Holy cow! Welcome to Masbate, our rodeo capital

RENDEZVOUs - Christine S. Dayrit () - December 21, 2011 - 12:00am

As the pilot slowly maneuvered the plane to a suave landing in Masbate, I couldn’t help but be awed by the acres of grazing land that stretched as far as the eyes could see. As we taxied on the runway, I saw herds of cows and bulls that seemed much larger than the ones I have seen around the countryside. Like a vision from the wild, wild west, my group and I were welcomed by Esperanza Gross, Randy and Marie Favis who were ruggedly chic in their cowboy attires complete with leather hat, vest and boots. A little nudge from my winsome companions, Asian Spirits’ Lingling Rodriguez and Allen Mojica, took me away from dreamland as we loaded our bags onto our vehicle and proceeded to the rodeo show.

True to form, men and women proudly displayed their finest forms aboard beautiful horses while cows and bulls of Brahman stockage paraded around the rodeo and down the city streets. Brahman is among the world’s leading bloodlines from Australia which was just introduced in Masbate over the last few years. This breed is a tropical one that can suitably adapt to our environment. Sponsored by the Brahman Breeders, headed by its GM John Croaker, the significant event heralded the first ever Cattle Congress at Osmeña Colleges Multi-Media Center. The Cattle Raisers Association of Masbate Inc. and Masbate Brahman Breeders Foundation raised concerns of the industry which were addressed by local and national government officials and the private sector as well. Known as Cattle Country of the Philippines, because of its abundant grazing pasteur and its status as the country’s primary beef source, Masbate also teems with beach resorts, springs, caves and waterfalls. A mile away from the national road at Batongan is an interesting cave with three openings. One, at the base, has a church – like formation while the other two is at the center and the top of the cave. A large tunnel located inside the cave leads to another cave in Zapatos Island. Just 390 ft. from the cave is the cool and refreshing Botongan Underground River, ideal for swimming. Other highlights include Matangtubig Spring whose cool water comes out of three rocks surrounded by giant trees and lush vegetation. In the next town of Mobo are Dacu and Bituon beaches perfect for weekend picnics while Ticao Island boasts two scenic waterfalls. The Tagoron Falls cascade down cliffs from a height of 18 meters; the Catandayagan Falls is considered one of the most scenic. Burias Island cliffs and Claveria have amazing rock formations. Ubo, Masbate’s version of Pagsanjan Falls, is a must-see as well.

We checked in at a quaint and cozy hotel lodging simply called MG. Manfred Gross, of German descent and his lovely Filipina wife Esperanza recently opened this place that boasts elegant accommodations and excellent Filipino and European cuisine like steaks, pasta and fresh seafood. A swimming pool in the neatly manicured lawn has a splendid view of the mangroves. One can take the couple’s private speedboat specially built with a 235 horsepower Volvo engine to a nearby pristine sandbar.

At the Gross ranch of located an hour from the city, we had a sumptuous lunch of excellently marinated grilled pork and fish and Bicol express. We learned that the province of Masbate lies exactly at the center of the Philippine archipelago. The main island looks like an arrowhead with its tip pointing at the north. Its southern portion encloses the Asid gulf while the Jintotolo channel separates it from Panay island. Ethnically, the province is part of the Sibuyan Sea group of islands that includes Romblon, Marinduque and many small islands. This accounts for the admixture of cultures in the area and their dialect which is an interesting blend of Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Bicol and Waray.

Names of places scattered over Masbate’s 121 islands are reminders of the missionary journeys and church foundations that were made by the Spanish soldiers and missionaries long ago. San Pascual and Claveria in Burias, San Jacinto and Monreal in Ticao, Corpus and Esperanza in Aroroy show traces of such influence. Masbate town is the most important foundation however, being the seat of the diocese as well as the civil capital of the province.

Randy Favis, whose ranch boasts a great outdoor adventure, graciously enthused that it was a simple misunderstanding that gave the province its name. When the Spanish came to the island in 1569, they found a couple making chocolate from cacao. When the visitors asked them the name of the place, the couple thought the former wanted to know what they were doing and answered "mas bati" meaning to mix vigorously. The chroniclers in the expedition recorded "Masbate" as the name of the island.

In the evening, we toured the city and explored the ancestral home of Miss Philippines 1937, Maria del Carmen "Chita" Bayot Zaldarriaga. Her abode was replete with fine wood and antique furnishings. Our guide narrated that many fires have rampaged the adjacent edifices but the Zaldarriaga house withstood the raging fires. Perhaps the many antique images of saints, like the Black Nazarene which is being paraded around town every Holy Week, spared the house from fires.

According to Pamboy Pastor, a beauty queen connoisseur, Chita was the youngest ever to be proclaimed Miss Philippines. She was 16 years old and came from a very prominent family in Masbate. Chita, Pastor added, is the mother of famous basketball player Francis Arnaiz.

As we awoke to a beautiful morning as the sun was rising, we felt the crisp air refreshing and rejuvenating as the activities we were about to embark on. We watched the horse racing competitions and awarding of best Brahman cows and bulls. Judge Manuel Sese of Nene Farms won the grand champion for the best bull while Marie Favis of Brahman Fortuna won the award for best cow.

Aboard the plane, on the way back to Manila, I chuckled silently as I remembered another trivia from Billy Badilla, secretary general of Cattle Ranchers of the Philippines, who popped this question on the way to the ranch: "How do you know if a bull, a male cow, is virile? Billy answered his own query: "Look at its testicles. If they are even, you are sure that it will sire many calves." We laughed heartily to this fact of bull’s life as we gamely toasted each other with a glass of Fundador, a most popular drink in town.

Holy cow! Masbate is indeed the rodeo capital of the Philippines.

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Asian Spirit flies to Masbate every day. For flight details, call 851-8888. For more information about MG Hotel and Restaurant in Punta, Nursery, Masbate, call (056) 333-5614.

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