Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Grand Lady of Jaro by Toto Gonzalez

Among the many splendid mansions of Old Jaro, Iloilo, there is only one grand residence that enduringly captures the full essence, and the length and breadth of the wealth and splendor of the legendary Iloilo Sugar Fortunes at their Height in the 1920s to the 30s: The “Nelly Gardens.”

The imposing, Beaux-Arts style ”Nelly Gardens” mansion was built in 1928 by Don Vicente Lopez y Villanueva [ 1879 - 1963 ] and his wife Dona Elena Hofilena y Javelona. It was named for their eldest daughter Nelly. Their first residence was along Calle Iznart, Jaro’s main thoroughfare, but Dona Elena found the street noisy and bothersome, and since she liked flowers, plants, and gardening, Don Vicente decided to build their new residence on four hectares in [ what was then ] the outskirts of Old Jaro. The residence began as a simple two-storey affair that was continually enlarged and embellished as the family grew, as their fortunes multiplied, and as their social obligations increased.

Don Vicente Lopez and Dona Elena Hofilena had four children: Nelly [ married Salvador Zamora ], Benito [ married Leonor de la Rama ], Lilia [ married Francisco Lopez Jison ], and Vicente [ married Maria Rita Lopez Zamora ]. In the aristocratic fashion of those days, all four siblings could play a musical instrument proficiently: Nelly played the piano; Benito, the cello; Lilia, the harp; and Vicente, the violin. To this day, there is still a large PreWar photograph of them on top of the black Steinway grand piano in the ”Sala” [ living / drawing room ] of the mansion.

Don Vicente Lopez y Villanueva was among the richest in the affluent Lopez Clan: a sugar planter and industrialist with immense holdings. When his elder brother Don Benito Lopez y Villanueva [ o 1877 ] was assassinated in 1908 by a rival political faction [ who happened to be their Jalandoni relatives ], He undertook the guardianship of the two sons, Eugenio “Ening” and Fernando “Nanding” [ who later on became THE tycoon Don Eugenio Lopez and The Vice-President Fernando Lopez ], and took them to live in his Calle Iznart house and later on at the “Nelly Gardens” [ Their mother, Dona Presentacion Hofilena viuda de Lopez, retired to the old { turn of the century } house perched on an islet --- the storied "Roca Encantada" --- on the 400 hectare ancestral Hofilena "hacienda" in Guimaras island ]. The brothers Eugenio and Fernando Lopez y Hofilena and the siblings Nelly, Benito, Lilia, and Vicente Lopez y Hofilena were first cousins twice over: their fathers Don Benito and Don Vicente Lopez y Villanueva were brothers and their mothers Dona Presentacion and Dona Elena Hofilena y Javelona were sisters. The younger Lopez-Hofilena first cousins always addressed their elder first cousins respectfully and affectionately as “Tatay Ening” and “Tatay Nanding.” In fact, when Eugenio Lopez y Hofilena married Pacita Moreno y de Santos, they spent the first years of their married life at the “Nelly Gardens.” To this day, there are twin, late 1800s four-poster beds with the initials “BL” [ "Benito Lopez" ] and “PH” [ "Presentacion Hofilena" ] in a second-floor bedroom facing the front garden.

According to oldtimers, The “Nelly Gardens” mansion was the very place where the legendary lifestyle of the Iloilo Sugar Barons was ultimately defined. It became the definitive Iloilo residence as the most important receptions of the province during PreWar and PostWar were held there. In PreWar, the grandest occasion in The Lopez Family was the annual birthday ball of Don Vicente held every 22 January, to which only The Family and The Elite of Iloilo were invited. It was always a formal affair that required long dress and black tie, magnificent jewels and black limousines; full orchestras played dance music throughout the evening. The invitation from Don Vicente Lopez was an indication of one’s rank in Iloilo [ and Manila ] Society.

The mansion eventually devolved to the second daughter, Dona Lilia Lopez y Hofilena [ Mrs. Francisco Lopez Jison ]. She and her husband Don Francisco Jison y Lopez of Silay, Negros Occidental were second cousins through the Lopez line. Dona Lilia’s father Don Vicente Lopez y Villanueva was a first cousin twice over of Don Francisco’s mother Dona Maria Juana Dolores Lopez y Villanueva [ married to Don Albino Jison y Golez ]. Don Vicente’s father Don Eugenio Lopez y Jalandoni was an elder brother of Dona Dolores’ father Don Marcelo Lopez y Jalandoni. Don Vicente’s mother Dona Marcela Villanueva y Felipe was an elder sister of Dona Dolores’ mother Dona Julita Villanueva y Felipe. To further underscore the close relations, Dona Rosario Lopez de Santos [ Dona Rosario Lopez y Villanueva, married to Don Francisco Santos; they had no children so She adopted several Lopez nieces and nephews as her heirs ], the formidable “Nanay Sayong” [ "Mother Sayong" ], adopted the young Francisco Jison y Lopez [ her first cousin Dona Dolores' son ] and made him one of the heirs of her vast fortune. “Nanay Sayong” was an older sister of Don Vicente Lopez y Villanueva, a very capable and very willful lady who created her own immense fortune in sugarcane plantations and sugar mills. She was among the richest of her generation of Lopezes. So such are the interrelations of The Iloilo Aristocracy…


These days, The “Nelly Gardens” is actively managed by the daughters of Dona Lilia Lopez y Hofilena and Don Francisco Jison y Lopez: Lourdes Lopez Jison-Ledesma and Elena Lopez Jison-Golez. Their brother, Francisco Lopez Jison Jr., resides at the estate year-round. The mansion itself defies time as it is excellently maintained and remains as it was during the lifetime of Dona Lilia Lopez de Jison; but the grounds are being redeveloped to best utilize the opportunities of the 21st century. Constant Reinvention is one of the Secrets of the Lopez Fortune.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

El Nido and Sabang, Palawan


WOW!!!!... i had a great time there. i met lots of cool people too... and we ended up traveling together even in Puerto Princesa. the seascape is simply breathtaking. AWESOME! my jaw literally dropped when i saw the first glimpse... and the people seated around me all turned to look at me when they heard me gasp when my jaw dropped. i was so excited... i was like a little boy, and my heart was beating so fast in excitement.

first day, i didnt do much.... just rested. met a german doctor (Thomas) and a french osteopath (Thierry)... Thomas told me that he swam to the nearest island the day before... shucks! "Power Swimmer".

the following day... met 2 swedish students, Johanna and Madeleine, and a taiwanese interpreter (Nono). then had a swim with Thomas and Nono later that day in jellyfish-laded waters... it was quite a painful swim!!!! i was swimming right into a sea of small, half-centimeter jellyfish, and they were stinging all over, good thing i had my rash guard. but i was scared that i would be swollen all over after the swim, especially coz they were stinging my lips very often. it was terrible. but we found a nice secluded beach after swimming around one of the corners though.

the following day... met 2 norwegian fire performers, Thomas and Kristin. they were a cool pair... so much fun... and i ended up traveling with them the longest during this trip. we went island hopping that day. there were 7 of us during the island hop, the Thomas, Nono, Johanna, Madeleine, Thomas, Kristin and me... lots of fun. we went to some secluded beaches where in the boat has to skirt its way though some narrow parts between rocks, and we also had to SWIM into one of the lagoons. the opening was just as small as that tiny crack that Barry, Terai and I had to negotiate in Sagada, except this time we had to swim through it. it was amazing!!! the opening turned out to be narrow near the top, but it gets bigger when you dive deeper, then it opens up to another lagoon. when the boatsman stopped in front of a rockwall, we were all clueless on what to do... we were asking ourselves if he took us to a nice snorkeling spot... but it was a good adventure. the snorkeling was terrible though, the coral was having a hard time regrowing. they were blasted away by dynamite... and now the tour boats are dropping anchor everywhere. but the view was TOTALLY AMAZING for almost the entire trip, sometimes i just stop & stare at everything around me... it was so easy to forget taking pictures. :-) it was so cool when we swam into one of the lagoons, i was just totally in awe and i screamed "I LOVE THE PHILIPPINES!!!" and they screamed "SO DO WE!!!" in reply to me.

the following day, we planned to go hiking into the waterfalls. but thats when Typhoon Frank struck. it transformed the seascape into one of those National Geographic shows entitled Violent Earth. the waves were battering our lodge, it was slamming and going under it... and the waves didn't sound very soothing anymore... you could hear rolling and rumbling waves, and they would hit the first level hard but the water spray goes above the 2nd level. we just took it easy that day. Johanna and Madeleine had to leave this day, and we said goodbye to them.

the following day, the weather made the decision to leave el nido easier for us. the Kristin, Thomas, and Nono and I traveled to Puerto Princesa together. German Thomas decided to stay behind and take the 5 am bus despite all our powers to convince him to travel during that day coz he had to catch his flight the afternoon of the following day. the bus operator later told us that the 5am bus was being cancelled... so until now we don't know what happened to German Thomas. we left El Nido late, more than 1.5 hours late coz of this stupid filipino tourgroup.. they were scheduled to go to Coron but their rented boat got cancelled... so they encountered problems with the refund, so now they made the entire bus wait for one of their companions while they sorted out the problem. well, the bus left much much later, and it was prompted by one of the passengers going wild (no, that wasn't me.) the bus was part of the adventure... it had a hole at the side... it was carrying a motorcycle at the back.... there was a puppy inside the bus... and a chicken inside the bus too... and a goat on top of the bus. so, let the 9 hour bus ride begin. then we had to stop behind what looked like a long queue of vehicles. vehicular accident probably? nope... i had to relive a nightmare... a landslide!!! we caught up with the buses that left el nido at 5am and 7am and all the vehicles in between. and there was a bulldozer trying to get all the mud away... of course everybody had his own idea about how the bulldozer should accomplish its task and everybody was talking about it. there were some moments when the stupid bulldozer operator would just go straight at the huge pile of earth that was much much bigger than the machine, it was even sliding dangerously close to the metal rails at the other side of the road, dangerously close to falling by the the side of the road. but he accomplished his task after a while to much applause and rejoicing from the audience. everything looked flooded while we were traveling. then my fone decided to join and complicate things, it just died, it would turn on for 2 seconds then turn off again, then turn on again for 2 seconds then off again, then all over again. then we had to stop AGAIN. in front of us... the road, bridge, river, and farmland just merged into one... absolutely no distinction between them. but we were able to cross again due to some resourceful filipinos who placed wooden planks for the vehicles. suffice to say, we were able to reach puerto princesa, but almost everything was flooded during the travel south.. we were so tired, and hungry. we went to kalui after to recharge... we had their special... but it wasn't so enjoyable when everybody is dead tired. we turned in early after dinner.

the following day, we had to say goodbye to nono, what's left of the group was now me, kristin and thomas. we still had stormy weather so we decided to take the day easy... we just ordered a grandslam pizza from shakeys for just the 3 of us. hehehe! we were just talking and making lots of crazy jokes. and it was so refreshing to be with these 2 norwegian fire performers, everything was so light and happy and funny. at this point, i realized that it is so much better to be with people that have professions that are extremely different from my own when i travel. we had some serious conversations during the stormy weather days... but most of the time it was light and bubbly. and we were not planning for the next day... we took them as they arrived. i was traveling without a plan during the whole time, I LOVED IT.

the following day, we had brunch at badjao inn. we went to their street dancing parade... a lot like Masskara festival but on a smaller scale... they only had 10 performers... and there were gaps in between the crowd unlike the totally packed Masskara streets. then that night we went to the 3 km seafood grill. i had to take my antihistamine 2 hours before to be able to eat. then went to the fireworks show... there were only 4 performers but they dont come close to the ones that we watched at mall of asia. then we had dinner at kinabuchs, and i had a very refreshing mango-ginger shake. then it was all fun and laughs with beer at the roofdeck of Aniceto's Pension. we stayed up until 2am. and we were all laughing that i had to be at the bus terminal at 4am. Mwahahaha!!! that was a joke indeed. then we said our final goodbye's, hugs and kisses from everybody for such a wonderful time.


later that morning, i indeed missed my 4am schedule. as they say, travelers are not known for their punctuality. i was there to catch the next bus that leaves at 9am... but as luck would put it.... the 9am bus wasn't traveling that day due to repairs being done to it. i had to wait for 3 hours at the terminal... had to take a jeepney instead, and it left at 12nn. now, the jeepney was quite interesting. i was seated at the front, i thought that would be the most comfortable place. the jeepney had a windshield, but it was angled forward to allow air to go through. then it started to rain and that made it more interesting.... the rain would bounce on the front of the jeep and then bounce painfully on our faces and chest.. then and only then will the driver realize to put the windshield down.

arrived in Sabang after 2.5 hours. Sabang is a very nice place. i met this cool american surfer (Bryce) upon arrival in Sabang. he told me that he has been living on fita crackers and noodles for most of his backpacking trip and we both laughed when i told him that i have been living on chocolate-cereal bars for most of my trip (dinners are a totally different matter though). we had a carabao with a cart carry our bags while we walked to Mary's where we were staying. but we needed some serious lunch (and dinner combined) though coz we arrived late, went for calamares at the tribal restaurant upon the suggestion of my norwegian friends, but unfortunately, it wasnt available. i had wild boar instead. yummy! saw the resident eagle of sabang that nests on one of the coconut trees that lost all its palms. was very lucky that the waves were high when we were there. it was cool... i got one really big wave and it sent me spinning in all directions.. Bryce told me later that its called the washing machine. just chilled in the garden after dinner. then we decided to do both trails and the underground river the next morning, then catch the last bus/jeepney back to Puerto Princesa... that was pretty gung ho!

we asked one of the girls at Mary's to wake us up at 6am but they didnt do that... we woke up at 730. but we were able to accomplish it. 2 dogs just decided to go with us during the monkey trail going to the underground river. then inside the underground river, i was carrying the light, so cool. after the underground river, we met our white guide dog again, she decided to wait for us while we were inside the underground river. then she led us again through the jungle trail, we got lost at one part of the trail and she led us to the right path. awesome dog. had lunch again at the tribal restaurant while waiting for our bus back to puerto princesa, still no calamares though. had fish and chips, it wasn't so good... couldn't really find the 'fish' in my fish and chips dish. the bus was again interesting, there was again a puppy, a chicken, and to my surprise... a huge rusty boat anchor and engine at the back of the bus. Hehehe!! Bryce and I traveled together to puerto princesa. then i surprised my norwegian friends who were still staying at the same place. it was a very nice reunion... all i had to do was say "Surprise! Miss me?" and it was quite a surprise for them indeed, we were all smiles, and big big hugs from everybody, after that we were just chilling at the roofdeck of Aniceto's Pension in puerto princesa with Thomas playing with the drum. then had dinner at kinabuchs with Bryce. i again had my favorite shake at kinabuchs, mango-ginger, 2 of them in fact.

the following morning was all goodbye for everybody, Bryce traveled to El Nido, Thomas and Kristin flew to Manila, and I flew to Cebu.

I've had so much fun in this spontaneous backpacking trip.