Not a first-time in Bacolod, Negros Occidental
I wouldn’t know how to categorically write about my first-time travel to Bacolod. Having been born and raised there, it’s my place of origin, my hometown. But as I have been residing in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, for half of my life now, I get to go home to Bacolod only during the Christmas holidays. And every visit seems to constitute a first-time travel, like I am a tourist in my own land. New buildings sprout every now and then and another attraction has been luring tourists. But let me tell you how I see it, from a traveler’s point-of-view with inputs from a local resident.
Bacolod City is known to Filipinos as the City of Smiles because of the sweet and gracious people who are from this place. Bacolod is the capital of the province of Negros Occidental which has been known to be the sugar bowl of the Philippines because it is the main source of sugar in the country. The people truly live up to its name, as many smiling Bacolodnons abound wherever they may be.
A trip at the city plaza or the Capitol Building shows the day-to-day life of the locals. The old structure of the capitol is a tourist attraction and a major landmark in the city. Fronting it is the beautiful Lagoon which is a park with a man-made lagoon and two life-size carabao sculptures.
Although a small city, Bacolod has a lively nightlife. Its major night spot is in Golden Fields where the casino and some bars are found. The main highway of Lacson Street also houses various restaurants, bars and grills. And the favorite dessert place and coffee shop is Bob’s with branches throughout the city. Calea Coffee Shop is also fast-becoming popular because of its mouthwatering moist chocolate cake.
Because Negros was once ruled by Spaniards, the mestizo features of the local folks and the rich influence of Spanish words in its language are prominent.
Flights from Manila and Cebu are available every day. From the capital, you can get to Bacolod by plane for only 45 minutes. There are also ships from Manila but you have to spend a night aboard the ship.
There are jeepneys plying various streets and routes. Taxis abound here. But if you are just in the heart of the city, try to do some walking and save on gas. Ask the route of the jeepneys when you’re there. Inquire also if your hotel has a transportation service you can use.
It’s one of the oldest hotels in Bacolod but it remains to be the favorite hotel of tourists. Because it’s near the airport and located along the highway, it is very convenient to stay in this hotel.
The rooms are big enough with a homey ambiance. They have complete amenities in the room that will ensure one’s comfort when staying here. My only disappointment in staying in Sugarland, aside from the deafening sound of planes early in the morning, is that it is a bit small without space for a garden or a big pool.
Even if its ballroom is one of the most in-demand function rooms in the entire Bacolod, it still doesn’t have so much conference rooms for big occasions. Even their dining area is small. Our only consolation in staying there is that the people are ultra sweet and accommodating and the food is truly delicious.
When it comes to chicken barbecue, the Manokan Country is the ultimate destination. It’s a street lined with food stalls and restaurants with the sweet smell of grilled chicken filling the place. At lunch time, people flock here for an appetizing meal of chicken barbecue and sea foods like oysters. The food is so great that some people use their fingers for eating. Most of all, the food are really very, very cheap that you would be surprised of paying so less for a food that is so good.
At night, Manokan Country is converted into a beer place as men come here for a drink. With a bottle of beer in one hand, the other hand dips the grilled chicken on sweet and sour vinegar filled with chili and other spices. Some restaurants have videoke machines for those who have the appetite to sing and do some merrymaking.
My favorite hang-out place in this restaurant row is the Lion’s Park, owned by the family of my friend. It is a bit different from the rest because it is found at the corner which has a different architecture type compared with the rest of the stalls.
Calea’s chocolate cake is the best in Bacolod, if not in the whole Philippines. Manilans would ask their friends from the city of smiles to bring them a box of Calea’s cake to feast upon.
Calea seems to be elusive from people because the coffee shop is hidden behind a restaurant along Lacson St. One may note that many of the cafe’s patrons come mostly from the middle & higher classes especially that it is located near a posh hotel. But Calea’s mystique is what draws people to this haven for sweet lovers.
Apart from cakes, Calea also serves delicious pasta. Families & businessmen come here to enjoy the food & cozy ambiance or waste away time chatting over cups of coffee.
Its annual festival, the Masskara, is something tourists look forward to every year when the city plaza is transformed into one big beer garden for almost a week. Colorful street parades and creative masks are anticipated by the people.
Masskara Festival started when the sugar industry of Bacolod, then enjoying the title of “Philippines’ sugar bowl”, crashed. To encourage its citizens, the local government organized the festival which is known for the colorful smiling masks donned during the celebration.
Schools, establishments, and barangays would dance in the streets with varied beautiful masks. People would flock in Bacolod’s main thoroughfares to watch the street dancers and the attractive floats.
Celebrated every October, Masskara is also the localized version of Oktoberfest. The city square would be filled with stalls selling barbequed chicken and lots and lots of beer. Bacolodnons would stay up till the wee hours of the morning drinking their favorite San Miguel Beer while music is played in the background.
Now, Masskara is a symbol, not of poverty & hunger, but of prosperity & gusto. With Bacolodnons’ love for food, you would truly love to feast in this city of smiles.
Sta. Fe Resort
Sta. Fe is one of the oldest resorts in Bacolod but until today many families still flock here to enjoy a splash in its swimming pools. It is a getaway from the now urbanized downtown area.
There are three pools in Sta. Fe, one of which is for kids. The newest one is an Olympic-sized pool used for training and competition. There are also tennis courts, bowling lanes & billiard tables for the adults. Another attraction is its mini-zoo and a relief map of the Philippines where visitors have their photos taken.
The resort is about 20 to 30-minute ride from the heart of the city. Across the resort is the manufacturing giant, San Miguel Corporation. Santa Fe, located in the outskirts of the city, is far from the urban hustle and bustle which makes it attractive to families to spend a relaxing day here.
The Negros Museum put the “no camera allowed” rule to the letter. The museum stood in an old building, used to be occupied by the Department of Health and other government agencies that gave out medical services. The long columns in its facade were an indication that the building is rightfully chosen as the provincial museum run by private entities. The columns reminded me of the National Museum, blanketing its interior with mystery.
At the entrance, the receptionist received our P30 entrance fees and asked us to wait for our tour guide. The guide ushered us inside a room filled with terra cotta figurines of children playing, reflecting the usual entertainment one will find in local barrios. One particular scene I found interesting were of kids playing with spiders on a broomstick. Spider fights are common among boys in the province which is I think why many young Negrenses are not frightened of this eight-legged arachnid.
Then the guide led us along the gallery of paintings that depicted the history and legends surrounding Negros Occidental. There I learned that the first capital of the province during the 17th century was the town of Ilog, in the southern part of the island. For the next century, it moved north to Himamaylan, which was then not yet a city. By the 19th century, the capital was transferred further north to Bacolod City, which now remains as the center of economic, political, financial, social and cultural activities in the province.
The Negros Museum had so many interesting displays and artifacts and the guide was truly helpful. My favorite room was the Cinco de Noviembre, reminiscent of the November 5, 1898 historic uprising wherein local troops, led by local heroes Araneta and Lacson, marched towards their Spanish colonizers clad with coconut branches painted pitch-black as if they were rifles and local mats rolled and painted black to deceive the Spaniards that they were cannons. The Spaniards fell to the deception and acceded to the Negrenses.
In Nov. 7, 1898, the Republic of Negros was born, complete with a President and a government, a constitution and a flag. But the island republic in the heart of the archipelago of the Philippines was short-lived for it was included in the sale of the Philippines to the Americans. Hadn’t it been so, I would be carrying a Negrense passport and I would be a Negrense national. But now, it’s only part of Negros’ past all recorded and on display in the museum.