By Fung Yu, Contributor INQUIRER.net (Author’s Note: This article uses Apple’s QuickTime technology in providing an immersive experience by means of virtual reality panoramas. QuickTime is required to view the 360-degree VRs. Average VR size is 1.7MB each.) LOCATED at the southern tip of Iloilo City is the island province of Guimaras. Known for its sweetest mangoes the world over; the pristine island also boasts of numerous fine sand beach resorts, tranquil churches and monasteries, friendly people, and tragically, the site affected by one of the worst oil spills in the country. My trip to Guimaras started on a fine summer day from Iloilo City. We took a 20-minute banca ride from one of the several ports in the city. The fare, a mere P12 per person for a one-way trip, the cheapest by far in all my travels! Upon arrival at Jordan, the capital of Guimaras, we proceeded to the local tourism office and had our names registered. Here, friendly staff will assist you in your visit. If you already have a list of sites to see, they will help you maximize your travel routes; if not, readily suggested attractions will be provided. The staff will also aid you in negotiating a reasonable fare with the many kinds of transportation available nearby. Going around the island can either be through tricycles, small boats, or via converted mini-vans called “multi-cabs,” available in either air-conditioned or non-air conditioned type that can comfortably carry five to eight persons. The selection will depend on what sites you plan to visit, how long you plan to stay, and how much you’re willing to pay. We chose the non-aircon multi-cab at P1,500 for a full day’s tour (eight hours, driver-cum-guide included). First stop was the Our Lady of the Philippines Trappist Monastery, the only one in the country run by the Trappist monks, who go through their daily lives guided by the Rule of St. Benedict. Located just a few minutes' ride from the capital, the monastery is an idyllic place for self-reflection and meditation. The monks make a living by selling fruit preserves, jams, and other delicacies sourced from trees and other plants within the monastery grounds.
Recently in Guimaras Category
By Augusto Villalon Inquirer I REALLY didn't know much about Guimaras except that it was an island off Iloilo distinguished by its sweet mangoes, a Trappist monastery and, of course, the massive oil slick that still looms down part of its coastline. My recent survey assignment in Iloilo specified checking on surviving urban heritage, but it also called for identifying cultural landscapes in rural areas. After a few days of taking me around to show why he was so proud of his city and province, my colleague and guide, Eugene Jamerlan of the Iloilo Cultural Heritage Council, picked me up in my hotel one morning with the idea of visiting Guimaras that day because he knew we would find the right landscapes there. A few minutes later, we sailed away from the flat coastal landscape of Iloilo and docked in the main port of Guimaras, a compact town built along the lower slopes of the very green, rolling Guimaras landscape. Eugene was right. Guimaras was one surprise after the other. Only a narrow strait separates this largest island in Iloilo’s coastal waters from Iloilo City. The neighboring island protects the city harbor from monsoon forces, a factor that allowed Iloilo to flourish as one of the major Visayan ports, leading to the long history of economic stability in progressive Iloilo. Although an independent province now, Guimaras has not severed its ties with Iloilo. Not only are the two geographically proximate, they continue to maintain such close-knit family and economic relationships that it's difficult to imagine a break ever happening between the two. After a 15-minute banca crossing, we disembarked on the Jordon pier and immediately took off in a rented jeepney, which climbed the winding hillside road that followed the pristine coastline. Peek-a-boo Framed by lush tropical foliage, a panorama of the Iloilo City urban skyline emerged, disappeared and re-emerged in the distance as our vehicle snaked along the narrow road. The paved road eventually ended and changed into a steep stone trail, so we trekked the final uphill stretch to a small barrio where, Eugene said, could be found probably the best examples of traditional bahay kubo of bamboo and cogon perched on steep mountain slopes or edges of limestone cliffs. The dense foliage, slopes, cliffs, and bahay kubo were still there, but not the bamboo and cogon. Corrugated iron sheets now roof the houses and an assortment of plywood and recycled wooden paneling has replaced the traditional intricate Ilonggo bamboo latticework walls. Traditional materials, especially cogon, are now scarce. Constructing with traditional materials is so tedious and time-consuming that they now prefer replacing their cogon roofs with corrugated sheets, residents told us. It’s a sign of progress, they said, as we prepared to trek downhill back to our vehicle to drive to our next stop. Every visitor of Guimaras goes to the Trappist Monastery. The visitors' area next to the chapel was shaded by fruit trees of the monastery orchards; it buzzed with tourists cooling off or busily buying basketsful of homemade preserves, sweets, cookies, fruits and religious items sold at the monastery store. Driving away from the coast on the main highway, the landscape changed into hectares and hectares of mango orchards. Mango trees planted equidistantly cast a noontime shadow of equally spaced, perfectly round polka dots on the ground beneath them, the pattern undulating with the rolling terrain as far as the eye could see. Along the roadside, we found a small sign leading to "Valle Verde." We told our driver to follow the arrow and see where the unpaved road led. Valle Verde turned out to be a modest resort on a hillside with a magnificent view of the Guimaras coast, with a few mountainside cottages arranged around a spring-fed freshwater pool built at the edge of a cliff. Hospitality All she had that day, the owner said, was freshly caught fish that she could either broil or make into sinigang, so we asked for both. She apologized for the limited selection of vegetables in her garden that she could pick for the sour broth. But she cooked us a lunch to remember, made even more memorable by the homespun hospitality Ilonggos are well known for. As we set out on our trip earlier that day, we told our driver Cristobal that we were in Guimaras looking for rural landscapes that had groups of traditional Ilonggo-style bahay kubo in natural settings, seascapes and maybe an old church or two. Cristobal took charge. He brought us to villages nestled under bamboo groves, small barrios along the coast where fishermen lived, hilltop lookout points overlooking stunning seascapes, and to a marvelous Spanish colonial chapel in the barrio of Navelas. Practically hidden from view, with only its bell tower seen at a distance from the road and giving away its presence is the small Navelas Church dating back to about a century and a half to the later years of the Spanish colonial era. The modestly sized churchyard, with the original fence posts still intact from the wall that originally staked off the yard from surrounding open fields, is reached through an arched entranceway piercing through the base of the bell tower that most probably doubled as a lookout for pirates coming from the sea. The simple stone facade of the church survives, but the rest of the structure behind it was replaced with a new concrete structure. We thanked Cristobal for the unexpected surprise of discovering a Spanish colonial fortified church in Guimaras and for providing basic information about the places he took us to. He replied that all drivers in the island were trained as guides by the Department of Tourism, one of the activities of a tourism program for Guimaras conducted by the Canadian Urban Institute. My great surprise in Guimaras was discovering people like Cristobal who give community tourism the respect it deserves. They take visitors to see their home province with pride and dignity, leaving guests with an enjoyable experience and great memories of the place. Because of people like him, I plan to go back to Guimaras to see everything I did not experience in the one day that I spent there.