When the rest of Metro Manila faced the rage of tropical cyclone Ondoy in 2009, I was luckily safe and spared by being miles away in Bataan covering a food heritage tour. One of our stops was the then-opening Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, an open air museum and heritage park in Bagac, Bataan that features restored Spanish colonial houses and bahay na bato (stone houses) that were taken apart brick by brick, reassembled, and restored in the sprawling property owned by property tycoon Gerry Acuzar.
At the risk of sounding cryptic, something happened that day that I’d rather not get into (I call it my version of Ondoy), but let’s just say it took seven years to pay the park a visit again.
Back in ’09, Las Casas only had seven houses. After driving around for hours from Manila, I remember feeling not only like our group was in the middle of nowhere but that we’ve arrived decades back in time and the only familiar sight connecting past to present was the South China Sea. The place was quiet, isolated, and the houses with their gorgeous, intricate details did a great job of making us feel like we were transported to the setting of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Any minute, Maria Clara would walk out one of the balconies, and nervously waiting for her in the gardens was Crisostomo Ibarra, ready to perform his harana (serenade). Yeah, the place brought the inner romantic out.
When I finally went on a road trip earlier this year with new friends—a common theme in 2016!—the place had 27 houses, not all of them vintage, and the newer part of the compound sort of went the same Venetian themed route as this developer in BGC (why, why, why). Gone were the silence and nostalgia as visitors now come in big groups—I understand it’s even become popular among companies as a team building destination. MICE tourism’s apparently on the upswing in this side of Bataan—which on one hand is good, but on a more selfish note makes me wish I had visited sooner when the place still wasn’t in everybody’s radar. One group even had a DJ spin some EDM tunes—nothing like good ‘ol techno music to remind me I wasn’t in the 1890s.
Course, Las Casas is still a delight to photograph, especially if you make a beeline for where the oldest houses are. Not sure if it was just a coincidence that day, but this side of the property was more quiet. Walking amidst these glorious reminders of the past got me daydreaming a bit.
The design details in these old, airy houses are just astounding. I don’t understand why this form of architecture is regarded mere novelty these days…
Seriously, I’d live in any of these old houses over a box in the concrete jungle any day. Provided that they are of course not haunted. :P