In my younger years, I spent some good times in Manolo Fortich. But that was way back the early 80s and the memories are quite hazy already. All I remember is my cousins and I immensely enjoyed the trips as we rode on my dad’s Ford Bronco. We usually went there in the summer to accompany my lolo, the late Hon. Cesar M.A. Fortich (Titang), for his regular check-ups at the hospital in Camp Phillips.
My sister and I also often accompanied our dad when he played golf, so we spent a lot of time at the Del Monte Golf Course & Country Club. I have a lot of wonderful memories there, including that one time when daddy bought a life-sized clown from the gift shop as a reward for us.
Fast forward to many years later, in the late 1990s, I went back to Manolo Fortich with my mom as we did a short video feature on Camp Phillips. I did some interviews with the kids playing in the field. We also had a simple picnic there.
From time to time, I also went to friends and relatives’ homes in Cawayanon. I even went swimming in the pool there!
Aside from the 80s trips, however, these past experiences only showed me a small part of Manolo Fortich, a place that is somehow a part of my family history. It was only in May this year when I finally had the chance to go around and truly explore the place.
My Great-Grandfather, Gov. Manuel “Manolo” Fortich
Before I tell you about my Manolo Fortich experience, let me share with you first why this place, as I mentioned earlier, is a part of my family history.
Manolo Fortich was named after the 1st governor of the District of Bukidnon, Don Manuel “Manolo” Fortich. Manolo, or Papa Ande, is my great-grandfather. He is my lolo Titang’s father and my dad’s grandfather. I grew up in our white house in Corrales seeing the Papa Ande’s photo – the one where he wore a cowboy hat and rode a horse – but I never really learned his story until I was around 2nd year high school. That was when we started going to the Camp Phillips hospital in Manolo Fortich.
In his time, Papa Ande contributed a lot to the development of Manolo Fortich. Our family has received several awards for the local government for his contributions.
Papa Ande was also featured in the book “The Philippines Past and Present (1913, 1914)” by Dean Conant Worcester, who was the Secretary of the Interior for the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands from 1903 to 1913. I remember seeing and reading the book when I was in 4th year high school (or 1st year college). I don’t know where it is now.
I didn’t get to meet Papa Ande because he died way before I was born. But I listened to a lot of stories about how great a man he was and I feel like I know him already. I keep his legacy close to my heart.
Discovering Manolo Fortich….Again!
When I first received the invitation to go to Manolo Fortich and share my experiences and knowledge in blogging, I had mixed emotions. I was nervous because it was my first time to talk to senior high school students about blogging. But I was also excited because it’s a once in a lifetime adventure. It’s something that I have always wanted to do – reach out to the younger generation and share what I know.
The idea of spending the weekend in Manolo Fortich also rekindled my love for the place. While it’s true that I haven’t spent a lot of time there after all those childhood trips, I have always had a special place in my heart for my great grandfather’s hometown.
So upon the invitation of the Manolo Fortich Bloggers Association, I spent one weekend in Manolo Fortich with vloggies Nicole Tiro, Jireh Cuarto, and Karl Butaslac. We were all looking forward to a fun and rewarding experience – and we weren’t disappointed.
One of the first things we did when we arrived in Manolo was to pay a courtesy call to the (very young) Mayor Clive D. Quiño. Even if it was a Friday morning and his office was abuzz with activity, the mayor didn’t hesitate to spend a few minutes with us, to welcome us and make us feel at home.
After meeting Mayor Quiño, we went straight to the conference room to start the workshop. I was delighted to find out that our participants were all senior high school students. The vloggies and I were also impressed when we found out that the Manolo Fortich local government actually train their students to blog and vlog during special events, such as the municipality’s annual Charter Day celebration.
Anyway, I was the first to take the floor as I introduced blogging to the students. Jireh, Karl, and Nicole followed. Even if the workshop took the whole day, I didn’t really feel tired or worn out because the participants were so eager to learn. I also saw how the Manolo Fortich local government took care of its students. The Manolo Bloggers Association, led by the fun and energetic Lee Improgo Tan, made sure that the participants had everything they needed.
And they took good care of us, too!
Lunch at Totsie’s
During lunch break, while the students were enjoying their catered food, Lee and company brought us to one of the most popular dining places in Manolo Fortich – Totsie’s.
I’ve been to Totsie’s several times, but never as a diner. Every time we went to Dahilyan, we would stop over at Totsie’s bakeshop and buy some bread and pastries for our loved ones. This time around, I got the chance to dine and enjoy their special dishes.
Located along San Miguel Highway, Totsie’s Restaurant is already considered a landmark in Manolo Fortich. Families, friends, office workers, and travelers stop by to enjoy the restaurant’s specialties like roast beef, T-bone steak, porterhouse steak, and fish fillet. Also, every diner gets to enjoy Totsie’s chiffon cake for dessert, for free.
I loved the roast beef meal they served us! The meat was soft and tasty. And the sauce (gravy)? I super loved it! I think I can go to Totsie’s, order rice and roast beef sauce, and go home with a full and satisfied stomach!
Seriously, anyone who loves beef should try out Totsie’s roast beef and steaks.
As for me, the next time I am in Manolo Fortich and my stomach is grumbling, I’m going to head over to Totsie’s without second thoughts. It’s one of the best in the municipality – good food, clean place, excellent service, and really affordable prices.
After the workshop, we were brought to where we would stay for the weekend: the Kampo Juan Heritage House.
The first time I visited Kampo Juan was more than four years ago. It was one of the side trips after a friend’s wedding in Valencia. At that time, the place was failry new and the Heritage House wasn’t standing yet. So last summer was a completely new (and breathtaking) experience for me.
Kampo Juan is owned by the Acostas, one of the most prominent families in Manolo Fortich (and Bukidnon). It was named after the family’s patriarch, Dr. Juan Acosta, an agriculturist who is also known as a pioneer in pineapple plant breeding. His son, former Congressman Dr. Neric, a well-known and respected environmentalist, is the one who takes care of the place.
The Heritage House is a work of love, passion, and dedication to family and culture & the arts. It was originally located in Pangasinan, thousands of miles away from Manolo Fortich. But the younger Acosta was determined to bring the house to Manolo Fortich as a tribute to his parents. And so began the painstaking journey of disassembling (very carefully) and shipping the parts of the more than 100-year-old house. Each piece was then reconstructed and restored to its original position – and dimensions – in Manolo Fortich.
This process went on for years until the Heritage House was finally completed in Kampo Juan. Every room and every detail (including the flooring) of the house was restored to how they were positioned in the original house. What followed next was the addition of antiques and artifacts; precious items that the family has kept for years.
The Heritage House was completed in 2016. (See the video of the Heritage House’s full story here.)
Touring around the Kampo Juan Heritage House will bring you face to face with Asian antiques & artifacts, with some dating back to the Ming Dynasty. There are also quite a lot of items from Europe. You’ll also find several masterpieces by the one and only BenCab (National Artist for Visual Arts & master of contemporary Philippine Art).
The ones that really wowed me, however, were the original (and complete set of) Encyclopedia Britannica from the 1950s, an original copy of Dr. Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, a copy of Mi Ultimo Adios in Rizal’s handwriting, and several childhood photos of our national hero.
Almost all the antique furniture in the house has a story, such as the one that we thought was an old version of the rocking/lounge chair. It was actually used to help women who were in labor.
The Kampo Juan Heritage House is a bed & breakfast with its own museum. Even its rooms are worthy of being called works of art. There are several to choose from, but all have comfortable beds, big windows that allow the cool air in, and a really relaxing ambiance. Some rooms come with their own toilet & bath while there are others that do not. But no worries because there are communal toilet & baths that anyone can use any time of the day (or night).
Just a few steps away from the Heritage House is a small but relaxing swimming pool. We got to use it for free as it comes with the room, so the vloggies were able to swim before we headed off to dreamland.
The Heritage House bed & breakfast rates are as follows:
- Suites (with private toilet & bath) = PhP2,600 for couples/PhP1,100 for every additional guest
- Regular Rooms (communal toilet & baths) = PhP2,100 for couples/PhP1,000 for every additional guest
All the suites/rooms come with free breakfast and swimming pool used (as previously mentioned).
The place – the entire Kampo Juan, not just the Heritage House – is also open for photoshoots. Check out the rates here.
Our Kampo Juan experience is certainly one for the books. But I’m definitely going back for more – because one night in such a beautiful and majestic place is simply not enough!
Dinner at Riley’s Cafe/Colex
For dinner, Lee and company brought us to the Colex gas station along Sayre Highway, where we enjoyed the feast at Riley’s Cafe. Jireh, Karl, Nicole, and I had loads of gastronomic fun!
Riley’s Cafe is located in a gas station that looks like a mini-commercial strip (think Lifestyle District). Aside from the cafe, there’s also an al fresco area where friends and family can enjoy some food and drinks. And then there’s a building on the side that houses a pharmacy and a gym. And to top this all off, Riley’s is actually a cafe-convenience store. So, yes, the place is practically a one-stop-shop, not just for Manolo Fortich residents but for travelers as well.
Inside Riley’s, you’ll love the bright colors and simple furnishings. The tables are on one side while the convenience store items are displayed on the other side. So if you get a craving for some chips or chocolates, all you need to do is get them from the racks a few steps from your table. You can even enjoy your chips while waiting for your meal. That’s what Nicole did; she bought a pack (or packs?) of peanuts, which we devoured while waiting for our orders.
A few minutes later, our orders were served and what a feast it was! We had a “boodle” meal (chicken BBQ, chorizo BBQ, sisig, vegetables, uyap (bagoong), and pancit. We also had generous platters of sizzling sisig and sizzling spicy chicken wings. Everything was delicious. It felt like gourmet heaven the minute I tasted the spicy chicken wings! I don’t eat spicy food that much, but that night was an exception. Also, the boodle was worth fighting for! 😉
If you’re like me, always looking for the perfect dessert, you won’t regret dining at Riley’s. After a hearty meal of the best in Pinoy cuisine, you will love feasting on the cafe’s special homemade ice cream, particularly the durian-flavored one.
All-in-all, it was a gastronomic Friday night for us in Manolo.
The Municipal Plaza
Before going back to Kampo Juan, we were treated to a colorful experience at the Manolo Fortich Municipal Plaza. Sometime in 2016, the local government did a major makeover of the place. So when we went there, we were welcomed by a colorful sight.
Now known as the Centennial Plaza, the municipal hall is blanketed in colors every night. Giant intricate pillars that alight in different colors are turned on once the evening sets in. Right across the church are lighted fountains that seem to dance. There’s also a basketball court and several areas where residents can enjoy some games and entertainment.
The vloggies and I had fun taking photos of the lively municipal hall. It was the perfect way to end our Friday night in Manolo Fortich.
An Adventure Like No Other
On Saturday morning, we woke up early and enjoyed a full breakfast prepared for us by the Heritage House staff. Then we met, albeit briefly, with Dr. Neric. He shared with us some fun anecdotes about the house. Afterward, we were given a tour of the house and that’s when we learned about its story.
We left Kampo Juan with a promise that we will be back there soon. Perhaps on our return, we’ll be able to enjoy the adventures that it offers, such as the hanging bridge, anicycle, and zipline. That will make for another interesting story, I’m sure!
After leaving the Acosta’s eco-friendly sanctuary, we went back to the workshop venue as the students were waiting for us with their assignments. We asked each one of them to come up with a blog and/or vlog post about Mercedes Chokies (which generously gave out boxes of samples to the participants). They were to show us their work that morning.
I was amazed at the output of the participants. We had to choose one winner for each category (blog and vlog), but for me, they were all winners. They were all champions because they welcomed the opportunity to explore their capabilities and learn something new.
My Manolo Fortich experience re-ignited something in me that had been dormant for quite a while: the craving for adventure. This was what I realized as I observed the students while their works were presented to us. It also reaffirmed my love for the place that my great-grandfather held close to his heart.
In the weeks following that weekend adventure, I went back to Manolo Fortich twice – for different activities and reasons. But in my heart, I know that whenever I go back there, it is because I always look forward to the many wonders it holds.
(Huge thanks to the local government of Manolo Fortich and to our friends at the Manolo Fortich Bloggers Association headed by Lee Improgo Tan.)
(All photos by MFPoblete.)