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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mag-aso Falls: A Gem In Summer

"A trip is what you take when you can't take anymore of what you've been taking." - Adeline Ainsworth

So, vacation mode is over and I'm so back to familiar routine. A twenty-day holiday seems a kiss in the air for a desert-dweller longing for any other routine apart from work and home. Experience is still the best teacher, so this time I opted not to take longer vacation to avoid ending up broke after a couple of weeks. ( I'm ready to forgive you if you're lightning quick to judge me of my supposed outrageous spending habit, but that's not the case folks :-) 

Back in the latter part of April, I came home for a short vacation and fantasized for a really  good one - this time to get myself a real treat (without splurging on non-basics). Not the type that just dumps his luggage and quickly digs into yellow pages with a broad grin from ear to ear chasing down the nearest spa and massage parlor, or getting myself soaked up in beer before I could catch my first thirty minutes of slumber after deplaning. Nope, not that kind. At the very least, I could still get the best out of my brief stay without the horrors of a drained ATM account.

I was at the auditorium of Bacolod Garden Royale witnessing my niece's clinical graduation while exchanging text messages with Ma'am Silna. She was my bubbly clinical instructor back in Jeddah who was also on vacation. Oh, it did not occur to me she was  brewing up some fine escapade for us, and by the way she too is a proud Negrense who hails from Hinigaran. (When in Jeddah, we do not speak in Tagalog, except in Hiligaynon dug up from the King James' version - the depth sometimes unfathomable - then burst into laughter). She invited me to join in their alumni getaway at some resort over in Kabankalan City. Though I had a prior appointment with the dentist, the next natural thing to do is to get it cancelled. 

Our rendezvous was at the South Ceres terminal at around six morning. Matter-of-factly, I've never been to the southernmost part of Negros island, let alone barging myself into a seemingly exclusive club of Scarlet O'Hara-Rhett Butler fanatics (lol!), - all 1976 high school alumni of Hinigaran National High School. I got my things packed up early in the night (not so excited huh?), woke up before dawn, pulled up my niece from bed,  and set the ball rolling to catch early tricycle ride down to Silay City. (Later, she'd do us some awful lot of favor, snapping at every angle and pose that would breach FB's maximum upload per album.:-)   Six exactly, we were at the Ceres terminal. When it was a little late than agreed, and Ma'am Silna not replying to my text, I asked my niece to check on every profile resembling a chubby Margie Moran or a meeker Gloria Arroyo. "She could just be around lost in the crowd of early morning travellers and not lucky enough to catch on the last supply of load from Globe or Smart." :-)

The next scene would be that of a gorgeous voloptuous lady getting down the jeep in her swimming getup yet modest in a brazenly eye-catching colors that caught half the gaze of the crowd. It was a relief gazing down the signature shades and unmistakable smile that turned to a screeching scream in delight as she saw me approaching her. She is a terrific person, kind-hearted and generous, on top of being a wonderful teacher. At the Ceres bus, we literally planted ourselves for the next few hours conversing non-stop till we got to Hinigaran town where our supposed trip would originate going to the resort. The trip did not take us more than two hours before we arrived at the town center. The perks of arriving early would be a brief visit to the town's most famous landmark - the Hinigaran Catholic church building. Playing the gracious host herself, Ma'am Silna knew exactly what appeals to unworthy tourists. And the next natural thing to do followed.  That is how much we came to know each other well, taking our Jeddah habit with us anywhere we go.

Below is the church of St. Mary Magdalene built in 1858 and is reputed to be the oldest church in Negros. This claim, if not in history books, is reinforced by the bushy feature conspicuously adorning the walls of the church building.

And the famous giant bells on the ground that is said to be made of gold and silver weighing 480 kilograms each. I'm still clueless behind the history of this humongous bells and their significance except that they are a natural pick as background  for creepy photo addicts.

A mini-bus (known as double-tire  in colloquial term) served as our transportation. It is a little larger, spacious and can accommodate more passengers than the ordinary public jeepney. (Thanks to the US-based balikbayan couple and alumni Ma'am Alma and hubby who sponsored the trip for the excursionists including us, not to mention the food and entrance fee to the resort.) The trip to Kabankalan could have started a little early as agreed (American time), but since the majority still adheres to the world-renowned Filipino time,  expect that no rule supersedes the one that exists in the vein of the brown race (except if you're the one who foot all the bills). And so the bus left at 8:30 exactly, all pumped up for the excursion in the mountains except of course for those who missed the trip albeit the thirty-minute extension. 

The 20-kilometer stretch of  road with occasional sharp turns and dizzying ravines separates the national highway from our destination, so it took us another couple of hours to get there. Judging by the unfamiliar terrain, a novice driver is not encouraged to sit behind the wheels. Yet, it's not something to weep for, the road is still fairly safe (save for the run-down overflow bridge caused by flood that requires extra skills to maneuver the wheels).  The drawback however is, public transportation is known to be scarce and sometimes almost non-existent, so it is best to travel by group in a hired mini-bus or a 4WD.

If you happen to google or bing Mag-aso Falls, there's not  much written about this amazing work of nature except that it is located in Brgy. Oringao. So it takes a real plunge into it to be able to weave a piece of story. Mag-aso Falls is mostly famous especially for Southerners who find it the perfect getaway for summer due to its proximity while marvelling at its natural beauty. But slowly, the resort is getting popular to  local tourists through word-of-mouth and through the initiatives of the city government of Kabankalan that has a hand in its development. 

The Mag-aso Falls is in itself made up of several mini-falls. The main attraction however, is the highest and main falls that is said to be 75-foot high that drops into a well-carved natural pool. Its pristine water is  sourced from different tributaries unreached by man from the top of the Mag-aso mountain chains, I assume. Getting down to the main falls however requires one to get over his acrophobia. Still, it becomes a non-issue once your eyes start to gravitate towards its panoramic view. With the steeply-built yet friendly stairway, one simply cannot resist the lure of the main falls and get a plunge into its turquoise green water. Its view also provides a perfect backdrop if you wish to brag about your otherwise pocket-friendly (read as cheap) escapade on FB comparable to your trips in Pagsanjan, Camiguin or a lowly trip to a nearby corniche.

One notable contrast to other more famous waterfalls is its seemingly-timid drops of cascading water that makes it less noisy bringing some calmness and reassurance when you are in the pool. The water is refreshingly cool and a real refuge from the sun when it threatens to burn your epidermis. And so you don't mind staying in the water for hours. 

One unique feature  Mag-aso Falls is known for is the smoke it releases like shower of mint that rushes down the natural pool. So it is fascinating being surrounded with a steam cloak while feeling the gentle cascading water in contrast to the blunt and heavy downpour essentially Pagsanjan-type that could drown you when your cat-like curiosity draws you beneath the main falls.

Kids are not to be deprived though with a man-made pool a proven blockbuster even for the kids at heart. A number of smaller falls put up a race to fill the pool as rapidly as it spills itself spontaneously down a man-made bridge, so there's no way the water gets stagnated.

Some of the smaller and higher falls that serve as tributaries to the main falls some 150 feet below. There are countless of them spread throughout the watershed that help cool the place even in the peak of summer.

Behind the backdrop of ubiquitous mini-falls stands  the reluctant photographer of the day - my niece and future nurse who tagged along with me - just for the cause of the lens.

And the gastronomic highlight of the trip. Some leftovers mercilessly splattered on the table awaiting another bout with the frenzied mob hungered by relentless revelry in the pool.

Relishing the moment in the company of the ladies of the 70's - after feasting on loads of food and 35 kilos of grilled milkfish... and some distilled spirit. Some cleavage unconsciously get to vouch to the rumor that their  heyday still blossoms. And yes, these ladies will not be denied of the accolade.

The surviving members of Hinigaran National High School class '76 beam with pride as they vie for Hardy's award to be given out next Alumni Homecoming. Some missing incisors do not count though as a minus provided their stamina does not relent. A little tip guys: healthy diet, exercise and positive outlook in life can help you win the award :-)

My favorite alumna still sporting a fresh look and incomparable smile even after hours of trudging through shallow streams and slippery climbs in her bid to dismiss skeptics of her oozing youth and stamina. Though obviously tired, she seems  fully-recharged and eager for home. En route to the city, the rain dumped in abundance - another proof of contrast to the oppressive desert sun in Jeddah the whole year round. Indeed what a blessing it has been!

This quotable quote from an unknown author resonates with me. " A vacation is like love - anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort and remembered with nostalgia. "

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Balay Negrense: A Must See

"A tour of Balay Negrense should figure in one's list when visiting Bacolod. It is located on Cinco de Noviembre in Silay City, Negros Occidental."

To many original Silaynons, it is a source of pride that more or less symbolizes the wealth of their heritage and history. One of the most distinguishable landmarks inside the city proper, the Balay Negrense is an imposing structure that one simply could not resist admiring its grandeur and allure. Built in 1897, the Balay Negrense is the restored residence of Victor F. Gaston, son of Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston, a French businessman who married a Batanguena and eventually settled in Silay, the economic and cultural center of the island of Negros in that era. By all accounts, the older Gaston is credited to be the pioneer behind the introduction of sugar industry in the province. The Gaston residence that is now a museum and a first in the province of Negros, boasts of twelve spacious bedrooms and a basketball court-sized living room on the second floor. It is thought to be one of the biggest colonial homes in Negros, hence the name aptly represents that of the province's rich heritage and history.

The grand two-way staircase ushers guests onto the second floor which offers a rather more spectacular view of the mansion's resplendent heirloom collections. A semi-porch open window facing the main street  also provides a perfect and relaxing spot fit for royals of that time.

The house interior is a breathtaking picture of elegance and affluence one could not stop reminiscing the wealth normally enjoyed by typical rich hacienderos and sugar barons over a century ago. The twelve bedrooms spread across two floors are being adorned with a wide range of antique furniture, century-old books and other significant memorabilia. And a tour of the second floor would culminate to a grandiose display of pure opulence emblematic of the wealthy in that period. 

Delicately cut and carved wooden panels provide ventilation between rooms and its windows were exquisitely etched and overlook sprawling gardens which were thought to have hosted evening parties and countless other festive and social gatherings.

Below, a long dining table typical of the rich and big families' such as the Gaston's with its brood of twelve. China plates and utensils made of original steel are being displayed neatly. A big cabinet at the rear, adjacent to one of the two dining room entrances leading to the kitchen, stores some other glass and silver utensils. If you notice the ubiquitous stretch of ropes in every corner, it's because we are not allowed to get into each one of them and have a feel of the precious heirlooms. Of course, the rules are not always flawless for an enterprising tourist (kuno) who pays 40 pesos :-)

On a glimpse into its subtle features, one would demand the big round table does not suit the ambience inside the mansion, or perhaps a dining table misplaced. It's neither, because the table contains a detailed list of the Gaston patriarch's family tree down to his living descendants, in their thousands probably.

Typical of big houses and uninhabited such as this, one should wonder how it is like staying overnight here. Though it may certainly provide another thrill, the eerie feel does not seem to lack its appeal for the gutsy and venturous. And so what Chukie babe is doing out here but to give you company?

Being not an original Silaynon myself, the tour of the Balay Negrense is another feel-good experience that fed me with precious information about the city's heritage and history. It is without a doubt a worthwhile experience one should endeavor when coming to the province of Negros if one thinks of a worthy respite away from the hustle and bustle of old downtown Bacolod.

Some important inputs are sourced from Wikipedia.
Related Posts with Thumbnails

Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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