AT LAST, after several months of postponement and conflicts in schedule, we finally made it to the steps of Balay nga Bato, or more properly called Camiña Balay nga Bato, in Villa de Arevalo, Iloilo City.
After a fully-packed JCI (Junior Chamber International) Training, I was looking forward to this more than any night outs or out-of-town trips.
Francis Gerona, our regional vice president for JCI Western Visayas, has been planning to bring us to this grand old house that spoke of colorful heritage and culture.
Gerona has tickled our imagination over a mug of native coffee around early February and since then, three JCI groups have done the tour complete with what they were raving as the best hot chocolate and molo.
And every time somebody posts a picture on Facebook, they tag or mention me. So to say that I was excited was undermining it a little.
Balay nga Bato is located along the road of Villa de Arevalo Street. The pathway was narrow, Francis’s car barely fit the drive way. But it opened up to a wide open space where you could see a sprawling mansion.
A display of mangoes greeted us as we passed through the entrance and into the main hall. We were then asked to sit down for a while as a video showing the different parts of the house was presented along with its history.
Camiña Balay nga Bato was originally built in 1860 for Fernando Avanceña. The hardwood floors loudly welcomed our steps. Wood was intentionally preferred then because it served as an alarm system, warning the owners of the house should there be any unwelcome visitors coming in.
The whole house consisting of two floors are full of antique pieces from a number of grand pianos in the halls to ceramic jars, to navigational compass from the 1800s, to the statues that bespoke of the many travels by the family.
The highlight of course is the hot chocolate that everybody who has been there had been raving about. It is made from native chocolate bars more popularly known in the locality as “tablea.”
What makes it unique is that the chopped chocolate bars were slowly melted and heated not in the usual sauce pan, but in their specially crafted metal pitcher. It took hours of constant stirring over low heat to create the succulent melted piece of heaven.
Together with pancit molo and some biscuits, the hot chocolate was presented with flair in little porcelain cups. We had fun ringing the little bells as we kindly asked for refills (like twice or thrice!).
The biscuits were supposed to be dipped in the hot chocolate. But then who cares about the biscuits when you can enjoy the sinfulness of tasting pure warm chocolate.
It was a scorching day but because of Balay nga Bato’s wide expanse as well as its design that was so conducive for ventilation, the air was cool and relaxing.
Camiña Balay nga Bato was definitely worth the long wait!