I will admit that I am a sucker for all things historical. Once in a while, it's nice to see how our ancestors lived, and taking a look at the past not only shows how things were but also serves as a reminder of how far we've come.
If you're like me, then Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan ought to be one of the places you should check out. From cobblestone roads to the period architecture, it's a feast for the senses for those who want to take a stroll down memory lane. So how did I end up in this 400-hectare lot of Filipino culture, history, and tradition? Oddly enough we made the trip with something decidedly 21st century; more specifically, the all-new Honda CR-V.
While getting to Las Casas via kalesa would have really set the mood for the era, one (or two) horsepower won't exactly get you there within a few hours. With a fleet of Honda CR-Vs running 120 PS turbodiesel engines, the crossovers made short work of the trip going there. Along the way, we also explored the capabilities of Honda's newest baby.
Heading there with our air-conditioned steeds, we drove through NLEX, SCTEx, then eventually exited in Dinalupihan for a more scenic route. The CR-V took us through these roads with little effort and, while one would be dismissive of its 120 PS rating, the 300 Nm of torque provided more than enough grunt to take us up winding roads.
There was even an unexpected dirt trail but that was no sweat for the crossover either, and we were comfortable and cool in the blistering heat. Surely that would have been something our ancestors wished for during their inter-provincial travels.
After a serene drive, we arrived in Las Casas, with the Guardia Civil greeting us at the entrance. Fortunately, we didn't have to present our cedula as we entered. When we got to the lobby, the late-1800s/early 1900's touches abound with acres of wood and period-correct furnishings remind you of days gone by. Also, there's the tram ride to get to our lunch spot in Las Casas, heightening the throwback (and we mean throwback) experience even further.
We moved to Casa Jaen 1, also known as the Don Hilario Esquivel House, to have our first of many meals. This piece of architecture is no replica; it is the actual house the Esquivel clan resided in during the early 1900s. The folks from Las Casas did that by dismantling the remnants of the house from its original location in Jaen, Nueva Ecija, then re-assembling it to its new site in the open-air museum.
A lot of the things seen in Casa Jaen 1 are well over a century old, right down to the bullet holes flanking the structure. You may be wondering how bullets wound up in the house and the short answer is that it resulted from an assassination attempt on the mayor residing there at the time. From the porte-cochere to the vast living room, you could say that the house saw some of the most esteemed and influential people from Nueva Ecija. The place is still very much welcome to guests, serving happy memories and, in this case, lunch.
With our bellies filled with tokwa't baboy, kilawin and other seafood goodness, we hopped back in the CR-V to bring us back to the present. There, we put its all-wheel-drive system and other features through its paces on the sand and mud. It proved capable and felt in its element on unpaved surfaces with the all-wheel-drive system pulling us through in deep sand and slippery mud. My particular favorite moment was plowing through mud pits in what, essentially is, a comfortable family car. So yes, you can take the all-wheel-drive CR-V with little fuss, but don't expect it to go rock crawling.
Off the CR-V and we moved to something more suited for canals. A pagoda took us around the sights of the place, including a replica of the Balanga Cathedral, as well as the other relocated bahay na bato which now reside in Las Casas. A tour of some of the houses piqued interest too with one particular house, a building to be specific, worth mentioning.
It's called Casa Quiapo, better known as the first UP Fine Arts Building, you're greeted by pieces of artwork but, as our tour guide said, there is more to this piece of architecture. When the Fine Arts department moved to a different location, the structure was re-purposed as a boys (and girls!) dormitory, a bowling alley, an abortion clinic and, er, a place for 'flesh shows'. The building was eventually rescued from further decay by the folks of Las Casas and resides in Bataan now.
Another one worth mentioning is Casa Binan. If you've seen the film Heneral Luna (Spoiler alert: Antonio Luna dies in the end), then it might just look familiar to you. But there's more to this place than just being a shooting location. While not a relocated house per se, it is said to be a replica of the house Teodora Alonzo lived.
The trip down memory lane eventually came to a close but the festivities weren't over yet. Dinner would be by the beach and we were to be entertained by staff of Las Casas doing some traditional dance numbers. With that, of course, there was Pandanggo Oasiwas, Maglalatik, and of course, Tinikling just to name a few.
The cultural show (and dinner) was a great way to end our day out in history. It's nice to see how things were over a century ago. One can see just how we've come a long way since then with technology and advances in architecture and infrastructure. Visiting places like this shows us where we came from and, in some ways, makes you even more thankful for living in the present.