Iloilo : Dinagyang

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The Dinagyang experience will make you want to return. And so I will be in Iloilo on January 22 to 25 for Dinagyang 2016.

LAKWATSA

Iloilo is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, and is home to the most colorful festival honoring the child Jesus, known as the Sto. Nino.

Tribu Obreros Tribu Obreros

I went there last weekend to join the festivities and to capture the colors and the soul of the event wherein “tribes” from the different towns and cities in Iloilo participate. If one did not know, he will think that the warriors are real tribesmen, what with their bodies painted either black or very dark brown.

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Each contingent is well funded, and donations from the different businesses in their localities fund the elaborate costumes and props. Each of the participating tribes are  made up of more or less 500 participants, including the warriors and the ladies, the chieftains and the religious leaders, the musicians on their eardrums-assaulting drums, the propsmen, the barangay officials on parade, and the choreographers and costume designers.

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Masbate. So Beautiful. So Underrated. Updated Version

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This edit includes my recent visits. Including a camping experience atop a hill at Sese Brahmans in Mandaon, a visit to an ancestral home within the city center, and a hilltop viewpoint in Mobo.

Mayong Payong is accessed via an unpaved uphill road. It is advised, until the roads are paved, to bring only 4X4 SUVs. A friend of mine managed to go up on his sturdy Toyota Grandia, but it had to take an excellent driver like him to manage the rough, slippery road. Locals without transportation go up via habal habal, or backriding on single motorbikes.

Overnight accommodations can be arranged in huts that cost only P200 per night, but you will need to bring all your provisions because the kubos are rented out bare. A couple sells coffee and light snacks.

Mayong Payong

Mayong Payong

 

Buntod is probably the most famous Masbate destination. But it is best viewed from Mayong Payong.

Buntod is probably the most famous Masbate destination. But it is best viewed from Mayong Payong.

 

VILLA BAYOT

Villa Bayot is the home of what locals call Santo Entierro, actually the image of Jesus Christ enclosed in a glass case. It is a destination among the religious. But those wanting to merely appreciate the grandeur of this old ancestral house can make arrangements, like we did when we did a photoshoot.

A beautiful lass in period costume. She is actually one of the descendants of the old family.

A beautiful lass in period costume. She is actually one of the descendants of the old family.

 

NEARBY ISLANDS

If you can, try to arrange for island hopping from the port at Mandaon. In fact, one can go to Sibuyan and on to Boracay from this port. As this was a side trip for one day, we visited two islands most Masbatenos have never even heard of, much less seen,

Majaba is home to probaly only 5 families. Beautiful beach all around.

Majaba is home to probaly only 5 families. Beautiful beach all around.

 

Nabuktut is a sandbar. Here I met an old man that reminded of the story of The Old Man and the Sea.

Nabuktut is a sandbar. Here I met an old man that reminded of the story of The Old Man and the Sea.

 

TICAO ISLAND

I made a separate visit to Ticao and one may refer to the sights within this island. I thought that to complete a Masbate feature, I needed to show at least the most popular destinations.

Matang Tubig is the most famous local destination. It is a bathing pool from a natural spring. Refreshing.

Matang Tubig is the most famous local destination. It is a bathing pool from a natural spring. Refreshing.

 

This beautiful house is where the Bishop stays when in Ticao

This beautiful house is where the Bishop stays when in Ticao

 

There are many old, weather-beaten homes in Ticao. This one is in Monreal.

There are many old, weather-beaten homes in Ticao. This one is in Monreal.

 

MASBATE RANCH LIFE

The Rodeo Masbateno, Inc. has recently opened to the public, locals and visitors alike, an opportunity to experience Ranch Life. Stay on a tent on the hilltop overnight and gaze at the stars. Ride a horse down the meadow. Make your coffee cowboy-style. But the difference from a rough camping experience is that the venue has hotel-standard toilets and baths.

Be a cowboy or a cowgirl at the Rodeo Masbateno, Inc Ranch Life offer

Be a cowboy or a cowgirl at the Rodeo Masbateno, Inc Ranch Life offer

 

Our ranch life experience was highlighted by a bonfire on the hilltop with only the stars above us.

Our ranch life experience was highlighted by a bonfire on the hilltop with only the stars above us.

 

Rodeo Masbateno, Inc also hosts the Rodeo Festival, scheduled April 12-17 this year (2016). In photo is the Cattle Drive which ushers the start of the rodeo season.

Rodeo Masbateno, Inc also hosts the Rodeo Festival, scheduled April 12-17 this year (2016). In photo is the Cattle Drive which ushers the start of the rodeo season.

Come to Masbate. I am probably the only non-Masbateno who has traveled the most number of times and covered most of the province. Only because #MasbateProvince is beautiful, and the people are nice.

LAKWATSA

I first went to Masbate in 1978. I remember Masbate to be a very poor province. I always tell my friends that I then checked in at Crown Hotel near the pier and, when it was time for shower, the hotel staff would fetch me a huge pail of water – – brought to my second floor room from a pulley at the end of the hall.

Fast forward to 2013. Friends piqued my interest to watch the Masbate Rodeo and I thought it was an excellent subject for photography.

Image Bull riding

Image Barn dance at the Rodeo opening ceremonies

In between the rodeo events, my friends and I would go to “tourist destinations” but I did not have enough material then to write about Masbate. This year, I attended Rodeo 2014 and booked myself a much longer stay. In the process, I was able to explore more of Masbate.

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Yap-Sandiego House in Parian, Cebu

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The Yap-Sandiego ancestral house is reputed to be the oldest Chinese house outside of China. According to the guide who handled our tour, the house was built in the late 17th century at the heart of Parian, then a wealthy community in Cebu.

I have seen a lot of ancestral homes in my travels around the country but this one is different in many ways. Most of these ancestral homes  were built by the wealthy  families with Europena/mestizo origins . Or they were houses of the biggest owners of farms and haciendas. They all looked like typical European homes.

Yap-Sandiego stands out because of the way it was constructed.In fact, it  does look and feel like you are in a Chinese movie setting, especially with the brick “tisa” roof – – not the same as the tegula concrete roof cement in today’s modern and affluent homes.

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Clay roof and molave hardwood for this ancestral house. 

A lady receptionist clad in old Filipiniana dress adds to the aura of this heritage home. At the ground level, there are ornaments and antiquities that are collections of the present owner of the house, a descendant from the Sandiego branch of the family. The house is over 300 years old although the antique collections would probably be “younger”.
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She lives that moment 

Ground Level

The ground floor is unpaved and contains a lot of period furniture and “santos”. Walking around, my eyes were riveted to the wooden structure that is actually the underside of the stairs. I marvelled at the wood that made up the house – – – molave and other hardwood.

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Pebbles on the unpaved ground floor

 

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Sturdy materials for the stairs

 

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Images of saints 

 

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Second Floor
Visitors are asked to wear mittens, provided by the guides,  to cover their shoes or sandals before being allowed on the second floor. This, the guide says, is to make sure the wooden floors are not damaged nor scratched. The first sign of its age, as I went up the second floor, is the creaking staircase, on the left side going up. Noticing how fragile the structure was, I slowly moved and walked up on the right side where it felt more stable.
Photographed from the second floor

Photographed from the second floor

The “banggerahan” ,  a rack for drinking glasses and cups, catches one’s eyes at the second floor, at the dining area. The other focal point  is the bedroom with a four-poster bed and a wooden baby crib. The guide said that even the wealthy Yaps then slept in one and the same bedroom.

 

Banggerahan

Banggerahan on extreme left

 

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The antique items are collections of the present owner, a descendant of the clan. Old interesting items, but not quite as old and as interesting as the 300+ years old house itself. 

 

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 A painting of how the Parian community must have looked like before

 

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Bedroom
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an eye-catching wooden baby crib

 

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Pocket Garden 
There is a pocket garden where one can catch a glimpse of the house from the sides. It was Christmas season when I visited so the lovely lanterns provided an interesting accent to this heritage home.

 

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STREETSIDE

As I took a photo of the house from the street, an ambulant taho vendor walked by, and an old lady came into the scene. I thought these personalities created for me a scene straight out of the late  17th century when Parian was a bustling Cebu district.

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Bonus: Cebu’s History in a Giant Sculpture

Just outside is a mjor tourist attraction. I am showing it from one side and not posting the other angle because a portion of the mural is damaged. I hope the city fixes that ruined part before you visit.

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A short turn from the Yap-Sandiego House is the Museo Cebu, but the facility is closed every Sunday.

YAP-SANDIEGO HOUSE
Open from 9am to 7pm everyday
Entrance fee: P50 per guest
How to get there: 
Hail a taxi/cab and tell the driver to take you to Yap-Sandiego at Parian. This is such a famous landmark that everyone knows.
Address and Contact Details:
155-Lopez Jaena corner Mabini Street
Parian, Cebu City, Philippines
(032) 514 3002 / (032) 514 3003 / (032) 253 5568
For more information, visit their faebook page:

Beautiful Masbate. Beautiful Masbateñas

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The long Metro Manila holiday due to the APEC Summit found me, once again, in beautiful Masbate.

the second Masbate signature (the big one is at the Capitol Building). This one is at the Safe House at Himomoro Boulevard, Masbate City. Interestingly, the famous Buntod Reef is the backdrop of this I Love Masbate signage.

the second Masbate signature (the big one is at the Capitol Building). This one is at the Safe House at Himomoro Boulevard, Masbate City. Interestingly, the famous Buntod Reef (towards the left) is the backdrop of this I Love Masbate signage.

Seven (7) photographer-friends from FUNtastic Philippines Fun Group joined me on a roadtrip starting from Manila at 4am. Estimated departure of the roll-on-roll-off (roro) boat from the pio Duran port in Ligao, Albay was 1 am the next day.

We settled at the hilltop campsite of the cattle ranch of a friend, the president of Rodeo Masbateño, Inc. After pitching our tents, two beautiful Masbateñas arrived for our scheduled photo-shoot at the Sese Brahmans Ranch in Mandaon.

A cowgirl-model on horseback near one of the tents in our camp

A cowgirl-model on horseback beside one of the tents in our camp

 

 

 

 

 

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Our friends gamely posed as extras for our model whom we shot atop the wagon attached to the tractor used in the ranch

The next day, we drove up  Mayong Payong, a scenic mountaintop in the town of Mobo, in time for the sunrise. The scenery reminds one of Tagaytay. Another beautiful Masbateña was there, prearranged by a friend, for a photoshoot of this mountain park.

Mayong Payong has native huts that rent out for P200 per night.

Mayong Payong has native huts that rent out for P200 per night.

 

We got there to catch the sunrise. All we got was  a few seconds and fog enveloped the mountaintop,

We got there to catch the sunrise. All we got was a few seconds and fog enveloped the mountaintop,

 

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At Mayong Payong, one can see the view of the city center, the distant Mayon Volcano, and the famous Buntod Reef which looks like a really tiny speck of sand when viewed from Mayong Payong

From Mayong Payong, Buntod Reef looks like only 3 people can stand on the tiny island

From Mayong Payong, Buntod Reef looks like only 3 people can stand on the tiny island

From Mayong Payong, we rode a boat at a wharf at Rendezvous Hotel for Buntod Reef and Marine Sanctuary, probably the most beautiful and the most photographed spot in Masbate, Our featured model was Masbate’s Miss Tourism.

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On our third and last day shooting Masbate, we went to the Provincial Capitol Building as our location, On its grounds we also shot with the now-famous huge “Province of Masbate” sign.

Masbate is the Rodeo Capital of the Philippines

Masbate is the Rodeo Capital of the Philippines

 

Location: the stairs at the Capitol Building

Location: the stairs at the Capitol Building

 

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Cowboys and the cowgirl 

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After lunch, we trooped to Villa Bayot, the oldest, well-preserved mansion in Masbate City. For this location, our models wore period Filipiniana.

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I have been to Masbate many times and have featured other significant tourist spots: the beaches at Palani, the Bugui Point Lighthouse in Aroroy, the old lighthouse in the island of Jintotolo, the towns and churches in the second largest Masbate island of Ticao, and the games at the Masbate Rodeo – – – for the past 3 years.  But never have I thought of juxtaposing the beauty of Masbate Province with the beauty of the Masbate ladies.

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Masbate is beautiful. And so are the Masbateñas. And, in fact, my friends and I are one in saying that we return to Masbate because of its wonderful people.

Sonya’s Garden near Tagaytay

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At the onset, I say that Sonya’s Garden is near Tagaytay. Most people would think it is part of Tagaytay even as it is located in nearby Alfonso. What the heck, it is a prime Tagaytay destination !

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I started going to Sonya’s when it was nothing but a small structure with about 4 or 5 tables plus 2 or 3 tables on the loft. Guests then had to make a prior reservation, and one is actually privileged to secure a number to call from someone who has been there. In one of my earlier lunches, Sonya’s Garden had to (politely) decline a top matinee idol who came without prior reservation and, obviously, can not be given a table.  From that quaint set-up many moons ago, Sonya’s has become a complete destination, and can now house guests in their bed & breakfast.

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How did this place become hugely popular? I learned that in the beginning,  friends would have themselves invited by the gracious Sonya who served them delicious, healthy lunch. They came rather often that they started offering to pay for the food they ate as they did not want their friend/hostess to be bothered with her time and actually spend for the bother. Until these friends started bringing their friends, paying for their lunch. Thus, the business was born.

People go there for the salad

People go there for the salad

Again, in one of my earlier trips, a group of movie scribes were seated on the next table, together with a major actress then at the peak of her career. Apparently they came from a shoot. I chuckled (trying to hide this reaction) when I heard the movie scribes say “ayyy, puro damo naman pagkain dito, sana nag bulalo na lang tayo”. Indeed, the main draw of the place is their garden salad and Sonya’s secret dressing. Guests garnish the greens with fresh fruits like papaya, chico, langka, and other fruits in season. Plus shredded boiled eggs, olives, capers, and parmesan cheese. After the salad comes bread with dips of sun-dried tomato, pesto, anchovies, etc. The main course is pasta. Fresh dalandan juice is overflowing. Desserts include turon or camote. All these for something like P650 per person.

Main course is pasta

Main course is pasta

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From its humble beginnings, Sonya’s guests are now directed to one of its many pavilions, each one actually a garden. On some days, I have seen two wedding receptions being held simultaneously. And I have also seen busloads of visitors. Even the parking area has more than quadrupled from the first time I set foot in this beautiful garden.

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Today, they also have a Panaderia (bakery), a country store (where I buy my supply of Sonya’s secret salad dressing and some home accents), a spa, and a bed & breakfast.

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On a recent visit, Sonya herself toured me around the B&B.

Sonya’s B&B is one of a kind. It will make the guests feel like they are in an affluent provincial setting. A group of friends can actually occupy a house and assign themselves to the rooms and beds. And converse in its living room. And be amused when they shower in the very unique toilet/shower set-ups, with stones as floor cover. Indeed, everything is unique and the experience will be something friends will talk about for a long time. See for yourself.

 

one of the B&B facilities at Sonya's Garden

one of the B&B facilities at Sonya’s Garden

 

Come in! One of the B&B accommodations

Come in! One of the B&B accommodations

 

the living room of one of the houses at Sonya's B&B

the living room of one of the houses at Sonya’s B&B

 

view from the second floor

view from the second floor

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the bathroom, with stones on your feet

the bathroom, with stones on your feet

see the bathroom at the left end of this photo

see the bathroom at the left end of this photo

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I am writing about this amazing place without any favors. I have paid for all my lunches and dinners on all my visits to Sonya’s. Probably why she decided to give me this tour.

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How much does it cost to stay at Sonya’s B&B? P3,000 per person on weekdays, P3,400 on weekends and holidays, P5,000 for single occupancy. These rates include early dinner or lunch, with breakfast. The B&B has 14 cottages and 18 rooms.

How do you get there? From Tagaytay, drive south past Mendez and on to Alfonso. When you see Tagaytay Royale Estates on your right, immediately turn right on the next road which is called Buck Estate. About 2 kilometers onward and you will see the Sonya’s sign.

Or you can call to book: 09175335140, 09175291080, 09175161080

Visit their website : http://www.sonyasgarden.com

Bahay Pastulan @ Good Shepherd Tagaytay

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Many years ago, I discovered that I didn’t have to travel to Baguio to buy the famous ube jam that people queue for. There was a Good Shepherd Convent in what was then a rather obscure spot in Tagaytay.  Last year, I saw a structure being constructed and, when it was finished and landscaped, there stood an imposing Bahay Pastulan, the store where all the goodies made by the nuns and the poor families they employ to earn a decent living are being sold. I decided to check it out.

an imposing presence on your right, driving twards the main Tagaytay road

an imposing presence on your right, driving twards the main Tagaytay road

Bahay Pastulan is along the Sta Rosa – Tagaytay Road. It will be easy to spot as soon as one gets to Tagaytay – – it is something you will not miss on your right side, way before getting to the first Tagaytay traffic light.

 

 

this signage was photographed from Bahay Pastulan. Travelers won't miss the other side of this signage when traversing the road from Sta Rosa to Tagaytay.

this signage was photographed from Bahay Pastulan. Travelers won’t miss the other side of this signage when traversing the road from Sta Rosa to Tagaytay.

 

the set-up is the same as in Good Shepherd Baguio Orderly placing of orders, paying, and claiming of goods.

the set-up is the same as in Good Shepherd Baguio Orderly placing of orders, paying, and claiming of goods.

 

What can one buy at Pastulan? Everything, it seems. Ube jam, polvoron, lengua de gato, angel cookies, alfajor, choco crinkles, snowballs, choco flakes, cashew brittle, oatmeal raisin chews, and peanut brittle.

Also gourmet tuyo, tawilis, crsipi pili, guyabano candy, sampaloc, tableya tsokolate, spicy pusit, and dulong. Yummy.

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And to complete the “buy here what you are looking for in Baguio, this – – – –

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In the refrigerated section, one finds even more temptations (especially for a diabetic like me) : tarts, leche flan, ube jams, spreadable bukayo, suman sa lihiya, chuchipan, and the healthy veggie salad.iPhone 5S 257

 

My favorite spot at Bahay Pastulan is the Take Out Area. I actually have my meals there, on what looks like cocktail tables that let you enjoy the scenery as you gorge on your food. Here, I have sampled their fresh lumpia ubod, fried lumpia, ube-langka turon, empanada, bibingka, arroz caldo, goto, coffee, halo halo, and fruit shakes. Always bringing home some.

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Bahay Pastulan also sells fresh produce, lettuces, herbs,  and fruits in a stall at the back, in the parking area.

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Bahay Pastualan is a part of the SMEIDFI (St. Mary Euphrasia Integrated Development Foundation, Inc) whose mission is to help provide livelihood for the poor while nurturing their souls.

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Consistent with this vision, mission and values, one can also buy  articles like rosaries, scapulars and religious images.

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Come to Bahay Pastulan the next time you drive to Tagaytay. It is way nearer than Baguio. And it is a more pleasant queue. Open everyday from 730am to 6pm.

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Ilocos Tour : Vigan and Sta Maria

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I have done the Ilocos region countless times. And this northern tour remains on my Top 5 list of Philippine destinations.

Will share the beautiful Ilocos via photos, and you pick the destinations you want to focus on. Otherwise, prepare to spend 2 weeks moving from town to town.

VIGAN

Vigan is, to some, the essence of Ilocandia.

Vigan is, to some, the essence of Ilocandia.

The moon was full on the night of my last visit

The moon was full on the night of my last visit

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Visit a BURNAYAN and be amazed at the potter's skills. And buy a jar or two

Visit a BURNAYAN and be amazed at the potter’s skills. And buy a jar or two

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a calesa ride completes a Vigan visit

the lobby of my favorite hotel. Cordillera Inn

the lobby of my favorite hotel. Cordillera Inn

the coffee shop at the nearby Gordion Mansion

the coffee shop at the nearby Gordion Mansion

Hidden Garden is more of a restaurant than a garden destination.

Hidden Garden is more of a restaurant than a garden destination.

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Bantay belltower, outside of Vigan

Bantay belltower, outside of Vigan

at the Baluarte, the home of Governor Chavit Singson, the grounds are open to the public.

at the Baluarte, the home of Governor Chavit Singson, the grounds are open to the public.

STA MARIA

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