Taal's not-so-hidden wonders

Taal's not-so-hidden wonders
By Walter Ang
November 29, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

To roadtest the Nokia N86, we joined a daytrip to Taal, Batangas for some connecting with the past, some capturing of the sights via picture taking, and occasional Internet surfing.

While Taal is most known for its volcano sitting serenely in the middle of Taal Lake (it's active, actually), there are many other tourist spots to visit. We started the tour at Escuela Pia, the site of a school built in the 1880s that's now used as a multi-function venue and cultural center, where we were treated to demonstrations of the local crafts.

A collection of balisongs (fan knives) were on display, including ones with handles that are disguised as hair combs and some mezzaluna-looking blades that look like Klingon weapons. In the garden, two men showed how balisongs are actually assembled, while a third showed off a few moves and stances that are supposed to inflict the most damage to an opponent.

Sawali (woven split bamboo mats) and walis tingtings were being assembled by a family. The fragrant scent of caramel-y sweetness led us to an area where panutsa (peanut brittle) was being cooked.

Varied features
Like the cornucopia of crafts presented, the Nokia N86 also comes with a gamut of features. The lazy photographer (like this writer) will enjoy the autofocus feature (just press the shutter button halfway to allow the camera to focus), automatic motion blur reduction, and up to 20 times digital zoom (whenever you don't move to take that shot).

The more serious photographers will know how best to maximize the xenon flash and Carl Zeiss Tessar ultra wide-angle 28mm lens.

Inside the Escuela, a group of ladies were embroidering intricate designs. We took close-up photos of their output using the Nokia N86's macro function.

If the embroidery required us to become intimate with our subject matter, our next stop required us to take a step back and use the camera's zoom-out function to fully appreciate what it had to offer.

Historic church
Inaugurated in the 1860s, the Basilica of San Martin de Torres is one of the largest churches in the country. The exterior's lower Ionic columns and upper Corinthian columns as well as two different wall treatments make it look almost like a double-layer cake. Given its imposing scale and "historic" look, this church is apparently a favorite stand-in for castles for movie shoots.

Just as expansive as the church, the Nokia N86 comes with 8GB of internal memory, providing enough space for up to 4,000 photos. The memory can be increased even further with an exchangeable 16GB microSD card.

The church's ceilings used to have extensive murals but only those over the sanctuary have survived. While the Nokia N86's can't take photos as big as murals, its whopping eight megapixels does allow you to take photos as big as 16x12inches.

We had lunch at a private home where we tried out the camera's panoramic function. It comes with a guideline grid that allows you to move your camera to match a series of red succeeding frames so that you're taking photos in one straight line. The camera automatically takes the shot when you match with the grid's frame and automatically stitches the photos together.

Dramatic sight
After lunch, we walk to the Church of Caysasay, a small lesser-known church, appropriately built in honor of a small (less than 12 inches high) image of the Virgin Mary. The image was supposedly fished out of the Pansipit River by fisherman Juan Maningcad in the early 1600s. It created devotion for itself when it would disappear and reappear as well as having miracles attributed to it (such as a blind girl being cured).

Near the church is the Arch of Sta. Lucia, marking where the Virgin Mary of Caysasay is said to have made one of her apparitions. The well in front of it is said to contain miraculous healing water. The arch is a dramatic sight with its height, crumbly walls, and overgrowth, standing against a backdrop of dense foliage and crowned with the afternoon's hazy light.

This romantic ideal is spoiled because the path leading to the arch and the creek beside it are littered with garbage and trash. Not exactly the best sight to see at a place called "Banal na Pook" (sacred site).

Calling the Taal residents and local government! Making a place look better through cleaning and sprucing up is something that doesn't need divine intervention. But speaking of things you can control, you can make your photos look better with the Nokia N86's active camera toolbar that allows you access to all sorts of scene modes and color tones.

Built-in photo editing capabilities allow you crop or frame images, adjust brightness, or even add text and different effects. The Nokia PC Suite software also enables basic photo editing, including making slideshows that can incorporate soundtracks.

The trip ended with merienda at Villa Tortuga, a house built in the 19th century and repurposed as a heritage restaurant, bed and breakfast, and antique store in 2007 by designer Lito Perez.

Perez owns the costume rental shop Camp Suki in Manila and brings his love for costumes over to Taal via a small photo studio where guests can don period outfits for pictorials before or after their meals at Villa Tortuga.

On our way back to Manila, we used the phone to surf the net. It has high-speed 3G and WLAN connectivity and comes preloaded with its own browser (but you can download other browsers if you want). International travelers will find the phone's preloaded maps feature useful in countries that provide the service.

Aside from using the phone as, well, just a phone, it has a camera, it stores and plays music and video files, it has a file management section, and a word processing program?really, a handheld computer, if you think about it. Ideal for people on the go who want to stay connected and functional.

Nokia now also has its own photo and video sharing website (www.share.ovi.com) where Ovi-enabled phones can automatically upload photos to your account. The site has online photo editing functions and allows for creating slideshows that you can embed in your blog or website.

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