Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

The Great Negros Escape

- Stacy Danika S. Alcantara -

Part 1: Occidental Overdrive

 CEBU, Philippines - For the unseasoned traveller, Negros is probably one of those places that will most likely not make it in one’s top 10 places to visit list. Apart from the annual flurry of Masskara in Bacolod and the occasional buzz about Buglasan in Negros Oriental, particularly in Dumaguete, the inexperienced and unread traveller might only think of two things when Negros comes to mind: vast sugarcane fields stretching out to as far as the eye can see; and pockets of fish ponds simmering underneath a furiously blazing sun.

But Negros isn’t all that it is thought out to be. And although it isn’t exactly a place like Boracay or Manila that’s made for year-round partying, it can be a sweet escape from the conventional vacay escapes that many of us have grown accustomed to.

Sure, there’s the beach and dive sites like Apo Island. But more than anything, Negros is a road trip haven for those who simply cannot stay put. Although it’s best if you have your own set of wheels for the sake of convenience, it also doesn’t hurt to unleash your spirit of adventure by travelling the way most of us do—by bus and by sikad.

Steeped in culture born from the time when sugar barons held sway in the province, the best approach to tackle this sock-shaped island in between Cebu and Panay is simply to circumnavigate it beginning with either Bacolod, the capital city of Negros Occidental, the Hiligaynon-speaking side of the island; or Dumaguete, the capital city of Negros Oriental, which is heavily influenced by Cebu.

The journey from Dumaguete to Bacolod will take only five to six hours and depending on which side you will traverse, the scenery and the stops can be both breath-taking and historic.

Negros is home to several municipalities and cities evoking a rustic, Hispanic feel with the center of activity in almost every place revolving around the plaza which is almost always flanked by the city or municipal hall on one side, the public school on the other, and the church at the head, forming what will seem like, from an aerial view, a cross—a formation that takes root from the time these municipalities had been established by both sword and cross from Mother Spain.

Many of Negros’ limestone and cobblestone cathedrals lie just along the road, making a quick glimpse at any of these places of worship definite pit stops even for the first time traveller who is not well-versed with the route as these cathedrals will be hard to miss. Many of them, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries have been products of the labor of many a townsfolk who were forced to toil day and night mixing egg whites and limestone to build the town’s foundations of Catholic faith.

Some of the best churches coming from Bacolod can best be seen through the Bacolod-Dumaguete via Mabinay route which will take you all the way through the mountains and the lush greenery of orchards and sugarcane fields. 

Bacolod, for one, is home to one of the biggest cathedrals in Negros – the San Sebastian Cathedral which was blessed in 1882, when Fr. Mauricio Ferrero was at the helm of Bacolod’s spiritual life. During this time, Bacolod was still under the diocese of Jaro hence plans for the construction of the San Sebastian Cathedral had to be coursed through Bishop Mariano Cuartero, the first bishop of Jaro. Made entirely of coral stone, the San Sebastian Cathedral was constructed by prisoners who, after finishing the cathedral also had a hand at constructing the stone prison which eventually became their new home.

Going farther south, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Valladolid, which was established by Recollect missionaries in 1851, is another stop that’s not hard to find considering its location. Separated from the road and the plaza by an iron and old stone fence jutting from the ground, the Church of Our lady of Guadalupe stands untouched, patched with moss flowering from its cracks and crevices. Surrounded by a wide field used for grazing goats, the ruins of the church and the convent right behind the church façade struggle with the overgrowth of wild shrubs and crawlers that cling to what remains of the stones. With the town named after the first capital of Spain, Valladolid has been known as the rice and fruit basket of Negros Oriental with much of its land dedicated to orchards and palay fields. Valladolid has also been the entry point of sugarcane to Negros which accounts for much of the island’s prosperity and fortune. The church of course has been where farmers and tapaseros would converge to thank God for bountiful harvests.

Hinigaran, another town south of Bacolod, which derived its name from its first settlers known as “tagahigad”, is famous for having the best oysters in Negros, Hinigaran being primarily a fishing village way back. Home to the Sta. Maria Magdalena Parish, which was completed in 1881, Hinigaran was once one of the richest municipalities in Negros Occidental for its vast church properties. It is interesting to note that the church in itself has been the product of collective effort from the people in Hinigaran, with the land donated by its wealthy constituents and the hard labor being completed by force from men who were required to render 15 days of work to complete the church. These men were also required to each bring 25 pieces of eggs for mixing the egg whites with the lime, corals, and the bricks. The hardwood and many other materials were sourced from Guimaras, Palawan, and Patigui, and then carried off to a place known as Quincihan, so named because of the workers whose wages 15 centavos per person and the number of days they had to pitch in for the construction.

Getting past Kabankalan while there is still daylight is crucial as a fitful pause for a hot cup of coffee is a delight at Kan-anan sa Bukid in Mabinay. Famous for its caves, the Mabinay route is a scenic route that offers the panorama of the imposing mountainside sliding into a vast patchwork of land before melting into the glittering seascape hundreds of feet from the cliff.

Mabinay heralds the entry to the next province, Negros Oriental, a laidback island where the shift in language from Hiligaynon to Bisaya will likewise offer a quick shift in culture that distinguishes the influences of both halves of the same island from one another. (FREEMAN)

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