Monday, November 29, 2010

The Quintessential Church Pilgrimage of Iloilo

I have never seen beautiful churches strategically placed on every town ever in my whole life until I went to Iloilo.  So people might wonder what's so interesting with visiting churches unless it is Visita Iglesia? It is interesting because the churches are a testament to the very rich and flourishing history of Iloilo as a major city in the past. A queen city where the way of life is anchored in faith.  I tell you, never leave Iloilo without visiting the churches. A friend from Antique said that some churches are miraculous, so when you are troubled or in need of serious or mild introspection, going to Jaro and Miag-ao can be satisfactory for your soul. And it doesn't hurt that these churches are also satisfactory to the eye.While these churches are ancient and historical, nothing prepared me for their jaw dropping gorgeousness. They are so beautiful, they give you this warm fuzzy feeling inside...the kind that makes you want to cry. Or want to get hitched just so you can marry in one of these churches.

I stayed in downtown Iloilo and the guy from local coffeeshop called "Coffee Break"  told me to visit Molo church first as it is the nearest from where I was. A jeepney ride after and there it was. Gorgeous gothic church straight out of Britain or Scotland. Or whereever. It's so beautiful I didn't even dare to take a picture of myself or asked this man to take a picture of me in front of the church. They say it was also called the St Anne church, or a feminist church. Good start.

Next is the beautiful Jaro Cathedral. I went to buy bibingka and pasalubong in the original Biscocho Haus in Jaro and made a pitstop to the cathedral. This is another beauty straight out of some British town or a Harry Potter book.  Gorgeous. They say that if Molo church was feminine, this, the Jaro Cathedral is the masculine church.

Next I took a jeep to Oton Terminal to ride the jeepney or multicab going to San Joaquin. San Joaquin Church they say, is located in Antique (or near the border of Antique and Iloilo). The jeepney fare is cheap for only 45 pesos one way. I think there are vans available or you can hire a cab for your church tour but, I want to ride the jeepney instead. Along the way, you will be able to see the many town churches and plazas as these serve as landmarks of the city centers, so navigating through your DIY church tour is fairly easy.

 The road to San Joaquin was scenic especially nearing MiagAo and University of the Philippines Visayas. It's a seaside road and the view is breathtaking.

I first passed by the lovely yet melancholic Tigbauan Church which is Latin (Mexican) in style and structure. This was constructed as early as 1575! Frankly when I went there it looked kind of deserted, but that's where its charm is! It's straight out of an old movie and I was having my very own mental time travel while staring at it. 

Next is the Guimbal Church which is a sight to behold. It's made of sandstone and corals and was constructed as early as the 1700's. I liked the shape and dome of the church which made it regal, like a watchtower that protects the Guimbal town. What's amazing with the church is the huge plaza which reminded me of Rizal Park in Manila.

San Joaquin Church is a gorgeous structure, with a war sculpted on its surface. According to sources, it is unique because of the depiction of the Spanish victory over the Moorish pirates in the Battle of Tetuan. It is made of limestones. You have to ride the little pedicabs to get to the church though. San Joaquin church has been named unique and recognized by CNN and other sites. 

Next was the Magnificent MiagAo Church. Seeing it for the first time is like seeing a mirage. It stood there, gorgeously by the bend, and its orangey color moved me. It stood like a queen. It's so big, but not imposing. In the front, you'll see intricately carved artwork, it looks like an ornate desert pastry, it's that girly. But when you go to the side you'll see thick walls, which makes this delicate-looking church more like a fortress. It was architecturally categorized as Baroque in style. I learned later on that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in Visayas. (one of the four Baroque Churches in the Philippines recognized by UNESCO)

True, Manila has some amazing churches but Iloilo seems to bellow: "Iloilo is so blessed by the Gods, they took up permanent residence. And why wouldn't they, if they have such magnificent houses?"  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sweet Guimaras

Iloilo proved to be not just a mere drop off point to island destinations, but... Guimaras is another story. The best way to describe Guimaras for me is sweet -  I was enchanted by the remoteness and the simplicity of this small island province, the sweetness of the wind and waters that greeted me as I wake up everyday when I was there. I think I'm getting addicted with being whisked at a remote province, the simpler, the better.

The thing is, as most people thought, Guimaras is not all about the beach. The island has islets, coves, waterfalls, mangrove farms, mangoes, caves, mountains and cliffs. Two days is too short to explore all of them but I managed to get a taste. The island's very rich waters, marine life, and land formations can make you one with nature, one with your deepest emotions.

So on a Sunday morning in Iloilo, I took a cab from Iloilo pension house at 7 in the morning, and asked to be dropped off at Ortiz Port which was roughly about 20 minutes from where I was. I paid 50 pesos and walked to a rather rickety, small, port where I rode the cheapest ferry boat ride that I have ever rode. Yes the fare from Iloilo to Guimaras is a whopping thirteen pesos. Haha. So anyway, the person manning the rickety pseudo ticket booth (or more like a little counter or window pane) handed me a little slip of paper that says "Hollywood". A little later I discovered that this was to be the name of the ferry boat that I will board.

So anyway, the fare was cheap, because,  well...the Ortiz port is not exactly some fancy shmatzy port, it is very basic, very simple with houses built just inches from the water. It looks like Manila but doesn't smell like Manila as is most of Iloilo.

After riding that boat for about 15 minutes, I alighted and was attacked by tricycle operators. Good thing I came prepared and somewhat expected for the worst kind of peddling. The guy from the tourism office took a look at me and smiled ruefully with pity, haha. Because he knew that I was being attacked by these transpo peddlers. However I was firm, so I went to the little tourism booth, signed in, got a Guimaras map, asked the tourism guy which multicab (jeepney) to ride to get to the resort,  and shooed the peddlers as gentle and as firm as possible. Didn't realize it would really work. I just told them that I don't mind riding the jeep for 45 minutes and that I was saving my money. The last of the persistent peddlers just nodded his head, and even escorted me to the multicab of my preferred destination. This made me realize that hey, they are not as ruthless as what we think, they're just making a living. And if you try to be firm yet gentle, these transpo peddlers will understand where you are coming from.

So I rode the jeep with the locals. This part I really liked. A bibingka peddler offered her goodies...I wanted to buy one but she can't seem to understand me. (heck we did not understand each other obviously). When I asked how much, she said. "Pulo". Of course I didn't know that. So after the miming, a gracious co passenger translated and it meant ten pesos. Having rode the jeepney, I got a taste of what the local culture was like. And it felt as sweet and calm as the waters around the island.
I was dropped off at the Crossing Alubijod where I took a tricycle to the destination  where I was treated like royalty by the caretakers. I also met the owner, Dr. Lacson who is a marine environmentalist and scientist who is currently studying sea grass for a seminar in Phuket.
The Guimaras daily life, simple, unpretentious, unabashed. They are that way, and it seems that there was no hurry to progress or to change. In fact the province doesn't need to, because therein lies the charm.
After that, I immediately went on an island hopping trip which took me to white sand beaches and coves, turtle sanctuaries, shifting sandbar and Alubijod beach. The island hop is very cheap too starting with 400 pesos plus 150 pesos the following hour. It took me about 7 hours to explore the whole island, pointed to a particular beach and called it my own. 

The night wore on, and some fellas from Bacolod (Marine studies former students and professors) were drinking and asked me to join. It rained that night after the sunset so the time was spent drinking and laughing with new found strangers. Mind you this is the kind of drinking where the only ambient sounds were crickets and the gentle waves crashing on the sand under a star-less sky and lone moon. No annoying dance music, no videoke, no television. How sweet is spending the night unplugged and unjaded? Waking up the next day after roughly two hours of sleep felt like a dream, as I woke up to this dramatic sunrise.

Everything was sweet in here, not cloying, but a dreamlike sweetness as was my stay in Guimaras.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Iloilo and Guimaras

A canceled meeting, and heavy raining in Quezon City allowed me to take a minute to blog about the recent travel. I want to get down and dirty with the details of the trip soon, so this shall serve as an overview. While it's raining in the metro, my heart is somewhere else, and it's in sunny Iloilo.

But first things first, this was my very first solitary trip.For a change. I got there with a couple of friends, but we went on our ways so I was left alone for the rest of the trip. A new thing for me since I'm generally social, I want to talk to people mostly about my opinions or about my snide remarks about nothing in particular.  Another thing why solo travel is a big, big thing to me is because I am generally a lazy traveler.I had no strong feelings about getting to a particular destination, or eating a specific food. Being away was enough for me.

However that kind of traveler changed as years passed. And I discovered there are a lot of things to see, more than the usual destinations. Also, rest days and vacations are golden ,you need to plan ahead and make trips worth it.  I discovered too that I can stick to a budget and still have so much fun.  I traveled solo basically just to be in the destination, do what I want, whatever feels right. And it's not as snobbish or loner-sounding as it appears. Try it sometime. I was skeptical but yes, it is everything it was cracked up to be. It's good to zone out from time to time, talk to strangers, get to know new people and places.It's a liberating experience and frankly, could be an addiction.
50 pesos oyster

So why Iloilo? Well, I chose Iloilo because I wanted to eat a bucket full of oysters you can buy in Manila for about 300 pesos, but in Iloilo, costs only 50 pesos. I wanted to compare which batchoy is better, Ted's or Deco's. I wanted to have La Paz Batchoy in La Paz and have Pancit Molo in, well, Molo, both in Iloilo.
bas relief depicting war in San Joaquin Church

San Joaquin Church

Guimbal Church

I wanted to pray in the heritage churches from Molo Church, Jaro Cathedral, Guimbal to Miag-Ao and yes, the very far San Joaquin  church, the only "military-themed" church where a war is depicted on the surface. And I did that and more. I chose Ilo-ilo because it's a province but is essentially a city, what with two SM malls and a Robinson's mall within stone throws distance.

I went there so that when I really want to get away I could hop a boat to Guimaras and be alone with the sun, see and hold a pawikan for the very first time, island hop to white sand beaches and see the most arresting sunset in the world. To be lost in Guimaras but can still come back to Iloilo city when work stuff beckons and I need to use the internet. If you plan to go on a solo trip, IloIlo can be one of the best provinces to get lost into -  where you can eat, pray and love your local island culture and heritage, your loved ones and yourself more and more.