A Rich Rediscovery
During a break from work, Stephen and I decided to go to Panay; we last set foot on it several years ago. We wanted to rediscover our roots; his parents grew up in Antique, while my father spent most of his life in Iloilo. We planned the trip to last for five days and to happen four months from the time of our conversation. It took us a year before the trip pushed through, but better late than never.
Prior to the trip, Villa Beach was the only nice place I knew in Iloilo City. I wasn't bitten with the travel bug yet, so I was oblivious to the province's other tourist destinations. Now older and eager to travel around, I found out that Iloilo - and the rest of Panay - is a perfect getaway. Boracay isn't the only place to go. As Stephen and I realized during the trip, one needs an adventurous spirit to discover Panay's most gorgeous sights.
Old is the New Cool
The Philippines doesn't have the majestic structures that Europe is renowned for, but it has old churches to make up for it. Iloilo has lots, and the good weather all year round keeps many of them in good condition.
Miag-ao Church was the first in the itinerary. When Stephen and I arrived there, the first thing we looked at was the church's front side. It's filled with eye-catching figures. Spain's colonial years are carved in these stones; I gaped at the figure of an elderly Aztec chief. At the top center is a carving of coconut leaves, so abundant in the Philippines. While Stephen took pictures of the church's side structures, I took a closer look at one of the church's two watchtower belfries to see if the material is really made up of clay. I pondered for a minute, but I couldn't come to a conclusion afterwards.
After we were done taking pictures, we went to Guimbal, the next town. Its church was built during the 19th century. Its features may not be as special as Miag-ao's, but the afternoon sun gives it an imposing look. Tigbauan's Church is no different from Guimbal's, which was also built during the 1800s. Locals were attending a mass by the time we got there. Stephen and I ate bibingkas (native rice cakes) while observing the people that crowded the entrance.
Molo's Church of St. Anne was our last stop. Stephen took shots of the church, while I sat down on one of the park benches in front of it and stared. Its front side reminded me of the towered churches in Western Europe: a lovely sight. We called it a day afterwards. Both of us weren't able to sleep immediately because we thought of the beaches that we would see the next day.
Life's a Beach
Stephen and I boarded a bus to Pandan, Antique before sunrise. It took a couple of hours to cross the mountainous border that separates Iloilo and Antique. Half an hour later, we were greeted by the sight of a rice field. It had a terrace-like feature. It was the same with the succeeding rice fields the bus passed by. I surmissed that this was one of the distinctive features of Antique.
In the background is the Cordillera Mountain Range, which separates Antique from the rest of Panay. One hour later, Mount Madia-as, the island's highest peak, was in full view. Stephen told me we were near Culasi, which is located in the middle of the province. He talked about one of the town's islands, which he visited when he was a lad. He had fond memories of it, and I could see why moments later.
Mararison Island is several kilometers away from Culasi's coast. It's an underdeveloped isle with a lovely beach to laze around on. But that wasn't what Stephen was excited about; it was its pyramid-shaped sandbar, a few meters from the beach, that he asked the boatman to take us to. It took us a few minutes to walk around the sandbar. We rested for a moment. We gazed at Madia-as, which looked breathtaking from where we sat. We didn't stay long, as we needed to reach Pandan by afternoon.
Stephen was elated when we arrived at Pandan's public park two hours later. My curiousity was piqued by the statue of Jose Rizal, who looked like he was in deep thought. This was a one-of-a-kind statue of the national hero; most that I saw in other places have the same solemn expression. Stephen noticed it too, but he wasn't interested in it; he rather reminded me of his hometown's most popular destinations, which are Phaidon Beach and Malumpati Cold Springs.
The sun was setting by the time we reached Phaidon. The beach was deserted when we reached the place. Only a Dalmatian dog, owned by the resort owner, was frolicking in the waters. I wanted to take a good photo of this Boracay-like beach. The dog might have sensed my intention because he went to where was and sat. I took many shots of the beach with Stein (the dog's name); it was more than I could ask for. Stephen and I walked the coastline until dusk. He promised that our visit to Malumpati the following day would be more memorable. He was right.
The spring is several kilometers away from the poblacion (town center). The mini-falls in front of the 20-foot pool are its beast feature. I was about to take a bath when Stephen suggested that we went to the source of the spring. The river trek took us about an hour. It could have been shorter, but we took time to absorb the verdant riverbanks, gorgeous rock formations and the emerald-colored waters.
The water source was something I least expected - a pond that looked like a mixture of green and yellow (more greenish), surrounded by woods that seemed endemic in Antique. There was a mysterious feel to the area, which made me reluctant to go down the slope and take a bath. Stephen and I traced back our steps after several minutes of looking around. We called it a day after swimming in the cold pool.
Crystal Cove Island was on the itinerary the next day. It's a small isle located between Boracay and Caticlan that can be reached in half an hour. The island's main attraction is the Coral Garden, where stone houses are surrounded by gorgeous corals of various shapes. It took us half an hour to look around and gape at the structures. We went down a cave that offered a view of waves crashing onto the corals below. Not a bad sight. On our way back, we were stopped by a boat, in which a man was selling popsicles and ice cream.
While waiting for the world-famous sunset, Stephen and I assessed our five-day trip. We'd seen many places, but we wanted more. We planned to include Capiz on our next trip to Panay. The only question was when.
(First published in Zest Air Inflight Magazine on January 2010)