Roots planted firmly on Paete soil

By Bertrand Melendez Quesada

Town Plaza basketball court

The Paete River

Paete's children

Paete's Fishermen

Paete's Woodcarving Industry

Papunta sa Wawa


No sooner had our teachers announced the start of summer vacation than we would be home packing our bags for Paete. We’d jump onto our aunt’s stretch jeepney and, for the next three hours, weave our way through each of Laguna's tiny towns till we reached Paete - today's diversionary road was still on the drawing boards. The town is small, to be sure, but for us it was one colossal playground that was the best of them all. We’d frolic in the rice fields, ride wobbly bancas on the wawa (lake), learn to swim at Black Hawk where the water was crystal clear, feast on adobong ayungin for weeks on end . . . And we’d come back one summer break after the other, eagerly awaiting a new round of adventures (and misadventures) in the land of sweet lanzones and master wood-carvers.

Paete’s allure remains as strong as ever, and I never fail to visit the place each time I’m in Manila. It is as if I am seduced by some mystical force. Okay, okay, let’s drop the philosophical musings. I love the place because it offers a not-too-distant hideaway, because its woodcraft stores present a good buy every now and then, because the food is great, the air fresher, the memories worth going back to. I guess I love the place because I have my roots planted firmly on Paete soil.

Like most small towns in the Philippines, modernization has caught up with Paete. New concrete houses have mushroomed, VCRs proliferate, the main streets are well paved, a tennis court has been added to the scene, even the town plaza’s basketball court now sports a fiberglass backboard. Still, Paete retains its peculiar charm, nestled as it is between the Sierra Madre mountains and the Laguna de Bay, which gives one a choice of trekking uphill or riding a banca — or both.

Friends and acquaintances tell me that they, too, have visited Paete at one time or another, lured by the century-old Roman Catholic Church, the wood-carvings and taka (papier mâché figurines) and, between August and October, the town’s harvest of luscious lanzones. Indeed, Paete is a veritable tourist destination that’s a mere two-hour drive from Manila, less so via the Rizal route.

Beyond the physical environment that makes Paete both cozy and touristy, it is its people who hold the greatest potential. Just the other month, I spotted from afar a huge taka that, on closer examination, turned out to be a cool imitation of an 800 cc Yamaha motorbike. I thought it was a long-overdue departure from the usual gaily colored horses — it was a neat idea that would appeal to young and old alike. While strolling at SM Megamall in Pasig one recent afternoon, I was drawn into a gallery that featured a medium-sized woodcarving depicting a typical Filipino family. Not to my surprise, it was crafted by a Paeteño. What stunned me was its price tag — 150,000 pesos — although at the same time I felt proud thinking that a homegrown talent could command such a stratospheric price.

Six years ago the Cultural Center of the Philippines showcased the town’s talents in a months-long exhibition, "The Paete Phenomenon". A few months back, 21 Paeteños held a group exhibit at the University of the Philippine’s Vargas Museum dubbed "Ukit Paete". In between, other Paete artists both famed and aspiring staged solo or collective shows in the Philippines and elsewhere.

Isn’t it heartening to know that Paete’s finest are not about to rest on their (or their ancestors’) laurels, but are bent on carving a niche of their own?



Bertrand Quesada is the second son of former newspaperman Juan Quesada Jr. of Paete and the late Minda Luz Melendez of Cagayan de Oro. He moved to British Columbia, Canada, in 1996 after spending four years in Taipei as a business copyeditor and columnist at the English-language The China News and associate editor at Peregrine Securities. Previously he was with the Manila-based PTV-4 network and The Business Star.

This article was written by Bertrand for the 1997 Souvenir Program of the Paetenians International Canada Chapter Dinner Dance. Mr. Quesada took the accompanying pictures during one of his visits to Paete.

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