Why Negros is a good place for chilling
HEART AND MIND - Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2019 - 12:00am

Negros remains in the heart and palate of the visitor who, once smitten, will want to return again and again.

In Negros, every woman is Inday and every man is Toto. Both mistress and her yaya refer to each other as Inday, and even the most revered boss is, like his driver and his gardener, called Toto. Negrenses are malambing. Even the toughest-looking person speaks in an alluring singsong manner, with a softness that is found nowhere else in the country.

I experienced this during a four-day stay in Silay where Milou, our soft-spoken host, and her staff fed us with basic delicious Ilonggo fare and sweet fruits harvested from the trees in her garden, regaled us with stories about her humongous family tree that fills 13 volumes of names, drove us through the town pointing out the grand homes of the leading families in the city, and brought us to the countryside to take in the ancient acacia trees, limitless sugarcane fields, awesome historical and cultural sites, Silay’s clear skies and lovely muted sunsets.

But the best part of our holiday was an overnight stay in Patag in the mountains of Silay, an hour’s drive from the city, where we stayed in Milou’s lovely cottage shaped like a kite (designed by her husband, Dinky von Einsiedel) nestled in a forested subdivision, where lauaan, acacia, mango and other treasured trees thrive, their ancient trunks and branches heavy with giant fern and aerial plants, and giant almaciga grow like Christmas trees, their tips pointed heavenward, as if in prayer. Strawberries grow in pots around the house, and flowers, both wild and planted, bloom happily in its gardens. 

Patag is place to chill, go forest-bathing, and bask in its breathtaking natural surroundings. The shrubbery is untouched and the few houses that have been built in the subdivision are almost hidden by trees and large fern. It is also a place for sharing confidences with girlhood friends around the dinner table, spilling long-held secrets and laughing at our foibles growing up.

Our meals in Patag were simple, featuring local ingredients, gifts from the earth — ginataang mongo with langka, tender fried caramelized camote, KBL, adobo, and, for dessert, fresh strawberries laced with condensed milk, and chilled star apples.

We took a short ride to another part of the mountain where a resort has opened. It had an infinity pool, stretches of manicured lawns, concrete walkways, color-coded flowerbeds with GMO-perfect blooms and a modern café. It was picture-perfect, like most modern resorts and boring. I could not wait to go back to the virginal beauty of the forest in Patag.

After dinner, we walked out in the night with flashlights to hunt fireflies. We found hundreds of them illuminating trees and shrubs a short distance from the house. But the piece de resistance that left us breathless was the night sky, which was dotted with billions of heavenly bodies. It was the most incredible display of God’s glory I have seen anywhere in the world.

In Patag, I experienced nature at its purest. There was no TV and the Internet was slow and intermittent. Like the Indays and Totos who take care of the place, we were in bed before nine o’clock, our windows open to the mountain chill and the sound of crickets, cicadas and other creatures that lulled us to sleep.

We left Patag after breakfast, to return to the house in Silay where a giant duhat tree holds court in Milou’s garden, its leafy branches giving ample shade and comfort to its denizens and their guests. We had one last merienda at home of fresh lumpia with crushed chicharon, and lunch at the turo-turo around the corner where I enjoyed the paksiw na hito soured with batuan, and a kind of suman — one of many we tasted — made from freshly harvested rice.

We left Silay, our bags stuffed with baon and pasalubong of freshly-made piyaya, sweet guyabano from Milou’s garden, batuan from Patag, and hot chocolate made from local tablea and fresh carabao milk that was frozen so I could bring it home to enhance my breakfasts at home in Quezon City. How’s that for hospitality?

The tastes of Negros are unforgettable, the lifestyle is relaxed, the hospitality legendary. And nature, where it thrives, can be glorious. The place remains in the heart and palate of the visitor who, once smitten, will want to return again and again.

CHILL NEGROS VACATION
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