We were on the last hour of our 4-hour trip when we first spotted the signs telling us that our destination was only 26km away. We did not notice the length of the trip since most of it was spent laughing and horsing around. Imagine 9 people cramped in a Toyota Innova, gleefully making fun of each other and the different landmarks we saw along the way, like the Cabog-Cabog Elementary School and Parang Elementary School. (Cabog, or kabog, means ostentatious in the local gay lingo while parang is "it's like".)
The dirt road leading up to the property made us think that they want us to experience how the Spanish-era Filipinos traveled – no cement roads – and we thought, this is truly an immersive trip. We were hailed by a property guard dressed in a guardia civil outfit and we were given instructions for parking. Since we were on the day tour, the parking is outside the premises since the inside parking was reserved for checked-in guests. Our colleague who drove us, whom we will refer to as Bogart, dropped us off in the main receiving area so we can purchase our tickets for the tour.
Php1500 gets you the day tour with lunch while Php2000 includes the Hotel de Oriente tour and a river cruise. It was unfortunate that there was a shooting (like TV series shooting, not guns) that time and repairs were being made to the river (repairs for flooding? Too much water?) so only the basic tour was available. After paying, we rode a jeepney to the starting point of the tour, Casa Mexico, and we met our tour guide, Dexter, who was aptly dressed in character reminiscent of Spanish times. There were about 20 of us in the tour group – it was not a private one. Since gray clouds were abound and the sky ninja were threatening to chop onions at any moment, we were each given raincoats which we were told we could bring home with us. Hooray for Daiso and their 88-peso wares!
And so the tour commenced.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is a privately-owned property that houses a bunch of old colonial houses from all over the Philippines. The owner, Mr. Acuzar, buys houses and has them disassembled for transport to Bagac. Upon arriving, they are then re-assembled to mimic the house's original form. It's kind of like a much higher-end LEGO for historical aficionados and architects.
The first stop of the tour was probably the most famous house there. It belonged to the grandparents of Jose Rizal, Philippines' national hero. Which, interestingly enough, was also the house they used in the movie General Luna, during the scene where he was killed. That being one of my favorite local movies, I took a lot of pictures of the area, specifically the site where the movie was shot. So it's a bunch of pictures of the same view. So shoot me.
Before going in the house, we were treated to a play by a group called Tanghalang Tatsulok (Triangle Theatre, literally). They sang and did a few orations but the whole thing went over my head. It was in Filipino so I was trying to internally translate as they went, but as soon as I finished translating the first line, they were already halfway through the skit. I wish they had translations on hand, especially since there were a couple of foreigners in the group and I doubt they knew Filipino better than I did.
So onto the tour we went, with Dexter explaining the history of each house. Each house was named Casa + so we got structures like Casa Cagayan, Casa Binondo, Casa Quiapo and Casa Candaba.
Just before our last house, we were given a 10-minute break where we were handed a bottle of water each and a cold towel. We also got to keep the cold towel for ourselves. Guess it's cheaper to buy new ones than to wash and disinfect them for future use. Which of course, I'm all for. It actually rained during our break and immediately stopped as soon as we were ready to proceed. The heavens supported our trip. The last house was Casa Luna, home of the Luna brothers. We were educated on the two different kinds of slaves and we were shown various household appliances and how they were used. I would have loved to own that heavy, brass charcoal-powered clothes iron!
So with that, Dexter bid us farewell. The tour lasted almost 2 hours which was a pleasant surprise since we only expected it to run for about an hour. We were not rushed at all and it helped that Dexter was an entertaining tour guide. (You had to get over his use of tenses and gender-specific pronouns first.) After the tour, we were left to our own devices and so we went around the area by ourselves.
Yes, you're free to roam everywhere, except for the areas where they rent out to guests. You're also free to enter the houses as you please, as long as the doors are open. They have a nice row of houses separated by a canal that leads to the West Philippine Sea. They also built decorative, functional bridges that had a number of "sculptures" of faces and cherubs. If one wishes, they can also swim in the West Philippine Sea, except that it's August, it's practically the monsoon season, so waves are exceptionally strong. The sand is also black, if that matters one bit.
So after going around, we rode the jeepney back to the main receiving area for lunch. We were given a selection of either a Pan-Seared Fish in Lemon Butter Sauce or Peppered Beef as entree. I got the fish and unfortunately was not able to take pictures of the food as I was ravenous at this point. The dishes that were served with the entree was a bowl of Tinola as the soup and a glass of jelly in cream for dessert.
The verdict? Loved the soup and dessert, hated the entree and I probably would not have eaten it at all if I wasn't so hungry. My colleagues who got the beef had the same sentiments. We wished for extra servings of the Tinola to drown our rice in – we weren't granted that wish.
And with that, it was our turn to bid Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar a hearty farewell.
Did I enjoy the tour? Yes, very much so. There were so many things to see and a lot of new knowledge was imparted that day. It's a trip down memory lane…if you're like a hundred years old. But it's a trip down old history books if you're 90 and below. Kidding aside, those who love history and architecture will definitely (or might, depending on your passion levels) feel like a kid in Disneyland. I think a huge part of why I enjoyed the tour was because of Dexter – he was engaging and knew how to pull punch lines correctly and he was entertaining through and through. Is it worth the Php1500? Meh.
If the food was a little bit better, then I would've wholeheartedly agreed that the price is worth it. I don't know if paying the extra Php500 to tour the Hotel de Oriente and the river cruise is worth it, I might have to go back for it. Though judging from the boats that were pointed to us, I think it's going to be an eventful ride for me, with me trying to hold in my stomach contents as we go.
If you like taking pictures, or you fancy yourself a photographer, then you'll also enjoy Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. There are so many details that would look lovely when viewed through the lens… or the live-view screen if you have a point-and-shoot camera. People who love taking pictures of themselves would also find so many interesting backdrops for their selfies. Interesting to note that I have a lot of selfies and solo shots in my cameras…but not of me.
Overall, I'd do this again. Especially as a side trip coming home from the beach!
Where: Bagac, Bataan, Philippines
When: August 4, 2017