Friday, October 27, 2017

Doting over Don Salvador Benedicto in Negros Occidental


It was the perfect easy-like-Sunday-morning kind of joyride that will probably hold me spellbound for some time. En route to San Carlos City where my hosts, Jim and Minnie, along with their son, Migs, were taking me on a quick tour, the panorama that was unfolding before our eyes was captivating to say the least, reminding me of the stunning rarities and serpentine roads leading to Baguio, the Summer Capital of the Philippines.

A breathtaking vista of mountains, valleys, rice terraces and a river





A glimpse of Mt. Mandalagan while passing by Murcia



We had just emerged from a seemingly never-ending expanse of sugarcane fields with Mt. Mandalagan at the background as we passed by the town of Murcia. With cool aplomb, the SUV we were riding began slithering its way along a well-paved zigzag road that overlooks the lush valleys and lofty mountains of Negros Occidental, or Neg Occ, for short. Geez, I was speechless as I gasped in awe at the exhilarating wonders of nature that came into view!
A little over an hour down the road, my hosts told me that we were stopping over every now and then so that I could take pictures of the magnificent scenery up ahead. The photographer in me was thrilled no end! Mind you, the gracious couple had to rearrange their schedules that day so that they could take me on a tour to the northern part of the province—I can’t thank them enough for that!

In minutes, we reached the Lion’s Park View Deck along the highway where Jim pulled over—the perfect spot for capturing the view hundreds of feet below us. Minnie said I should take as many snaps as I can for posterity’s sake. So, armed with my smartphone and digicam, I hopped out of the SUV. Minnie followed me, offering to take my pictures.

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Stretched out before us was a breathtaking landscape of verdant mountains blanketed by thick forests, fertile valleys planted with crops, a meandering river and a neat array of rice terraces in one part of the gently sloping terrain. To the right, I saw what looked like a small chapel surrounded by a garden—Padre Pio’s Garden—neatly tucked several meters down below.

Padre Pio's Garden



  

Truly a sight to behold, the picturesque scene is one of the natural treats that had me doting over that part of the province. Snapping out of my trance, I started shooting here, there, and everywhere—wary that I may not have another chance to go back and shoot such mise en scΓ¨ne. Minnie was also busy capturing my every move, telling me to pose once in a while.

Such was the awe-inspiring surprise that greeted me that day—the same wonder of nature awaiting motorists whenever they pass by the serene town named Don Salvador Benedicto a.k.a. DS Benedicto or DSB, for short. Dubbed as the “Summer Capital of Negros Occidental”, DSB is one of the 19 municipalities, along with 13 cities, that make up the sugar-producing province.

Pine trees adorning both sides of a highway in DSB




Perched at 675 m (2,214 ft) above sea level, the town in the highlands, situated 47 km away from Bacolod City, got its name after the province’s late Vice Governor Salvador Benedicto, who played a big role in creating the revolutionary government when Negros Island was occupied by Japanese forces at the height of World War II.

DS Benedicto, which came into being in 1983, was formed by merging the secluded villages of two towns and one city that weren’t given much attention given their distance and inaccessibility. From what I’ve gathered, these included two villages from Murcia (Pandanon and Igmayaan), three from San Carlos City (Kumaliskis, Bunga, and Pinowayan-Prosperidad) and another two from Calatrava (Bagong Silang-Marcelo and Bago-Lalong).

We continued with our sojourn until we reached a portion of the pothole-free highway with huge Norfolk pine trees lining both its sides. Jim again pulled over, giving me another chance to take some photos of the amazing landscape. From where I stood, I saw a nearby forest of evergreens. I walked towards it. Minnie followed me. Again, more pictures with the pine trees as backdrops.

Our last stop was at another view deck overlooking the cigarette-shaped Malatan-og Falls, another must-see in the province. As I stood there, the cold breeze caressed me, giving me the same chills I’ve experienced in Baguio and Tagaytay! I looked at my phone for the temp reading—a shivery 18 °C! No wonder everyone who’s made it to DSB before me was doting over the natural wonders of the “Little Baguio” of Neg Occ!

The cigarette-shaped Malatan-og Falls



I’ve barely scratched DS Benedicto’s surface. If given the chance to go back to Neg Occ, I’d certainly love to explore this amazing town to the hilt! When that time comes, I’d like to go on a trek to Malatan-og Falls; bask in the breathtaking rice terraces; take a bath in the alluring Talos River, explore the organic farm of Rapha Valley; commune with nature at Villa Ica; and much, much more! Geez, I can’t wait to do these stuff in the future! 😍😍😍

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nostalgic about Negros Occidental (Part 4)


Home is where the heart, so goes the clichΓ©. 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. 😍😍😍