Sweet Escape to Guimaras

With just few hours of shut eye coming from Zamboanga last night, I was headed to Iloilo.  I couldn’t believe this is my first time to visit this province.

Reaching Iloilo, I find its airport to be modern and clean.  From the airport to the hotel , I was amazed at the infrastructure.  I actually think it looks better that most urban centers I’ve been to…. including Cebu and Davao.  The roads are wide and clean.  The old structures like the town hall have been preserved and fuses nicely with new structures.

I did my research of places to go to in Iloilo.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Guimaras is a mere 15-minute boat ride.  I wasted no time in researching where to go to and chanced upon this blog which has the contact number of the highly recommended trike driver named Cherald who gave the lady blogger and her friends a tour.  I wasted no time contacting Cherald and he responded.  I told him that I would be in Iloilo in October and thinking of making a side trip to Guimaras.  He gave me an itinerary for a land tour and quoted a price.  He told me that aside from him, four of his brothers are also providing tours and that if he is not available, one of his brothers will tour us giving assurance that they are also trust-worthy.  The blog spoke highly of him so I can just trust his word.

img_4086On the first night, we had dinner at Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafoods.  When we got there, a lot of our colleagues are already gathered.  Some more would come later.  It was a buffet affair.  The feast consisted of their specialty, native chicken inasal, grilled bangus,  tuna kinilaw  na tuna, oysters and pancit molo soup.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel.  We booked at Circle Inn, a nice hostel with a homey feel.  The room is small with just enough space for two comfortable beds.  It is neat and clean.  There is no cabinet but there is an open shelving system to put one’s stuff.  The bathroom is spotless and has the usual toiletries and towels.  The view of the seas and nearby Guimaras island is a spectacle.  Just do not draw your gaze downward where a busy street with a sprinkling of the usual dwellers’ hanging around and some not so pleasant sight.  The hostel is located in a residential area but is walking distance to the port where the ferries going to Guimaras are stationed.

The following day is the day devoted to what we ought to do in Iloilo.  When we were done with our part, we hang out in the venue, the state-of-the-art Iloilo Convention Center, also the site of the APEC meetings in 2015.

In the evening, our gracious hosts brought us to Punot for dinner.  It’s a modern resto that sits in Iloilo’s sassy Riverside Esplanade.  They pre-ordered Binakol (tinola in buko juice instead of water), lechon kawali, grilled fish and other dishes.  I was not feeling well and the Binakol was healing to my sagging spirit.  I ordered margarita since alcoholic beverage would tend to make me feel better on times like this.

When we got back to the hotel, I contacted Charlie, the brother of Cherald, who called me earlier.  We agreed on the arrangements.  My colleague and I went to bed earlier to prepare ourselves for a long day.

Following day is the day!  We prepared to go by packing our stuff and having breakfast.  Then, we set out for the Ortiz Wharf…. paid our fare (P14.00/pax), signed our names in the manifest and rode the boat.  As soon as it was filled, it was on its way to the other side, the Jordan Wharf.   I was texting Charlie as the ferry moved to its destination.

Reaching Jordan Wharf, we registered in the Tourism Office.  Soon enough, Charlie appeared and led us to his trike.

Guimaras Island, located in the Philippines, is famous for producing the sweetest mangoes in the world; its mangoes reportedly earned its reputation after being served at the White House and Buckingham Palace. Among the smallest provinces, its capital is Jordan.  Located in the Panay Gulf, between the islands of Panay and Negros, there are over 50,000 mango trees on the island.

For the day tour, our agreed itinerary goes like this……

  1. Smallest Plaza
  2. Pasalubong Center
  3. Windmill farm
  4. Mango plantation
  5. Trappist Monastery
  6. Guisi Lighthouse ruins
  7. Beach resort – lunch – tolong omelet, tinolang manok and grilled fish
  8. Raymen Beach Resort
  9. Mango Pizza

Off to our first destination…… For being such, this plaza earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.   With that, it gets tourist like me curious enough to go there.  There was not much to do in the smallest plaza except to have our pictures taken with the statue of Dr. Jose Rizal. We spent a few minutes doing this and went to our next destination.

I wasn’t so keen on the Pasalubong Center, near the Provincial Capitol, as our second destination because I was thinking to myself why would we go there now when we can do it later before going home.  But Charlie seems to know what he was doing so we let it be.  True enough, he has got something planned.  We checked out what’s inside and saw the usual pasalubong… pastries, juice concentrate, handicrafts.  Nothing caught our fancy as we are more interested in seeing places.  We asked if there was mango.  They have but it would cost us a fortune.  I think P250 to P300 per kg if I remember it right.  We can probably just try eating at The Pitstop later.

We went out and Charlie led us to the huge GUIMARAS signage where he showed us his prowess as a photographer.  He is adept in the use of smartphone cams and the many tricks to do with it.  From then on, he won our trust 🙂

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The next destination is the newest tourist attraction,  Windmill Farm in San Lorenzo.  The San Lorenzo wind farm, which consists of 27 wind turbines generating 2 MW of power each, started operating in December 2014.  We made few stops to take before going near one of the windmills, one that is being repaired.  The guard admonished us to stay away from the path of the oil spillage.  It was a lovely sight to me as I have not seen a windmill farm up close.  Trans-Asia Renewable Energy Corp. (TAREC) of the Phinma Group is operating the 54-MW San Lorenzo wind farm iwith plans for expansion.  Well, we heard from one of the locals that BBM had been to this place a number of time for sight-seeing apparently ;D  It is no coincidence that the biggest windmill farm is in Bangui, Ilocos Norte.  Probably, explains his penchant for this Guimaras attraction.

We proceeded to the Mango plantation.  Again, another spot I wasn’t so keen about.  But  Charlie said it’s a good place for jump shots.  Like I said we trust him and he delivered.  On hindsight, I had to brush aside my initial hesitation because Guimaras mangoes count among the sweetest and the best ( certified pest-free by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) in the world.  As we were led in the plantation, I felt a sense of calm just looking at the verdant landscape around us.  I trained my eyes on hectares of mango trees as far as I can see.  Then, we wasted no time and with Charlie’s help, our more adventurous side has been exposed ;D  Our jump shots cannot be perfected so we did something better, climbed those decade-old mango trees and get those perfect shots.  Later, I would realize that climbing was rather easy but going down posed some problems for me…. I managed to jump when I reached the lowest point I can step on.

Then, we’re off to the Trappist Monastery, the only trappist monastery in the country.  I was thinking this could be the last destination because it also is a place to buy good food and crafts for pasalubong from their shop.  But our tour guide knows best.  The monastery grounds is a peaceful and sacred enclave run by monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance.  These monks follow the rule of St. Benedict and are best known for the extreme austerity or strictness that characterizes their discipline.  We went inside the Church and said our prayers.  After our moment of contemplation, my attention was caught by a monk among dogs inside an open elevated structure.  I couldn’t resist heading there.   Bro. Peter and the dogs welcomed us.  One dog was so playful while another one just lying quietly.  Bro. peter said that the dog was sick probably because of fleas.  I gave him some tips for removing fleas and told him about my big happy brood.  He blessed us before we said goodbye.  We will be back here to do some shopping at their shop before we go back to Iloilo.

The next destination is a real challenge as we traversed the meandering and punishing path to the Guisi Lighthouse.  Imagine we had to alight at some point near the lighthouse because the trike could not navigate the sloping path.  Arriving there, we had to walk some more amid lush greenery to reach the the object of our suffering, errr, desire……. We were greeted by the gatekeeper who doubles as a collector of the P20 entrance fee who was occupying one of the structures.  He has a rundown wooden bed in there and benches to welcome guest.  Please relieve yourselves before going here because the toilet is located far.   My companion had to go so she went.  I didn’t even dare ask what is its state.

Located at the southwestern coast of Guimaras, in Barangay Dolores, Nueva Valencia, Guisi lighthouse is one of the remarkable historical sites of the Province of Guimaras and is also among the oldest lighthouses in Philippines. Guisi Lighthouse was built by the Spanish government in 1894-1896 as a part of the Master Plan of installing the lighting of the maritime coasts of the Philippines. Guisi lighthose was formerly known as Faro de Punta Luzaran and functioned as a navigational aid to the fisherman and sailors passing the Panay Gulf.

So it’s time to see what’s in store for us.  At first, one is drawn to a piece of metal scrap of a lighthouse amid weathered structures.  This place is not called ruins because it has been preserved.  Rather, it is left to rot wonderfully… as the greens attached itself to the concrete walls.   The place grows on you like the simplicity of a beautiful woman.  No trappings… just nature taking its course on a man-made structure that becomes more enchanting with the passage of time.  Of course, pictorials, the kind that encourage adventurism and a sense of fun, had to happen in this once in a lifetime chance specially one that may not happen again soon.  Well, I have more places to explore, not because, I don’t want to come back.  if you have a chance to visit Guimaras, make sure to include Guisi Lighthouse in your itinerary no matter how tumultuous the trip is.  It is worth the trip.

While the original lighthouse is no longer operational, a new one has been built by the Philippine Coast Guard. It is a white, hourglass-shaped metal tower, built after 1920, standing right beside the remains of the old lighthouse.  If you ask me this new lighthouse stand out like a sore thumb amid the beautiful ruins.

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Our tour guide’s experience must have tided him though so many of these tours that he img_4465invited us to the top of the lighthouse even if a sign says it’s not allowed.  My companion went in first but half-through lost heart and descended.  I had to do what I got to do and climb the rusty winding stairs.  I went in and went for it.  Reaching the top.  I gasped at the spectacular 360° view .  I am not particularly fond of heights specially the open kind so I had to hold on to the mid post all the time as Charlie and I took turns snapping shots.  The sun was directly on top of us as it was past noon.  Sooner, it took its toll on me and I had to go down.

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When life treats you bad, this is where to stay 🙂

Several more shots of the ruins of the structure and the wishing well and we left….

On the way out, we enjoyed the view of the picturesque Guisi Beach., a long strip of cream sand with lush green palm trees in the background and some rock formations on the sides. The water here shines in beautiful blue and green shades from light turquoise color to dark blue green color.  A beach gal like me really wanted to jump in but Charlie is not so keen about the Guisi beach because the sand is not as fine as those other beaches like those in Boracay, Cebu or Palawan.  There are also rock formation which can be What is there is an untouched beach.  In another time, I wouldn’t miss taking a dip.  We have to take lunch so I had to let go of my desire to go for a dip and there are no restos in sight where we are.  We continued our trek… till we reach our limo, err, trike 🙂

We headed to Raymen Beach where we would spend time at the beach and have our lunch.  Once we got there, we paid an entrance fee of P25/pax.   I’m suited in rashguard so I need not change.  My companion did.  We stayed in one of the cabanas by the beach.  I went for the beach while she ordered our lunch at the resto.  As I dipped in the beach which I have long doing after the tiring yet rewarding trip to Guisi Lighthouse, I was instantly refreshed.  The beach is not the best, not the clearest that I’ve been to but it’s clean.  There is also some crowds.  If one has been in secluded islands, this may not be your best bet.  But if you only got a day like us, we can appreciate what it offers in terms of amenities and rates.  Some parts of the beach are also picture worthy.  It’s unfortunate that we don’t have enough time for island hopping which might be the better alternative if one wants to swim and go snorkling.

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My companion didn’t swim but just enjoyed the view and took some pictures.  In a while, I would get off the water to join my companion and Charlie for lunch at the resto.  I haven’t changed and wet suits are not allowed inside the resto.  There are tables outside the resto if one still intends to go back swimming.  We had lunch on one of those tables.  Lunch consisted of daing na bangus, eggplant omelette and sinigang na hipon.  We had to ask for condiments to enjoy our meal.

We decided not to clean up in the resort and just do this back at the hotel.  We left after lunch and went back to the Trappist Monastery gift shop.   There are food products like jellies, jams, candies, pastries, others and crafts.  I wasn’t so keen on buying but I spotted their guava jelly which I just have to try.  I bought rosaries, wooden back scratcher and a hat I can use in my coming adventure.  My companion bought a lot, I mean a lot:) with my kids all grown up and not at home most time, gifting after a trip has become optional.  I buy only really interesting stuff or food items likely to be consumed.  Besides, during official trips we often are given local products as tokens.  That makes the trip all the more memorable 🙂

After shopping, we thought about going to The Pitstop to take-out their famous mango pizza.  We are thinking if we can still go to the Holy Mountain  or Balaan Bukid, the site  of big white cross at the peak of Guimaras Island where one can have an overlooking view of Iloilo City and Guimaras Strait where which can be seen from our hotel room.   On the way to the cross that can only be reached by walking 30 minutes to an hour, one gets to pass by the 14 Stations of the Cross, which starts in Brgy. Hoskyn and ends at the top of the mountain’s chapel, Ave Maria Shrine.

The skies were already overcast while we were still at the trappist monastery grounds.  On the way to The Pitstop, it drizzled, then it poured …. Charlie had to stop to cover his trike and protect us from the rains.  He was drenched with rainwater…  I was hoping the rains ease up…..

20161012_153107We managed to reach The Pitstop and by this time the rains showed no signs of letting up. We went inside and saw a sign that says no Mango Pizza 😦  We tried asking the staff to confirm and indeed there is none 😦   Missing out on this must try delicacy, I sulked like a kid and went back to the trike.  We can no longer go to the Balaan Bukid and headed directly to the Jordan Wharf to go back to the other side.  We had to catch our flight in the evening.

At the port, we gave Charlie his just due promising him that we will contact him again if we get the chance to go back to Guimaras.  He seemed pleased.  I also promise to give him the same recommendation as that given to his brother, Cherald.  We said our goodbyes, bought our tickets and rode the ferry.

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That is Charlie in the middle

I took one last longing look at the island.  Perhaps, I will be back…..

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Reaching Ortiz Wharf, we walked to our hotel.  We cleaned up and waited at the hotel for our transportation to the airport.  The route to the airport felt like a lull after a long tiring day.  Reaching the airport, we checked in.  And surprise, surprise….. we got upgraded and can make use of The Lounge and have anything and everything we want…. Yay!

After an uneventful flight, we are home bringing with us good memories of our quick getaway to the picturesque Guimaras.

Below is a breakdown of the cost of exploring Guimaras.

  • Boat Ride – P14/pax one way
  • Land tour by tricycle – P1,200 or P600 per pax because there were 2 of us, maybe max of 4 or 5 pax
  • Entrance to Guisi Lighthouse ruins – P20/pax
  • Entrance fee to Raymen Beach – P25/pax
  • Lunch – P600

Here are more places to explore while in Guimaras:

Balaan Bukid                                                                                                                                                       Roca Encantada                                                                                                                                                 Guisi Beach                                                                                                                                                           Holy Family                                                                                                                                                         Taklong Island National Marine Reserve                                                                                      Tatlong Pulo Island                                                                                                                                          Turtle Island                                                                                                                                                 Sad-Sad Falls

Maybe, one day is not enough for a sweet escape 😉

In case you’ll be needing a tour guide, you can get in touch with either Charlie +639461966887 or Cherald +639084748122 or +639179647934.  I learned from Charlie that Cherald is doing well as a tour guide and now offers guided tour from Iloilo to Guimaras.   He also offers tours by multicab, van and trike.  With Cherald’s success, there’s been a bit of an intrigue as a result.  Other trike drivers are complaining that Cherald and his brothers are getting all the tours.  That is one happy problem if you ask me.  Cherald, Charlie and their brothers wouldn’t be able to handle all the tourists.  if these other drivers would be as trust-worthy as they are, they will get their fair share.  In fact, the idea of a tour transportation cooperative would seem viable and would boost the tourism industry there.

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