All the green & all the blue
You never really get to know a place until you leave it. Or maybe you do. But the distance that emerges upon leaving acutely punctuates the relationship between you and the place you’ve left behind.
The first time I said goodbye to the Philippines, I was leaving Manila and I was 16. I came back almost a decade later. And now, at 34, I am saying goodbye yet again, not to Manila but to Bacolod, my husband’s hometown.
Bacolod—the City of Smiles, the Sugar Capital of the Country, the Land of Inasal—or, quite simply, home, to me and my family for the past four years.
I’ll be back after six months, but I figured now is the best time to look back and recapture what and how this city has been to me so far.
It’s not a big secret that people come to Bacolod for the food. There’s, of course, the chicken inasal: the pecho-pak (breast-wing goodness), the tinae (what Tagalogs call ‘isaw,’ or chicken intestines), and the isol (chicken butt). It is, honestly, the only chicken I eat to the bone. Most people eat chicken inasal with a concoction of soy sauce, vinegar, and calamansi, but I prefer mine just as they come—the skin lovingly burnt to a crisp, the meat juicy and full of flavor.
Needless to say, given all the sugarcane that welcome people upon their arrival, one cannot miss all the cakes. The caramel boat tarts. And all the piaya. Ah yes, the good ol’ piaya.
And then there’s the seafood. At any time of the day, any day of the week, you can get steamed crabs, grilled scallops, and the freshest slabs of blue marlin, cooked any way you want. The scallops are my favorite. A stack of empty scallop shells always signifies a great meal. You take fresh scallops from the market, add garlic and butter, grill them, and then you eat them with your hands. How simple. How perfect.
More than the food though, it is the presence of nature that won my heart. All the green and all the blue. Granted, it’s not all in Bacolod: there’s Danjugan Island just 15 minutes by boat from Sipalay, Guintubdan in La Carlota, and all the beaches and farms in neighboring cities. But Bacolod is home base. The gateway to all the explorations and adventures I have had on the island of Negros. And at the very heart of Bacolod, there is the Biodiversity Conservation Center, where you will find: Eastern Grass Owls standing on one foot, curious macaques watching you as you watch them, cockatoos, hornbills, woodpeckers, and other endangered species that are endemic to the island, including the Visayan Spotted Deer.
Amazing how when I first moved to Bacolod, all I wanted was to have more commercial spaces, more restaurants, more stores. I wanted it to be more like Manila. But now that construction is everywhere, buildings are popping up like wild mushroom, and trees are disappearing, I can’t help but hope for a better way, a middle way, to cater to urbanization and the preservation of nature. Or perhaps when it comes to places like Bacolod, and even more so for more verdant and less urbanized locales around the country, it is not the city or the place that needs to change, but us.
Bacolod will always be the city that instilled in me a deep love for nature. It will always be the city that made me see the magic of the natural world, and how, every day and for everyone, nature offers diverse and limitless states of wonder.
Every place we visit or inhabit can change us if we let it.
The wonder of nature thriving in places that humans have long forgotten—vines taking root in an abandoned lot, traveling up rusty gates, exploring and creating a world of their own.
The wonder of two yellow-vented bulbul eggs in a nest, and the vigilance of not just the parents but of what seems to be extended family, with birds taking turns in guarding the nest while the parents fly away to feed themselves.
The wonder of eating pako, or fiddlehead fern, foraged from the mountains of the island. And how the experience of eating it connects us to the earth, to nature, even to our ancestors.