Negros Heritage Tour

Last April 9, I was given a chance to be part of a heritage walkabout tour in Negros Occidental. And I was glad to take the opportunity. Not only I could get a chance to visit the place, but also get to learn from its history on why it has become what it is now.

Most of my companions from the tour are male young professionals, who happen to be those I know and am friends with. So we met up at the airport and spent the remaining time talking before we boarded for our flight.

After about 30 minutes, we landed in the New Bacolod Silay Airport where we met and befriended other male young professionals part of the tour. We then met our tour guide and started the day.

As we were on our way to our first destination, I looked at the surroundings and saw the vast sugar plantations. It sure reflected on how the place marked itself as a hub in the sugar industry. I also saw several notable landmarks, with its evident European and American influences. I would get to see more of these landmarks as we went along in our major tourist destinations to visit.

El Ideal
Breakfast at El Ideal

Our first stop was at El Ideal, the oldest restaurant in Negros found in the city of Silay.

The bakery started operation in 1920, specializing in homemade breads, cookies and other pastry delicacies, and was handed down from one generation to the next up to its current owner. This is where we had our breakfast.

I had chorizo pudpud with rice and sunny side up eggs for my meal. I was able to try their guapple (guava-apple) pie, the bakery's best-seller. It tasted good without being too sweet. I also tried their puto, and it tasted good as well.

Hacienda Rosalia
After breakfast, we headed to Hacienda Rosalia, found in the municipality of Manapla. Seeing the hacienda made me feel its province-like atmosphere. Everything in it that gave that kind of mood made me reminisce about it. We saw two tourist attractions from there: the Jose Gaston Mansion and the Chapel of the Cartwheels.

The Chapel of the Cartwheels is an unique and appealing structure. It is not the typical Filipino church one sees.

It is shaped like a giant salakot, the native hat usually used by Filipino farmers. It is made from farm implements such as cartwheels, plows, mortar and pestle, margaha sand and broken pieces of glass in different colors.

It depicts the livelihood of the community, which is sugarcane farming. It is located behind the mansion.

Window view of the Gaston Mansion
The Jose Gaston Mansion is a beholding one. Built in the 1930s, it still remains intact with what structures of houses looked like during those times. It was featured in the 1982 Filipino film Oro, Plata, Mata.

We met with Monsignor Guillermo Gaston, the resident and current owner of the mansion. He talked about stories regarding the mansion.

We were able to see the dining room & living room. We also got to know his ancestry, and interestingly one of our companions is related to the family line.

Peñalosa Farms
The Peñalosa Farms' guesthouse
Our next stop was in Peñalosa Farms, located in the city of Victorias. We met Dr. Ramon Peñalosa, a farmer-scientist with an expertise on organic farming.

He pushed of creating a business out of these plants & livestock, in which one can earn big for a month. This is possible through the integrated natural farming system he applies in his farms, making them environment-friendly, low-maintenance, self-sustainable, and profitable.

We spent our time in the farm getting to know more of the plants & animals there, and how they were taken care of.

After our time there, I'm looking at him and his farm. I see him as a passionate man. He does what he does as a way to help address the problem of poverty. With this, he believes that "No Filipino will go hungry in his own native land."  This amazes me, and I'm hopeful for that day to come.

Chapel of St. Joseph The Worker
Inside the Chapel of St. Joseph The Worker
We had a lunch break, and then visited the Chapel of St. Joseph The Worker. It is found inside the Victorias Milling Company (VICMICO) in the city of Victorias. This artistic landmark heralded the birth of Filipino religious art in the country.

It was featured in magazines as "The Church of the Angry Christ". For there is an altar mural that conveys the angry Christ, with a flaming heart and seated on skulls & a serpent, on Judgment Day with big eyes and long, outstretched hands.

This was controversial due to the depiction of Christ as being angry and fierce, instead of being merciful and loving.

He is surrounded by brown-skinned Filipino saints in native costumes. This is considered the first Filipinism in liturgical art.

We have seen other forms of art around the church, which were remarkable as well. But the altar mural is the most notable because of its global impact.

Hofileña Ancestral House
Our next stop was the Hofileña Ancestral House, located in the city of Silay. It is the residence of the late Manuel Severino Hofileña and his family. It is currently being resided by one of the children and heirs, Ramon Hofileña.

He was a nice, warm and fun man as he welcomed us into his humble abode and toured us around. We were able to see his living room. We were also able to see his library, with a vast collection of books, albums and souvenir items he kept.

We were also able to see the dining room, which had cabinets of antique pieces from the Ming dynasty. We were also able to see his paintings of over 1,000 art treasures, featuring the paintings and sketches of artists like Juan Luna, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo, Ang Kiukok and Jose Rizal.

We were able to see stories for the parts of the house we visited, and we learned a lot from them. There are more to be visited, but we couldn't accommodate them due to the limited time. He would love to take all day to tell more stories, but cannot do so due to this constraint. Nevertheless, we were grateful to him for this.  Hopefully we would come back to hear more.

Balay ni Tana Dicang
One side of  Balay ni Tana Dicang
The next stop was the Balay ni Tana Dicang, located in the city of Talisay. It is the ancestral home of Don Efigenio Lizares and  Doña Enrica Alunan, whose family is one of the most powerful sugarlords in Negros Occidental.

After Don Efigenio died, his wife Doña Enrica took over in raising her big brood (They have 17 children), managing the hacienda and serving as Kapitana, thus giving her the name Tana Dicang.

We learned stories as we visited each part of the house. Each story creates a picture on how life was lived there with Tana Dicang. These stories would eventually form the story of Negros Occidental- its glorious past until what it has become today.

The Ruins
Our last stop was The Ruins, still located in the city of Talisay. It is awarded to be the best landmark in the Philippines, and is considered to be the "Taj Mahal of Negros".

It started as an old mansion. It was built in the early 1900s by Spanish-Filipino sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson after the death of his Portuguese wife, Maria Braga.

With the European and Asian furnishings they have, he earned the reputation of owning the biggest and grandest mansion in the province at the time.

However, in the early part of World War II, he found out that the Japanese were planning to turn his mansion into their headquarters. So he asked Filipino guerilla soldiers to torch the house, in order to be kept from the clutches of the Japanese. This became the ruins it is known today.

I encountered a tourist guide who explained its history with poetry and comedy. I've seen this featured on TV, and I got to hear it for myself. It was enjoyable, for I was able to understand it well. But it would be nice if it were from Kuya Roger, for he originated that kind of style.

Last Stop
Over-all, it was a worthwhile day. We've learned much of Negros through the tourist spots visited.

And one thing to add, we had a taste of their sugarcane juice while we were on our last tour stop. This is freshly squeezed from pure sugarcane without adding any flavors or sugar.  A small amount of calamansi was added.

It tasted good, without being too sweet. And it was a good refreshment to end the day.

So we went back to the airport. We bade goodbye to our tourist guide and the friends we met from there. And we thanked them for the fulfilling and productive day.

While waiting for the flight back home, I was also able to purchase napoleones for pasalubong.

It is a layered puff pastry filled with custard cream and glazed with white sugar on top. This can only be found in Negros, so I took this chance to do so.

After a few minutes, we were now back home. Then, I thanked and bade goodbye to my friends here for the day and had rest. Though it was tiring, it became one of my memorable travels.

A few days later, I tried the napoleones for myself. It had that crunchiness, as well as this soft, creamy and sweet taste. I would love to try more of this in the future, as it is good. Given all these, I would like to go back to Negros when another chance comes.