Sugar, smiles, and everything nice

Without fail, my trips to Bacolod and its neighboring towns in Negros Occidental bring nothing but the sweetest of memories.

I fondly remember that it was the first stop of our "most epic sembreak trip ever" with our dormmates back in October 2010. Although we came a little late for the Masskara celebration, we had an amazing party of our own in just one day—taking a nature trek to this secluded waterfalls we had all to ourselves plus stuffing ourselves silly with chicken inasals.

There was also the summer after college graduation (2012) where my favorite girls and I happily returned to Bacolod for yet another overnight stay, all before we faced "the real world." We finally experienced The Ruins after much talk and anticipation as well as sampled possibly all the cakes from Calea. I shuttled back and forth a couple more times that month to accompany my cousin Lissie for her doctor's appointment, and do some extra exploring like getting a taste of Bob's on the side.

Fast forward to my week at home in August last year, those talks about revisiting the City of Smiles for a weekend had finally seen the light of day. Mom, Raf, and I took an early morning hour and a half ferry ride one Saturday and I got pretty excited to be bonding in a new environment with my mother and brother, both of whom I barely get to see and spend time with since they live thousands of miles away from us sisters in Manila.

Fresh off the boat, Mom, being the recently-concluded Ikaw Lamang fanatic that she is, insisted that The Ruins (where some scenes from the show were shot, I suppose) should be the first on our list. We made our way to "The Taj Mahal of Negros" and joined in on a guided tour by this funny man named James who, like all guides, was such a character! Clearly, everyone was entertained by all his tales and jokes about the famed Lacson Mansion in Talisay. Meanwhile, I wandered off a bit to snap some photos and let out a laugh when from a distance I heard someone sing the teleserye's theme song from start to finish. Talk about setting the mood!

As past visitors would already know, the guides also double as photographers for the tourists. They not only identify the best locations and angles of the lovely then-abode, they also have a few suggestions on how you should pose for the camera. After the quick story-sharing, we three had our own mini-photoshoot and while we were all-smiles, all we could ever think of was what a bummer Karina, Kara, and Kendi weren't there for a complete family portrait. Anyhow, you may call us Doña Rose, Señorita Isabel, and Señorito Fernando for the time being and we'd be totally okay with that. (Those are our second names, btw.)

And what's a trip to Bacolod without downing a bunch of their staples? Bacolod will never run out of dishes that warm the heart, I believe, with family recipes passed on from one generation to another. We got to The District a little past one and obviously by then all our tummies were grumbling mad. Our little group of three ran to Cafe Bob's and panic-ordered their best-selling lengua (ox tongue) and beef salpicao for sharing. To our delight but with no surprise, everything was heavenly, especially when each bite is alternated with sips of their fruit punch.

We then hopped on to Calea where Mom got a cup of coffee, me my favorite apple pie ala mode, and Raf their famous chocolate mud pie (ice cream cake). The interiors weren't as girly as the one in Lacson but still quirky pretty, just the way I like it. And then of course we'll always have time for the glorious Bacolod chicken inasal. No frills, just chicken sauce, extra rice, and grilled goodness.

That weekend was also Tita Lennie's coronation as Alumni Queen for their high school's homecoming and we wouldn't wanna miss it for the world! We hitched a forty-five-minute ride to Manapla and when we got to the hotel, right away changed out of our shirts-and-shorts/jeans combo and into our dresses and polos, outfits fit for royalty. Along with their company's supervisors who were also around for a seminar, we cheered and discoed the night away at the town plaza, celebrating the beginning of Queen Lennetta I’s reign as well as her batch's golden year.

Come Sunday, we were all prepared to get back to regular programming—the Aguirres flying directly to Manila while Mom, Raf, and I catching a ferry to Iloilo, where I will then shuttle my way to the airport for my flight to Manila. However, we couldn't leave Sugarland just yet, not without a quick detour. After driving past fields upon fields of sugar plantation heading back to the city, our van turned into an unassuming pathway lined with tall, well-trimmed trees and drove through until we pulled up at the open gates of a grand wooden mansion with a front yard garden which could pass for a courtyard in France. This was it, we have reached Hacienda Rosalia and standing tall and proud in the middle of the estate was the Jose Gaston Mansion.

Right next to the elegant two-storey ancestral house is a vine-covered veranda where a rondalla is relentlessly practicing. For that day's mass or an upcoming benefit concert, I can't recall. We swayed along to the tune and took videos until we were approached by the mansion caretaker Francis. He informed us that the resident and current home owner, secular priest Monsignor Guillermo "Gigi" Gaston was unfortunately not around, being in America at the time of our visit.

He instead invited us to check out the nearby Chapel of Cartwheels, where Msgr. Gigi holds mass and the rondalla usually plays. The chapel was made literally out of cartwheels and other farming tools, with mortar and pestle used as candle holders and holy water containers respectively. I've read that Msgr. Gigi was the one who designed this holy structure and it's admirable how he managed to incorporate the hacienda life into it. From afar, it did look a lot like a salakot, the Filipino's native hat.

After much talk, Francis then welcomed us inside and gave us a quick tour of this luxurious home, which was used in the 1980s multi-awarded film Oro Plata Mata. We were told it could have been the much-loved Hidalgo's (Ikaw Lamang) residence too, but there had been some issues with production that the staff and crew decided to shoot elsewhere. Upon hearing this, Mom grins from ear to ear but still not enough to hide the tinge of disappointment in her eyes. Tsk, tsk.

At the ground floor is a huge round table which outlines the family tree of the Gastons and it was quite interesting to see their great line of ancestors. We've found out that we have a couple of family friends from their clan. Meanwhile, perusing the area was nothing short of enjoyable as it was breezy despite the noontime sun. While wooden floors, walls, and furniture abound, the high ceiling and large windows probably helped a lot with the cooling.

The main stairwell ushered us to the second floor living room, dining room, and kitchen and we couldn't help but be in awe at how neat and beautiful it all looked, even with age. Other than the balcony which offered the perfect vista (bellevedere, as we preferred to call it, or "beautiful sight") of the lush and verdant gardens down below, all eyes were on the 24-seater dining table, purposely surrounded by cabinets filled with heirloom china and crystal upon which generations-old recipes are served. Our meaningful tour ended when we basked in the stunning 360 degree view of the hacienda after climbing the tower's steep flight of stairs and all that was left to say was, "It is good." More than good, really. Thank you, as always, Negros Occidental!


  1. Any updates? im a fan of your blog. ��

    1. Aw I'm sorry for the lack of updates, been terribly busy with work. Will try to get back to blogging when I have the chance. Thanks for your support! :)