My favourite things,  Traveling

The charm of things old and new in Bacolod

This is the first local trip I’ve been to in ages which I can rightfully describe as epic in a really good way. It was riddled with many brand new experiences for me, and for the first time this year I actually felt like I was keeping my new year’s promise to myself to try new things and to “live a little”. So for that alone this whole trip was worth all the mosquito bites and sleeplessness.

Our flight to Bacolod was at 5am so we had to leave the house around 2 in the morning. Lately all my trips seem to have been punctuated by a lot of sleeplessness. (When you fly budget you fly during ridiculous hours so I can’t complain.) I took a short nap before we left for the airport, but for the rest of the trip I had very little sleep. In fact on the day we were to fly back home I spent my time in a dream-like state– not quite awake, asleep the moment my butt hit the seat of the bus– that I made a half-hearted attempt to see the sights in Iloilo, but more on that later.

We arrived in Bacolod bright and early, in time for a quick breakfast stop at one of the oldest bakeries in Silay City– El Ideal Bakery. The bakery’s facade is literally from another time- dating back to the World War II era!- but once you step inside you will notice the addition of air-conditioning and computerized cash registers. The bakery is popular for its Guapple Pie and Angel Cookies. There are other interesting things here too, like cookies with moringa in them. It’s a good place to buy some take-home treats or pasalubong, though I would advise reserving some pocket money for Merci or Biscocho Haus too.

I must’ve been suffering from jet lag or something because I wasn’t particularly interested in buying anything from the pasalubong section, but I was absolutely prepared to get some food in my tummy to jumpstart the day. Breakfast was a typical Filipino affair of garlic rice and sardines for me, and coffee of course. Feeling hungry and raring to explore the immediate vicinity, I scarfed down my food rather quickly.

I think if you would ask what there is to see in Bacolod, some people might say simply that there are a lot of old things and houses here. But see, the thing about me is I appreciate old things: I like the nostalgic aura they have about them. I love how their stories are etched on their surface ready to be shared, and you only need to take a step closer to hear them say, ‘Look at me! Look at what I’ve been through!’ I like the fact that they have histories that extend through the generations; that they’ve been standing there since even before I was born and will probably still be there even after I die.

I’m not entirely sure how well-preserved the ancestral houses here are, but some of them have had interesting facelifts. Some of the old structures have modern-looking 7-11’s on the ground floor, but the way they are connected to the ancient wooden panels that compose the second floor make them look like something plucked from an accidental undulation in time. A strange mix of old and new.

This narration of the spots we visited in Bacolod and Silay isn’t going to be strictly chronological, but it’ll be more of a round-up of the things I saw while here. On my next post I will share the resorts we visited, but for now I will walk you through this charming place in the province of Negros Occidental. 

You probably need a cup of coffee for this one. It’s going to be long and image heavy!

Just a little history lesson before we get started: The Philippines was a colony of Spain for a good 300-something years, so it comes as no surprise that most of the preserved structures in the country are heavily inspired by Spanish architecture. In Bacolod it’s no different. Many of the structures here were burnt down during World War II and then rebuilt later on. If the churches look kind of new or freshly painted, it’s because Filipinos give importance to maintaining their biggest and grandest churches since it is a largely Catholic country. Even the smaller parishes usually regularly have maintenance work done on them.

One of the newer-looking churches we went to was the San Diego Pro-Cathedral. Looking at it now you wouldn’t know that it was originally built in the 1920’s as one of the first main churches of Silay. This church has the distinction of being the only church in Negros with a dome.

The inside is actually quite lovely, and if I’m not mistaken, the interiors of this church leans more toward Italian influences because the architect who was commissioned to rebuild this church had in fact been Italian.

One of the most interesting churches that we visited was the St. Joseph The Worker Parish. It’s located inside a sugar mill compound in Victorias, and it is built with a rather modern-looking tower that is easy to spot from a distance. I do believe this was primarily intended to be the church of the workers in the sugar mill.

The second thing that caught my eye was the number of mosaics found on the outer walls of the parish. Each of the pieces were intricate in their own way and depicted scenes from the Bible. The one above the entrance in particular was made of an astounding number of pieces of polished stone, and I’m guessing an even more astounding amount of patience.

Stepping inside, it was easy for me to understand where it’s other name, Church of the Angry Christ, came from. At the very front of the church where the dais is located, there is a gigantic mural of Jesus, arms outstretched and looking… well, angry. The bright colours used for the mural as well as the way the symbols and other icons of the Bible were portrayed is not something one usually sees in a church. It’s why this mural became rather controversial when it was first revealed. It certainly is a sight one does not easily look away from, but when I look at it I don’t really get the impression of an angry Christ. With his blazing big heart, it almost looks like he is being accepting of his fate because this is his way of showing his love.

This next one is called Chapel of the Cartwheels, nestled in the compound owned by the Gaston family in the town of Manapla. Built during the 60’s, it’s easy to see from the outside that the chapel is shaped like a farmer’s wide-brimmed hat, making it iconic and easy to relate to for the farmers who used to work in this hacienda. Many hacienda owners used to build a little community for their workers and that would include a church where they could gather in prayer. 

The reason why this is called the Chapel of the Cartwheels is because the most striking thing one would notice stepping in is how the walls of the church are primarily made up of, well, cartwheels. Aside from that, other materials used to build this church are simple and familiar to farmers, such as stones and mortar. The religious icons are carved out of wood. The altar itself is a gigantic boulder carved into a rectangular shape. There is even a window made up of pieces of coloured broken glass to achieve a stained-glass window effect.

Interestingly, the round shape of the chapel is said to be symbolic of the Holy Spirit which surrounds and kind of herds the people towards the center of the room, to Jesus Christ crucified on the cartwheel, to make sure the people do not lose their way.

Now what’s more interesting to me beyond the churches is finding out on which streets the Filipino rebellions I’ve only ever read about in history books occurred. (I like history a lot, you guys.) Riding in the bus our tour guide Art would point out where the soldiers marched during this revolution or that rebellion that ultimately led to the freedom of Negros from the clutches of conquerors, and then he took us to one of the more famous historical spots in Bacolod called The Ruins.

The ruins used to be a glorious mansion built during the 1900’s by Don Mariano Lacson, and at the time it was the largest and most impressive piece of architecture in the area, complete with the finest furniture, china, and decoration. Because the main structure still stands, it’s rather easy for one to imagine the grandeur the mansion used to hold before it was burnt down in World War II. It had been a habit back then by the US Armed Forces and the Filipino guerrillas to burn down large houses and buildings like this one to prevent them from being seized by the Japanese and used as some form of headquarters

I’m no expert on the subject but if you do decide to come here, I would suggest seeking this guy out to give you a walking tour of The Ruins. Meet Roger. He is one of the tour leaders for the mansion and we were lucky enough to have him available when we arrived. He has appeared on local TV because his unique and hilarious way of presenting the history of the mansion got posted by a tourist on YouTube. Well-deserved attention if you ask me.

Inside the mansion is a great hall that used to be separated into the dining area, living area, even a saloon or palour with a piano. Now they just set up an area to the side for tourists to sit and bask in the history and mood of the place.

And while you’re here, you can buy a cup of Erv’s yummy calamansi-sugar cane juice to stave off the tropical weather.

Right out on the yard there is a lovely four-tiered fountain. I think this one has primarily been maintained to look like the original fountain. The picturesque-ness of this place has made it popular for weddings, and even as a location for local films and TV shows!

Now let’s step aside from the old things for a moment and talk about something that seems to be all the rage these days, and that is these new age-y ways to live a healthier lifestyle. For the record, I live a relatively healthy soda-free fastfood-free life with at least three times a week’s worth of exercise. I eat more fish than any other meat, and I believe in engaging in intense exercise and eating in moderation instead of depriving the self because that seems to always turn counterproductive when a craving really hits hard.

At this point, you might be wondering why I’m saying these things, but I just want to be clear about my stand on things before I proceed talking about the next place we visited. Some of you might have read in the papers about the Rapha Valley Organic Farm and the connected  advocacies and principles in healthy living it adheres to. And while I am open to listening to new ideas on health and well-being, I want to be clear that I don’t necessarily agree with everything that was said here. 

In all honesty, I hadn’t known what experience to expect from the farm, only that its owner was a fierce advocate of organic food and healthy eating and that we were going to be treated to a meal composed of veggies. Okay, I like that! When we arrived we were ushered into the welcome area with some nice-smelling towels to clean our hands and a glass of fresh langka-carrot juice to quench our thirst. We were also served some black puto with this yummy creammy cashew dip, and the farm’s version of a “bloodless and meatless dinuguan“. Then our gracious host came in and introduced himself and immediately launched to share his advocacy with us. 

The Rapha Valley Organic Farm in the town of Salvador Benedicto is owned by the Jo family, with its patriarch and figure-head being doctor-turned-chef Dr. Albert Jo. What I admire about this man is that he was brave enough to go after his own life dreams despite being pressured by his parents into being a doctor. What he really wanted to be was a chef, and with his medical background he made the jump to living a completely meat-free organic-life. The only meat he eats is fish, and he experiments recipes in the kitchen that allows him to make what would’ve regularly been sinful dishes into healthy ones.

After his talk, he took us on a brief walk to show us the farm before heading to the dining area, and boy was it a beauty! Many of the smaller herbs and flowers were planted in recycled plastic bottles, hung from an arched pathway made out of thin wooden branches. It’s very effective in making a visitor from the city (like myself) feel like they are indeed walking through a tunnel and coming out to discover the beauty nature is capable of.

Now Rapha Valley maintains its own vast farm and the food for their restaurant is taken from here, so guests can rest assured that the vegetables and fruits they eat are homegrown and indeed organic. Oh if I had a backyard like this!

And if you do have doubts about the food you can ask their personal taste-tester, whose name I believe is Choco the monkey. He is the one responsible for determining whether a flower is actually good for use in a salad. Heh.

After the brief waking tour we were taken to the restaurant to get a taste of his famous meatless offerings. The restaurant is located inside a tent-shaped structure and is super nice and cozy, complete with quaint table settings featuring a centerpiece of arranged fresh flowers. I love the decorations and the flower-shaped “chandelier”. Oh and you can see the action in the kitchen because it is behind a wall of glass.

Take a sip of Hibiscus Tea and prepare yourself for a totally organic eating experience…

The meal begun with a salad. Of course. But what I really liked about this salad were the unique dressings we got to choose from. One was the sesame dressing and the other was may favourite, the tangy guyabano dressing. I liked it enough to want to take some home with me. Unfortunately, because all these are made fresh they don’t have a decent shelf life conducive to being canned.

One of the prepared main dishes is pasta with two kinds of sauce. The sauces were like vegetarian versions of the bolognese sauce, but I kind of like it this way better because you can really taste the tang of the tomatoes. One is the Tomato, Herb, and Black Olive sauce, and the other is the yummy Shiitake Mushroom with Parsley sauce.

We were also served this fish dish with a thick turmeric-flavoured tofu sauce. I can’t remember the name of the dish. Sorry!

After the filling main courses, we were served with healthified versions of favourite dessert. First was the Carrot Squash Cake, which is Dr. Jo’s take on the crowd-favourite carrot cake. I think people who like fluffy cakes will not find this as enjoyable. It’s super dense (think frozen fruit cake that has thawed for like 15 minutes?) and it tastes healthy. But it’s a taste that grows on you after every bite. 

Now dessert number two was an interesting experience. Presenting the Turmeric Creme Brulee! At first I literally felt like I was eating second-hand cigarette smoke or something. It has that smoky/woody/gingery sort of strong turmeric aftertaste. But on the third bite when my palate finally managed to familiarize itself with the turmeric taste it gets a lot better. Acquired taste? Definitely. But one that you should give a try for at least three to four bites before deciding! (Oh and dessert was served with tarragon tea to aid digestion. I forgot to take a picture!)

As we ate, Dr. Jo made rounds from table to table to make friendly conversation and address questions regarding health. After the meal we decided to take a walk around and some of the folks from my tour group popped in at the coffee shop next door to buy some souvenirs.

Me, I chose to walk around and admire the greenness and serenity of it all. I simply cannot get enough of the view. It actually makes me wonder if I can ever live in a place like this, so far removed from the city life I am used to but so much better for the soul really. 

So here’s the first part of my Bacolod round-around! If you’re a Filipino hankering to learn more about the Philippines, or simply a lover of history, I do think Bacolod is a great place to visit. The city is very rich in interesting sights to see and to know, and I think every turn you take in this city just might have a piece of history embedded into its stone.

I would just like to voice out my thanks to our tour master, Art, for making the tour around Bacolod fun and educational!

On my next post, I will be talking about the resorts we visited, and especially the one we stayed in, while we were here. 🙂

Other posts in this series:

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