Liliw: The perfect day trip

by Laguna Lupie

It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, reading up about it through other people’s blogs and wanting to just go and do it. And so one morning a few weeks ago, I woke up and told my husband that I wanted to go to Liliw.

liliw main street

Liliw main street with fiesta buntings

Liliw is a small town in Laguna located at the foothills of the mystical Mt. Banahaw. It’s an out-of-the-way town and to go to it you have to take this small road off the national highway and work your way toward the town amidst rice fields and farms and houses that typify the Philippine countryside. On the drive there I wondered how people must have taken the trip in and out of Liliw in the old days, when it was just a dirt road. People must have been trapped in there for months on end during the rainy season when the roads turned to mud. I wondered how this small town tucked at the foot of a mountain in the middle of nowhere got it into their head that they would become shoemakers, because yes, that is what Liliw is famous for, shoes.  Been trying to read up on the history of the place, find out how they got into the shoe industry, but I can’t seem to find online information about how it all started. The information must be in a library somewhere, or maybe I have to do interviews with primary sources out there in Liliw with the shoemakers themselves. Either way, I was wondering about that, who it was that started it all, and how it must be a fascinating tale.

giant sandals of liliw

Giant sandals on display outside a Liliw shoe store.

Anyway, a trip to this far off town is every shoe loving woman’s fantasy. Rows and rows of handmade shoes at affordable prices. I went crazy there and my husband bought himself a couple of topsiders as well. But it’s the setting really, this small town so far away with a main street full of shoe stores, that charms visitors. Old Spanish and American era houses, some of them had shoe stores downstairs, others turned into restaurants or what not. They have a big red brick church dedicated to St John the Baptist and if you want to stay more than a day, they have spring resorts along the river at the foot of the mountain where the water is said to be ice cold. Walking around, you almost wish it were your hometown as well.

The best part of the trip was lunch. We discovered this Italian restaurant beneath an ancestral house near the main street. It’s called the Arabela Restaurant, apparently a famous resto (by the amount of blogs I saw written about the place), run by a family that used to be a part of the shoe industry in Liliw. The food selection and the desserts surprised me. It was just as good as any of the high end restaurants in Manila, very urbane, but tucked out there in that small provincial town. The tourists keep the place up and running all day. It was a wonderful discovery — this quaint restaurant in this small town. I was enchanted and wouldn’t mind going back there if only for the Arabela.

arabela store front

arabela coffee and dessert

Beautiful dessert at Arabela

arabela ambience

Great ambience too!

arabela pasta dish

I ordered one of their pasta bestsellers.

After lunch we went back to shoe shopping and I remember quietly walking around and ending up in this outdated showroom manned by this old man in his shorts and sando. He was leaning on his walking stick and fanning himself with an abanico. There was one girl with him there that stood by the customer and he kept quiet and seemed severe. Then I don’t know why but he suddenly opened up and started to make small talk with me, asked me where I was from and he seemed to know my town as well and we went back and forth that way. I wasn’t planning on buying anything there, but that old man made me change my mind and I chose two walking shoes from his store. I kind of pitied him, the place was dark and old and despite all the tourists out in the street, I was his only customer that afternoon.

When we got home and I was looking through my loot, I remembered that old man and thought about him, so old in that hot afternoon, waiting for buyers and sometimes talking to them. I wondered what he thought of his life. I’ve been testing the shoes (believe me I bought many) and although all of them looked nice, the real test was in the wearing and since these were handmade shoes, some were better than the others and I realized that the cheap prices meant the quality of the shoes weren’t always consistent. But those simple walking shoes from that old man were the softest and most comfortable so far. And I wondered about him again, that hard old man with the softest shoes.

It was the perfect day trip. I have been forced to stay indoors for most of the summer this year because the wolf has been acting up but this — a spur of the moment visit to a place like Liliw — made me forget lupus, if only for just a day.

shoes shoes shoes

Feeling Imeldific with our loot.

happy at liliw

Happiness on this perfect day.