Hello First-time Travelers!

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Are you going on a trip to a particular place for the first-time? Will you be setting foot in a foreign and unfamiliar soil? Rest assured that you have fellow travelers on the road who are embarking on new journeys.

I have been to many places, and the first time I stepped into unfamiliar territory I had to feel my way and rely on what I have on-hand especially when all I had were travel books, maps and print-outs from the web. My friends and I make our own itinerary. It is truly advisable to check out anything about the place before going on a trip.

Yet, you need not necessarily hire a travel agent or tour guide to get you around every time you visit a place for the first time. A little help from locals can add spice to your first-time travels. It can give you the freedom to explore the place and enjoy the feeling of not spending much, based on my own travel experiences.

You can take my word on some tips and information on the places I visited but feel free to be creative and be adventurous. I may offer some advice here and there but, as they say, “experience is the best teacher”. So, read on and find out more about my first-time travel adventures.

I want to make things easy for you. If you want to view the articles I wrote in this site, click the Table of Contents tab.

Photos used in this site are taken by the author, unless otherwise indicated.

Quan Pasalubong

I’ve got friends who happen to visit Bacolod City recently. Of course, the first question always is “where is a nice place to eat?” I blurt out several names of restaurants, depending on their preferred food. But I also get questions of what would be the best “pasalubong” from my city.

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Well, I certainly have something to suggest. Quan has plenty of authentic Bacolod eats that you can bring home to your families and friends. My favorite is the rosquillos because of its yummy and tasty feel. Most of all, it’s not too sweet. Bacolod is known as the sugarlandia and most people are afraid that the food they bring to friends would be too sweet to their taste. Not with Quan.

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If you are a pesto lover, they have the Munchies Pesto, which will definitely keep you munching till you finish a pack. They have Wheat Cinnamon, too!

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All these are packed just right so they are easy to carry and handle. Next time you visit Bacolod, you know where to get your “pasalubong” or your take home goods, a popular Filipino culture, because we want you to take home a taste of our city. Just visit the following Quan stores:

*MC Metroplex, Northdrive – Tel. (034)4339987 or 7090677

*La Salle Avenue – Tel. (034)4346379 or 7085055

*Lopues Araneta – Tel. (034)4356559

*Gaisano Araneta – Tel. (034) 7078440

*Lopues East – Tel. (034) 7089095

*Robinsons Supermarket – Tel. (034)4761518

MANILA BRANCH: 1797 Dian St. Palanan, Makati – Tel. (02)8335843

Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation: Nature in the City

I’m entering my 12th month as a returning resident of my hometown, Bacolod City. I’m beginning to feel as if it’s a long-term travel. There are still more roads to take, more food to try (yup, yup!), and more leaves to turn as I continue to explore my own backyard. I have this gnawing feeling that time will come that I’ll once again leave the nest so I take every opportunity to see what I need to see.

I never thought that right at the heart of Bacolod, a stone’s throw away from the Provincial Capitol Building and the Capitol Lagoon, lies a piece of nature – green, serene and with only the sounds of the animals that make music in the air.

The NFEFI-BCC compound. All those greens!

The NFEFI-BCC compound. All those greens!

There I was at the gate of the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation, Inc. – Biodiversity Conservation Center (NFEFI-BCC) compound. A fellow Negros blogger relayed that the foundation has been asking for help in promoting their programs. When I arrived there, I felt that writing about their new programs is not just what NFEFI-BCC needs. As it provides home to many endangered species, NFEFI-BCC seems to be also in dire need of a decent home, a renovation of its office structure. But that’s another matter. And surely, every bit of assistance and support from all sectors of society will go a long way (funding is, I think, foremost).

The NFEFI-BCC Admin Building.

The NFEFI-BCC Admin Building.

Nevertheless, as I walked around the compound I’ve seen several species, such as the Visayan Spotted Deer, the Visayan Warty Pig, Philippine Hawk-eagle, Visayan Tarictic Hornbill and the Pink-Bellied Imperial Pigeon. There are over 100 endangered or threatened animals and birds in their care.

The Visayan Spotted Deer

The Visayan Spotted Deer

The Visayan Tarictic Hornbill

The Visayan Tarictic Hornbill

Rufous-headed Hornbill

Rufous-headed Hornbill

Some of these animals are in the center for breeding purposes. The primary goal of conservation breeding is to increase the numbers of a particular species in a controlled environment where the animals can have a better chance of survival. Eventually, the captive-bred species would be re-introduced into the wild, but only if the habitat has adequate resources for their survival and safe from destruction and hunters.

There plenty of flora and fauna there, too.

There plenty of flora and fauna there, too.

As the NFEFI-BCC also advocates for the saving of the forests and educates the public on how to take care of the environment, the Foundation has it in the pipline an Adopt-an-Animal programme whereby individuals, corporation, schools and clubs can adopt or sponsor one of our animals for a modest sum per day.

The Junior Zookeeper Workshop. This photo is from the NFEFI-BCC.

The Junior Zookeeper Workshop. This photo is from the NFEFI-BCC.

Part of its educational initiatives is its Junior Zookeeper Workshop. The program aims towards having fun, but, at the same time, building an understanding of animals’ needs in the wild and in captivity.

The workshop, to be held at the center’s compound by the Capital Lagoon in Bacolod City from May 4 to May 8, 2015, is designed to give a greater understanding and appreciation of the Philippine wildlife and what it takes to be a zookeeper. Classes, which will be from 1:30 to 4:30 pm daily, will be a mixture of interactive lectures, practical activities, games and hands-on experience in caring for endangered Philippine animals. They encourage problem solving, discussion and team work.

Courses will be run by NFEFI-BCC’s veterinarian, Dr. Joanne Justo. Topics will include Philippine biodiversity, the role of zoos and breeding centers, bird, mammal and reptile biology, animal welfare, feeds and feeding behavior, environmental enrichment and tour guiding.

To make the most of the experience slots are limited to a maximum of 21 participants. All participants of the course will receive a Junior Zookeeper certificate and the opportunity to enroll as a junior zoo volunteer. The cost is Php2,000 for each participant and includes afternoon snacks, a workshop kit and a T-shirt.  All proceeds will be used for the upkeep of the many threatened birds and animals in NFEFI’s care.

To register or for further information, please call NFEFI on (+63-34) 433-9234.

Butterflies and small animals, like in this photo, are seen roaming the compound freely.

Butterflies and small animals, like in this photo, are seen roaming the compound freely.

Things To Catch at Panaad at Night

The Panaad Festival is the much-awaited event in the province of Negros Occidental. The Panaad Park and Stadium comes alive whenever this festival is celebrated every April. The pavilions of the  13 cities and 19 towns of the province display the best of their respective places, from food to crops to handicrafts to tourist attractions.

I have experienced the Panaad Festival before and have visited the pavilions of Bacolod City and those to its north, as well as those of the localities located south of the provincial capital. This year, we went there at night and found a different thrill of the festival. Here are reasons why you should try it, too.

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1. It is cooler to visit the park at night time. You can even dine al fresco as the breeze is cooler and it’s not hot to walk around the Panaad grounds. You see things in a different perspective and can linger along the paths in front of every pavilion.

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2. You will enjoy the lights. This is one thing you’ll miss when you visit the park during day time — the magical beauty of the lights. Every pavilion and attraction utilizes the wonderful effects of colors and lights at night.

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3. You get to watch the fireworks display. That’s during the first and the last day of the festival. It’s a great way to begin and end the festivities with a bang and it generates a jubilant mood among festival goers.

 

4. Have fun dining on seafood and chicken inasal. Get a taste of a manokan-by-night experience in the various eating grounds and pavilions at Panaad Park. And, yes, there were beers and some drinks being offered, as you enjoy the night life.

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5. Enjoy a ride at the Ferris wheel. Before you enter the Panaad Park and right after you exit, you will find some entertainment areas with fun rides, just like a fair ground. Be a child once again and let the thrill of the ride give you an energy boost.

6. Watch the concerts and the shows prepared by the organizers. As we were walking in the midst of the throng, I overheard one teenager say that the reason she was there was that she wanted to see a celebrity. Yes, during Panaad Festival, celebrities visit Bacolod and entertain the festival goers with a concert or variety show.

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Parking is quite tight as there is scarcity of parking spaces. But it’s less stressful at night when you don’t have to look for shade where to leave your vehicle. As we were walking towards the pavilions, we were in luck as we passed by a Coca-Cola cart giving away drinks for free!

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Some of our favorite pavilions were Moises Padilla, with its cool giant water buffalo design, and Calatrava, wherein it was like walking into a cave.

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We also found great buys in the Calatrava and Toboso pavilions where they had beautiful native handbags on sale. We also bought some baked peanuts at the San Carlos City booth.

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We left at almost midnight but the crowd was still thick. There was no stopping the Negrenses to keep alive the vow of the Panaad Festival, as the festival of festivals, of bringing the energy of the municipalities and cities of the province together.

Flavorful Paella Match

The last time I feasted on a paella, it was the Festival De La Paella Gigante held last August 2013 at the Casino Español de Manila where I had fun with friends watching how rice and other flavorful and colorful ingredients were cooked in a giant paellera by some of the best chefs in the land.

The Festival De La Paella Gigante.

The Festival De La Paella Gigante that I attended more than a year ago.

I envied my friends who were planning to take part to the festival this year. Bacolod City is miles and seas away from the capital where the festival would be held. Then I heard about Madrid Fusion Manila which will be happening on April 24 to 26 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City. I wanted it very much to be there but couldn’t.

I settled myself to just watch from the sidelines and await the social media posts and online news about these events. Then I got an invitation from SM City Bacolod to the Paella Cook Off, which is part of the Flavors of the Philippines Tour by SM Supermalls and Madrid Fusion Manila 2015. Finally, a paella event has come to my city!

Chef Uwe (3rd from left) and Chef David (4th from left) brought the Spanish flavor in Bacolod through the Paella Cook Off.

Chef Uwe (3rd from left) and Chef David (4th from left) brought the Spanish flavor in Bacolod through the Paella Cook Off.

While the much-anticipated Pacquiao-Mayweather boxing is just weeks away, I was more thrilled to see how the Paella Valenciana-Paella Negra cook off would fare at this flavorful match. Building up the Paella Valenciana corner was German chef Uwe Markowsky of the Bacolod Academy for Culinary Arts and Tyrol Restaurant. At the other corner where the Paella Negra was being groomed was Spanish chef David Lopez of the Txacho and Kome Kome restaurants. Though both chefs were hailed in Europe, they are now “sons of Bacolod” as they have fallen in love with this beautiful city in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines.

Chef Uwe at the Paella Valenciana corner.

Chef Uwe at the Paella Valenciana corner.

Chef David at the Paella Negra corner.

Chef David at the Paella Negra corner.

The host took center stage and announced the start of the cook off. He gave a preamble how “paella” came about. It was said to have originated from Valencia and was derived from “patella” or the pan used for cooking. My memory, if it serves me right, brought me back to my Spanish class where the teacher told us that “paella” was a combination of the word “para ella” because the food was cooked for a woman.

Meat was first sauteed.

Meat was first sauteed.

The Paella Valenciana.

The Paella Valenciana.

Well, it was good to see two male chefs cooking the paella in front of us. Chef Uwe first sauteed slabs of chicken on olive oil. He said that Paella Valenciana, which is considered to be the original version of Paella, usually has meat, like that of a chicken or a rabbit. Sometimes sea food is also included in the mix. He approximated 45 minutes to cook his menu, wherein he boiled the basmati rice and added the meat, the seafood, peas, beans, seasoning, and lemon to his paella.

Pintxos prepared by Chef David.

Pintxos prepared by Chef David.

Tapas were also given to us to taste.

Tapas were also given to us to taste.

Chef David, on the other hand, first boiled the boba rice letting the broth with squid ink simmer. He specifically said that while the broth is simmering, the rice should not be touched so that when the liquid evaporates, a film will cover the rice, adding flavor and texture to it. He sauteed the other ingredients in a different pan, which included shrimps, bell peppers, and peas. He also prepared some tapas, pintxos and pates for the audience to taste, plus a bit of sangria to go with the Paella Negra.

Viola! The Paella Negra!

Viola! The Paella Negra!

It was a great match and the winner were our tummies. That’s one good thing about paella. It has rice and everything in it, so that alone is enough to satisfy your gastronomic needs. Paella appeals to the Filipino palate because we are primarily rice eaters. Second, we have a rich Spanish culture that make us attuned to their food as well.

I hope next time I’ll eat Paella, it will be in Spain. Then I’ll down a sangria and have siesta afterwards.

Sta. Fe, Bacolod’s oldest resort

It has been years, maybe a decade or more, since I last visited Sta. Fe resort. As I entered the now more modern look of the resort’s gate, my thoughts were flooded of childhood memories when we would head to their pools to cool off the summer heat. It is also where we bring family friends and relatives who visit us on certain occasions.

My sister, cousins and I at Sta. Fe Resort when we were still toddlers.

My sister, cousins and I at Sta. Fe Resort when we were still toddlers.

Another childhood photo taken at the kiddie pool.

Another childhood photo taken at the kiddie pool.

Sta. Fe Resort was established in the 1950’s and used to be a part of the hacienda of Don Generoso Villanueva, Sr. He established the resort initially as a hobby and his way to provide leisure to his laborers in the hacienda. Eventually, families started to come and Sta. Fe became the first privately owned resort in the city.

A sketch of Villanueva's art deco house is displayed in the Cactus Hall.

A sketch of Villanueva’s art deco house is displayed in the Cactus Hall.

A description of the sketch.

A description of the sketch.

Located seven kilometers east of Bacolod City’s downtown area, Sta. Fe already provides a quiet atmosphere that will make you feel you isolated from the city’s building traffic. But it’s just very near our home so we favor this resort over the beaches in Punta Taytay.

This statue of a lady has been here for years. Nice to still see it standing.

This statue of a lady has been here for years. Nice to still see it standing.

Recently, I was invited one Saturday morning to a corporate summer outing to judge in one of their contests. Though I had no plans of dipping in the pools as I had other things to attend right after the program, I took time to take a few snapshots of the pool area.

Cactus Hall.

Cactus Hall.

Crocodiles Haven also has a function hall.

Crocodiles Haven also has a function hall.

Sta. Fe has improved most of its amenities to cater to the growing needs of the locals and tourists. For one, they already have this Cactus Hall that can accommodate up to 300 persons and can be used for conventions. I remembered it as a bowling alley and billiards hall before. They also have smaller halls for other functions. It is not a surprise that Sta. Fe now officially bears the name Sta. Fe Resort and Convention Center. Hmmm…good venue for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibition) events and gatherings.

The kiddie pool.

The kiddie pool.

If you wish to stay for a night or a weekend, there are also casitas, villas and cabanas that are ideal for groups or families who want to enjoy the pools and other facilities for more than a day. They still have a billiards place and even a shooting range. The mini-zoo still exists where crocodiles, birds and other animals are kept. Sta. Fe has retained its chapel, the Nuestra Senora dela Paz.

The safari pool.

The safari pool.

The safari pool.

The safari pool.

The main attraction of Sta. Fe are its pools — the kiddie pool, the safari pool and the Olympic-size pool. Now, they have added slides to make diving into their pools even more exciting and fun. The sheds surrounding the pools were also improved, providing spaces for those who want to spend only a day at the resort or for picnic and informal gatherings.

Wouldn't you like to take a dip and cool off the summer heat?

Wouldn’t you like to take a dip and cool off the summer heat?

First-time in Kuya J Resto

When you happen to be in the Philippines, you’ll definitely hear the word “kuya” a lot. It means big brother, but it is also used to call an older person, like a street vendor, a jeepney driver, or a man you meet on the road, as a form of respect or endearment. So when the international reality TV show Big Brother hit the Philippines, the participants call Big Brother as Kuya.

Our reserved table at Kuya J Restaurant during its opening.

Our reserved table at Kuya J Restaurant during its opening.

So imagine if a big brother or a Kuya cooks for you. That’s the concept behind Kuya J Restaurant, the casual dining restaurant that offers great Filipino gastronomic delights using quality and unique tasting dishes in a homey dining experience that relaxes you…enveloping you with the warmth and care of a brother.

Recently, Kuya J made its service available in Bacolod City, the City of Smiles, making it their 1st store outside of metropolitan Manila and Cebu. And that’s just one of the many stores (100, they say) that Kuya J is planning to open in 2015!

We can always count on Kuya J to adapt local cuisine and add a different spin to each dish. So when the Grilled Scallops landed on our table, the first to be served, we knew we were in for some fun dining experience. Then, lo and behold, the Chorizo Dinamitas followed. It was arranged like a log, looking like some fried spring rolls, only that a single protruding stem appeared on one end. It turned out that inside the roll was a large jalapeño (no seeds to burn your tongue) with chorizo or ground pork inside and cheddar cheese, plus a garlic dip.

That's not a pearl on the middle of the shell. It's the lip-smacking scallop.

That’s not a pearl on the middle of the shell. It’s the lip-smacking scallop.

Ready for some Chorizo Dinamitos?

Ready for some Chorizo Dinamitas?

See what's inside those dynamites.

See what’s inside those dynamites.

Next for us to feast on was the Kuya J’s Bulalo Soup or the bone marrow soup. Since those I share the table with were avoiding this very “sinful” food, I took the opportunity to enjoy the bone marrow, which I terribly like. We were surprised that instead of the usual plain rice served in most restaurants, we were treated to a very delectable Humba Binagoongan Rice, topped with green mangoes, bell peppers, red onions and chopped binagoongang pork.

There's the bone marrow smiling up at me.

There’s the bone marrow smiling up at me.

The Binagoongan Rice is enough for my lunch meal.

The Binagoongan Rice is enough for my lunch meal.

What followed really satisfied our palate – Kare-Kare, Pinakbet, Bam-i, Crispy Pata, and Crispy Catfish. And we thought the Grilled Scallops and the Bulalo were enough. So, we had to add another round of Binagoongan Rice to go with our new servings. The Crispy Catfish was my favorite, with its deliciously seasoned catfish.

Crispy Pata.

Crispy Pata.

Crispy Catfish.

Crispy Catfish.

And to cap our lunch, we finished it with a bang through the delicious Mango Pandan and the Fried Halo-Halo with Vanilla Ice Cream. Add to these the Cantaloupe Shake that I downed in the middle of my lunch.

Mango Pandan with that attractive caramelized sugar strands.

Mango Pandan with that attractive caramelized sugar strands.

Fried Halo-Halo.

Fried Halo-Halo.

Kuya J Restaurant, located at the ground floor of SM City Bacolod, is spacious and ideal for family and group dining. Food are affordable as you get real value for your money. They also have a special room for those who prefer a private area in the restaurant. But despite its large space, Kuya J was packed that day. People were even waiting outside the restaurant, wanting to try its great food but also get an opportunity to be with football stars, Phil and James Younghusband.

The whole menu.

The whole menu.

James (leftmost) and Phil (rightmost) Younghusband with Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentebella (2nd from left), Winglip K. Chang (3rd from left), and Julia Estrella-Javellana (4th from left).

James (leftmost) and Phil (rightmost) Younghusband with Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentebella (2nd from left), Winglip K. Chang (3rd from left), and Julia Estrella-Javellana (4th from left).

Yes, we had lunch with them and I even had an opportunity to ask them of their favorites in this restaurant. “Oh, I like what I’m eating,” Phil said, referring to the Mango Pandan he was finishing. “And the balat (skin) of the Crispy Pata,” he added. James liked the Grilled Scallops, which was also one of my picks.

It was truly a great meal, enjoying Filipino food with a unique twist. It’s something to look forward to when one visits Bacolod.

Me (the one in red) with Maricar Dabao and the Younghusbands.

Me (the one in red) with Maricar Dabao and the Younghusbands.