I owed Bacolod. For the past 3 days, I’ve been using it as a jump-off point to get to somewhere else, and so on my last day, I decided to do a bit of staycationing (of a sort) and just roam around the city to see whatever interesting stuff I could find wherever my two feet would take me.
THE PROVINCIAL CAPITOL
After having my free breakfast courtesy of the hotel, I then set off with my camera. I initially wanted to go to the very new Bacolod Government Center where the new city hall is located, but I was trying to save up on expenses so taking a taxi going there was not an option (it was a long way off from my hotel.) So I just went to the next best thing, which is the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol. It’s near the main commercial district where my hotel is located.
Out of curiosity, I looked for the tourism department in the building just to inquire if there are any interesting spots nearby I could visit. Almost immediately after, I realized my mistake because for that information, I should be asking the city government and not the provincial government. But the person who handled my inquiry went beyond his duty and actually looked for brochures and tourist maps I could use. I unfortunately forgot to take note of his name, but he certainly gave me a good impression of Negros Occidental’s provincial government employees.
The Capitol is of typical neoclassical design, with imposing pillars very visible when viewing it from the front. It faces an extensive public park, a big chunk of it being occupied by an almost equally extensive pond. Like most parks in the Philippines, there were homeless people who stayed there. There wasn’t much tree cover in the park so it’s normal to see it seemingly deserted on a hot day.
THE WILDLIFE CENTER
Looking at the map given to me, I was surprised to find that there is a wildlife center located very near the provincial capitol. This doesn’t get featured at all in travel blogs on Bacolod so I got curious and walked over to check it out. There was a very minimal entrance fee and immediately upon entering, what struck me was how plain and unassuming the entrance area is. It simply didn’t look interesting enough, plus it faced a street that, while near the capitol, was rarely used by the public. It’s then no surprise that nobody seems to know about it.
It’s tempting to regard it as a zoo, but it’s actually a wildlife rescue center. Its full name is “Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Biodiversity Conservation Center”. The way I understand it is that all animals there were rescued from poaching or loss/destruction of habitat, but could not be released back to the wild for various reasons. For the meantime, they are being displayed for educational purposes.
The layout was really simple. There is a walking path that loops around the center, enabling a visitor to visit all enclosures of the animals displayed. At each enclosure are signs about the animal, its habitat, conservation status, and also the names of specific donors who help out the center in general or provide aid to specific species.
It was the first time I saw hornbills (kalaw) up close. I didn’t realize just how noisy they are. They also proved to be curious creatures, as unlike the other wild animals there, they oftentimes actually go near the screen of their enclosure to take a closer look to whoever is observing them.
It’s also the first time I saw wild boars. (I’ve eaten wild boar meat though.) They look menacing, but that’s only because of their overall appearance. I found them to be shy and evasive creatures.
There were also a number of Philippine deer at the center. And what do you know, it was also my first time to see actual Philippine deer. (The ones I saw in Chavit Singson’s Baluarte in Ilocos Sur don’t count because they are a foreign species.) Like the wild boars, the deer were given a wide enclosure, but was much greener with tall grasses. I don’t know if it’s designed to imitate its natural environment or if it’s meant to be food. Anyway, the deers didn’t look impressive. I guess the Philippine indigenous deer species don’t grow their antlers as majestically as those ones in other places.
There were other interesting avian species that I tried to take photos of but unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t too good in their particular enclosures. After about an hour, I’ve seen all there was to see and began to walk towards my next destination.
THE DISAPPOINTING MUSEUM
Sorry, but I have to say this at the outset. As far as museums go, I found that the Negros Museum raises one’s expectations but sorely underdelivers. Why do I think it raised my expectations?
(1) The building was actually nice looking and imposing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s also neoclassical in , but it had massive pillars at the facade, similar to the nearby provincial capitol. The point is, it had enough grandeur that one would expect when thinking of a building suitable for a museum.
(2) Normally, tarpaulins are unsightly for any building, but I found the tarps at the Negros Museum to be tastefully designed and gave an impression of class.
(3) The P50 entrance fee was not very high, but in hindsight, I’ve been to museums charging only P20 but were much more interesting.
(4) It had a classy modern coffee shop within the museum grounds, giving the impression that people actually hung out there to stay.
As to why I was disappointed. Well, I walked in primarily to view a museum but a large chunk of the exhibits resembled an art gallery more. And as far as art galleries go, there wasn’t even an effort to enhance the aesthetics of the place. A lot of the artworks themselves were un-framed and poorly exhibited. Sure, there were relics from the bygone days of the history of Negros as a feudal/agrarian society, but like the artworks exhibited, there was no indication that they were being treated with importance or reverence. They were stacked here and there in dusty piles. Frankly, they were as appealing as old junk.
The only exhibit I saw where a discernible effort was made in the construction was the wall of portraits of all the past governors of the province. You’re free to draw your own conclusions on what exactly what that indicates. Anyway, I didn’t have the motivation to take pictures. If you’re in Bacolod, you can skip this one.
SAN SEBASTIAN CATHEDRAL
It’s been an established practice on my part to visit the local church whenever I travel within the country. Not for worship purposes though. My interest is primarily to learn and appreciate its history. Many old churches in the Philippines were constructed in the Spanish period, and for something that old, they would certainly have some backstories that are worth reading about.
Bacolod’s San Sebastian Cathedral is one of those old Spanish-era churches. Unfortunately, I could not glean any interesting backstory from its history. Other than what’s indicated in its historical plaque, the only interesting thing I saw was small belfry where the cathedral’s 2 old bells hang, no longer being serviceable.
Looking at the church now, it seems to be located in a very cramped location along a narrow but busy street. I was tempted to think that this was a poorly planned construction site for a church until I realized that the church, being much older than the surrounding establishments, must have been the lone building at the area for a very long time. This is another case of poor urban planning in the case of the surrounding buildings, not the church.
In fact, across the street from the church is supposed to be an extensive public plaza, typical of many old churches in the Philippines. Normally, plazas are seen as an extension of the church, but in this case, there were a couple of factors that probably contributed to its complete separation:
(1) Rizal Street, the road that separated the church and the plaza, although still relatively narrow, developed into a major thoroughfare. This means there’s a steady stream of vehicles separating the two. It’s then no longer possible to simply walk from the church to the plaza. The construction of SM down the road only exacerbated matters.
(2) In a misguided attempt at beautification, the plaza has been repurposed into a public park, and as such, the city government had fenced it off. In addition, a ghastly attempt at landscaping was done, which had the exact opposite effect of enhancing its appearance and completely erased any appeal of tha plaza as an open space. As a result, the church is barely even visible of you stand in the middle of the park.
Anyway, I tried to roam around the public plaza to relax, but that time of the day was too hot, and the unappealing surroundings didn’t really help, so I decided to leave the area, consult my map and go the nearest interesting spot.
POPE JOHN PAUL II TOWER
The next destination was a building built in remembrance of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Bacolod back in 1981. But since I would be passing by SM Bacolod along the way, I decided to first have my late lunch there. I also took the opportunity to purchase a gift item from the department store for HLGG’s exchange gift activity that is to be held at faraway Carabao Island 3 days later.
After I’ve had my fill, and once I was certain that the sun was no longer scorching outside, I walked seawards to the Pope John Paul II Tower. The tower wasn’t that high, but it’s located at a reclaimed area where there were no other buildings close to its height, so it’s very visible. It was built to commemorate the much-loved pope’s first visit to the Philippines back in 1981. At that time, John Paul II was younger and stronger, and was thus able to visit Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Bataan and Baguio, aside from Manila. The spot where the tower now stands is the exact same spot where he held mass for Bacolod’s Catholic faithful.
After I paid a minimal entrance fee, I started to climb up towards the viewing deck at the topmost floor. There were exhibits showing memorabilia of John Paul II’s 1981 visit on each floor, but I wanted to go to the top floor first to shoot the city with the remaining day light. The viewing deck, quite disappointingly, had protective grills that arched from the edges like a ghastly dome. I suppose it had to be installed to prevent anyone from falling, but it could have been done better.
There were some high school students at the top when I arrived. As it was a small area, I carefully tried to get out of their way while I went about my business of shooting photos. I know how kids could be protective of their tambayan. After a few minutes, I then slowly descended the tower while viewing the exhibits found on each floor.
As the day was winding down, I chose to walk back to my hotel instead of catching a jeep, partly because I wanted to feel the sights and sounds of the city for one last time …and partly because I don’t want to force myself to say “sa lugar lang” instead of “para“, when asking the driver to stop. On that point, I found that no matter how much I tried to perfect saying “sa lugar lang” just like a local would, I still found myself being stared at by almost everyone in the jeepney everytime I do so.
So anyway, dinner. I decided to play it safe and had dinner at 21 Restaurant. I had dinner at this restaurant in one of the previous nights, and I found the ambience and food to be good enough. Unfortunately, I made a poor choice that night as far as dinner was concerned. I wanted to just eat something light so I ordered their Fish and Chips. I did not expect it to be dripping with oil (which was bad news for my “digestive ailment”), but I had no choice. To be fair, it did taste good. It’s just that it had too much oil that wasn’t drained out before being served.
And thus ends the first phase of my western Visayas vacation. The next day, I’ll make my way to Iloilo and further west.