Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cebu: Bantayan Island & island hopping to Virgin Island

I found myself back in Bantayan Island, Cebu. Early in the semester, I asked my tourism students to vote on where they wanted to go for their Out of Classroom Learning Activity (OCLA). And after a long deliberation, Bantayan Island edged out the competition. So with 45 students in tow, we trooped to Bantayan Island.

Arriving on the first flights, I had arranged for a private bus to fetch us at the Mactan Cebu International Airport since we were a really big group. We first had a buffet breakfast at Abuhan Tres for Php150 per head before making the three hour drive north to Hagnaya Port, the jump-off point for Bantayan Island.

Unfortunately, despite being sunny, the seas were a bit rough that afternoon. But we managed to arrive in Bantayan Island in one piece. After checking-in at the Santa Fe Beach Resort, we had lunch and some free time.

Since it was a tiring trip, I allowed the rest of the class to stay at the resort while those up to it joined me to Bantayan town to visit the centuries-old Bantayan Church and what's left of its old houses. It's sad to see that just a little over a year after I last visited, at least two houses were now gone or in a state of disrepair, replaced by modern establishments which could have adaptively-reused the old structures. For more attractions around Bantayan, read Bantayan Island, Cebu is rich in heritage and great beaches!

Back in Sta. Fe, more jeeps ferried the class to D'Jungle where we enjoyed their sumptuous Php300 buffet. No doubt, everyone was happy!

The next morning, I made sure my students were up early since we were going to visit one of the smaller islands around Bantayan. Although the beach front of Sta. Fe Beach Club is already nice, others opt to visit Virgin (Silion) Island or the other nearby islands such as Hilantaga-an, Jibitnil and Guintacan for more beach options.

The boat ride should cost about Php1500. While there's a Php50 entrance fee for Virgin Island. But you can spend the whole day there and simply relax and enjoy the sun and sand. We didn't get to stay too long since we wanted to catch the ferry back to Hagnaya before lunch for us to reach Cebu City before sundown. We had a walking tour around the city's historic center scheduled.

So after five-minute showers at the resort, we rushed to the ferry for our trip back to Hagnaya. Fortunately, the waves were not as bad as the day before.

Where to eat / restaurants in Bantayan Island
Despite its relative seclusion, food is not a problem in Bantayan. In fact, it’s one of the island’s attractions. And most of the restaurants are owned by Europeans.

Highly-recommended is dinner at D'Jungle, owned by Franco-German chef Robert Merbach, where they serve sumptuous buffets every Friday and Saturday. Any serious foodie will be in food heaven! Their buffet spread can have as much as fifty dishes which include a wide variety of seafood, meats and greens cooked in various styles. At Php300 per head which includes bottomless iced tea, how could you go wrong? It’s most definitely worth it to come back to Bantayan if only for this buffet.

Offering a similar buffet is the Marisqueira O’ Portuguese Bar and Restaurant next door which competes with D ‘Jungle head on with its own weekend buffets and great Mediterranean food.

Other interesting restaurants include Mabuhay Balikbayan Restaurant which serves great pizza, pasta, salads and seafood; Blue Ice, HR Restaurant and the Floating Bar are all owned by Swedish nationals. Floating Bar which literally floats on water, serves great tacos and burritos. There's also Coucou owned by a Belgian, and Hard Kock Kafe. If you’re looking for food stalls, Arjaymay serves great grilled seafood.

Where to stay / hotels and resorts in Bantayan Island
Here's a list of places to stay in Bantayan Island in alphabetical order:
Abaniko Beach Resort (0919) 2427622
Budyong Beach Resort (032) 4385700
Hard Kock Kafe ‘n’ Kottages (032) 4389075
Hoyohoy Villas (032) 4389223
Kota Beach Resort (032) 4389042
Marlin Beach Resort (0917) 3647027 / (032) 4389093
Ogtong Cave Resort (032) 4380165 / 4389129
St. Bernard Beach Resort (0917) 9636162 / (032) 4389833
Sta. Fe Beach Club (032) 4389090 / 4389107
Tristan’s Beach Resort (032) 4389041
Yooneek Beach Resort (032) 4389124

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Negros Occidental: Around the historic center of Silay City

Silay, Negros Occidental is one of the heritage cities of the Philippines. Its historic center was declared by the National Historical Institute as a National Historical Landmark. While twenty-eight of its ancestral houses were declared Heritage Houses, the most number of declared structures anywhere in the country.

Several of these houses are open to the public as museums including the Victor Fernandez Gaston Heritage House, Manuel Severino Hofileña Heritage House and the Bernardino Lopez Jalandoni Ancestral House among others. I had visited the Gaston House (Balay Negrense) in a previous trip. So I wanted to visit the other two museums.

After visiting the Delicacy Barter Market and having breakfast, we proceeded to the Jalandoni House to visit the museum there. The first floor features an exhibit on Silay's heritage houses while the second floor is the Jalandoni House itself.

We dropped by the Silay Church or the San Diego Pro-Cathedral but I wasn't able to take too many photos inside since there was a wedding going on. But in front of the church is a really nice view of Rizal Street where a row of ancestral houses can be found.

Walking around Silay is like walking back in time. I wonder if there is a Silay heritage walking map available for those who want to explore the city on their own. Maybe in the future, some of the houses can be converted into bed and breakfast establishments for those who want to experience living in an old house. Now that the Bacolod Airport is in Silay, these adaptive reuse options become all the more viable.

Silay has a good example of adaptive reuse in fact - the Maria Ledesma Golez House is now a branch of RCBC. And what's good about it is that the signage is very subtle, not the overbearing pylon signs you usually see in banks.

Getting into the Hofileña House is a bit tricky. It requires an appointment and is said to be dependent on the mood of the house's current resident, Ramon Hofileña. More than the house, people visit the Hofileña House to view the impressive art collection of Ramon Hofileña. He's got works of various National Artists including Napoleon Abueva, Fernando C. Amorsolo, BenCab, Jose T. Joya, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala and H.R. Ocampo among others. And even more, in his collection are works of our nation's heroes including a school project of Dr. Jose Rizal and sketches of Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo.

But more than these priceless works, there are some (in)famous paintings which have always been talking points of any visit to the Hofileña House. What these are, you'll have to find out and visit the house for yourself. So next time you fly to Bacolod, make sure to stopover and experience Silay.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Negros Occidental: Delicacy Barter Market in Silay City

Early in the morning in Silay City, Negros Occidental, at the Silay Public Market, a unique exchange of goods happens. Known to locals as the Delicacy Barter Market, this is where the friendly tindera gets her snacks and kakanin to sell in offices, homes and other places as far as Bacolod City.

The practice originated from the family delicacies of Silay's old clans. Each family had a particular delicacy. And the household staff who prepared them would trade the leftovers with that of other families. Thus the barter of delicacies.

Today though, it has evolved into a unique trading system which is quite complicated to the onlooker but understood by the sellers and suppliers. Each tindera has her suki supplier. So she gets all her goods from a single supplier. The supplier is responsible for getting other goods from other suppliers. Thus the exchange of delicacies. They have a system in place already. And at the end of the day, the tindera would come back and pay her supplier. And the supplier will take care of paying the other suppliers.

At the Delicacy Barter Market, you'd find native kakanin and local delicacies, as well as popular snacks and sandwiches. So if you happen to arrive in Silay City early in the morning, why not swing over to the Delicacy Barter Market at the Silay Public Market to get your local delicacies and snacks at bargain prices!

Part 2: Around the historic center of Silay City

Zamboanga del Norte: Dipolog Cathedral & restaurants in Dipolog

Dipolog is the provincial capital of Zamboanga del Norte. When Jose Rizal was exiled in Dapitan, he also left his mark in neighboring Dipolog, particularly the Dipolog Cathedral. Although it has a heavily-renovated facade, the interior of the church is pretty much preserved. It is said that the church altars were designed by Rizal himself. A statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola can be found in the right side altar of the church, a reminder that the Jesuits once had control of this area.

Another town with Rizal influence is Katipunan since he had a farm there. We were trying to locate it but people in the area unfortunately didn't know where it was. We weren't able to do much in Dipolog. But in any case, here are some places you might want to try out when you get hungry.

Where to eat in Dipolog
Here are four restaurants in Dipolog you might want to try out if you're looking for a place to eat. I'm sure there are more and please feel free to suggest.

Chenny's Fast Food (former Chip'N)
Osmena Street cor Bonifacio Street
I was so enticed by the lechon manok I saw around the city, I decided to have some for dinner. So we asked the tricycle driver to bring us to a good one. Many of the locals may not know Chenny's and that's because it used to be called Chip'N Lechon Manok just a few months ago. There may have been a change in owner but it's the same old recipe the locals enjoy.

And if you're after the local flavor, this is the place to go. Try out the local dishes such as chicken halang-halang (a spicy soup made with minced chicken neck), bas-oy, paklay and balbacua.

Grandma's Best
Mabini Street corner Arellano Street
(065) 2123396
This place is most known for it's desserts and pastries. But serves a wide range of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu had so much in it, it was so hard to decide what to eat. I tried out their Beef BBQ which was really good. If you have a problem picking out a dessert, just head on over to the fridge and see what's available. I got myself a Revel Bar and some Yema.

Big Joes!
General Luna Street
(065) 2122259 / 2124539
It's got burger and fries, fried chicken, Shawarma, rice meals and Filipino favorites such as Crispy Pata, Sisig and Lechon Kawali. But a must-try would be their steaks and Grilled Baby Back Ribs. And they have a delivery service too!

An Seafoods House
Arellano Street corner Zamora Street
(065) 2123252
While I'm not a seafood person as most of my friends know, I can't leave this restaurant out of the list. I checked out their menu and everything is seafood, even the burgers! Specialties include Sinugba, Tinola and Kinilaw (their version of STK it seems), plus the Seafoods Roll. They also have a branch along Capitol Drive.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Zamboanga del Norte: Fantasyland & Gloria de Dapitan

Surprisingly for a provincial city, Dapitan has a nightlife area. Remember that theme park built by former Congressman Romeo Jaloslos which he named Gloria's Fantasyland? Well, that's it. The park is usually open from late afternoon until midnight. And I must say, the rides are quite good!

We were given a tour by the park manager (they have two managers in fact, one for operations in the evening, and one for maintenance during the day) and one thing he noted to us was cleanliness was very important to them. In fact, there wasn't even a piece of candy wrapper or dried leaves on the floor because if there was, he would pick it up.

Make sure to try the Horror House because I'm giving it an A for effort! There's a story actually when you enter as a guide narrates and takes you through the house. Her companion was supposedly lost inside and your job is to help him or her find the companion as you weave your way through the house. It's the usual scare tactics but very well-done.

I heard there's a screwdriver coaster in the works! Not even Metro Manila and its environs has that!

Aside from Dakak, the other place for dining options in Dapitan is Gloria de Dapitan, which is right beside the park. They have live bands there and several restaurants which offer dinner, drinks and pulutan. And surprisingly, the whole area has WiFi Internet access!
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