. The entrance to the cathedral is now where the choir loft once was and the tops of the cathedral windows are now at ground level. Some of the altars and icons were able to be recovered and restored and the church is in full use today. Our next stop was the Salaria-Gosioco Ancestral Home in the town of Santa Rita. In this house which was originally a candle factory built in 1849, it appeared that time had stood still. The structure and its antiques have all been painstakingly maintaned. We were served breakfast in the formal dining room where we feasted on pistou, rice tamales, suman, and empanadas. Instead of coffee our morning beverage was Chocolate Batidor, a hot beverage made from ground chocolate and peanuts. From here we continued on to our next stop, Ocampo Lansang Delicacies, to observe the making of the Pampangan treat called Turrones de Casoy which is a candy made of cashew nuts. The uneducated unwrap the candy first but now we know that the candy is wrapped in edible rice paper that tastes pretty good all on its own.
It was only 9:30 when we arrived in the town of Guagua in search of our next food stop, the Lapid Bake Shop & Cafe. But we weren't there for the baked goods. Lapid also specializes in brick oven baked Lechon which is so succulent and flavorful that we had to step away from the table to stop eating it. The baking process gives the lechon a beautiful golden brown skin that may not be heathly but sure tastes good
. Also in Guagua we toured the Betis Church which was originally built in 1612 and is known as the Sistene Chapel of the Philippines due to the emmense murals on its ceilings and walls. The beauty of Betis Church is very renowned and it has appeared in a variety of movies over the years. We were able to view a sampling of Pampangan heritage homes in need of restoration on our way to our next food stop in Mexico, the home of chef Lilian Borromeo. Here we were treated to a feast the chef started preparing for us at 4am. There were some excellent selections of Carabao meat, Bangus and Catfish prepared using native ingredients and methods. A large platter of Paella and a fiddle head fern salad rounded out the meal. Dessert was a custard coated in beaded merengue that resembled an ear of corn along with San Nicolas cookies. San Nicolas cookies are a Pampangan specialty and Chef Lilian gave us a demonstration of preparing the dough and rolling it out on the signature molds used to create the cookies. The cookies are simple but tasty and many of us left with a box to enjoy at home.
After lunch we witnessed another side of life in Pampanga when we drove along the Mega Dike Road to the town of Porac and on to the Villa Maria Resettlement Village. Villa Maria was established after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo as a resettlement for the Aeta people who were displaced from their native land
. There is a village and school but the needs of the people are not being met with the funding the government provides. These people are living remotely without potable water or basic necessities. The school is in need of major repair and supplies are limited. We learned about their culture and their hardships and their difficulties integrating into society outside of their own. All of this brought up many questions we pondered as we headed to Angeles City.
At Angeles City we made a stop at the local market to cool down with a large cup of Buko-Lychee sherbet. It was the perfect thing for a very hot day which we consumed on our way to the museum at Holy Angel University. The museum is dedicated to Kampampangan culture and its preservation. We were able to view artifacts and a short film on the history of the province before making our last food stop, Camilig Restaurant. Camilig is a historic building originally built in 1840 as a farm structure. It now houses a pizza restaurant serving a crispy crusted pizza topped with choices of local ingredients such as sausage, duck eggs, or fish all topped with Caribao mozarella cheese. A side of sizzling sisig (chopped and fried pork with onions) was also enjoyed as a final taste of Pampanga before getting back in the van for our ride back to Manila. It was a long day of touring, learning and eating. Our stomachs were full but somehow we still found room to sneak just one more San Nicolas cookie from our box during the ride back home.
On a hot day in May, the AWCP ventured north to the province of Pamaganga in search of culture, history and its famous cuisine. Pampanga is known as the place to eat in the Philippines and if you think you already know Filipino food, you haven't been to Pampanga. Our tour was lead by Lord Francis Musni who is a wealth of information about his native province and is working hard to ensure its history is preserved and culture retained. We began our tour in the town of Bacolor which we were told is the oldest town in Pampanga and the one time capital of the Philippines. Here we stopped at the San Guillermo cathedral built in 1576. It takes a minute to realize that there is something different about this cathedral. Why are the windows so low to the ground? This is when Francis informed us that the area surrounding the cathedral was once a thriving community filled with homes and businesses until Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and buried everything under the flow of the lahar. The land is now about 10 feet higher and the ground floor of the church is submerged under the hardened lahar