“They say this used to be a hospital here,” my buddy photographer correspondent Mark Alvic Esplana said, pertaining to the hotel we had to share with Philippine Daily Inquirer national editor Jun Bandayrel during one of our Summer Getaways assignments in Masbate City, Masbate province.
He then shook his head, emphasizing how spooked he is of old houses and hospitals converted into lodgings for tourists everywhere. He said the same in the old St. Anthony Hotel that we stayed in during the Rodeo Masbateño last March with friend RJ Competente.
I nodded my head in agreement despite the fact that I do not share his sentiments. I knew he was anxious, most people would be in old wooden houses these days.
The media (may the angels of our industry forgive me) effectively spreads legends and stories of some haunted hotels that taint the reputation of almost all hotels all over the world. The old buildings get most of the beating because of their age alone and the number of people (and probably corpses and sad stories) they saw through the years.
Yet, I often find something charming and inviting about old hotels and their musty smell that lingers behind the strong odors of newly washed laundry and air freshener.
Often, whenever I am on the field alone, I choose old wooden hotels over the concrete modern ones which seem foreboding and cold to me. There is just something about old houses that make me feel safe and at home.
Perhaps it is the memory of my grandparents’ house in Catanduanes and our old family home in Naga City which draws me repeatedly to these Spanish Era houses.
Balay Valencia (Masbate)
This old three-story house in Ibañez Street, Masbate City is a white and brown wonder known to be an old hospital during the later 1920s up to early 1990s according to locals and tricycle drivers there. No one is sure actually, not even the hotel attendants who also live there, doubling as caretakers.
I tried asking for the history of the hotel but language barriers got in the way.
The building is a typical example of Spanish-Filipino architecture, complete with disembodied cherubs’ heads and wings above every door. It is entirely made of wood except for the ground floor, which is nothing much except a mini garage, and the main staircase which leads to the first floor.
Even its furniture are old, except the air conditioning units and televisions which seem a bit recent.
It has one of those wooden bowls that are used in Roman Catholic baptism rites that rich Filipino families used in the past. It fittingly stands near an altar with a giant crucified Christ looking over the reception area with His sad eyes in pain.
The rooms look like something out of the Filipino period movies complete with capiz shell windows, doors and verandahs that look out at the streets. Even the ceiling-to-floor billowy curtains seem to bring back the faint ghosts of winds that blew them years before.
Toiletries can be had upon checking in and common comfort rooms and showers are available for those who would not avail of any of their air conditioned deluxe single bedrooms with private baths.
The hotel also imposes a curfew to its guests. If you stay out beyond 10 p.m., you have to ring a copper bell outside the gate for someone to open the doors for you.
In the morning, breakfast of eggs, rice, and sausage, tocino or longanisa is served free with coffee. Other meals can be ordered from the kitchen at cheap prices.
A verandah overlooking the streets of Masbate City is available for anyone who wants to take their meals and sip coffee while taking in the city’s atmosphere and colors.
Rooms at Balay Valencia start at P680. I highly recommend their private single bedrooms. They are actually big enough for two people.
For accommodations and more information on Balay Valencia, visit masbatecity.gov.ph, Masbate City’s official website, or call (056) 333-6530.
Canimog Hotel and Restaurant (Camarines Norte)
I already consider Canimog as my house outside Camarines Sur. The crew there almost always give me the same room whenever I check in while on field duty at Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Built in the 1970s, the concrete and hardwood house at San Vicente Road, Lag-on, Daet, Camarines Norte was converted into a hotel and restaurant in 1999 by owner Engineer Emilio Aytona, Jr.
The establishment was named after Canimog Island, the private island owned by Engr. Aytona’s family in Mercedes town, Camarines Norte. I featured this island on a story I wrote on the seven-island paradise of Mercedes which is now drawing crowds to its romantic ancient lighthouse, craggy shores and white sand beaches. For the full story, please follow this link: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/156021/magic-of-mercedes-7-island-paradise.
Among its attractions is its collection of antique dolls that the owners collected from their travels overseas. They huddle together in a glass cabinet, staring with their cute lifeless eyes at anyone who might be viewing them.
Creepy but, interesting.
There are also antique statues made of China and wood on almost every table surface of Canimog. Little intricate hand-made pieces that are so detailed you can actually count the number of clumps of fur on that China cat.
Their presence can actually reinforce the ghost stories that you might hear from locals and even regular transients of a long-haired lady in white who roams the halls.
This ghost is often associated to one of the owners of the house who was shot dead near the vicinity of the hotel years before.
If you are lucky, she might sit with you on the outdoor sala or whistle at you in your room. Makes you feel sexy and wanted, right?
Even the televisions, shower heads and air conditioning units are old. My best guess is that they must be more than 30 years old already. Nevertheless, their ACs blow the coldest among almost all of the hotels I had the privilege to stay in.
Accommodations are cheap in Canimog, starting with P600 single bedrooms with private comfort room and shower.
Food is not free but can be had at reasonable prices.
Recently, a bar, also owned by the Aytonas, opened beside Canimog Hotel. It is called Music Zone, a bar with little huts and a huge dance floor where you can dance to the music of live bands.
The bar, despite being a fun addition to Canimog, adds noise.
If you are the kind who values silence and serenity over fun, I suggest taking the rooms on the second floor where the noise penetrates less.
For inquiries to Canimog Hotel and Restaurant, you may call them at (054) 440 2029.
What I actually enjoy most about old houses converted into hotels is the attitude and personality of the staff.
People working in hotels like these are generally friendly and warm. It seems to me that the houses’ charm lends itself to the people who stay there, fostering a friendlier more familiar atmosphere.
I feel more pampered with their attentive care that I seldom get from modern high class hotel staff.
This is one reason that probably inspires me to find old hotels anywhere my work takes me.
Well, that and the cheap prices, of course.