Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nostalgic about Negros Occidental (Part 4)


Home is where the heart, so goes the cliché. That’s how I’d sum up my recent visits to some of Negros Occidental’s cities. It felt as if I never really left home as I basked in the warmth and generosity of its wonderful residents, a few of whom I’ve made friends with for many years now, not to mention those new ones who I came into contact with in the places I’ve been to.

Scenic view of  the mountains and valleys from La Vista Highlands








  


Three other charming cities in Neg Occ, two of which I’ve seen for the first time, have only strengthened my conviction about the sojourns I’ve been doing. That hitting the road doesn’t mean you’d have to leave your heart at home. Home is a state of mind; it’s that place where you see the sincerest smiles, cozy up with the coolest chums, taste the tastiest homegrown treats, no matter where you are.

A glimpse of Lakawon Island in Cadiz City




Cadiz. Located in the northern part of the province, Cadiz, some 65 km away from Bacolod, can be reached through an hour-and-a-half ride by private car or any of the public transportation going there. Facing the vastness of the Visayan Sea, the city serves as the center of the agro-fishery resources of the island of Negros. It is also one of Neg Occ’s sugarcane producing areas whose produce are taken to the sugar refineries in nearby Victorias City.

Boracay of Negros




Though I never got the chance explore the poblacion itself, the sojourn offered me the rare opportunity to see one more dream destination—the spectacular Lakawon Island—the latest buzz among beach bums in that part of the country. Shaped like a banana, the island is a 16-hectare slice of paradise located off the coast of Cadiz Viejo, one of the city’s coastal villages.

Dubbed as the “Boracay of Negros”, Lakawon is fast becoming one of Neg Occ’s promising tourist magnets because of its pristine white sand, calling to mind that of another world-famous destination in Aklan—what else but Boracay!

Roughly 64 km away from Bacolod City, Lakawon can be reached by land via a one-and-a-half hour trip aboard any of the buses bound for Cadiz. Upon reaching the Martesan Bus Terminal in the village of Burgos, guests should disembark and hail a tricycle to take them to the port at Cadiz Viejo, the jump-off point for a 20-minute boat ride to the island. For more about the island, visit my post at http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2017/09/lazing-around-lakawon-island.html.
San Carlos. About 86 km away from Bacolod lies San Carlos, the other city (aside from Cadiz) that I saw for the first time.  We took the route via Murcia, passing by the picturesque town of Don Salvador Benedicto (which, by the way, reminds first-timers of nippy Tagaytay) to cut the distance but the road is quite steep and winding, but exhilarating and fascinating, nonetheless.


Picture-perfect scenery along the highway in Murcia












I heard there’s a longer route, which is the coastal road passing through the northern part of the province, which is less winding—but then again, it’s quite far. For commuters, there are buses shuttling between the two cities, with travel time of almost two hours.
A zipline at the resort








There’s something about this last city in the northern part of Negros Occidental that perked up my mood during our quick escapade there. No, I didn’t have the chance to explore it to the hilt but a few hours of hibernation in one of its popular destinations, La Vista Highlands Mountain Resort and Hotel, left a positive impression.

Owned by an architect, La Vista, which was built on top of hill, boasts of a breathtaking scenery of nearby mountains and valleys, including a panoramic vista of Mt. Kanlaon and Mt. Marapara. The resort-hotel, donning a modern Asian-inspired architecture, has nine rooms, including ridge villas overlooking the pool area.

In those brief moments at the mountain resort, I felt saucy, confident and full of myself but in a good way. I got game before the cameras as I took in the beauty of nature around me, posing here, there and everywhere. Uhm, must be the airy ambience, not to mention the al-fresco dining experience, that lifted my spirits to new heights of euphoria. Geez, I hope to return to San Carlos someday and get to know more about it!

A glimpse of VMC's sprawling golf course



Victorias.  I also had a chance to see anew the wonderful city of Victorias. It's always nice to revisit this amazing place of sugarcane fields and smoking silos, which I last saw in 2013. Victorias is home to the Victorias Milling Company (VMC), said to be the world’s largest integrated sugar mill. Located some 42 km away from Bacolod, VMC was founded by the Ossorio family and their associates way back in 1919.  


A verdant playing field 





    

By 1921, its sugar factory started operations; its refinery operations followed suit seven years later, said to be the second sugar refinery to be established in the entire country. Today, VMC operates today as one of the largest sugar refineries in the Philippines.





For this second visit to the city, I was fortunate to have a quick tour of one of Victoria’s wonderful attractions—the sprawling golf course right smack inside the sugar refinery! With Minnie as my guide, I gained access into the exclusive playground of the province’s privileged set.
  
The golf course, which opened in the 1950s to the delight of golf aficionados, is just one of VMC's numerous subsidiaries which are engaged in food processing, leisure, real estate, energy generation, and manufacturing and packaging.


Undoubtedly, I left my heart in Neg Occ anew. In the six days that I spent going around some of its wonderful cities, I fell in love once again with its distinctive sights, smells and sounds. In that span of time, I’ve grown more rooted than ever to this wonderful destination. As expected, the part when I bid goodbye was heartbreaking.






It wasn’t long before I started scribbling my thoughts about Neg Occ that I learned about the psychology behind my affection for it, discovering that such feeling matters in no small way to one’s physical and emotional well-being. And there’s a jargon for it: place attachment.

Psychologists say that place attachment is that love we hold for a place, a sense of belongingness to it, an emotional bond based on several factors, including history, genealogy, affection, and the like. Simply put, I’d like to think of it as the love I feel for a place that made me feel I was home, even for a short time.


If home is where the heart is, then by its most literal definition, my home, the place that made me feel I belonged during those six sweet days was none other than the wonderful Sugar Bowl of the Philippines. 😍😍😍

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Nostalgic about Negros Occidental (Part 3)


I have left my heart in not a few places in the country. When I feel strongly about a certain place, I can’t help but get so attached to it such that I end up feeling awfully sad whenever it’s time for me to leave. Almost always, saying goodbye to a destination I’ve fallen in love with becomes a bittersweet affair.


Bacolod City Government Center



Mind you, I’d get so wistful whenever I think of any of them. Having travelled extensively around the Philippines all these years, I’ve been struggling to overcome my feelings of nostalgia for all the places I’ve visited. One of those I’ve grown so fond of is Negros Occidental, the “Sugar Bowl of the Philippines.”

Bacolod-Silay International Airport




Perhaps this has something to do with culture, the umbilical cord that connects Neg Occ, as I like to call it for short, with its closest neighbor, the island of Panay, where both my parents hail from. These two islands share so many things in common—language, food, customs, religion, temperament, among others. 


Planta Central Hotel...home away from home














That they’re just a strait away from each other serves to strengthen the connection. So, I have little doubt that culture and geography have contrived to nurture my nostalgic feelings for the “sweetest” place in the country. Going back there, if time permits, is always at the back of my mind. It’s been a while, three years, if I’m not mistaken, since I last visited Neg Occ so a revisit is in order.

Remnant of a train wagon used to haul sugarcane


Stepping back into the amazing province in the Western Visayas Region this year, however, never crossed my mind—until I got an invite to attend a work-related event in Bacolod City. For weeks, I kept praying that my bosses would allow me to push through with trip. Imagine my ineffable joy when they gave me and my two coworkers the green light!

Initially, I only intended to hang around dear, old Bacolod and revisit the nearby cities of Silay and Talisay, if only to give my two companions a quick tour of some of the more popular destinations there since it’s their first time to make it to Neg Occ. 

To my sheer delight, however, I got to visit not just one, two or three but six cities in the province—all in a span of six days! Thanks to my Bacolod-based friends, Jim and Minnie (my hosts during my extended stay there), I got to see for the first time some popular attractions in the cities of Cadiz, San Carlos and Victorias!

Let me now take you down memory lane and share some of the most wonderful times I’ve had while basking in the tourist hot spots that these cities offer to weekend warriors.

Bacolod City Government Center at dusk



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Bacolod. First stop, of course, is the City of Smiles. I first made it there about a decade ago so this recent sojourn to Bacolod is a milestone year of sorts for me. Whenever I’m in town, I make it a point to go on a food trip, dropping by a new resto, café and eatery or return to a popular one which offers some of the best eats in town if only to give my tummy a treat of the best-tasting chow.

Chicken inasal at Aida's Manokan Country

















So, it was take two for me as far as three food hubs are concerned: Aida’s in Manokan Country, L’ Kaisei Japanese Restaurant and Felicia’s Cakes and Pastries. As always, they didn’t disappoint me. The famous chicken inasal of Aida’s remains delectable to the bone. The ebi tempura and sukiyaki at L’ Kaisei not only pleased my palate but also pampered my psyche. Of course, the sinfully delish cakes of Felicia’s are still as toothsome as the day I first tasted them!

That week in Bacolod also had me sampling the best of Sandok’s comfort food—pocherochorizo kagkag and adobong pusit. Next time I’m back, I’ll make sure to sample their KBL-kadyos (pigeon peas), baboy (pork) and langka (green jackfruit)—the Negrenses as well as the Ilonggos’ mouth-watering pork-and-veggie stew!

KBL..a must-try!





I also got to taste some of Bob’s popular fare—pancit luglug and fruit punch. My friends said the resto is an institution in Bacolod and visitors shouldn’t leave without having a meal there. My hosts also took me to this new block in the city, Villa Angela Arcade, where I got to savor some of my favorite Asian treats—pad thai and laksa—at a street food-style joint called East Bite.

Balay Negrense Museum





Silay. Nostalgia caught up on me once again as I, along with two of my coworkers, Heidy and Maliz, stepped into the Museum City of Silay, roughly 28 km away from Bacolod. A visit to this old, quaint place in Neg Occ will surely take first-timers and frequenters alike on an unusual trip to a bygone era that says a lot of the Negrenses’ rich and awe-inspiring history, culture and arts. 


Here’s a charming town—once touted as the Paris of the Orient—where something like twenty-nine (29) stately homes, if my memory serves me right, owned by wealthy hacienderos or sugar barons dating back to the Spanish-American period have been well-preserved, standing as silent witnesses to the passage of time.







I've been to Silay on several occasions in the past so it was but natural for me to play the role of a tour guide to my companions. Arriving in the city via a forty-five minute taxi ride, we headed for the most popular ancestral house in town—Balay Negrense a.k.a. Don Victor Fernandez Gaston Ancestral House—the quintessential landmark that best captures that bygone era of pomp and pageantry in Negros.

It felt nostalgic as I stepped anew into the once stately home of the Gastons for a revisit. A peek into this house, which has been converted into a museum under the aegis of the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA), would give visitors that rare chance to be vicariously transported into a glorious time of grace and grandiosity.  

The iconic structure of The Ruins




Talisay. From Silay, we headed for the neighboring city of Talisay, about 16 km away from Bacolod, to catch a glimpse of one of its popular tourist magnets. Hidden in the vastness of the city’s sugarcane fields are the remains of what used to be a mansion owned by one of Negros Occidental’s sugar barons that has turned in recent years into one of the province’s amazing attractions—aptly called The Ruins.

Built by Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson in memory of his Portuguese wife, the century-old house—or what’s left of it—is considered as the Philippines’ answer to India’s Taj Majal. Revisited after some time, the magnificence of The Ruins seems to have grown well with time. There were a few structures that had been added to the main attraction—an al fresco café and a rocky monument that looked like a modern-day version of the prehistoric Stonehenge!

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Panoramic view of The Ruins (interior)














Stonehenge-like structures at The Ruins




Six years ago, I stood amidst the Lacson mansion’s ruins in the company of good friends from Manila, Bacolod and Davao, brimming with joy and excitement as we roamed around the now-famous tourist magnet. Recently, I came back, accompanying my coworkers who wanted to see for themselves the old house’s ruins. 


So much has changed since I’ve first caught a glimpse of that picture-perfect scenery. I’m older, wiser, and little weary from life’s uncertainties. Still, I came back because I yearned to relive the joy and excitement I felt the first time I was there. And I wanted to share the same awesome feelings with my colleagues. 😍😍😍

(to be continued…)