Saturday, May 31, 2014


I was in Bacolod only recently for close to a week for work.  Ches and I had also made plans to go bcoz we equated Bacolod with butterscotch, inasal, and ancestral homes.  Chuckles.  

It was easy enough to arrange tours bcoz Dr. G has best friends in the area and has brought his entire clan over for several visits.  He also recommended Bambi, who is, hands down, The Best Tour Guide Ever.  He found us our hotel, van, and driver thru-out our stay, took us not only to all the good touristy spots but to several secret ones as well, showed us the way to the best of Negrense cuisine, and taught us 60 million things about Negros that we wouldn't have learned anywhere else.

From Dr. G, I knew that Bambi discovered Bea Lucero, was the brains behind Milo's Olympic energy campaign back in the day, became a tour guide after advertising became too stressful, and is good friends with several interesting people in Negros so he has access to their houses and stories like no other tour guide.  I found out for myself that, on top of all that, Bambi:  (i) is also very patient with kids, painstakingly including kid-friendly activities in our itinerary,and heartily laughing over their jokes and commentaries; and (ii) graduated from Ateneo, taught in La Salle, studied in Madrid - and threw all these qualifications in the faces of certain Korean tourists he was guiding who were - let's just say - not respectful.  He says he now refuses to accept any more Koreans in his tours.  (Go, Bambi!)       

Our first stop was the Negros Forest, situated right by the side of the Capitol.  It looks rather unassuming outside, and the area is not that big, but this small zoo packs a punch.  We saw several animals here that we haven't seen elsewhere, and with two boys in that age range, we've been to a lot of zoos.  They had spotted deer, long-snouted pigs, and several kinds of bleeding-heart pigeons.  I think the deer and pigeons are endemic to Negros, and both endangered, too.  I wasn't able to take pictures of the pigeons, but we were all in complete awe of them.  I couldn't get over the bright red spot on their perfectly white breasts.  Wow.  It's one of those things that are so sad and beauteous at the same time.    

For a small zoo, it has a lot of big sponsors.  It's also obvious that they put a lot of research into the place, on the basis alone of various signs all over that contain interesting info not normally found in zoos (for instance, the difference between 'endangered' and 'threatened').

Our next stop was the Negros Museum, housed in this grand, old structure just a spitting distance from the zoo.  The boys' favorite was the toy collection of a woman from the prominent Montelibano clan.  Even we adults were amazed at all the bright colors, exquisite beauties, and sheer number of toys collected from all over the world.  No pictures allowed, understandably.

The second floor showed glimpses into the Negrenses' way of life - sugar cane, extravagant dresses, fine furniture.  It was the miniature version of the magnificent ancestral homes we would visit in the coming days.

My favorite part was the exhibit in the lobby. It's a collection of pictures of the facade and ceiling of Bohol churches.  Gasp.  It was apparently organized by the Ayala Museum before the earthquake struck bcoz the pictures are complete and intact.  Since then this exhibit has been brought to various museums in the country, and I was just so lucky it happened to be at the Negros Museum right when we visited.

They had a map showing the damage done by the quake on these churches, and even a classification of the damage, from minimal to total ruin.  I cried and cried when I saw that.  I embarrass myself to no end when I get like this in public places, but I just can't help it.  Sob. 

We had some free time after that so we had snacks and bought some souvenirs at the Negros Showroom.  I'm devoting an entire post on all the places we ate in at Bacolod.  They are so, so good.

And then we were off to The Ruins.  (It's actually in Talisay and not Bacolod.)  I requested Bambi to put it in the first day of our four-day itinerary bcoz it was The One Thing I wanted my boys to see in Negros.  (I've visited it before during my business trip.)

The Ruins is unreal.  Will you just look at it?  It stands for all of these conflicting ideas - grandeur and destruction, fortitude and emptiness.  It's one of those things where there are just no words to describe its beauty.  Mostly all you can do is stare and gasp.

The Ruins made it to one of My Favorite Places In The Philippines.

The Ruins has this very popular tour guide named Roger who has become a star in his own right.  His Youtube video is apparently viral, he has guested at Vice Ganda's show, and is the endorser of the local pasalubong chain Merci.  He's too funny.  

I first went on his tour with Dr. G and his two scientists, and we all peed our pants laughing.  He starts his story with Mariano Lacson and how he built the mansion for his wife Maria, who died at childbirth (hence, The Ruins is also known as the Philippines' Taj Mahal).  Up until the end of his tale with the Americans burning the mansion so the Japanese will not be able to use it, he has everyone in stitches with his irreverent jokes and often politically incorrect commentaries about hacienderos, their muchachas, their frightfully big hairclips.  It's the same spiel he tells at each and every tour, and he has me dying of laughter each time.  (Gosh, I'm shallow.)    

We were waiting to watch the sunset at The Ruins, but the sky was overcast and the sunset was not meant to be.  So we went back to the Capitol where Bambi arranged for the kids to feed the tilapia in the lagoon. That was loads of fun for them.  This is what I was talking about when I said Bambi made the effort to look for age-appropriate activities for the boys so that it's not all heritage culture vulture stuff that, no doubt, the boys do only Bcoz Mommy Said So.  

The provincial capitol of Negros Occidental is arguably the grandest in the Philippines.  It looks a bit like Manila City Hall, except it has the lagoon in front rather than the majestic fountain in Manila.  I told Ches that, with its capitol looking like this, Negros is clearly not some-fifth class province lacking in government funds and in need of aid from anyone.

Bambi also took us to the La Salle Museum, where he used to teach and whose executive director he is chummy with.  It's a decent museum of two big floors that house various antiques and collections of prominent Negrense families.  My favorites were the Faberge replicas, and these ancient altars called urnas

These urnas are amazing.  I love how old and weathered they look, delicate yet everlasting at the same time.  They are one of those things I admire from a distance, tho.  I'd be too scared to put them in my own home - these things look like they have a life of their own, like at any moment the statues will start moving about and spewing superpowers.  (Well, they are saints, after all - they're supposed to be miraculous.)

The second floor is devoted almost entirely to the textile collection of Ms.  Mara Montelibano, the same woman behind the toy museum.  So in all her travels since she was young, she must have been collecting all these toys and textiles, to boot.  Gasp.  This gave me the perfect opportunity to justify my hoarding to Ches. Compared to all the toys, textiles, antiques, art work, depression glasses, and whatever else amassed by various people in Negros - my little hoarding of clothes, shoes, and bags substantially pales in comparison. Hahaha.

According to Lyn, the museum director, the highest-maintenance out of all the items in the place is the doll clothed in a fabulous Filipiniana gown, made of pina and handsewn with 60 million beads. The dress is by Pitoy Moreno, and they bring the doll to him all the way to Manila when it's time to clean the dress.  I offered to Lyn that I could bring the doll with me to Manila when we flew back home.  Hahaha.    

Bambi wasn't so sure whether he would take us to see another fascinating house in Bacolod, quite unlike any of the other ancestral homes that form part of the usual tour itinerary.  It is owned by Jesse Maranon, a local who is now based in the UK with his family.  Apparently some people do not even want guides bringing tourists there, bcoz for them the house is plain tacky.  Well, it certainly is not for everyone, but I agree with Bambi that art is subjective, and you need to keep an open mind and learn to appreciate other people's tastes.

'Tacky' would be downright derogatory, but I think we can all get along and agree on 'eclectic'.  Every inch of space in the house is decorated with something larger-than-life, and the effect is so stunning that you don't initially know how to react.  I told Bambi that the words that come to my mind are 'sensory overload' and 'attack on the senses'.  He so agreed.

And me being OC when it comes to cleaning my house, I wondered how many days it would take to dust off and wipe up every single decor, furniture, wall, and ceiling in this house.  Weeks, more like. Gasp.  

Another kid-friendly activity that Bambi thought up was a visit to the OISCA silk farm in Bago City, just outside Bacolod.  We had passed by this place in my previous business trip, and Doc G described it as 'the place to go to if you want to witness the mass murder of worms'.  (He talks crazy like that all the time. Hence, we get along.)  

As with most other things that are yucky, the worms were something the boys looked forward to in this trip. Bambi was pleased to no end bcoz not only were the boys not grossed out with the worms, they actually held them in their little palms like they were precious objects - and they actually asked Bambi if they were allowed to eat the worms.  Eeewww.  Boys = baffling.  I will never understand boys.     

The guide took us thru all the steps of making silk from the worms, and the tour ended at the showroom/souvenir shop of clothes, shawls, bags and other fine things made of silk.  The boys were bugging and daring me nonstop to touch even just one worm, but I couldn't.  I did hold a pupa, to appease them - not that it worked.  

So everything you've ever heard about a mother's love being boundless and eternal and all of that - they're unreal.  My kind of mother's love Stops At Worms.      

When I first met Bambi over dinner with Dr. G, he mentioned about another unique museum that recently opened in the city - that of depression or vintage glasses collected by Mr. Laguerta.  I happened to have read about it as well, so Bambi included it in our itinerary.  I had read that the owner, a local who worked in the US, collected these glasses and painstakingly packaged them so he could bring them all to Bacolod.  People convinced him to open a museum so the public can also appreciate his collection. 

I took a pix of the write-up explaining what depression glasses are all about, and am posting that here so I myself won't have to do any explaining.  Hahaha.

I kind of remember Mama having orange ones of these glasses.  It was a complete set of a huge pitcher and several glasses, that she kept in a glass cabinet at my grandparents' home in the province.  I wonder whatever became of that.  I also couldn't help wondering, what if there was an earthquake and these precious glasses that you collected your whole life all broke into tiny little pieces?  That would be unimaginable.

 My favorites were the reds, blues, and greens.  

Bambi, to Boots:  What's your favorite color?
Boots:  Cobalt blue!
Bambi:  Cobalt blue talaga, ha?  If I got that answer from my nephews, I would treat them to a grand meal!