ENTER a city that will take you back to a bygone era. One would experience the splendor of the mansions of the sugar barons. The moment of reckoning slows down but the passing of time accelerates towards the promise of the future. Ah, you are in Silay, my hometown.

Dubbed by travel writers as the “seat of the arts, culture and tourism”, Silay finds a place as one of the 25 major tourist destinations in the country (DOT 1997 profile). The San Diego Church, whose architecture was influenced by the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City, occupies center stage as the only pro-cathedral outside of Metro Manila. It is a living asseveration that Silay is at the helm of Christianity.

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The National Historical Institute identifies 29 living ancestral houses in Silay which are considered as architectural landmarks. Each house has a story to tell – what it was like to live, love and survive at a pivotal point in Negrense civilization….. a civilization which survived political infighting, undercurrent human emotions, intricate characterization of an age; a fascinating historical lesson that shows the timelessness of human ambition.

Three of these houses have been opened to the public as lifestyle museums, the Victor Gaston House (Balay Negrense Museum), the Bernardino Jalandoni House and the Manuel Severino Hofilena House (the first house in Silay to offer its hospitality to the tourists). The Hofilena house is a repository of the art collections of Ramon Hofilena.

The Cinco de Noviembre marker at Calle 5 de Noviembre featuring a canon made by Panday Pera is a monument to the bloodless revolution in Silay, which took place on the fifth of November 1898.

The Silay City Park occupies the area where the sunken Plaza Olympia Severino was located before it was demolished during the Martial Law regime. Plaza Olympia won the award as the “most beautiful plaza of the Philippines” in 1951.

The best hometown delicacies are sold in Silay. The late Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez (my Silaynon friend; a professor at Ateneo University; an authority on foods and Ilonggo sarswela) considered Silay as the “banwa sang dulce” (town of the sweets) because our “kalan-unon” (delicacies) here are sugar based. El Ideal Bakery, Silay’s oldest bakery, sells buko pie, guapple pie, cassava cake, dulce gatas, assorted cookies and other heavenly gustatory delights.

The best piaya could be bought at the kitchen of Jessica Go (along Gomez St.). This is the favorite piaya of PGMA, Richard Gordon, Gemma Cruz-Araneta and Ace Durano. The finest “lumpia ubod de Silay”, pili squares and other mouth watering Silaynon delights that Nora Lacson prepares are always available in her parlor. These are the products we showcase in Makati City during the annual Negros Trade Fair. Tatak Silaynon! Sabor Silaynon!

The “lubid-lubid” (twisted, sweet, tiny, golden brown bread crackling) of Nicky Jison and his other oven-fresh bread and pastries at Mariel’s Bakery (near the public market) are fast becoming the favorites of the Silaynons and friends.

If you want less expensive but savory assorted hometown eatables produced by the delicacy makers’ cooperative, catch up and feast at the early morning barter trade at the side of the public market where you will find the best siomai, kalamay-hati, baye-baye, inday-inday, butong-butong, bitso-bitso, panara, empanada, puto-lanson, puto-tikoy, puto-dahon, banana cake and more.

For those who want to escape from the crowded malls and noisy streets, you can dine and relax at the Balaring shoreline restaurants (6 kilometers from the heart of the city). Enjoy the sea breeze, observe the fishermen with their nets while waiting for your sizzling squid, gambas, grilled tilapia or bangus, gingaw tinola, tangigue kinilaw, alimusan paksiw, sweet and sour lapu-lapu, and chili crabs.

Before going home, find time to visit the Balaring Mangrove Rehabilitation Project. A canopy of bakhaw, bungalon, alipata, and pagatpat trees will provide you a cool shade while you enjoy balancing yourselves on top of bamboo bridges while viewing below crabs making love, or listening to warblers, or enjoying sailfin lizards running after sea rats. Marvel the sunset and the panoramic view of the Guimaras Strait. It will offer you a dreamscape and encourage you to write like Kathleen Woodiwis or Joanna Trollope.

For the researchers on folktales and ancient rituals, the people of Hda. Adela Folklore Village will welcome you. The children of the cane fields will greet you through their dancing and singing. The adults will chant traditional hymns, perform rituals for the wake of the dead, recite ageless riddles, tell stories about their experience with the spirits of nature, serenade you with songs from the past and blare out lyrics from the cane fields. A guided tour via carts drawn by the carabaos, a game of “pabitin” or a cockfight demonstration will tickle your ribs as you enjoy young buko, munching sugarcane and cracking pili nuts. Of course, visitors can always expect that they will be surrounded by the grinning children who are amused of new faces.

Railroad enthusiasts always thirst to see the “iron dinosaurs” (steam locomotives fueled by bagasse) at Hawaiian-Philippine Company. These locomotives are very rare (not less than 80 years old). Tourists can still charter them to traverse haciendas. This would be complemented by a guided tour on the mill, the muscovado factory and winery. Before leaving, don’t forget to buy several packs of muscovado sugar. HPCO muscovado sugar is a healthier alternative to refined sugar.

A bagoneta ride from the Crossing Luguay to Mambag-id offer tourists a chance to see the countryside – passing small villages, cane fields, and fish ponds. Visitors will encounter a bucolic scene, the scorching heat of the sun, the migratory birds in formation, and the lowly fishermen’s march to the shoreline.

If you want a long shot of the sea, mountainous Patag awaits you. It is 32 kilometers away from the city proper. Load your backpack with everything you need for a trek. The old hospital which has been converted into a rest and recreation area welcomes you. The zephyr from the century-old trees will fill your lungs with pure oxygen. The fog from the peak of Mt. Silay and the Mandalagan Mountain Range will descend and meet your brow.

The mountain folks will prepare you foods of the fairies – sayote soup, takway adobo, fern salad, pickled horse radish, eel from the stream complemented by cold spring water. Your highlander guide will orient you to the “dos and don’ts” of the wilderness. Be ready to traverse the ascending and descending trails, and cross rivers and streams.

After all these thrills, your trophy awaits; when you reach breathtaking Pulang Tubig waterfalls, Dumalabdab waterfalls or the long journey to the enchanted Tinagong Dagat. Rapel until you reach Sulfatara, the sulfur valley accented by gysers and bubbling ponds.

Be ambitious! Dramatize a daring hike to the secret trail of World War II soldiers who fought a bloody battle in the last stronghold of the Japanese Imperial Army. Patag is an important historical landmark. Miles of man-made tunnels still dot the hills and thousands of shrapnel are still buried in the trunks of trees.

Silay does not stay in its primal instincts. Like brave toreadors, Silaynons move forward in trendy and fashionable charm to captivate what awaits them in the future – prosperity! This is manifested by the presence of the state-of-the-art domestic airport of international standards that boosts tourism, trade, commerce, and industry. But, in all our dreams, we never forget our cultural heritage, our Christ-centeredness, and our determination of keeping our souls, wishes, hopes and aspirations one.