Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Good Morning Timberland!

It's been 6 months since I first learned how to bike. It's funny, weird even, but there really are people like me out there.  And no, my childhood wasn't traumatic or boring either. It's just that I never knew how to bike until my 26th. Check this previous post to know how it finally dawned on me that it's really a needed skill.

My 6-month stint with Foldie (my folding bike) and Aaron's MTB led me to my recent endeavor: riding on a trail.

Great overlooking view
There's a group in the office who regularly rides on weekends. So one Saturday morning, I went ahead and gave it a try. Thanks to my boss who had an extra mountain bike. Foldie would have folded on the trail, in all literal and figurative meanings of the word.

Timberland Heights is located in the heart of San Mateo, Rizal, 30 minutes away from Eastwood. The mostly uphill drive is a pretty good preview of how the trail is.  I should have decided to stay at the parking lot at that point, but I didn't because I know I'll surely hate myself if I backed out.

At 7AM we rode out of Timberland Sports and Nature Club parking lot. The first few minutes was a leisure, until we got to the rough parts. We took the scenic Roxas Loop and made occasional stops to take photos. The trail was tricky enough for me. Half of the time I was cursing, the other half I was cheering myself on.
Cliff by the side of the trail - all first timers need to have their photos here!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hawaiian-Philippine Company: Iron Dinosaurs in Silay City

The roads of Negros are paved with acres of sugarcane fields. They used steam locomotives to transport sugarcane all over the province, and these trains are now aptly called Iron Dinosaurs. If you want to get a glimpse of the remaining Iron Dinosaurs, take a bus going to Victorias City at the Bus Terminal in Bata and hop-off at the Hawaiian Philippine Company (HPC). The trains at HPC are one of the last few left in action, the rest are now replaced with trucks seen all over Negros.

Stealth mode ON
We talked with a tricycle driver here and asked him to take us around the sugar plantation. For only
P200, we were able to sneak into see the perimeters of the plantation, with photos to prove. And by sneak I mean going around as innocently-looking as you could. A tour of the plantation needs to be approved by the company first, but if you take the route towards the planters village, the trains can be seen in plain sight and the only thing that separates you from them is a barbed wire fence. Take a super zoom camera and this isn't a problem anymore. :) The driver said that if you're lucky, one could also catch the trains coming from the fields.

This is how it might have looked during the olden times.

And here's the mighty Iron Dinosaur in color:

All parts and by-products of a sugarcane is useful, much like a coconut. Once a sugarcane is pressed for its juices, the stalks are crushed and these left-over fiber is known as the bagasse. The bagasse is used as fuel to generate steam, and in this case, the bagasse is used to power the trains. Aside from this, this by-product can also be used to make paper.

We went here on a Saturday and we saw several planters on the field, smiling and posing for the camera. Our tour was cut short when a guard approached us and asked us if we were taking photos. Of course we said we weren't. That 30-min trip to the HPC sugar mill made me realize that working in a sugar plantation is more than an 8-5 job. It's a way of life.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No Sweat Hangover

Win over hangover!

That was my mantra when I woke up today with a nasty hangover. The only thing that never fails in getting me through these times is Pocari Sweat!
No sweat with Pocari Sweat
A couple of years ago a friend introduced me to Pocari Sweat. I was cured of my hangover halfway through the bottle. Never mind the taste. Pocari Sweat works like magic.  The sweet and sour taste was not appealing on my first few sips but it has the kind of weird flavor that grows on you. I have recommended this to friends and family and they all agree that this is the best and fastest remedy for hangover. So if you see me chugging a bottle of PS, you know what I'm going through.

Another surefire way to tone down the dreaded 'morning-after' feeling is to drink a glass of water before hitting the bed. That is if you still have some stream of consciousness left in you. Unfortunately for me, my memory stopped functioning way before I decided to finally call it a night. 

But of course, still the most effective way to curing hangover is to not drink your way to death. :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Negros Occidental: How to Gain A Couple of Pounds in 3 Days

I admit not having well discerning taste buds, but the food in Negros is too delish to go unnoticed even by a dull foodie like me. Restaurants are lined up along Lacson St. in Bacolod City, with cuisines ranging from local Negrense to Korean and Japanese restaurants.  Being the Sugar Bowl of the country, there are also a lot of good pastries shops here, and most are found right along the same street.

There is also something about the Negrense's way of eating that makes it more tempting for the guests: they eat their food with much gusto! Lucky are those people who were gifted with that delightful way of eating.  The food is one big reason why Bacolod is a city I want to go back to.

Here's a rundown of the places we ate at for 3 days. I would have wanted to squeeze more in but my stomach was beyond full!

Note: Lengthy post ahead. I'd like you to read all the way to the end but if you wish to skim through, click on the links below.

Aida's at Manokan Country
Kaffe Sadtu
Enting's House of Sagay
El Ideal
Cafe 1925
The Ruins Restaurant

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ramon Hofileña - Silay's Prime Arts Advocate

I have long wanted to see a city in the country where arts and culture is strongly supported. This longing was satisfied when I visited Silay City in Negros Occidental earlier this year. Silay in itself is a lovely gem but the highlight of the experience was spending an afternoon with a Silaynon and his rich and engaging stories.

The fact that we had to call ahead to set an appointment to view an ancestral house was enough to rouse my curiosity and raise my expectations.  The Manuel Severino Hofileña ancestral house did not disappoint, and the unconventional and highly entertaining host, Ramon Hofileña, was beyond expectations.

The house from the outside

The house is located in the quaint city of Silay in Negros Occidental, known as the Paris of Negros, not for its appearance but for the city's appreciation and knowledge for arts and culture.  Over the years, Ramon has obtained a diverse collection of artworks, sculpture, and prints from Manansala, Luna, Hidalgo, Ben Cab, Hechanova, and a local artist from Silay, Conrado Judith.  Some pieces were also from well-known printmakers from Japan (whose names I couldn't remember).  His collection even includes a doodle by Jose Rizal during his days in Ateneo.  Shelves on the first floor of the house are bursting with pocketbooks from the time of the war, memorabilia from his trips (including a pair of painted dolls smaller than a grain of rice), newspaper clippings of his siblings' and nephews' accomplishments, and tektites!

Living room downstairs

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Victorias City: Peñalosa Farms

The surprises never end.

Early Friday morning, we headed off to Victorias City, an hour north of Bacolod City. Andrew agreed to meet us up and bring us to the Church of the Angry Christ, including a side trip to their demo farm.  Apparently, the 'demo' farm is a 3000-sqm swampy land that now produces herbs, crops, and vegetables, and where groups of swine, chicken, duck, and rabbit are raised organically.

The land, owned by Andrew's family, was originally a bus repair shop. The family used to grow water spinach (aka kangkong) at the backyard to provide food for the shop workers. When the kangkong grew out of hand, the family decided to get a swine.. to finish some more of the wildly growing leafy vegetable. And that was where it all started. From then on the business grew and the farm is now supplying products at the Organic Section in SM City Bacolod.

The family holds seminars in the farm for people who want to learn how they could start earning from their own backyards. Just a day before we went, delegates from Vigan led by their mayor, Eva Medina, visited the demo farm.  As the name implies, people can get a feel of which animal they want to raise or which crop they want to plant in their backyards. As for the funds, Andrew mentioned that the local government provides the start-up capital for the people who were interested. The family also sells piglets to the locals, teaches them and assists them in raising the animals, and when the time comes, buys the hogs back from them.  Talk about sustainable profit for everyone.

Work in progress - the farm's training center
In the midst of the farm is a gazebo which Andrew designed and built when he was still in college. Andrew, who was designing and building when he was still in high school, is now an ingenious architect.  He has found good use for glass windows from old buses, beer and soda bottles, logs of  trees cut off from their backyard, and bus tire interiors.

The farm's entrance
7 herbs tea ala Negros style - sweet!
This windmill supplies the farm's needs
Right in the midst of the piggery is Cafe Organico, where one can dine without the usual stinking smell.

"Wow, nice!" mode ON
Beer bottles make an interesting flooring

The family's advocacy is to educate people that there is money in the countryside and no Filipino should be hungry in his native land.  In a time when everyone wants to take a bite of the city, this is a reminder that this kind of social entrepreneurship is what we need to make the best of our lands, to provide for families without having to leave them, and to profit while helping others make their own living.

How to get to Peñalosa Farms:
From Bacolod City Ceres North Bus Terminal, take a bus bound for Victorias.
Peñalosa Farms is located in Victorias City, a few steps away from the Victorias City Bus terminal.

View Peñalosa Farms in a larger map

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tana Dicang - A 20th Century Woman of Power

All the while we thought that The Ruins was all there was in Talisay City. Thanks to an old friend from college days, Andrew Peñalosa, who took us to a hidden gem in Talisay. Incidentally, Andrew's college thesis was on the old ancestral houses in Negros Occidental and he's probably the best resource person I know on this topic. (Though I could not remember as to what exactly the thesis was about. Sorry Andrew!)

As it turned out, Balay ni Tana Dicang was the only one that stood out, presumably because it is the most well-preserved ancestral house we've seen in the region. Situated on a 6000 sqm. property along Rizal St. in Talisay City, the classical bahay-na-bato house will take one to a journey back in time.

Balay ni Tana Dicang is open from 10AM-5PM
The house is named after Enrica Alunan, the wife of Capitan Efigenio Lizares.  At age 47, Dicang was
widowed and she took over her late husband's position, thus the name Capitana Dicang. She held this position for 40 years until she died during the war in 1942. 

Based from the guide, Ricky, Tana Dicang was a hands-on woman who successfully managed the family businesses (haciendas, cigar manufacturing) as well as the lives of her children.  We even had the impression that Tana Dicang, during her time, was a control freak.  She ensured that most of her children marry those within their social circle and assigned one of them to remain single and take care of her. But if you base it on how her 16 children fared in life, Tana Dicang did more than enough to ensure that her clan lived a good, even lavish, life ahead. Her descendants include Remedios Lizares, wife of Manila Mayor and Quezon Province Governor Leon Guinto. Remedios Circle in Malate was named after her. 

The expenses of maintaining the house is nonetheless funded by a percentage from the income of her haciendas, as stated in her will.  You have got to give it to Tana Dicang for thinking of everyone's future, including the house.

There is an unmistakable feeling of power once you enter Tana Dicang's house.  A photo with Manuel L. Quezon seated beside Tana Dicang is hung on the wall in front of the grand staircase. We went up to the second floor and found out that Tana had a bedroom built for him.  Every single detail of the house, even the room partitions, had a significant meaning to Tana.  She also had peepholes built on the wooden floor so she could check on the workers downstairs.  The first floor used to be the bedrooms of the male members of the family but it is now aptly turned into an art gallery.

The whole house is in perfect condition, the silvers and porcelains gleaming and stored in a glass cabinet, the wooden furnitures shiny, and the floor bright.  Tana Dicang's descendants have indeed kept the memory of the woman and the glorious era alive in the confines of the house.

The first floor receiving area
The infinity design of the partitions signify abundant wealth
The grand staircase leading to the 2nd floor
The huge sala at the second floor
Not every guest gets to sit in the second floor receiving area
The formal dining room
Altar at Tana Dicang's bedroom

The cocina

The bedroom turned into an art gallery
Time-tested indeed
Photos by Aaron Manila.

For more information, visit this blog for an account of the life of the Lizares' of Talisay.

Balay ni Tana Dicang is located in 36 Rizal St., Talisay City, Negros Occidental.  The museum is open from 10AM-5PM, but if you want to hear the intriguing tales of the house, schedule your visit from 10:30AM-3PM for the guided tours.

Tingnan ang Mas Malaking Mapa

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Hongkong Island: The Peak Trail

Armed with a heavy lunch from Yuen Kee and finally certain on the places that we wanted to see for the rest of the afternoon, we set-off and rode the Tsuen Wan Line MTR. 

From the TST station, we got off at the Central station. We lingered at every interesting detail along the way (including a group of factory workers holding a protest in front of a park) that it took us a bit longer than the usual 10-minute walk to get to the Peak Tram terminal.

The terminal was filled with tourists wanting to catch the sunset at The Peak and people nudged their way to get good seats on the tram. Good thing we were quick and were able to get the window seat, facing the harbor. 

The Peak Tram ride going on the way up to the Peak in Hongkong Island offered a pleasant view of the Victoria Harbor on the right and the streets of Kowloon and southern Hongkong Island on the left. 

After less than 10 minutes of the tram ride, we stopped at the end of the rail at The Peak Tower with just enough time to look for a good spot to view the sunset.  Instead of choosing to buy the tickets to get in the Sky Terrace, we opted, of course, to go the cheaper way. Right across the street was The Peak Galleria, offering the same panoramic view of Hongkong Island and Victoria Harbor minus the fee.
The Peak Tower
The Peak Galleria
View from the top 
Down the Peak Road was the elegant and expensive-looking Peak Lookout Café.  It was nice to look at, but we didn’t even dare to see their menu. There are a lot more decently priced choices downtown. Right beside the café, on the Harlech Road, was a marker for The Peak Trail.  
The Peak Lookout Cafe

We took the 3km Morning Trail and enjoyed the captivating views of the Lamma Island and Pok Fu Lam Reservoir.   The trail was lined with trees on both sides, which I considered masukal enough for my liking, and with occasional benches along the way for resting.

It was along this trail that I was mesmerized by Hongkong. It's an ideal mix of the busy city life with the calming greens and scenic trails less than 30mins away from the city, all easily reachable by public transportation.  

I would have said 'I love Hongkong' if it weren't for such a short 3-day visit. Plus, love is too strong of a word. Until I get to go for a second visit, mesmerized is the word.