Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar – Bagac, Bataan

Tucked in the peaceful town of Bagac, Bataan is a collection of Filipino century old houses known as “bahay na bato”.  The Bahay Na Bato, a style of construction, is a mixture of Filipino-Spanish influences.  A house built on stone foundation with wooden legs designed to stand earthquakes.  Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is a brainchild of Mr. Jerry Acuzar who owns a beachside property converted into a historical village resort.

Our recent travel transported us back in time, and fortunately we have witnessed an enthralling world of old Filipino houses.  The Acuzar village depicts the old Filipino town where twenty-two bahay na bato stands on a cobblestone streets.  One who wants to go around the area may either take a leisure walk or take the kalesa ride. The grand houses surrounding the area were formerly owned by prominent families in their respective provinces.  These houses were either abandoned or dilapidated.  Acuzar bought them from its present owners, then transported each and every part of the house, then rebuild it to its present location. Just exactly how it looked ages before us.

The first school of UP College of Fine Arts

Aside from the historical houses, the village is also a resort; it is located next to the beach where one can enjoy swimming.  There’s also a mid size pool available for guests.  A restaurant and bar is also present in the area. The main objective of Mr. Acuzar  in building this village is to showcase and preserve the old Filipino-Spanish architecture. One of the most notable structures in the area is the Casa Hidalgo, the grandest house in its time. It was the first School of UP College of Fine Arts. Its notable products were Fernando Amorsolo, Tomas Mapua, Carlos Francisco, and Guillermo Tolentino.  Accordingly, when the school was transferred to Padre Faura, the building was poorly maintained it became a bowling alley, dormitory, venue for sex live shows and an abortion clinic.

The once glorious Escolta is also pictured   in this village. A building patterned from Escolta’s shopping district stands and serves as the hotel.  Each room is beautifully designed by Mr. Acuzar’s wife, who is also an interior designer herself.

Each house has its own story to tell.   The creation of this village is coupled with controversy. I do not want to delve into that issue.  It is my humble thought that while it is true that the situs is part and parcel of these old houses’  historical importance,  I would rather have it transported to a place where it can be preserved and kept to its former grandeur than letting it decay and perish in a matter of time.

More of Las Casas Filipinas photos here. 

Read my revisit to Las Casas Filipinas Acuzar click 😉

Balatoc Mines, Benguet

Balatoc Mines, the only mining attraction in the Philippines.

In my visits to Baguio, I usually drop by at Mine’s view park to see the view of Benguet’s gold and copper mines. From the viewpoint, one could see the Balatoc, Antamok and Atok mines. Last week I went to Baguio to visit the yearly Panagbenga Festival, and part of this Baguio trip is to visit the Balatoc Mines.

Balatoc mines is about 35 minutes ride from Baguio City proper, passing though steep and narrow roads. In Ilocano dialect, “Balitok” literally means gold. This mine used to be the largest in Cordillera, established by Benguet Corporation. BC is reputed as the pioneer of the first mining operation in the Philippines.It was in 1997, that the company launched eco-tourism offerings, with its main objective to share the gold mining heritage in Cordillera.

We arrived there in time for the tour, there were about 3 groups consisting of 17 people. We were given a token with a  numbers pressed on it, put on the mandatory boots and miner’s hat for protection inside the tunnel.

We headed to the mining territory, the tour guide talked about the stages in mining, oriented us with the basic tools used by a miner inside. She allowed us to have a feel and take home some rock samples.  Rock samples in native form before it becomes gold. As we went further inside the tunnel, we had experienced more thrills. To vividly tell the story of what happens inside the tunnel is to spoil the essence of the tour. For now I will not break the omerta, what happens inside remains a secret until you experience it yourself =)


Being a quasi-miner for a day provided me a glimpses of a miners’ life. The miner goes to work early in the morning. It is mandatory for them to get a token- circular metal impressed with numbers, because this will serve as their identification. One is responsible for accounting the miners after the shift, when a token is missing, it would mean that a miner is left inside the tunnel.  They spent 8 to 9 hours inside a tunnel where visibility and ventilation is poor. They take their simple meals inside.  Their typical activities are centered on toiling the very depths of the mountain – digging, blasting, drilling, and use of explosives.  In actual mining, the temperature inside is hot, as a result most miners take off their clothing apparel except their underwear. They douse themselves with water to temporarily resist the heat. Chemical deposits from the explosives are toxic hence harmful to their health; Blasting will expose the miner with enormous dusts which can cause breathing problems.

Life inside the goldfields must have been difficult; A miner succumbs to homesickness, loneliness, isolation and  impending physical danger of their life and limbs. Accidents and fatalities await. All these with the hope of taking  few nuggets of gold for the mining company.  With all these dangers, are their wages enough to sustain their basic necessities? Aside from the mandatory health insurance, are miners given programs to promote their health? Programs to promote their healthy lifestyle, satisfying family life and safety conditions of work.

Balatoc mines has already closed its operations although there are still small-scale mining in the area. The area was once rich with minerals and unexploited mountains.   I wonder if after all the extractions of gold, is the life in the mining village improved?

Click for more pictures.

Panagbenga 2010: The Parade of Flowers

In 1990, Baguio was significantly damaged by earthquake, as a result the city’s tourism was badly affected.  The history of Panagbenga Festival dates back in 1995, the primary objective of this festival is to revive the tourists to visit Baguio City, after the catastrophic earthquake.

Panagbenga Festival is now on its 15th year, it is very successful and each year the number of visitors increase.  The festival ends on the last weekend of February, sealed by grand parade of colorful floats filled with beautiful flowers, coupled by  graceful street dancing.

After three years of longing to see, I have  finally witnessed  the grand float parade.

A Weekend of Everything that Flies 2010

Hot Air Balloon festival in Clarkfield, Pampanga is one of my most anticipated event held every February. This year, we made it a point to go there on its opening day; unfortunately we were late for the morning balloon flight. My experience this year, is not that spectacular there were only few balloons released for flight, three balloons simultaneously glowing up in the air.

Another highlight of the event is the powered paragliding  exhibition of 5 or more paragliders, who appears to have enjoyed being up and up in the air. I noticed though that most, if not all paragliders in this event are all foreigners.

In the afternoon, while waiting for the main balloon event, we managed to check out the duty frees around Clark; thrilling experience since some items can still be bought at a lesser price. It saddens me since out of the ubiquitous duty frees in the area, only three or four  are in operation: Parksons, Liberty, and Clark Interiors to name a few.

From Parksons duty free, we walked straight going to golf club areas but realized we cannot go further, since we have to go back to Clark airbase  in time for the balloon flight.  If we only have more time to explore Nayong Filipino, it would have been more interesting, so I just took some photos anywhere. It was a scenic feast anyways.

We found out that there is a K9 cemetary in Clark, a budding source of tourist attraction perhaps in Clark because of its historical significance. In fact, there is a security guard posted at the pet memorial during day time. I have learned that K9 cemetery for dogs  was established by Americans before they left the US Air Base.

Narrow tombstone of K9s. Written are names of the canine, a combination of numbers and letters.

RALEIGH 30 M9 I spotted a K9 within the Hot Air vicinity.

I realized that the better time to visit the Balloon festival is on the last day  of the festival because all the participating sponsors will showcase their hot air balloon, all set at the same time, all simultaneously glowing. Further one could go there for the early morning balloon flight, since it is the best time for the up, up in the air scene.

Not a balloon but also in the event. He is everywhere in the area, kids love to have photo with him.

So hurry, two days left for the balloon fest, it happens once a year so do not miss the fun experience.

The Banaue Rice Terraces

My first 2010 travel : Banaue  Rice Terraces, Ifugao.

Stunning view of the Rice Terraces.

Dubbed as the eight wonder of the world, Banaue is proud to have the Banaue Rice Terraces.  My usual travel to Banaue is always with my family during New Year’s day, but it is different this year, my siblings and my mum decided to postpone it to some future time.  Quite disappointed  but I am determined to go even if I’ll be going there all by myself. My mum would not allow me being alone ,  she is very particular of  my safety citing two reasons :  steep roads and Julia Campbell. In order to push through with my plans in  going there, I have to be accompanied by someone. So I asked Rowena to come around.

It took us one hour and forty five minutes to reach Banaue proper from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya.  It’s sunday time, only few people were at the viewpoint, taking pictures. I noticed that most of the tourists came from different countries. Some Canadians, some Koreans, and some Europeans. It  is cold and the sun’s barely up, and I am hoping so hard that it shines the whole day. The sight of  green and brown, backdroped by supreme mountains of cordilleras are  marvel to the eyes.  Many times over, I am awed by Ifugao ingenuity, they, the ancient Ifugaos who were behind the idea of building these gigantic staircase to the sky. I could only imagine, how difficult it must have been to build this wonder, that we enjoy these days.

Some facts from Banaue Museum: The Ifugao rice terraces cover an area of nearly 40 square kilometers, and if the walls were placed end to end  they would reach more than halfway around the earth. Those of Banaue, Hapao, and Hungduan are among the oldest in Luzon. Archeological and historical studies indicate that it took the Ifugaos more that 2,000 years to build them. The stonewalled terraces of Ifugao are the highest best built and most extensive in the world.

I took my time to explore Banaue. My ways of  getting to know more about the town and its people are to visit their museums, market, and talking to locals too.

Ifugao Elder, she was kind enough to instruct me with directions in getting to Banaue Museum.  She also showed to me where to locate the actual spot of  the Banaue Terraces printed on the 1000 philippine peso bill.

Sunday is market day in Banaue, so locals flock the place to sell their products.  Inns and lodges are abundant in Poblacion proper where the market is located. Souvenir shops are numerous too. Traveling from one place to another is easy, as there are tricycles around the area which make one’s destination more accessible.  The transportation in getting around is inexpensive.  The tourist information center is also located at Poblacion proper; the services of local guides are for hire at reasonable amount.

Even Ifugao kids are cordial.  Bradley (left) and his brother are very hospitable. Trekking up and down from viewpoint is tiresome.  Thanks to these kids for welcoming me to their abode and to make use of their comfort room. While their parents are not around, Bradley takes care of their house and sells soda to tourists and locals.

Probably, these elders are second to Rice Terraces, as the most photographed in Banaue.  They are in their colorful native costumes, spotted at the viewpoint to entertain the visitors.  The Banaue people represents the oldest native folks in Ifugao. Did you know that Ifugao literally means ” People of the Earth” ?

Travelling is not complete without visiting Banaue museum. In order to have a better understanding of distinct Ifugao culture and traditions, I managed to pay visit to the museum. It is a two-storey building that houses a collection of old photos of  Banaue and its people, artifacts, jars, heirloom necklaces, spears, and native costumes.  It is a privately owned and entrance fee is 50 pesos per person. Note that taking photos are prohibited inside the museum, but the curator was kind enough to allow me to take some photos. Further, it is prohibited to touch the pieces displayed inside.  I wanted to take more shots inside but I do not want to abuse the graciousness extended to me. Banaue Museum

Banaue in Red. Red is the dominant color in this place not only in their costumes but in some walls, streets, and to some lips.  Betel nut chew is part of the everyday lives of Ifugaos , It has an indelible significance in their culture. Betel nut chew is a conglomeration of betel nut locally known as moma, lime powder, and  leaf locally known as gawed. When chewed, the mouth produces red saliva, due to chemical reaction. Spitting of moma everywhere is not allowed, there is an ordinance in the province which designates areas where to spit moma.Betel Nut Chew has a strong and spicy odor.

We headed to Banaue Hotel after some scenic viewing. The hotel has been in operation since 1974,  under the operation of Philippine Tourism Authority. Amazingly, the hotel is well maintained. We had our snacks and tastes of bold coffee at  Imbayah Restaurant. The hotel and restaurant exudes a log cabin ambiance. Staffs are very gracious.

Imbayah Restaurant, Banaue Hotel

I want more from my Banaue experiences. Next time, I will make a mandatory visit to Batad, Banaue to experience its grandeur too.

Angono, Rizal : The Art Capital of the Philippines

Finally, I had the opportunity to visit the hometown of two great national artists.  Angono is a bayside town in the Province of Rizal, known as the Art Capital of the Philippines. As evidence to that, they have produced two distinguished national artists who are actually cousins: Carlos Botong Francisco and Maestro Lucio San Pedro. Both are authorities and respected in their own fields. Botong Francisco, is a muralist for three decades. His works are notable in depicting the momentous Philippine historical events and folk values. On the other hand, Maestro Lucio San Pedro is a master composer,conductor and a teacher. His most popular composition is Ugoy ng Duyan.

The house of Master Lucio San Pedro, fenced with his lyrical compositions.

Angono is also the hometown of reknowned painter and sculptor, Nemesio R. Miranda. I did not miss the opportunity to visit the Nemiranda House and Art Gallery. Indeed this house is a destination in itself. Huge images of Malakas and Maganda welcomed us at the corner of the street leading to the entrance of their house.

Malakas and Maganda

At right side of gate entrance,  a woman sculpture is also worthy to look at and accordingly she is Reyna Amihan.

And Haring Habagat too.

A sculpture of a mermaid is also noticeable, when one enters into the door where the paintings are situated. Angono is a farm and  fishing village, hence the rationale behind the mermaid sculpture.

This admirable fellow is a working genius with a cause. One could see in his works of art, his love for his country and his hometown. His efforts to promote tourism in Angono, showcasing it as the Art Capital of the Philippines is admirable. The two storey building is filled with his works of art. Interestingly, his children are also into painting, there is a room at the second floor where the works of his children are displayed.  He calls his art as “Imaginative Figurism,” a master of the Human Form who draws his figure through pure imagination.

Nemiranda painting

EDSA II Sculpture by Nemiranda

One interesting street in Angono is the long stretch of Dona Aurora, where Botong Francisco used to live. The houses along the street are fenced with  murals. These Murals depict the work of Botong. The community relives the Botong spirit through these walls,  walls that continue to inspire the emerging young angono artists.

We also wanted to eat at Balaw -Balaw, restaurant famed for serving exotic foods. Aside from the food served, the restaurant also houses a gallery of paintings. We are not fans of exotic foods, and so we opted to order Sinigang na Tinola and Ensaladang Talong with balaw-balaw ( fermented shrimp paste). I love Filipino dishes Sinigang being one of my favorites, I always order it whenever I travel. Their chicken sinigang is one of the best I have ever tasted. Really a must to try. Promise! Their sinigang soup is just so right, using real tamarind fruit and tamato to give a genuine sour taste. The umami and sour taste combines perfectly, and I love  every sipped of my soup.

Must try Chicken Sinigang at Balaw-Balaw Retaurant.

We ended our day at the lakeside, to  have a feel of serene environment as the sun sets.

The Manor, Camp John Hay Baguio

It’s a fine Saturday morning,  the sun’s up and an idea of a perfect weekend getaway summons us.  But because I have papers to work on, I am a bit hesitant to go out of town, so after having breakfast, I am determined to go to Starbucks at Torre Lorenzo to write  my paper.  Two hours passed , I still cannot come up with a better pleading, I have already consumed my coffee, yet I feel my mind is not into my papers.   It was already one o’clock in the afternoon when we decided to go up north, where else but in Baguio City.

For me, Baguio is the place to go when things  here in the Metro is  not working in accordance to my likings. A new breath of a fresher air indeed. Along the way to Baguio, I called The Manor in Camp John Hay to reserve a room, luckily the hotel is not fully booked, paving a room for us in just a short notice.  We arrived at about 7:30 in the evening,  The Manor is quaint, lovely and idyllic. I consider it as the finest Hotel in Baguio City. We were given a  room with a garden view. Well appointed, clean and cozy. Five star service, polite, and warm staff.

Spending the night at the Manor is relaxing, it was so cold and foggy outside . At the lobby’s piano bar, we enjoyed watching and listening to the  lounge singers. Light and easy songs were sung, even our favorites too. Some local guests also rendered songs.

Aside from the romantic setting of this hotel, their Le Chef Restaurant is popular to give pleasurable gastronomic experience. The price is a bit prohibitive though. Great food and provides a choice of either local or international dishes.  Pastries are freshly baked, soft, sweet, and full of flavor.

The Manor is located within the premises of Camp John Hay it is surrounded by tall pine trees, shopping area, verdant golf courses, and Cordillera ranges.  There is also a  Starbucks within the premises of CJH, perfect!  Needless to state that this hotel offers almost everything to make our Baguio stay carefree and stress free.

We went back to Manila feeling recharged, energetic, and ready to face another work week. I am looking forward to go back and spent another weekend at the Manor.