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Juan in the Land of Sugar and Smiles

It was a cool misty dawn at 5am when I entered Francisco Bangoy International Airport with a light luggage and camera bag, off to a destination I have yet to find out.

Seriously, I have yet to know.

I have since packed my bag a tad earlier stashing stuff I may need (swimsuit for Boracay, sweater for Baguio, garlic and holy water for __ … you never know).  A few days before, I was invited by Nuffnang (a huge blog advertising community which taps bloggers and talents to brands and connects both via event opportunities) if I was interested to participate in a Juan for Fun Campaign by Cebu Pacific Air.

It was easy to accept the mystery challenge. Having covered several Juan for Fun events in the past during its Davao leg tours and awarding ceremonies, I am pleased to promote this year’s Juan for Fun Campaign and encourage a new set of young adventurers to follow the footsteps of the teams before them.  Bear with me while I do a little nostalgic flashback coupled with my latest adventure.

My column article in SunStar Davao back when Juan for Fun started in 2012 with the first batch of adventurous teams. Below is Team Big Explorers, the first overall winner.

Juan for Fun Backpackers Explore Davao (by Jojie Alcantara, SunStar Davao)

Arriving dawn (I was asked to be there at 5am for further instructions) at the Davao airport, I approached the check in counter, and the young lady behind gave me a bright smile. She promptly fished out an adventure passport and yellow banner with the now familiar Juan for Fun logo.

Juan for Fun Challenge 2017 © Jojie Alcantara

Juan for Fun Challenge 2017 © Jojie Alcantara

Just barely a couple of hours before I was set to depart for that “secret destination”, I received an email of my ticket, that I was to depart for Bacolod City.

A mixture of excitement and familiarity sets in, coupled by a relief that I did not need to check on Mr. Google for added information.  Plus, I have just concluded a trip to Sipalay a week before, and this beautiful destination is five hours away from Bacolod City by land.  I was coming back so soon.

Provincial Capitol of Negros Occidental © Jojie Alcantara

While part of the excitement fizzled out since I have been to Bacolod several times and was on board the inaugural flight of Cebu Pacific’s Davao-Bacolod destination a few years back, I was looking forward to the journey with a fresh perspective in my mind, the way a young Juan for Fun Backpacker contestant would have eagerly took all in.

For me and my fellow bloggers who were scattered around Cebu Pacific’s local key destinations, the object was to enjoy while exploring the city with fun, simple challenges to do.

Today, Bacolod Silay International Airport serves the general area of Metro Bacolod, in the Negros Island Region of the Philippines.

Reliving the excitement on my mind, I remembered the first time I landed in the old Bacolod Airport, where the short runway leaves so much to the imagination; you cringe as you look out of the plane and see a view of the sea …. and nothing else.  The runway was so short that touchdown looked as if we were hitting the ocean.  That was way back in 2007.

My travel article on Bacolod City during Cebu Pacific’s inaugural flight of Davao-Bacolod in 2014. Cebu Pacific Airlines celebrated another milestone as it launched its direct flights between Davao and Bacolod in January 2014, linking Bacolod to another key Mindanao destination.

So what is there to see in the famed City of Sugar and Smiles, a key city destination in Visayas most especially during peak season where tourists flock to the world renowned Masskara Festival, a photographer’s paradise for me?

First stop was to check in at a travel budget hotel and my first choice was Go Hotels for its accessibility to downtown areas and its adjoining Robinsons Mall.  I took my first lunch there.

My short trip of 3 days and 2 nights around Bacolod City did not give me ample time to revisit neighboring cities of Talisay and Silay, but instead I went around the capital and gateway to the Province of Negros Occidental on several transportations from private car, taxi, jeep and the old reliable tricycle. Part of the fun challenge in the passport was to ride in four different public transportations (check, except the stationary train).

Riding the jeepney front seat!

Me riding the tricycle

Too bad this isn’t moving.

The land of vast sugarcane plantations has seen its peak in the early years, and the once lucrative sugar industry has now given way to other profitable industries that include handicraft exports, furniture, metalworks, arts and crafts, garments, bangus and prawn culture, and more.

Barangay Pahanocoy Pottery Livelihood © Jojie Alcantara

In Barangay Pahanocoy, which is in the southern part of Bacolod City, to this day potteries still remain to be a main source of livelihood. Along the road your eyes feast on rows and rows of colorfully displayed decorative clay products in artistic variations on the sidewalks for visual impact.

Pottery is cool in Pahanocoy © Jojie Alcantara

Barangay Pahanocoy Pottery Livelihood © Jojie Alcantara

Now a booming metropolis and center of trade, commerce and industry, Bacolod continues to lure investors and tourists in for its convention facilities, heritage tours, culinary delights and ecotourism adventures.  For pasalubongs, you can buy quality items in Negros Showroom which is a showcase of the best artisan products the region offers.

Association of Negros Producers (ANP) Negros Showroom in Bacolod © Jojie Alcantara

Declared a “Center of Excellence” by the DOST-Information and Communications Technology Office and the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), Bacolod joined the ranks of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Clark, and elevating itself as a top information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) destination.

Bacolod was also consistently in the list of the “Top 10 Next Wave Cities” in the country, offering business opportunities to investors as well as comprehensive amenities for MICE events (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions).  This year, it has been ranked number one among the 10 best urban areas to live in the Philippines  by the web-based social networking group “The Conyo Times” (my beloved Davao landed second).

Bacolod has just successfully hosted one of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations 2017 (ASEAN) meetings.

Bacolod City Plaza and Gazebo © Jojie Alcantara

A sampling of a good city tour if one has the time and leisure must have the following itinerary:  the Bacolod New Government Center and Lagoon; the century-old baroque San Sebastian Cathedral built in 1876 showcasing our Spanish culture; and the Bacolod City Public Plaza with its bandstand and gazebo constructed in 1927 to provide recreation and cultural activities, and now used for the annual Masskara Festival street dancing competition.

San Sebastian Cathedral © Jojie Alcantara

The Blessed Pope Paul II Tower was built with the statue of Pope John Paul II when he came to the Philippines on February 20, 1981 and delivered a message in Bacolod.

Blessed Pope Paul II Tower © Jojie Alcantara

Blessed Pope Paul II Tower © Jojie Alcantara

If you go for heritage tours, the historical landmarks include several well-preserved mansions that give you an idea of how the upper-middle class lived in the 50s, like the Dizon-Ramos mansion turned museum, Balay Negrense, and even the offbeat Familia Luzuriaga Cemetery which landed in the Guinness and noted by Ripley’s, hailed as the “only cemetery in the world at the intersection of two highways”.  If you are romantic, go for The Ruins in nearby Talisay and learn of the love story.

The Ruins, Talisay © Jojie Alcantara

However, in Bacolod, FOOD is always a top showcase.  And if in the name of photojournalism I need to document every food place in town…. THEN I MUST.

Good food can be tasted anywhere, from its famous chicken “inasal”, sweet pastries in Calea, delicious dining in Aboy’s, long time Bar 21, organic meals in Fresh Start, or the popular food strip in Manokan Country.  With this food challenge, I should be the winner since I must have eaten A LOT.

Batchoy in Bar 21 © Jojie Alcantara

Inasal in Manokan Country © Jojie Alcantara

Inasal in Manokan Country © Jojie Alcantara

Fun of eating alone in a crowded resto

Now this challenge “GO FOR A SWIM” is a bit tricky.  If I had the time and length of stay, I would have gone to Mambukal Resort, or ride the 5 hour trip back to Sipalay’s sugary coastline.

Instead I visited the New Government Center.  It has a huge lagoon, and if the full moon was out and I was half crazier than I already was, I would take a dip in it to accept the challenge.

Bacolod New Government Center and Lagoon © Jojie Alcantara

FINALLY, to cap off the last challenge, an exciting one for a photographer is to go look for that sunset capture. Normally we shun the postcard shots, the ones that are often taken in the most familiar landmarks. Barangay Punta Taytay is a coastal barangay situated in the southernmost part of the city, a fishing village with a nice shoreline and a quiet thriving community.

With patience borne out of it being the last day of my solo relaxing trip, I waded in the low tide, ruined my shoes and pants, to wait for the sun to peek out of dense clouds, even just for a teeny bit.

Just below the misty rays which obliged for a few magical seconds, my subjects were all in place as if on cue:  two women and one child, picking shells. I didn’t dare approach them lest the sun gives a peekaboo when I wasn’t looking.  When it finally did, I took my happy shot then I was ready to go back home.

Punta Taytay sunset © Jojie Alcantara

The Bacolod-Silay International Airport is an hour away from the capital city.  From Bacolod, Cebu Pacific operates flights to Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao. Davao-Bacolod flight runs on a thrice weekly service, utilizing an Airbus A320 aircraft with a lowest year-round cost.  Cebu Pacific allows every Juan to enjoy the inter-island routes in a quicker and most affordable way, thereby boosting tourism in every local destination they serve.

The Juan for Fun Backpacker Challenge is now on its 6th year. Last year, the annual Juan-of-a-Kind competition pitted 5 chosen teams of 3 college students or fresh graduates against one another in a spirit of camaraderie and bonding across several islands. The student teams got to travel for free, choose their fun activities on a budget and with the help of adventure coaches, were only to find out their destinations during the sendoff ceremony!

Take note, last year’s grand prize was a travel-all-you-can pass to any Cebu Pacific domestic or international (short-haul) destination!

The previous awarding ceremonies I have attended in the Davao leg

For my students in various photojournalism workshops I have conducted in several universities, I encourage you to join the Juan For Fun Challenge 2017.  Send your auditions as a team now, and let your mind be broadened by the sights and sounds and cultural experiences here and abroad.  If you’re between 17 and 22 years old, and are a currently enrolled student or fresh graduate, join Juan for Fun now! Believe me, it is worth the EXPERIENCE and ADVENTURE.

How to join: (link to source)

  • College students or fresh graduates aged 18-23 years old can join, form a team of 3, could be from different colleges / universities
  • Each member of the winning team will receive a 1 year travel-all-you-can pass
  • Application period is from April 5 to May 15, 2017 (11:59 Ph time)
  • For more details, visit and follow our official Facebook pages
  • Juan for Fun or  Cebu Pacific
  • Follow Twitter and Instagram accounts @cebupacificair to learn more and score promos


Mission accomplished!  Special thanks to Cebu Pacific Air and Nuffnang for the #JuanForFun2017 adventure. * *

* * (Jojie Alcantara is a long time columnist, travel photojournalist, blogger, and social media influencer based in Davao City, on personal quests to promote the beauty of Mindanao and her country. Visit her adventures in and

Reach out and make me smile! :-)

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