arms are up to it, a more physical and pleasant way to explore the area is to paddle a kayak and admire the various rock formations up close.

With an almost infinite coastline, the province is dotted with sun-kissed shores which will surely provide beach overload for sun-worshippers. The beaches of Patar in Bolinao, Tondol in Anda and Cabo in Burgos are known for their crystalline and powdery cream sand which glisten in the sun. An old time favorite is San Fabian, with its kilometers-long beachfront.

Meanwhile, a new waterworld has opened at the Aquatica Marina of El Puerto Marina Beach Resort & Spa in Lingayen. The only one of its kind in province, the beachside park boasts five swimming pools – a giant slide pool, a wave and giant bucket pool, the “raging river,” a slide pool and a kids’ play pool.

The resort hotel also offers cozy accommodations, ranging from tropical-themed to the world-class RCI Vacation Club rooms.

It also offers surfing and skimboarding facilities, ATV and kayaks, so you can frolic in the waters of historic Lingayen Gulf, making it a playground and getaway for family and friends.

Balungao has emerged as an adventure destination in northern Luzon with its zipline, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), therapeutic hot and cold springs and mountain trail. You can also feast on the tastiest goat meat dishes in this goat capital.

An emerging extreme activity is caving in the expansive chambers of Cacupangan in Mabini town. Tucked in the mountains of Pangasinan, Cacupangan is a river cave system teeming with springs and streams which form natural pools, in addition to the awe-inspiring stalactites and stalagmites.

Lingayen exudes a unique blend of the old and the new. A first-stop is the seaside American-era Capitol Complex, reputedly the best of its kind in the country, which has been restored to its former glory.

The majestic complex was the site of the landing of Allied troops in Lingayen Gulf in 1945 led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to liberate Luzon from Japan. This is immortalized in the Veterans Park which displays vintage photos and museum pieces of war materiel.

The core of the spic-and-span government center is the neo-classical main capitol building, Sison Auditorium, the cultural and civic center of northern Luzon, and Urduja House, named after the legendary native amazon queen.

Another trademark of the Pangasinense is their penchant for setting Guinness World Records. Dagupan City first set the first longest barbecue grill in 2003 in the Bangus Festival, and again in 2008 in Sto. Tomas town during the Corn Festival.

Recently, Bayambang set an 8-kilometer grill during its 400th founding year and Malangsi Festival, a tough act to follow for those trying to post another Guinness record.

This is Pangasinan, where you can pray hard and play even harder.

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