The island province of Guimaras is located off the coast of Iloilo City, some 15-20 minutes away via pumpboat. Despite its close proximity to the city, Guimaras still largely retains a very provincial atmosphere. Currently, it is known for its stunning natural beauty, as well as being the place where the sweetest mangoes in the world can be found. Its mango industry is so well-protected that visitors are prohibited from bringing in mangoes from outside the province, for fear of diluting the genetic stock of island’s mangoes, as well as to protect them from destructive parasites. Aside from the mango industry, the tourism industry is also thriving, with standardized rates for guide/transportation fees being implemented, and helpful tourism officers well-trained to assist with tourists’ inquiries.
LEAVING RICHIE BEHIND
We woke up early the next morning to get to Guimaras early and visit as many spots as possible. Since Richie’s flight back to Manila was still at around noontime, Gracey and I said our quick goodbyes to him as we went down Vista Inn’s lobby to have breakfast. Since we would be out the entire day, we already made arrangements the previous night for our bags to be transferred to a smaller room once Richie checks out that day.
We both had Filipino breakfast of -silog – I don’t remember exactly whether it was tocilog or longsilog – prior to leaving the inn. And while we were at the lobby, we planned our day as best we could and asked directions from the inn’s personnel on how to get to the port where we could catch a ride going to Guimaras.
We could have opted to take a cab but we wanted to go local and took a jeepney instead. This was a bit hard because while the jeepney driver and our fellow passengers were helpful and understood Tagalog perfectly, they had a tendency to answer in Ilonggo, completely forgetting that we don’t understand their language. Anyway, we did manage to mostly understand what they were saying via context clues and some common words. (Actually, we almost missed our stop, but that’s okay.)
ARRIVAL AND GETTING AROUND
So we finally found our way to the port area at the end of Ortiz Street. Once there, I was surprised at how heavy the traffic was of people going to and from Guimaras. A lot were tourists like us, but most were those who either live in Guimaras and work in Iloilo, or vice versa. The large pump boats here leave for the Jordan wharf. We were told that there’s another port in an area called Parola, with the boats there going to the northern Guimaras town of Buenavista. But since we were first timers, we had to go to the province’s administrative capital of Jordan, where tourism services are more reliable.
That morning, due to the large volume of people, a boat was leaving every 10 minutes, or as soon as one is filled up with passengers. The trip itself was very fast. Although the waters in the strait weren’t really all that calm, the powerful motor of the pumpboat ensured that we got there in less time than a typical coffee break. We literally haven’t warmed our seats yet and we were already disembarking. Up to that point, we largely clueless as to how to proceed, only having a vague idea of which places to visit through ideas picked up from travel blogs.
Good thing the provincial government’s tourism booths were strategically located where arriving tourists would easily see them. We then simply lined up in one booth and waited for our turn as tourism officers assisted fellow tourists in coming up with an itinerary. I was observing them while they were doing this and I found them to be very well-trained, thorough and meticulous in going about their job.
A few moments later, it was our turn to be assisted. We were given a free map of the island, and the toruism officer marked the spots that she deemed best for us to visit within the day. Tricycles are the most common mode of transportation for day trippers in Guimaras, and there was a line of accredited tricycle drivers just outside the port area. After agreeing on a whole day all-in fee (P800, if I remember right), we were then off on our tour.
Our first stop was the Trappist Monastery, also in Jordan, but it’s around a 10-15 minute ride, as the tricycle goes, from the port towards the interior of the island. The full name of this monastery is the “Our Lady of the Philippines Trappist Abbey”. Despite the isolation and asceticism traditionally associated with monasticism, the monastery has emerged as one of Guimaras’ most visited destinations, due in part to its relative proximity to the port, as well as the presence of a souvenir shop within the premises.
When we arrived there, we found that we were the only visitors at that time, so we roamed around the premises unhindered and even entering their main chapel, taking photos inside. As we exited the chapel and walked around some more, we spotted a small house-like structure where a monk was sitting and so we went to where he was to chat him up.
The monk is named Brother Peter and he was apparently in charge of welcoming visitors who arrive at the monastery, and explain what the monastery is about, how it functions, it’s vocation, etc. By some coincidence, Gracey and I arrived at the time he was momentarily away from his post, and so we didn’t see him upon arriving. Like most monks, Brother Peter is very soft-spoken and has a demeanor that is as peaceful as the monastery’s surroundings.
Our chat with Brother Peter involved telling him about ourselves and our travels. I was a bit surprised that he was very much updated on what was happening outside the walls of the monastery. Either they have an Internet connection or the monastery’s visitors tell them about current events. Anyway, he said they entertained prayer requests, so Gracey and I wrote our requests on pieces of paper and gave a donation for the upkeep of the monastery premises.
Since we still had other places to go to, we didn’t prolong our chat with Brother Peter and we said our goodbyes after giving our prayer requests and posing for pictures with him. Before leaving the monastery, we stopped by the gift shop of the monastery where we bought treats and souvenirs. I bought a T-shirt and a few bags of snacks. Think of it as another way of supporting the contemplative brothers.
One thing we didn’t realize about Guimaras is that even though it’s a relatively small island when one looks at it in the map, it still takes a long while to get from one place to another due to the winding roads, as well as the fact that we were riding a tricycle, which was not as fast as, say, a car or van. It took a while for use to get to our next stop, which was the Guisi Lighthouse, located in the municipality of Nueva Valencia, just south of Jordan.
Like most old Philippine lighthouses, the Guisi Lighthouse was built by the Spanish in the 1890s as part of a master plan to light up Philippine coasts to aid in nocturnal maritime traffic. According to the provincial website, the old metal structure used to be called the Faro de Punta Luzaran. After it was built, it underwent a steady decline, with the lighthouse itself deteriorating into a rusty gangling tower, and with the surrounding ground structures collapsing and falling into disuse.
Since the old lighthouse’s deterioration has made it impossible to use it further fulfill its function, a new one has been built a few meters near it. It’s also all-metal, but with a much simpler design and painted white. The surrounding structure still has most of its walls standing. It’s been cleaned up, overgrown with some vegetation, and has become a charming destination where people can view the coast and take pretty pictures of the surroundings.
From what I know, people are no longer allowed to climb up the old lighthouse, but the caretaker allowed us on the strict condition that we only do so one at a time. I let Gracey go first. Once I was up there, the seascape that greeted me just took my breath away.
After we’ve had our fill of the views at the lighthouse, we then descended towards the nearby beach at the bottom of the cliff. Stairs were fashioned out of the slope, and handrails were thankfully constructed too, because it was pretty steep. Upon reaching the bottom, we basically just stayed in one spot to take pictures. Gracey and I weren’t keen on taking a dip as we had a hectic schedule that day. (And besides, we’ve had all the beach and saltwater we could handle in the Gigantes. We wanted to keep this a purely sightseeing tour.)
LUNCH AT ALUBIHOD
Before we went on our next destination, we first looked for a place to have lunch as it was already approaching noontime. Our driver suggested that we have lunch in Alubihod, still in Nueva Valencia. Alubihod is known for its white sand beach, and a number of resorts are located in the vicinity that have access to the beach. As stated before, we weren’t really keen on beach bumming so we were only interested in finding a good and reasonably priced restaurant to satisfy our hunger (and possibly the tricycle driver’s too.)
Just now, I was texting Gracey as to whether she remembers the name of the resort where we had lunch in. It’s been months since that day, and I’ve been to a lot of places since then, so forgive me if my mind is a bit hazy. I was thinking that it may be Raymen Beach Resort, but Gracey remembers that it was Alubihod Beach Resort. Thinking about it, Gracey might be right because I seem to remember our tricycle driver telling us that he knew of a resort/restaurant whose food was more reasonably priced than at Raymen.
Anyway, I think we ordered too much food because we underestimated the serving sizes of the menu items. For example, the molo that we ordered, which we thought would have been enough for 2-3 people, looked like it was enough for 6. We also ordered an oversized boneless bangus, around 6 cups of rice, and two other dishes. thankfully, our driver wasn’t too shy in helping us finish the food. In our hunger, we completely forgot to take photos of the food. Anyway, it was all good, and it gave us the needed energy for the rest of the afternoon.
Next: Mangoes and an old church.
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This entry is part of the Iloilo & Guimaras series dated March 23-27, 2012:
1. Looking for Travel Buddies
2. Preview: Tangke Saltwater Lagoon
3. Las Islas de Gigantes (prologue)
4. Las Islas de Gigantes (morning)
5. Las Islas de Gigantes (afternoon)
6. Why are they called the “Gigantes Islands” anyway?
7. Gigantes Islands Sample Itinerary & Budget Estimate
8. Gigantes Islands Travel Guide
9. Las Islas de Gigantes (epilogue)
10. Back to the mainland, back to the city
11. Day Trip to Guimaras (morning)
12. Day Trip to Guimaras (afternoon)