Friday, April 29, 2016

It's got to be Iloilo

By Tony Mariadass

Pictures courtesy of Iloilo Provincial Tourism Office

Mention Iloilo and the chances are response will be – what, where and who?
Indeed the name itself is odd.
Iloilo Province is located in the southern and north eastern portion of Panay Island in the Western Visayas region in Philippines.
It takes its name from Irong-Irong, the old name of the city of Iloilo, a tongue of land that sticks out like a nose on the south of Iloilo River. Irong is nose in the local dialect.
I first heard of Iloilo in 1991 when the Malay Mail football team was invited to compete the inaugural President’s Cup tournament. It was held in Iloilo and Bacolod City – another Visayas city – about one hour ferry ride from Iloilo.
Twenty-five years ago, when we went to Iloilo, we had to take a connecting flight from the domestic airport in Manila and had to endure checking-in for our flight with roosters (cock fighting was popular in Visayas) and were given boarding passes which were just a piece of paper taken from tray board behind the check-in counter.
Today, not only does Manila has three terminals which are all state-of-art, but the airport at Iloilo is also of international standard which opened on June 14, 2007 in the town of Cabatuan, replacing the old Iloilo Airport at the Mandurrio district.
The city has even beautified their murky and muddy river with a walkway, cyclists path and tress planted all along, giving the River Esplanade as the latest feature in the city.
What used to be dusty and narrow roads during the yesteryears, today there are highways and roads are wide with double or triple lanes. I still remember how our newspaper team was taken on a ride on jeepneys decorated with balloons and posters in the streets of Iloilo which was lined with people greeting us. We felt like celebrities. But that was a time when foreigner visitors or events involving foreigners were rare.
Today the old Iloilo Sports Stadium where we played with a seating gallery for about 1,000 fans, has now become major sports complex and venue in Western Visayas. The center is complete with a 10,000 capacity stadium, a rubberised track oval, a football field, an Olympic size swimming pool, two volleyball courts, two basketball courts, two open tennis courts, four badminton courts, an indoor gymnasium and dormitories.
It has indeed come a long way since then and the city is now vibrant but at the same time peaceful for a great holiday.
The city has indeed developed and an old friend from Iloilo, Pabilto Araneta, who is the city’s sports consultant with the Iloilo City Council said that it was the fastest developing into an urbanised city in the Visayas.
“It is smaller than Bacolod City, but the development here is far much faster and greater than in Bacolod. The development is in terms of amenities like roads, international airport, shopping complexes and hotels. The traffic is manageable although there are more cars on the roads these days,” said Araneta.
“We have not comprised history and old buildings in the name of development. We are a beautified city without being robbed of the authentic and rustic nature.”
The beauty of visiting Iloilo is that it is easily assessable from tip to toe of the province and from Iloilo the furthest Barangay (province) is Carles on the northern tip which is only 148 kilometres only and south is San Joaquin which is only 54 kilometres away. There is good transportation by inter-province busses or for nearer destination by jeepneys or vans.
The First District in the province distinguishes itself for the variety of its architectural wealth in the southern portion of the province comprise of seven municipalities (Oton, Tigbauan, Guimbal, Tubunhgan, Igbaras, Miagao ans San Joaquin).
The centrepiece is the Baroque-Romanesque style of St Thomas of Villanova Parish, declared a national shrine in 1973 and included in the World Heritage list under UNESCO in 1993, the only one outside Luzon.
The Fifth District is known as the Resort destination, which is in the northern part of the province. This district comprise of 11 municipalities namely Barotac, Viejo, Ajuy, Conception, Sara, San Rafael, Lemery, San Dionisio, Batad, Estancia, Balasan and Carles.

The options vary from district to district and you will be spoilt for choices and never run out of options – thanks to its exceptional range of landscapes just short distances away, lots of leisure activities and the city is a repository of ancient and historical heritage where tradition and modernity blend together in perfect harmony, all for a unique and exciting adventure.
You name it, Ilolilo has to offer – be it beautiful powder–white beaches (Biyaheng Tampisaw in the town of Concepcion and Gigantes), waterfalls, falls, caves (towns of Tubungan, Igbaras, Miagao, Janiuay, Calinog and San Enrique), camping sites and trekking (Sitio Bucari in Leon, Tubungan, Miagao, Alimodian, Janiuay, Lambunao and Calinog), caves (city of Pasai and towns of Igbaras, Miagao, Leon, Janiuay and Gihantes island in Carles), island-hopping, fishing, scuba diving, trekking and old churches.
Iloilo is also a haven for food and festivals.

Seafood is a must when in Iloilo and their speciality Bangus (milk fish found in the Visayas only) cooked in no less than 15 ways and Talaba (oysters) is not to be missed. There are seafood restaurants just about everywhere and it is very affordable. Just to give an idea it only cost me RM90 for a six dishes (including two dishes of oysters – fresh and butter baked) with drinks for three persons. To top it all, we could not finish the food and packed the balance to give to the hotel staff.
Among the local delicacies include lapz batchoy (famous Ilonggo dish of noodle with pork parts) ancit molo (noodle dish), biscocho (baked bread with butter and sugar), pinasugbo (a naïve confection, barquillos (thin rolled crisp wafer) and baye -baye (a mixture of scraped young coconut flesh, sugar and pinipig (pounded rice grains),
Festivals are aplenty throughout the islands in Philippines and Iloilo is no different. The high sense of spirituality and inter-cultural values of the Ilonggos (people from Iloilo are known as this) paves the way for celebrations of festivals and fiestas as a form of thanksgiving for almost everything the divine providence has lavishly endowed them.
Aside from district fiestas which usually celebrate a patron saint’s day, there are festivals which are celebrated by the whole city and attracts tourists in numbers.
Among the city’s famous festivities are Dinagyang is dubbed as the “Festival of Excellent Folk choreography”. It is a colourful display of street dancing and story-telling. 

Then there is Paraw and Samba Regatta Festival where the sunny but cool and windy February climate paves the way for the annual celebration along Iloilo Strait. Colorful paraws (local sailboats) vie for trophies and cash prices for the different categories of the contest.
The contest gives tribute and honor to this water vehicle as an indispensible partner of local fishermen and as a common means of transportation between Iloilo and Guimaras and the other nearby coastal towns.
Side events also include, Porma Balas a sand sculpting competition, search for Ms. Paraw Regatta; beach-volleyball, beach-footbal, and the Samba Regatta - a music and dancing competition which has resemblance of the Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro.
Candelaria de Jaro is a feast celebration of its patroness, La Nuestra Señora de Candelaria or Our Lady of Candles. Although a religious holiday, the whole city and the country literally goes to Jaro to celebrate with the Jarenos this fabulous and famous celebration. Originally, the celebration is a thanksgiving of the Jarenos for the good harvest and fortune that the patroness has showered on them for the past year, but it has drawn local and foreign visitors alike because of its lavish luncheons and dinners, opulent religious procession, the grand ball and coronation of the Jaro Charity Queen.
Iloilo City Charter Day is another celebration which started only in 2010. It is a 40-day celebration beginning on July 16 and climaxing on August 25. It aims to create public awareness of the history and development of Iloilo as a City; arouse community sense of pride of place; and showcase the celebration as link to culture and heritage.
So if one is looking for a perfect vacation destination with a variety of choices, affordable and anytime of the year, it’s got to be Iloilo – their tagline in promoting Iloilo.
Getting to Iloilo:

Accessible from Manila by air (50 minutes flight) by Philippines or Cebu Air. It is also accessible by sea by ferry but is an overnight trip.

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