Stephen Craton

  • Canon C100

City of Seven Lakes

Nov 8, 2014 San Pablo, Philippines 6 min read

In November of 2014, I had two problems: a girlfriend who wanted to go on adventures, and a big video camera that also begged me to go on adventures. I’m not sure which I ended up pleasing exactly, but I took both on a little excursion to San Pablo. A quaint provincial town a couple hours south of Manila.

I also convinced the marketing folks at my company to pay for the thing by promising the video would be for their use. Since our latest project was all about discovering new places around the Philippines, it seemed like a perfect fit for what I was wanting to do with video. It was all around a win-win-win.

So one not-so-cool November day, my girlfriend and I hailed a chartered car and headed south.

  • E-M5
  • 7mm
  • f/4
  • 1/400 sec
  • ISO 200

One of the things I wanted to do with the video was really capture the slice-of-life aspect of this provincial town. What would it be like if I lived here and spent a day just enjoying myself? Forget life in Manila, how do actual Filipinos deeper in the country live? I relied a lot on my girlfriend of the time to help me out, being native Filipino herself.

“Well we’d eat first of course!” she said with much excitement.

So we made our first stop a popular place on our review platform, looloo. Cafe Lago was praised for its beautiful interior scenery as well as its pork dishes. Sure enough, the scenery for this cafe was unlike any other I’d seen. You could hardly call it an interior, as it seemed to be entirely outdoors short of one wall separating it from the street.

The food was equally good. I can’t recall what exactly we ate, and looloo has since gone away, but from the looks of it it was pork belly over shrimp paste. My tastebuds are salivating at that idea, so it must have been good.

  • E-M5
  • 8mm
  • f/6.3
  • 1/400 sec
  • ISO 200

We walked out of the cafe and found ourselves on one of the main attractions of the town. Sampolac Lake, and the surrounding shops adorning the lake’s shoreline. This, to me, is where the true Filipino culture came out to shine brightest.

Sari-sari stores bunched up together, all essentially offering the same goods, just by a different name. A couple offered up various street foods: fresh juices, fried bananas, and of course isaw (BBQ chicken intestines). Despite knowing deep in my gut I did like isaw, I couldn’t bring myself to knowling eat it.

My girlfriend and I soaked up the culture. Though it was really just another day for her, she enjoyed exposing me to the way of life she’d grown up with. A sentiment I have come to deeply appreciate.

That’s in part why I’m so glad to have incorporated the atmospheric sounds within the video. Hearing those motorbikes drive by, the children singing their little songs, and the idle Tagalog murmurs all give a sense for what it was like to be there. To live the life of a Filipino for a day.

  • E-M5
  • 10mm
  • f/4.5
  • 1/30 sec
  • ISO 800

We continued on with our adventure to the San Pablo Cathedral. The Philippines is predominantly Catholic, thanks to the Spanish colonization of the islands. So it’s not much of a surprise to see a Catholic church being prominant in the daily life of a Filipino.

What made this one particularly stand out to me is that it’s been around since the year 1680. As an American, who judges everything’s age by our country’s founding in 1776, that’s pretty darn old.

As we explored the cathedral, a group of street kids started to take notice of my girlfriend and me. The usual “ang puti! ang puti!” words rang out, as they noticed how white I was. They were particularly intrigued by my camera gear, and so they began playing a form of peek-a-boo whenever I was rolling.

It was honestly all too adorable not to include in the final cut.

As we began to leave the church, they followed us around for some time, telling my girlfriend various places to take me. We gave them some money to go buy some ice cream, their eyes lit up, and they dashed over to the nearest ice cream cart. We didn’t see them again after that.

  • E-M5
  • 11mm
  • f/5
  • 1/1250 sec
  • ISO 200

We visited other prominent historic hotspots. But let’s be honest, we came here for the topical stuff. Enough history for one day, let’s relax and enjoy the country’s tropics!

Pandin Lake, one of the seven lakes around the town, provided just that.

Secluded away from all the hustle and bustle of the town, this lake just calmly whispered serene nothings into our ears. It required a good 15 minute hike into the jungle just to find it. But that extra effort was well worth it in the end.

Most visitors opt to rent one of the bamboo boats to go out on the lake. But we were content to just relax on one docked at shore. The pristine blue of the water, surrounded by the lush tropical green just made me all the more aware of the Philippine’s natural beauty.

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I, on the other hand, didn’t quite live up to the same level of beauty. But that didn’t stop my girlfriend from deciding to snap this quick photo of me in action. I wasn’t too happy with it at the time, but as I’ve grown older I’m thankful to have photos of me doing what I love to do.

“Stephen! Kain na tayo! It’s dinner time na!” my girlfriend said, again with excitement.

It was nearing the end of the day, and once again food was at the forefront of our minds. So we stopped off at one last highly rated food spot just outside of town.

  • E-M5
  • 20mm
  • f/8
  • 1/30 sec
  • ISO 800

Pancit canton. A favorite amongst all cultures’ palettes. Pancit noodles are a form of Chinese noodle that have been adopted by the locals. Cooked in a soy sauce, served with various local veggies and typically shrimp, it’s truly a delicious meal. One I’ve even been trying to recreate at home ever since.

San Pablo proved to make an excellent adventure. My girlfriend got to share with me her cultural heritage, my camera got a good exercise, and looloo got a successful video for their Facebook feed.

While the relationship with my girlfriend at that time didn’t last, the memories of that trip have persisted forever. That’s what life is like in the Philippines, all captured within a small rural town. That was the true Philippines. Manila couldn’t have truly shown me that.

As I’ve found, you often have to venture out of the big city to see what a country, and its people, are really like.

Written November 1, 2019