Saturday, May 17, 2014

Backpacking in Bacolod City (Part 2)

There’s more to Bacolod than its saccharine delicacies, its sumptuous chicken dish and its spectacular festival that would surely bring out the sweetest smile even in the most jaded culture vulture. No, these aren’t things money can buy. Yet, they’d surely enrich the mind, touch the heart and feed the soul.  

Wouldn’t you flash your winningest smile when you get to see the city’s fabulous sunset atop the tower named in honor of a saint? Or when you scour its heritage church and stumble upon several historical finds? Or when you roam around its capitol grounds and discover a master’s precious work of art?

Bacolod City Government Center at night

A heritage walk-and-shoot around this thriving metropolis in the third largest island in the country, a nexus of several sugar-producing cities and towns in Negros Occidental, had me grinning from ear-to-ear as I wandered and chanced upon so many things that make the City of Smiles tick.

Upper facade of San Sebastian Cathedral

For this summer sojourn, my companions and I had ample time to bask in in the beauty of the sights, sounds and smells of the city, exploring the various tourist destinations we missed during our trip in 2012. On top of our itinerary was a quick tour around the awe-inspiring San Sebastian Cathedral.
We spent a few hours roaming around the Baroque-Romanesque church, which stands proudly in the heart of downtown Bacolod, just a stone’s throw away from the town plaza. Built in 1876, its humble beginnings are traceable to a small chapel that was elevated to the status of a cathedral in 1933.

Made of coral stones hauled from nearby Guimaras and hardwood from Palawan, the cathedral was named in honor of Bacolod’s patron saint. Looking closely at the walls, I noticed that a thin layer of cement had been plastered perhaps to keep the stones together, fortifying it against earthquakes. 

Flanking the church’s façade are two bell towers whose dome-like roofs reminded me of some Eastern European churches I’ve seen in pictures. These, however, were only reconstructions of the original ones, which, I learned, had been demolished in the late 1960s after they were deemed public hazards.

Meanwhile, the bells were taken down and preserved for display at the cathedral's centennial marker just a few meters away from the building.

An arcaded portico made up of three arches leads visitors to the main entrance of the church. It also provides shelter to the church’s parishioners. On both sides of the main entrance to the church are the life-size statues of two Augustinian Recollect priests, who played significant roles in the province.

On the right flank of the portico is life-size icon of Fr. Mauricio Ferrero, the grand architect and master builder of the cathedral while on its left nestles the statue of Fr. Fernando Cuenca, one of the known benefactors of Negros who helped modernize sugar production in the island. 

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Inside, the high ceiling, arches and marble pillars lend a grandiose aura to the cathedral. Geez, it gives one the feeling of being inside some European church! Other interesting pieces are the ornate pulpits, the huge rose windows and the wooden retablo featuring a huge statue of the Risen Christ.

Bacolod City Plaza

From the church, we crossed over to Bacolod’s town plaza, which, sadly, had seen better days. Built in 1927, the trapezoidal park boasts of four circular fountains and an old gazebo that doubled as a bandstand. What struck me most about the plaza were the inscriptions on its classical bandstand.

Etched at the top of the structure just below the roof are the names of some of the world-renowned musical masters—Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Wagner. Not only did these inscriptions prove the early Bacolodnons’ penchant for music but also their acquaintance with European culture.

Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol

After exploring the town plaza, we headed for the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol. Built in 1927, the Romanesque building once served as the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Today, the iconic structure houses the various offices of the provincial government.        

Next to the building are the sprawling capitol park and lagoon. There are three works of art worth exploring in the said park. First is the Paghimud-os, the Hiligaynon word for “struggle”. Found at the eastern side of the capitol grounds, the fine work of art was a creation of avant-garde Pinoy sculptor, Eduardo Castrillo. 

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Two figures of a golden carabao (water buffalo) stand at both ends of the lagoon. One is with a naked man and the other with a woman. I tried looking for any marker explaining their significance but couldn’t find one. Both were masterpieces of Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti.

Bacolod's best: inasal na manok

At noontime, Jim brought us to Manokan Country, a popular strip of restaurants serving chicken inasal, where he treated us to a marvelous meal of the authentic dish, which has become synonymous with Bacolod. Aida’s, one of the most sought-after restos in the strip, serves the best-tasting inasal in town!  

What makes the city’s version of the ubiquitous chicken barbecue extra special?

For one, it isn’t marinated with soy sauce unlike the usual chicken barbecue served in other places. Instead, the marinade is made up of soda, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and lemon grass. The basting sauce also makes use of atsuete (annatto), butter and oil. The chicken dish owes its yellowish color to annatto.

An essential companion of chicken inasal is sinamak or palm vinegar immersed with lots of crushed garlic, salt, sugar, chili peppers and langkawas (a kind of ginger native to Negros). Why, I was smiling from ear-to-ear after devouring one pecho (breast) of the authentic Negrense pride dipped in sinamak! LOL!

Later that afternoon, we climbed the Pope John Paul II (PJP-II) Tower, the crowning glory of my recent sojourn to the city. Built in 2010, it offers a commanding view of the seascape. Located near the reclamation area fronting SM City Bacolod, the tower has become of the city’s newest must-sees.

From what I’ve gathered, the eight-storey glass tower was a gift from one of city’s philanthropic sons. PJP-II Tower also stands as a memorial to the late pope’s historic visit to the city in 1981 wherein throngs of Bacolod’s faithful came to welcome him at the very place where the building now stands. 

I’ve been wanting to go there out of curiosity. The visit would also enable me to savor Bacolod’s fabulous sunset from that vantage point. So, as early as 4:30 in the afternoon, I went ahead of my companions to the reclamation area, braving the scorching heat of the late afternoon sun.

After paying the entrance fee, I went up the building, stopping at some of the floors to take snaps of the religious memorabilia on display. There’s the papal chair which the beloved pontiff used during his visit as well as his waxed figure kept inside a glass case, among others. Selfies are a must, I guess. LOL!

Reaching the summit, I was appalled with what I saw. There, lurking at the corners of the viewing deck were about half a dozen pairs in cutesome twosome poses! Much as I wanted to ignore them, I couldn’t help but be dismayed at the irreverence of those young people who’ve turned the tower into their tryst! 
Good thing, the guard on duty kept doing random checks all over the building. God knows what acts of desecration could take place there while they’re left alone! I hope the authorities would implement more stringent measures to preserve the sanctity of what I consider one of the holiest places in Bacolod.

As the sun began to set, I spent the remaining minutes before dusk taking snippets of the picturesque phenomenon. Snapping the magnificent spectacle as it unfolds, I was spellbound for several minutes while basking in the beauty of the scenery. Geez, sunsets really make me feel nostalgic!

Bacolod's spectacular sunset

Below, the reclamation area began to light up. The gathering darkness over Guimaras Strait and the city is accentuated by the floodlights of ships and the lamps of small sea crafts as well as the neon lights of business establishments. It signalled the end of another busy day, the end of my sojourn.  

Here’s hoping the recent visit won’t be my last. Clearly, there’s so much about Bacolod that’s worth revisiting. Wouldn’t you want to come back to a place known not only for its saccharine delicacies, its sumptuous chicken dish and its spectacular festival but also for the sweetness of its people’s smiles? :-D

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