The artistic town of Paete, Laguna
Paete is a 2 1/2-3 hour drive from Metro Manila, whether you go south on the SLEX to get to it, or through Antipolo in the North to get to it. It is known for being the woodcarving capital of the Philippines. It is also know for it's "taka" or paper mâché crafts that are made by using wood statues as molds to create animal and doll toys. Below are some tips for finding where these crafts are, and about where to eat and stay.
Paete's a small town with very narrow roads. When exploring the town center itself, park at the intersection of JP Rizal and Sario streets, or at the town Plaza near Paete's St. James cathedral on Quesada street. And from here, walk around on foot.
For papier mâché, or taka, craft:
Start on Quesada street where Kape Kesada is. Beside this is a store called Ang Buhay at Hugis sa Paete. This store sells paper mâché horses and other animals (in varying sizes), fruits and vegetables, as well as statues of native Filipinos. They also sell other handicrafts and woodcrafts.
For more papier mâché, you will see some workshops and stores if you continue to walk down Quesada street (towards the St. James cathedral) and turn left on Madrinan street.
On Madrinan street, after you cross Jacinto street, there is a papier mâché, workshop where they make and sell the small version of the taka horses, unicorns and other delightful animals. Look for the sign that says "Cadsawan's billiard and sari sari store, and you'll know you are there (it is on your right). In the photo below are 4 individuals how are only related to each other through their work: (L-R). The paper mâché artist, the painter, the admin and painting assistant, and the 19-year-old painting apprentice. When I bought a bunch of products from them (a bunch meaning 600 pesos worth of products), they were all so grateful and gave me high fives!
If you keep walking down Madrinan street, at the corner where it meets J. Luna street, there is a very large paper mache workshop that is worth peeking into... there are crafts of all sizes here!
You can keep walking up J. Luna street, or go back on Madrinan street until you get to Sario street and walk up Sario street (I found that there were more stores and workshops to see here).
For wood crafts and woodcarvings:
Starting at Kape Kesada, opposite it is a store called Len's Art and Craft which sells all kinds of wood crafts like boxes, kitchen utensils, and toys, including this dollhouse for 1500 pesos.
This is just one of the stores we chose to walk in. There are many stores side by side here.
Continue to walk down Quesada street to see more shops and woodcarvers at work. Here's an example of a woodcarver who graciously showed us what he was working on in front of his house when we walked by.
From Quesada, turn left on Madrinan and left again on Sario. At the top of Sario, oppsite the Franks' an Burger stand, there are some more stores. One of them sells nativity sets like this (but unpainted):
There are woodcarvers coming out of the woodwork in Paete! If you drive into Paete from the south/SLEX you will see many workshops on both the left and right side of JP Rizal road. One workshop that we were recommended to go in was Paloy Cagayat's workshop which is near the Iglesia ni Christo. The woodworker Paloy was there working and welcomed us into his large workshop, to observe his large team at work. Walking into this workshop was humbling and inspiring. Here you can see wood sculptures being made from blocks of wood (they store the blocks of wood in the basement) to finish.
Nearby is another workshop called Austria Handicraft, where you can also see wood sculptures in the works, both large and small. Every workshop along this road has something fascinating to show.
A personal favorite woodworker in Paete is this man, Abe. He makes lyres and harps by hand from jackfruit wood (which is especially good for musical instruments). I had the opportunity to listen to him play his largest harp at his home. While he is a very humble and meek man, what I love about Abe is how proud he is to be from Paete and how proud he is of Paete's heritage of woodcarving, even though it is a gradually dying craft. There are woodcarvers in Paete who work for ships and cruise lines as ice sculpture carvers to provide for their families. And, naturally it's hard to entice the next generation to take on woodcarving professions. Despite this, Abe marches on and is proud to showcase what Paete has to offer: workmanship with soul. Abe is actually studying to be a harp therapist (probably the first one in Manila) because he truly believes that harp music is healing. I believed it too after listening to him! He hopes to play for people about to go into surgery or in recovery at hospitals. When we thanked Abe for taking the time to play for us, he says he takes any chance he can to play his harp for people to bring a little bit more peace and healing to the world. If you are heading to Paete, please let me know and I can put you in contact with Abe and perhaps he can play for you as well.
We found a delightful woven bags and basket store at the end of Quesada street on the left side. They source their products from the mountains in nearby Quezon province, and prices are good. The store is run by Nery and Jesus Oledan and takes up part of their home. The outside of their home is vibrant and was painted by Jesus himself, an artist and plant lover.
Where to eat:
For a delightful merienda, enjoy the food at Kape Kesada. It is owned by a dentist, Dr. Nilo, who is also an avid art collector and plays a big, official role in preserving and showcasing the art from Paete. There is a gallery of art pieces at the cafe, as well as a lovely balcony to enjoy Kape Kesada's food: sandwiches (try their kesong puti- white cheese from Laguna- and tomato sandwich) and drinks like lemongrass and dalandan juice. We had breakfast here, here's a photo of our spread:
Speaking of merienda, around 4pm is a great time to walk the streets of Paete's town center. You will see Filipino snacks being sold like bibingka (roasted rice flour cake), cassava cake and other rice-based desserts. Worth trying!
There are only a few small restaurants in Paete. We tried Fema's along JP Rizal street (it was the most populous the evening we were there), and were surprised at how good and fresh their food was, especially for their low prices. It is run by a family that is service-oriented and who made our meal there very comfortable. We particularly enjoyed our chicken adobo binalot meals (wrapped in banana leaves) and their hearty chopsuey.
The natives of Paete also recommend Benga's, a long-standing Chinese restaurant in Paete.
Where to stay:
Dr. Nilo mentioned above, has his dental office (which he shares with his also-dentist wife) above Kape Kesada, and up here there is also a quaint room with a queen bed in it that they rent out as a Bed and Breakfast for 2500 pesos. To reserve, contact Dr. Nilo at 0917 832 4015. Dr. Nilo also has other rooms (that would fit a family) at his resdience which they also rent out as B n Bs.
Paete is a small town with a small population. I learned in Paete that talking to the friendly people unlocks treasures of what they are made of and what they bring to our country: art, craftmanship and soul.