Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nostalgic about Negros Occidental (Part 2)

The nostalgic mood of my latest sojourn to Negros Occidental reached a crescendo when we came to Silay City. Said to have been named after the kansilay trees that grew in abundance all over the place, the former enclave of the old rich captured my fancy when I first saw it a few years ago.

It was, however, a quick tour that left me feeling shortchanged since I didn’t get to explore the stately houses found in one of the epicenters of culture in Western Visayas. That’s why I told our hosts that it would really make my day if I’d get to see Silay again to give in to my yearning for a blast into the past.

Founded in 1760, the city rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th century when it became one of the thriving capitals of sugar production in the country. This golden age ushered in a period of growth, grandiosity and glamor where carnivals, dances, music and theater became the order of the day.

In its heyday, the historic city became the venue of grand celebrations and parties. It was sugar that had turned it into one of the country’s richest towns but it was Silay’s imported artists and cultural shows that had made it the “Paris of the Orient” wherein local performers shared center stage with foreign artists.

Arriving in the city, Jim and Minnie drove us first to Café 1925 for a hearty lunch that had our tummies bursting at the seams. From a brochure at the café, I learned that Silay has about twenty-nine surviving ancestral homes which the National Historical Commission had identified as national treasures.

Don Victor Gaston Ancestral House a.k.a. Balay Negrense

Here’s a place where palatial homes dating back to the Spanish and American eras have stood as mute testimonies to the passage of time. Made of hardwood and stone, they boast of grandiose stairways, dazzling wood carvings, resplendent capiz windows and vast verandas that left me awe-struck. 

Three of the stately homes, the Don Victor Gaston Ancestral House (a.k.a. Balay Negrense), Don Bernardino Jalandoni Ancestral House and the Manuel Hofileña Heritage House had been converted into museums. A peek into the houses would enable visitors to be vicariously transported into the glorious past.

Armed with umbrellas, we went for a heritage walk around Silay amidst the scorching heat of the afternoon sun. At the Gaston country house, we had a field day admiring the rarities and relics we found there. Too bad, the Hofileña home was closed when we came. Still, we took some snaps outside the house. We didn’t make it to the Jalandoni residence though.  

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Geez, I think I’d need a couple of days to fully explore each of the weather-beaten abodes and discover the interesting vintage pieces found in each of them. Given these remnants of our heritage as a nation, Silay has been hailed as the second “Museum City” of the Philippines, next to enchanting Vigan in Ilocos Sur.

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San Diego de Alcala Pro-Cathedral

I felt that a visit to the historic city isn’t complete unless I’d get to see once again the San Diego de Alcala (St. Didacus of Alcala) Pro-Cathedral. I’ve been to this church,  which has an Italian air to it, way back in 2011, but didn’t have the chance to take some snaps so I prodded our hosts to bring us there for a revisit.

Built in 1925 and completed two years later, the Romanesque-styled cathedral stands prominently at the heart of Silay, just a stone’s throw away from the town plaza. The church was designed by an Italian architect named Lucio Bernasconi, who reportedly drew much of his inspiration from his country.

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The Silay Cathedral is said to have been commissioned by Don Jose Ledesma, one of the notable sugar barons in Negros Occidental. The church’s cupola (which reminded me of the Capitol Building’s dome in Washington DC) makes it an interesting piece of heritage worth revisiting again and again.

From Silay, we traveled to nearby Talisay City to take a peek at a theme park/fantasyland/mountain resort nestled near the peaks of Mt. Mandalagan and Mt. Patag. Imagine my surprise to see Hollywood, Disneyland, and Middle Earth transplanted in one amazing hideaway—Campuestohan Highland Resort!

Hanging Bridge, one of the attractions at Campuestohan Highland Resort

Spending time at Campuestohan made me feel nostalgic about my childhood. Here’s a place where kids and kids at heart will have the chance to relive their most incredible fantasies. Geez, I felt like I was inside a time machine that had suddenly landed in that wonderland in the mountains!

Known for its cool and refreshing ambience, the resort is a haven for those seeking refuge from the hustle and bustle of the cities and towns of NegOcc below it. Campuestohan offers families and friends the perfect escape from urban tedium in the lowlands by bonding over the weekend.

One feature there which really caught my fancy was the huge log cabin, which looked like those I’ve seen in American movies.  I’m not so sure though if the large cabin has accommodations for visitors.  Selfies are a must with the cabin as your backdrop. I had a grand time having mine there.

Visitors who want to stay at Campuestohan for the night may do so at the Bonita Huts, a series of detached overnight accommodations, which, I guess, were designed to resemble the homes of the hobbits featured in the Lord of the Rings series. I wonder what the kiddos would do if my precious Gollum makes a surprise appearance there. LOL!

If there was one attraction at Campuestohan that brought out the kid in me, that would be none other than Heroes’ Hall, a Stonehenge-inspired structure located in one of the most prominent spots of the resort where some of my favorite superheroes in comic books, the boob tube and the silver screen are appearing together.

Assembled there are the life-size figures of popular superheroes—Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, The Flash, Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, etc. Too bad, I didn’t get to see my all-time favorite hero, Batman!  Whew! I felt like a child once more as I had my selfies taken with some of those well-loved characters!   

It was, however, the joyride over the 340-meter zipline which gave me some adrenaline rush. Rising more than sixty feet above ground, it wasn’t as long and as deep as the other ziplines I’ve tried elsewhere but still it thrilled me no end as it offered a sweeping view of the entire resort while I zipped.

Too bad, I didn’t get to try the rope course, a challenging elevated obstacle track  that takes visitors more than ten feet above ground while completing a series of planks, tires, ropes, etc. Geez, it would be exciting to try that one and finish the whole thing without falling! Maybe next time.

The mountain resort also has two swimming pools—a small one and large one that’s shaped like a foot!—where visitors can take a dip to their hearts’ content. Kids will also have a field day kidding around at the huge kiddie playground, complete with colorful slides, tubes and what have you.

A rare moment with King Kong

One other thing that caught my fancy at Campuestohan is the life-size replica of King Kong, the famous gorilla featured in many Hollywood movies. Sitting on top of a large rock, I found out that King Kong suddenly gives out a deep throaty growl! Geez, this one’s isn’t for those who dislike surprises. LOL!

As dusk descends upon the highlands, we retraced our steps back to the parking area. Walking slowly, I felt the cool mountain breeze gently brush my face. Suddenly, the good ol’ memories I’ve had in other similar cool places flashed back in my mind! Why, even the air in that part of the province can make you feel nostalgic!

Later that night, my friend Bobby and his wifey, Betty, treated us to dinner atop the newly-opened highland hideaway in the town of Murcia—Hilltop Restaurant, whose ranch-on-a-hill ambience would surely make you feel so serene. What can I say about the food? I have two words for you: spectacularly sumptuous!

During our after-dinner conversations, Minnie and Bobby mentioned about several destinations I haven’t explored yet: the immaculate beaches of Sipalay City; the exciting trails of Mt. Kanlaon, the highest peak in the Visayas; and Carbin Reef in Sagay City, which is known for its powdery white sand and emerald waters.

So, fellow weekend wanderers, add these wonderful destinations in NegOcc to your choices, a must-see list that should include Mambukal Mountain Resort in Murcia, “The Ruins” in Talisay City—now that’s one nostalgic place I’d like to revisit!—and of course, the enchanting slice of nature named Danjugan Island.

I’ve heard also about fascinating Lake Linao in Hinigaran, the one-of-a-kind Vintage Glasses Museum in Bacolod, the amazing Codcod Rice Terraces of San Carlos City and the province’s very own Chocolate Hills in Don Salvador Benedicto. Given the chance, I hope to make it again to the province whose numerous tourist attractions tug sweetly at the heartstrings. :-D

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