WITH all the euphoria that we were enjoying over the last week with all the tourism efforts by both government (the tourism code to be passed), the Western Visayas Tourism Congress held in Bacolod at the Sugarland Hotel, and the private sector with the graduation of another set of Tour Guides and the Induction of NAITAS (National Independent Association of Travel Agents) of Bacolod and Negros Occidental, the flames of excitement all were flushed out with that horrifying hostage drama at the Quirino Grandstand. We all have our personal reactions considering that we saw frame by frame the whole catastrophe unfolding before our very eyes. We are all outraged and this sentiment is shared by the world who likewise were privy to the happening as viewed through CNN and BBC live. We mourn of the loss of precious lives.

We have lost the faith and trust particularly among our neighbors Hongkong and China of their safety in visiting our country, we know that we must try and try harder to restore that lost confidence. A travel ban to our country is a big blow to our tourism industry and we must accept that as fact for the moment. So we strive to the next best option......domestic tourism.

Post your reaction to the Manila hostage crisis

Negros Occidental is not wanting in sights. From north to south, we have beautiful and bountiful natural scenic spots and edifices and a culture and a history that is so rich. We capitalize on that because there is a market out there. Pulling our heads together, which is the thrust now of the Provincial Tourism Council ably led by Board Member Nene de la Cruz, is geared in that direction. And all of us should be one in this. Every Negrense is a tourist agent and we must exert every effort to cooperate, enhance, encourage and even police all our own ranks to entice guests to visit our province.

NAITAS Bacolod-Negros Occidental which had its induction with its new set of officers and members had National President Sheilla Johnson and Maritess Sotto its PIO as special guests. Showing them around in the limited time they had, we had gracious hosts, the dela Cruz family, who hosted a sumptuous lunch and a tour of their green home and garden in Salvador Benedicto. But before getting there, we made a stop in KM 34 and showed our guests an amazing phenomenon. With our car parked at neutral at the shoulder of the road, although it is an uphill climb, the van started inching backwards. Called the MAGNETIC HILL perhaps due to some opposing gravitational force, we descended the car to further test the occurrence and pouring water from a bottle, still the water flowed downward. Is it just an optical illusion? Despite the climb that looks definitely uphill, we were being pulled downhill or is there an energy that is causing this? Being in the tourism industry and not scientists, we just enjoyed the strange marvel.

The de la Cruz family was in full force when we got to their home. Relatives were likewise present and it was a lively get together. Everything we ate were practically either raised and grown in their garden and organically grown at that. Durian, pineapple, corn, rambutan, mango, guava were the fruits in season and there was a generous serving of them. I never realized that guava served with champoy bits could really be more savory. The chicken soup blended with vegetables, the eggplant salad, the kalabasa veggie served with a dash of bagoong and so many other viands were likewise home grown or raised. Vice Mayor Cynthia shared her recipes givingly. Mayor Markslen would say that he loves to cook pasta and mix it with basil and thyme which are so available in their premises. Isn't that just grand to be so totally self-sufficient!!!

We toured the garden and Cynthia showed as the cobra vine which actually is a toxin to combat snake bites especially of the venomous cobra. We were very awed with a bamboo tree whose variety is the first time ever for us to see. Its trunk was large and not hollow. So very interesting. She also showed us the clay blocks made by the people in the farm and which they used for some of their cottages. The clay blocks are far cooler than the hollow blocks commonly used.

The whole experience at the dela Cruz home was informative and a greening experience. This is a couple who really re-invented themselves from a life in the hills committed to the "hublag" who became not merely returnees but truly contributing citizens and eventually founders of a hinterland area that was not even in the map of Negros prior to the Marcos presidency. Their story is coffee table book material. We went home with azucena flowers, which up to now, makes my home fragrant with its sweet smell and some take home corn and rambutan.

From Salvador Benedicto, and a little time to spare, we went to the Balay Ni Tana Dicang where they went to a travel time in culture and history. As they walked through the main sala, the dining room, the kitchen and the personal rooms of the Enrica Lizares family, they were visualizing and reliving the lifestyle of a century past. Knowing our past allows us to face the present and the future proud of our legacy and heritage.

Salvador Benedicto and the Balay Ni Tana Dicang is just a glimpse of our glorious past and present. These are testimonies that we Negrenses at any given time, past or present, maximize the best of the bounty that the GOOD LORD has showered on us.

As previously said, Negros Occidental is abundant with tourism destinations. While we suffer from the setback of the Monday tragedy, we can concentrate on local and domestic tourism. All of us have the responsibility to be agents of promoting our province and the City of Bacolod being the capital city of the province. The task does not rest in the hands of tourism officers or public servants. We all have the obligation to be courteous and welcoming to all guests including to each other. We are a peaceful and loving people. We should not only capitalize but work on that!!!