Monday, October 31, 2016

Heritage Travel in the Philippines

I love history and learning about culture, and whenever I get the chance to travel in the country or abroad, heritage is the first thing I look for. One does not have to go far to see heritage sites, because there are plenty of these in my country, the Philippines. Just to name a few, we have in the island of Luzon, the Banawe Rice Terraces, The City of Vigan, the Municipality of Taal, Pila in Laguna and The Walled City of Intramuros; in the Visayas, we have Cebu City, the town of Carcar, Dumaguete City, Iloilo City and of course, my very own, the “Paris of Negros” Silay City where we gave blogger friends a mini heritage tour in 2012; and in Mindanao, there is the town of Dapitan and Zamboanga City. In fact, many of these are still on my bucket list of must see places before even embarking on another Asian trip. It’s almost the end of the year, and it is time to plan for summer travel. There are so lots of places to go to, but how do I decide where to go first? These are the first things I usually check when planning a heritage trip.

Distance, Available Transport and Accommodation

It is important to do research and know these things for budget preparation. On my priority list are the heritage towns of Carcar, Taal and Pila. I can take the bus for a land trip to Carcar, which is in Cebu Island and just next door to my island, Negros. But Taal and Pila are in Luzon which means that I have to fly to Manila first. Accommodations might or might not be plentiful but, the bigger question is what is acceptable yet affordable to me? In my town, Silay City, there are small hotels and pension houses available for business and budget travelers, but just recently, one heritage house has been renovated for adaptive reuse as a Bed & Breakfast. I would love to find one in the heritage places that I plan to visit, even if I have to spend a little more! There are a lot of information available online and all you have to do is search for the best accommodation that would suit your taste and budget.

Heritage Information and Guides

RCBC-Silay City (Maria Golez Ancestral House)
I love exploring heritage homes but, alas many are not for public viewing. In Silay City for example, out of 30 plus homes, only 1 is open to the public. There are however 2 houses that have been converted to museums, and several heritage buildings for other adaptive reuse like banks and other commercial establishments. The City Tourism Office have maps and brochures available for walking tours. It would be wise to check out information from the websites or Facebook pages of the heritage places you want to go to as well as getting the contact numbers and location of their tourism/cultural offices. In this way, you will not lose time looking for information when you get there. I often see tourists exploring my city but looking a little lost, because they don't know where to go. 

View from parking area, right side of Baclayon Church, Bohol c 2008
One of the best heritage tours I have ever experienced was in Bohol, exploring the many Roman Catholic churches built in the 1700’s. One is literally transported back in time. I remember entering the Baclayon Church and found myself feeling what it must have been like during the Spanish era. All I needed was a baro’t saya to complete the experience.   I spent 3 days in Tagbilaran in the early 90’s and went back for a week in the 2008. I am very fortunate to have seen most of these beautiful churches before the 2013 Bohol Earthquake, because many of them were damaged while some were completely destroyed. However, restoration and repair continues to this day and heritage tours help finance this valiant effort. 

Not everyone has time for long vacations, so for those who prefer a shorter route to heritage travel, there is the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage-themed park where old historical houses from different places in Luzon were rebuilt and converted to museums or hotels. While there you can experience history and culture over the weekend.

Things to Bring

I like to travel light and in heritage trips, that is the best way to go. Unless you are going to attend a formal occasion, I would just bring casual, comfortable and heat-proof clothing and foot wear. This is because a lot of walking is expected. I also bring my first aid-kit which contains aside from the usual, medicines which may be hard to come by during travel. Of course, one thing you must not forget is your camera, mobile devices, et al. I mean, you can forget all others (which you can easily buy) but not these. Documentation is absolutely needed in heritage travel, because you may never pass that way again.

Have Fun

In every trip I take, I lower my expectations. Yes, I prepare and do all the necessary things, but I also realize that nothing is perfect. My mantra in life is to expect nothing and I never get disappointed. I travel to have fun, to be surprised and above all, to see and be grateful for this world and our life, past, present and future.



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