Monday, February 2, 2015

The Sweet Life In Negros Occidental

We all know that Negros Island is known as the Sugarbowl of the Philippines, and for my readers who are not familiar with the Philippines, the Negros Islands produces more than half of the nation's sugar output. Perhaps due to its volcanic location, its soil is so fertile that makes it suitable for agricultural products particularly sugarcane. Negros Islands was once a big mass of island but was cut off due to a continental drift that is why it was originally called "Buglas", an old native word which means "cut-off". And so the island was divided into Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental which are both progressive and developed due to its large profits from sugar industry. History tells that the Spaniards who came to the island saw black natives who were the early dwellers of the said island that's why they called it "Negros".

From Dumaguete, Negros Oriental we took a bus going to Bacolod City the capital of Negros Occidental which took 5 hours  and started our tour with a hot bowl of  "Kansi" a cross between bulalo (beef bone marrow and vegetable soup) and sinigang (meat in tamarind soup). It was raining that day and the hot soup was so perfect for the weather!

After lunch we went straight to Silay City which is only 15 minutes travel by land from Bacolod City. The rustic city was on old Spanish settlement and was liberated in  1898 by the Iloilo migrants who made the town prosperous through their cultivation of sugarcane. .

Silay City is famous for its  artists and cultural shows and has became the "Paris of Negros". Zarzuela and operatta performers from Europe were often invited by a pianist and philantrophist Jose "Pitong" Ledesma. Below is a photo of the Jose Ledesma's ancestral house in Silay City.

One of the famous landmarks in Silay City is the San Diego Pro-Cathedral which has a dome that resemble St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, it was constructed in 1920 and designed by Italian architect Antonio Bernasconi.

There are several ancestral houses in Silay City which are mostly owned by Silay's prominent families. The Balay Negrense is the ancestral mansion of the Gastons, at present it is converted to a museum showing how sugar planters lived during the early centuries. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday at 10 am to 6 pm, located at Cinco de Noviembre Street, Silay City, in case you pass by Silay City in Negros Occidental don't forget to drop by. Unfortunately we went there on a Monday the museum was closed so we weren't able to come in.

Another ancestral house in Silay City is the Manuel Severino Hofileña Ancestral House. It was supposed to be closed but the resident of the house Ramon Hofileña was kind enough to let us in and toured us around the house. It was the first house in the city to be opened to visitors and it shows a collection of work of arts of the country's top artists. Picture taking without flash are allowed in the museum to protect the art works.

It was raining that day and walking around the city was a little hard so we went to one of the oldest and popular bakeshop in Silay, the El Ideal Bakery. Your tour in Silay wouldn't be complete without having a taste of the bakery's delectable baked products. It is famous for its cookies and pies. they have all sorts of sweet delicacies stack up in several storage, this just proves that the Negrense really lived a sweet life in the early times and even until now!

The bakery is also famous for their guapple pie which is always their bestseller, if you are planning to take home some be sure to place your order in advance because the pies runs out so fast! Oh how I love sipping a hot cup of coffee with my guapple pie while raining, it makes me feel so sated.

The afternoon snack was quite appetizing and the restaurant has a delightful ambiance, we thought of staying for a while before going to our next destination. It was dark when we left Silay bringing us a bunch of take home goodies from El Ideal Bakery. We hit the road and headed to Talisay City where the famous "Ruins" can be found. Just ask the locals how to get to "The Ro-wens", that's how the locals pronounce it, and they'll give the directions right away. It is unfortunate that it was already dark when we arrived there, we missed the sunset which was said to be the best time to take a photo of the place, but there's always a next time and I'll be early for that!

At the end of the road you'll find a huge house, a skeletal mansion which looks so charming despite of its situation, I have no doubt that it looks remarkable during its heyday, when it was the center of attraction among the vastness of sugar fields. According to history, the mansion was built by Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, a sugar baron in the early 1911 in memory of  his Portuguese wife, Maria Braga, who met a tragic death while carrying her 11th child, that is why it's been tagged as the "Taj Majal" of Negros Island.

The mansion was made from solid concrete with a touch of Italian architecture as seen on its neo-Romanesque columns. Some materials were imported from Spain, since Maria's father was a ship captain and  was capable of importing materials easily.  Unfortunately, this huge mansion was burned down by the guerilla forces during the Japanese Occupation after learning that the Japanese forces were planning to make it as their headquarters. At present the ground floor has been made to a restaurant so as to cater tourists who would drop by. It is also a favorite venue for occasions like weddings and other important events. The Ruins is a symbol of an endless love, its walls, floors and each columns has a seat of human feelings which is unfading and will glitter forever. Oh well, it was getting dark and we have to eat dinner and go back to the hotel, and prepare for the next day's tour.

The following day, we headed to Victorias City early in the morning. Victorias City is just 45 minutes travel by land from Bacolod City and is known for being the site of the Philippine's largest sugar refinery. The church of St. Joseph the Worker or popularly known as the Church of the Angry Christ, can be found inside the Victorias Milling compound which is well-known for the mural of the rugged-faced of Christ in psychedelic colors. The mural was painted by the international artist Alfredo Ossorio in 1950.

Another remarkable work of art found inside the Victorias Milling compound is the carabao sundial which was built by Don Bosco students in 1975. "Time wasted is existence; used is life" are the words inscripted on this valuable structure of art. Okay, that makes up our Negros Island trip, we are always on a rush.  I know we have so much to see in this island but time wasn't enough for us to see more about this place. We have to catch up with our ferry ride to Iloilo and of course we made a quick breakfast, and where would that be? Of course, in El Ideal where we had some hearty meal of fried rice, longaniza and fried egg and it wouldn't be complete without that brewed coffee and egg pie for dessert!

By the way, Negros Occidental is so blessed with topographic location, it also has long coasts suitable for beach bum. There are a number of dive sites waiting to be explored. So what are you waiting for? Come and see and explore the sweet life in Negros Occidental. I suggest that  you rent a vehicle in going around Negros Occidental, so you can explore and enjoy the trip well.

Thanks for reading!

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