Ilonggo Bucket List: Camiña Balay Nga Bato

By spencer ravago

 Ilonggo Bucket List is an ongoing series that hopes to showcase the Ilonggo experience, one place or activity at a time. For more Ilonggo Bucket List articles, check out the archives.

I’ve got to get something off my chest: Old, Spanish-style houses creep me out. I guess it’s due to watching my fair share of local horror movies set in these types of locations. I mean, come on, they’re usually not well-lit and look like something ghastly is lurking around the corner.

So, when I decided to check out the Camiña Balay nga Bato in Arevalo, I did so with a bit of hesitation. Despite it though, I ended my visit with a satisfied stomach and a better idea of life during the Spanish times.

My Balay nga Bato journey started out in true old school fashion—by ringing the little old bell hanging outside the entranceway. The sign below it read: “Ring once and wait a minute”, and so I did. After a while, someone came out and led the way to a back entrance. Right at the door were several looms used for making our province’s signature textile, hablon. Unfortunately, I was there on a weekend, so there were no weavers to man the looms.

Camiña Balay nga Bato - Project Iloilo

When I went inside, I was given a choice of taking the basic tour package that included a cup of their signature tsokolate, or paying a little extra for a bowl of their pancit molo. Given that I never say no to food, choosing the latter was inevitable.

Once I got that settled, I watched a video presentation featuring Camiña Balay nga Bato. I learned that the house was built in 1865 and was originally known as the Avanceña House—which was so named after its original owners, the Avanceña Clan—and had since been handed down for four generations. The video also explained the many characteristics of the house that was typical of its era like the furniture and the decor.

One thing that really grabbed my attention, however, was the main stairway (or the escalera, if you want to go all Español on me). Apparently, stairs during those times were designed to be really steep for security purposes. The houses during those days always had their front door open, and the steep stairs were a way to protect the residents from bandits who would most likely end up tripping when they would try to run away through said steps. Even the residents themselves were said to walk sideways when going up and down the stairs to avoid tripping themselves. Ah, old-school home security systems were so ingenious.

Camiña Balay nga Bato - Project Iloilo

After watching the video, I was toured around the house. The ground floor had a number of interesting remnants from times gone by: batirols for making tsokolate, old statues and even glass orbs that were used as fishing buoys were all over the place. Another can’t-miss item was the huge piano that was said to cost a hefty sum. There were also a couple of machines that were said to be used to process sugar cane. The place resembled a backroom for a museum.

Another interesting tidbit that I found out during the tour of the ground floor was how Balay nga Bato got its name. The ground floor, as it turned out, was a late addition of sorts; houses built during the Spanish era were designed to be elevated, and the “real” house usually started at the second storey. The first storey was just a bunch of base poles before the latter generation of owners decided to add walls. The walls, it should be noted, weren’t reinforced by steel rods like your typical concrete walls, but was instead made of a limestone compound. Hence, the name Balay nga Bato.

Camiña Balay nga Bato - Project Iloilo

Afterwards, the tour proceeded to the second storey as we climbed up the aforementioned high-security stairs to check it out. Upon stepping on the final step of the stairway, I felt like I traveled back to Spanish colonial times. Everything looked like it was from a historical film set—windows, tables, chairs, closets, a couple of rocking chairs, the works. If that was not enough, there was a prayer room that showed just how hardcore Catholics the owners were that were very typical of those times.

Camiña Balay nga Bato - Project Iloilo

The tour ended at the magnificent dining area where they serve a dinner buffet every night. For this tour though, this is where I would partake pancit molo and tsokolate. I am not usually a fan of either, but after I tasted Balay nga Bato’s version, I became a proud convert. The pancit molo had a great tasting broth paired with scrumptious molo balls. And the tsokolate—served in a teeny, espresso-like cup—was thick and flavorful. I swear, I will not ever buy cheap pancit molo with tasteless broth and hot choco from fastfood joints from here on out. Only the authentic stuff will do from now on.

Camiña Balay nga Bato - Project Iloilo

My taste in food was not the only thing that changed from my visit to Camiña Balay nga Bato. So, too, did my opinion of ancestral houses. Sure, I still have that eerie feeling when I’m inside one, but it was also an educational experience that gave me a glimpse of life from an era gone by. I definitely learned a thing or two during my trip to Camiña Balay nga Bato. Now, I have a hankering for more pancit molo. Anyone care to grab a bowl with me?

Spencer Ravago is the creative director for Project Iloilo.