A few weeks ago, I had the awesome opportunity to visit two prominent cities in the Visayas region, Iloilo and Bacolod. It was my first time to travel to both cities so imagine my excitement!
We got off 2GO’s St. Michael the Archangel and arrived in Iloilo just in time for lunch. We first ate delicious Ilonggo-style chicken inasal and halo-halo at BBQ Park. Afterwards, we visited two famous churches. Iloilo is actually home to various historical churches with architectural structures dating back from the Spanish colonial era. St. Anne Parish in Molo, also known as the “Women’s Church”, is one of the most familiar landmarks in Iloilo. Built in 1831, it stands as a reminder of Iloilo’s rich history and a monument for Ilonggo artistry. The structure is pure architectural marvel, with constant alternation between the overpowering features of Gothic and the recessive characteristics of Romanesque. Inside the church, there are five Gothic altars, several female saints stand on each pillar, interestingly decorated pulpits, and beautiful paintings dominate the walls.
The Jaro Cathedral (Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary), on the other hand, was built in 1864. The moment I saw the dramatic central projection and the windows which create uniform light, I knew that it was inspired by the Baroque era. Some Gothic elements can be found all over too. After visiting the two churches, we went to Original Biscocho Haus to buy butterscotch, barquillos, yemas, and other sweet treats to bring home. Then we went to Deco’s to try their bowl of Iloilo’s most popular and tasty dish, La Paz Batchoy.
We also passed by Calle Real, referred to as the “Escolta” of Iloilo City. The street itself is a museum of old buildings that survived the onslaught of war, elements and time. On the northern end of the street is the Provincial Capitol, where we dropped off the relief goods that we brought for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. Iloilo was not not the hardest-hit area, but the northern part of the city was badly affected. It was a wonderful feeling to be greeted by Ilonggos and it was really heart-warming to see them helping their countrymen. We were also brought to the rooftop of the Provincial Capitol to capture the stunning view of Iloilo. What a beautiful way to end our tour in the city.
From the port of Iloilo, we rode 2GO’s SuperCat to travel to Bacolod. Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by MassKara dancers. The vibrant and intricately designed masks and costumes, and the dancers eagerly running, skipping, whirling and even bobbing up and down made the performance especially amazing to watch. It was a bold display of creativity and community. I later found out that the international crowd-drawer Masskara Festival began when the Negrenses used a smiling mask as the symbol of the festival, and to symbolize the happy spirit of the Negrenses in general, despite frequent economic hurdles in the sugar industry. My friends told me that MassKara is really a unique celebration that allows local and foreign visitors a chance to drink and eat a lot, and be merry for 20 days. I wish I can experience the actual festival next year! Nonetheless, I’m glad I was able to catch a glimpse of the popular event.
After the performance, we went to The Ruins. I’ve seen several photos of it taken during the day, so I thought I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the place because it was already night time when we reached the city. I was wrong. It’s beautifully lit at night, enhancing the features in a different way than by daylight. I learned that the Neo-Roman mansion is called the Taj Mahal of the Philippines because a sugar baron named Don Mariano built it for his departed wife Maria Braga. This historical spot shows the remains of the mansion built during World War II wherein the family intentionally burned the house so the Japanese won’t be able to use it as a headquarters during the war. Even though it was already burned down, the great interior of the house is still noticeable. No wonder it’s considered as one of the 12 most fascinating ruins in the world! Another reason to return – since the mansion was constructed using cement mixed with egg yolk, our guide said that it’s best to go to The Ruins during sunset because visitors can see the gloss or shine on the walls.
After our fascinating experience at The Ruins, we went to Calea, a specialty cake house which serves a variety of cakes and coffee. As soon as we got inside, we were indeed overwhelmed by the wide selection. Every cake seemed delicious and we were having a hard time choosing which cakes to try out so we ordered different flavors. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we loved everything! I wish they would open a branch in Manila; if not, I will definitely be visiting again when I go to Bacolod next time. We also made a quick stop at the Provincial Capitol of Negros Occidental. Its facade quite reminded me of AS/Palma Hall in UP Diliman because of the tall, white pillars. It’s so striking, even at night. I’ve always liked the architecture of most government buildings in the Philippines!
Sadly, it was time to leave Bacolod. We hopped on-board the St. Michael the Archangel again, en route to Manila. I’m so grateful that I got to visit two beautiful cities in one day, thanks to 2GO Travel. I was able to meet new friends while having so much fun. I gained new knowledge on the rich culture, history, and people of both cities. My imagination sparked, I felt renewed and connected with the world beyond just pixels and frames. I’m encouraged to explore the Philippines more. Nothing can beat the feeling of traveling into one’s own country and no place like home cannot be more true.