Pictorial: Tagaytay, Davao and Bacolod Revisited

One of my favorite hangouts in the Philippines is Antonio’s in Tagaytay. This is Chef Tony Boy Escalante’s fine dining restaurant. Set away from the busy tourist area of Tagaytay, the magnificent Antonio’s is a sight to behold in this rural setting. The last time I was here was ten years ago. I would have come sooner and more frequently, had I not been forewarned about the traffic. My sister, Bella, a chef in her own right, says, “The food is consistently good. I just wished he would change it every now and then. I have tasted almost everything on the menu!” She was right. The food was so delicious that I forgot to take pictures before I ate the dishes! The restaurant was listed among the top 50 Best Restaurants in Asia in 2016.

Here are some of the new things to look for at Antonio’s.

 This painting greets you as you enter Antonio’s. Chef Tony Boy Escalante’s real face has been added (second from the left). I remember seeing this painting the last time I was there, but I do not recall seeing Escalante’s face on it.

This painting greets you as you enter Antonio’s. Chef Tony Boy Escalante’s real face has been added (second from the left). I remember seeing this painting the last time I was there, but I do not recall seeing Escalante’s face on it.

 These beautiful, latticed wooden doors open to a ballroom. It was not yet finished when we ventured inside.

These beautiful, latticed wooden doors open to a ballroom. It was not yet finished when we ventured inside.

 This deck is an extension of the ballroom.

This deck is an extension of the ballroom.

 This wrought-iron gate leads to Lanai Lounge, one of Antonio’s newest additions to the property.

This wrought-iron gate leads to Lanai Lounge, one of Antonio’s newest additions to the property.

 An inviting, relaxing space at Lanai Lounge.

An inviting, relaxing space at Lanai Lounge.

 The main building of Lanai Lounge where the restrooms are located.

The main building of Lanai Lounge where the restrooms are located.

 The bar at Lanai Lounge.

The bar at Lanai Lounge.

 Beautifully landscaped grounds of Lanai Lounge.

Beautifully landscaped grounds of Lanai Lounge.

Chef Escalante has added two medium-priced restaurant outlets for those seeking a view of Taal Volcano. On the main road of Tagaytay, he opened Breakfast at Antonio’s (all day breakfast menu) and Balay Dako (meaning The Big House in Negrense). Balay Dako serves Filipino food. It is where family and friends come together to celebrate life’s significant events, according to its website.

 An enlarged photo of a typical Balay Dako (Big House) hangs on the restaurant’s wall.

An enlarged photo of a typical Balay Dako (Big House) hangs on the restaurant’s wall.

 People raved about Balay Dako’s Deli. That’s why we had to make a stop.

People raved about Balay Dako’s Deli. That’s why we had to make a stop.

 Products from Bacolod find their way to Balay Dako’s Deli.

Products from Bacolod find their way to Balay Dako’s Deli.

 A menu of items available at Balay Dako’s Deli.

A menu of items available at Balay Dako’s Deli.

 I grew up loving “dirty ice cream.”

I grew up loving “dirty ice cream.”

 The famous piyaya.

The famous piyaya.

 The view of Taal Volcano and Lake is definitely a deciding factor in choosing Balay Dako to have a meal.

The view of Taal Volcano and Lake is definitely a deciding factor in choosing Balay Dako to have a meal.

People who live in Davao are amazed at the traffic problems they are having there now. The drivers tell us it is because tourism is way up. “Everyone wants to see where President Duterte is from.” Life-size, cardboard cut-ups of the President can be seen in building and restaurant entrances like the one below.
 My cousin, Vivian, with you know who.

My cousin, Vivian, with you know who.

The last time I was in Davao was in 2011, when a very good friend of mine, Fe Ayala, died. Since then, several malls, hotels and condominium buildings have sprung up, giving Davao a slice of High Street in Bonifacio Global City. A number of call centers are also in Davao now.

My trip to Davao had two goals. The foundation I started, Philippine International Aid (PIA), funded two projects there, and I needed to evaluate its progress. Child Alert Mindanao is an NGO working to stop child abuse and human trafficking by providing educational support, among other things. There are 35 high school children, 9 college students and 8 technical and vocational teens who are all beneficiaries of our assistance. I am always impressed with the group’s performance despite limited resources, and I am in awe at the dedication of its social workers. The other project we have, The Davao School for the Blind, will be the subject of a separate story.

 Some of the beneficiaries of the educational collaboration between Child Alert Mindanao and Philippine International Aid in Davao. Three mothers are in the background.

Some of the beneficiaries of the educational collaboration between Child Alert Mindanao and Philippine International Aid in Davao. Three mothers are in the background.

 Child advocates are opposed to the government’s intention of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (as shown in this T-shirt worn by one of our scholars) from 15 to 9 years old. They say this would make children targets in President Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

Child advocates are opposed to the government’s intention of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (as shown in this T-shirt worn by one of our scholars) from 15 to 9 years old. They say this would make children targets in President Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

The other reason for my trip to Davao was to visit the gravesite of Fe Ayala, my “surrogate mother” at Eden Nature Park. Fe and Chito Ayala (Chito died three months before Fe) transformed the once-barren, mountain land into a paradise by planting thousands of trees and plants. Today, Eden Nature Park is one of the country’s eco-tourism destinations.

 The rainbow drive at Eden Nature Park.

The rainbow drive at Eden Nature Park.

 A carved bamboo fence shows the cultural map of Mindanao at Eden Nature Park.

A carved bamboo fence shows the cultural map of Mindanao at Eden Nature Park.

 The flowers at the Mayumi Wishing Well at Eden Nature Park.

The flowers at the Mayumi Wishing Well at Eden Nature Park.

This is where Fe and Chito Ayala’s ashes are buried. I am told that before Fe died, she and her son, Mike, toured Eden, and Fe chose the spot where she wanted to be laid to rest.

 An overview of the atrium-like mausoleum of Chito and Fe Ayala. In the foreground are bronze statues of them sitting on a bench.

An overview of the atrium-like mausoleum of Chito and Fe Ayala. In the foreground are bronze statues of them sitting on a bench.

 The “altar” where the ashes of Fe and Chito Ayala are kept.

The “altar” where the ashes of Fe and Chito Ayala are kept.

 The manicured garden and pond surrounding the burial area of Fe and Chito Ayala.

The manicured garden and pond surrounding the burial area of Fe and Chito Ayala.

 The view of Davao as seen from the burial site of Fe and Chito Ayala.

The view of Davao as seen from the burial site of Fe and Chito Ayala.

I had not been to Bacolod since the 80s, so I don’t remember much. Just like in Davao, I was amazed at the new buildings and subdivisions (Ayala is everywhere), and Negrenses were also complaining about the traffic. This trip was purely personal – to visit a friend I had not seen in many years – and a few sightseeing stops. I discovered two must-see places.

The Balay ni Tana Dicang was built in 1872 for Don Efigenio Lizares and Dona Enrica Alunan. It is one of Negros’ most preserved ancestral homes and is situated in Talisay. The house has a total of 18 rooms. It is a testament to the era and lifestyle of Bacolod’s sugar barons.

 Underneath this photo reads: The wedding picture of Enrica Alunan and Efigenio Lizares. They were married on February 10, 1872. This union is marked by the construction of this house.

Underneath this photo reads: The wedding picture of Enrica Alunan and Efigenio Lizares. They were married on February 10, 1872. This union is marked by the construction of this house.

 The side of Balay ni Tana Dicang. To protect the house from the heat, Venetian style window shutters let the air in and keep it in shade.

The side of Balay ni Tana Dicang. To protect the house from the heat, Venetian style window shutters let the air in and keep it in shade.

 The living and dining rooms were the biggest areas in the house. Persian style windows kept the rain out while allowing the light in through translucent  capiz  shell panes.

The living and dining rooms were the biggest areas in the house. Persian style windows kept the rain out while allowing the light in through translucent capiz shell panes.

 One of the rooms at Balay ni Tana Dicang with its original and authentic furnishings.

One of the rooms at Balay ni Tana Dicang with its original and authentic furnishings.

 The kitchen at Balay ni Tana Dicang. The low, beige cabinet with open doors was used to store food, like a refrigerator.  Bagoong  (Filipino fish sauce) was stored in the big, round clay pots.

The kitchen at Balay ni Tana Dicang. The low, beige cabinet with open doors was used to store food, like a refrigerator. Bagoong (Filipino fish sauce) was stored in the big, round clay pots.

 The grand matriarch, Enrica “Tana Dicang” Lizares with President Manuel L. Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmena, Sr.

The grand matriarch, Enrica “Tana Dicang” Lizares with President Manuel L. Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmena, Sr.

The Ruins, also in Talisay, is the story of Mariano Lacson and Maria Braga and “a monument to love that would stand the test of time”; as the brochure says, something like the Taj Mahal.

Mariano was the youngest of eight children of Lucio Lacson and Clara Ledesma. Mariano met and fell in love with Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady on one of his trips to Hong Kong. Mariano and Maria married and had 10 children. However, in 1911, while pregnant with her eleventh child, Maria had an accident and she and the baby died. Inconsolable, Mariano built a mansion in the middle of his 440-hectare sugar plantation, in memory of Maria. It was to be a monument to their love affair.

Maria’s father, introduced European architectural influences into the design of the mansion. The structure of the house was solid concrete and floor tiles were imported from Spain. Mariano and all his unmarried children lived in the mansion until the eve of WWII. The U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East recruited guerilla fighters and instructed them to burn down structures that might be used as headquarters by the Japanese. Mariano’s mansion burned for three days, but the fire did not destroy everything.

 The Ruins was opened to the public in January 2008 by Mariano’s great grandson, Raymund Javellana.

The Ruins was opened to the public in January 2008 by Mariano’s great grandson, Raymund Javellana.

 The lovers, Mariano Lacson and Maria Braga.

The lovers, Mariano Lacson and Maria Braga.

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 The wooden  karitela  was not part of the mansion but added as an attraction for tourists, like the man seated inside.

The wooden karitela was not part of the mansion but added as an attraction for tourists, like the man seated inside.

 The souvenir shop at The Ruins sells T-shirts, key chains, magnets, fans, bags and other items. Other amenities include an 18-hole mini-golf course and a 500-square meter garden of fruits and vegetables.

The souvenir shop at The Ruins sells T-shirts, key chains, magnets, fans, bags and other items. Other amenities include an 18-hole mini-golf course and a 500-square meter garden of fruits and vegetables.

 The 4,000-square meter lawn was designed for banquets, concerts and other events. There is also a restaurant that serves dishes that date back to the time of Mariano and Maria.

The 4,000-square meter lawn was designed for banquets, concerts and other events. There is also a restaurant that serves dishes that date back to the time of Mariano and Maria.

 A love story etched in concrete: Two letter Ms, initials of Mariano and Maria facing each other, were molded on every post of the mansion. Mariano died in 1948.

A love story etched in concrete: Two letter Ms, initials of Mariano and Maria facing each other, were molded on every post of the mansion. Mariano died in 1948.

My friend said that sunset at The Ruins is a sight to behold, but we never saw it. We were in a hurry to leave the place because at around 5:00 p.m. large, hungry mosquitoes swarm the place!