DESTINATIONS in between islands

Guimaras highlights from a motorbike trip around the island

There were so many empty beaches without tourists.

“Your guidebook might not tell you the best parts,” says AJ, an entrepreneur who is in Guimaras with his production crew from “Tribu Kalokalo” (translated Crazy Tribe), after selling his products at Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo. “Ask the local people,” he advises, “They’ll tell you where to go.”

It’s one of those days when the internet on Guimaras doesn’t work so well.

I spent over three hours the other day trying to upload a story on initial impressions on my first day in Guimaras, while at Alobijod Cove. Alobijod Cove is closer to Jordan, the main wharf. I thought spending a night at this cove would improve internet access. Nope. The post is up, but barely; I could only upload one photo.

Deciding that I wasn’t going to stop traveling so that I could spend hours trying to share with the world, I rented a motorbike for the day, leaving it to the universe to guide me around the island of Guimaras. (Hey, I left you a note I’d be away.) My guide for the day is MacMac, a local tricycle driver who works mostly out of Nueva Valencia. Here are the highlights of the motorbike trip around Guimaras Island.

Guisi Lighthouse

Admission: PHP 10 (U$ 0.20)

island

From Alobijod Cove it’s a short 7 km or so, to the Southwest part of the island, to the Guisi Lighthouse. It costs PHP 10 to enter the area, and you’ll need to register your name, country of origin, etc. You drive up to a restaurant at the entrance and park there, and then continue on foot up a slight incline.

The Guisi Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in the Philippines, first lit up in 1894 after having been commissioned when the General Plan for Marine Coast Defense was established in 1857. The original structure was made from French metals, something called ‘tisa’ from Portugal (sorry, I could not look this up because there was no internet), and cement from England. The original stands a rusty hull now, its staircase a beautifully made spiral.

There is a replacement lighthouse now, and it’s brand new and painted white. Boatmen use the lighthouse to guide them through Guimaras Strait.

Below the Guisi Lighthouse is a stretch of beach. It is temptingly empty when I stand over the cliff overlooking it.

Trappist Monastery

Admission: Free

From Guisi I went North, past the Jordan Wharf, to the Trappist Monastery. The monastery is functionally productive. The monks, when they are not contemplating and meditating, make different food items to support their charism and mission. The highlights from the Trappist monastery are the mango-based food items. Biscocho, a dry bread very similar to Italian biscotti, and this one is infused with mango. They also make dry mango, a cake with bits of dry mango baked inside, jams which they sell in their Gift Store.

Mango Research and Development Center

Admission: Free

Two minutes away from the Trappist Monastery is the Mango Research Center. The Mango Research Center was first built in 1969. Mango being a favorite fruit, I was awed by the fact there was an entire research center dedicated to the well-being and production of this fruit. The center engages in research on how to combat pests and disease, increase yield through pruning, how to protect mango fruits through encasing each fruit in a paper cocoon, and helping farmers develop systems for the care of their trees and optimizing harvest. One farmer reported that after 5 years, his crop yield was worth about 1.2 million PHP.

Good for them, and good for us mango-lovers!

The Mango Research Center also had a section for nursing plants. If you want to see some healthy, organic produce, or ask advice for your next crop, this Center is a great place to visit.

Navalas Church and Roca Encantada nearby

Admission for Navalas Church: Free

From San Miguel, I headed North to Navalas, the northernmost tip of Guimaras Island.

In Navalas is the Navalas Church, remarkably built from limestone and glued together with sap and lime. Built between 1880 and 1895, the church was reinforced in 1970 and again in 1979. It was unveiled to the public with a delegation of diplomats from the EU states in 1998.

Nearby the church grounds are some grand acacia trees, towering over the small paths that lead to rice fields and houses.

From the church, I pass several rice fields reminding me of Ubud, Bali, on the way to Roca Encantada.

Roca Encantada

Admission: 50 PHP (About 1 U$)

Situated on a corner of Navalas, Roca Encantada is a slice of Guimaras island that belongs to the Lopez family. Of course, you could swim to the twin islands fronting the property from Navalas beach, a stretch of beach, which has a few outriggers parked on it, but otherwise has no one. No tourists.

It was soup time, apparently. There is a small store, just before Villa Elena, part of the Lopez Estate, which serves batchoy, the pancit or egg noodle soup with bits of pork. Macmac and I each had a bowl of batchoy, for PHP 25 per bowl (U$0.50). The store had condiments on the table, and I had a wonderful chili sambal with my batchoy.

After Roca Encantada, it was time to head for the wind farms.

Along the way, we stopped by Vilches Beach Resort, in San Enrique, San Lorenzo Municipality.

Vilches has a range of rooms, from air conditioned bungalows that sleep 8 (PHP 5,500) to air conditioned rooms that sleep 2-4 people (PHP 2,750 to 2,200). It also has fan nipa huts for 6 people (PHP 1650). (Nipa huts are wooden houses with thatched roofs.) For extra people in the nipa huts in excess of 6, it costs PHP 200 per person. Vilches has a stretch of beach that is just longing for people to enjoy it.

The only drawback is it has videoke houses for rent. (Videoke is video-enhanced karaoke.)

March to June is the high season, for mostly local-national tourists (I think videoke would be most popular in those months, singing being a genetically-transmitted trait of Filipinos. It’s a bonafide stereotype: All Filipinos sing.) July is just about videoke-free as kids in the Philippines go back to school, and the resort would be virtually empty of singing guests.

There are two pools at Vilches, a short and shallow one and a normal one of around 20-25m for adults. There is a charge for swimming in the pool.

Adults swim for PHP 30 and children below 12 swim for PHP 15 per time.

Wind farms

Admission: Free

From the side trip to Vilches we enter hangin country. Hangin means wind in the local dialect. (There is a resort just off the highway, which has windsurfing and paragliding facilities.)

The wind farms are new, built with grants from several countries. We drove up to Viewpoint Number 17 and from both sides of the viewing place, you can see the windmills spinning in the strong winds.

It was interesting to note that the buildings near the wind farm are newer, the houses more affluent. And, there are more small food stalls advertising Batchoy Served Here. When the tourist season is limited, that means local people might be better able to afford eating out, if only to the local batchoyan, a store serving the noodle dish.

We digress a little for a short language lesson. When you want to eat chicken, you go to a “manokan” (manok is the local word for chicken). When you want to eat batchoy, you go to the “batchoyan.” If you see “patahan” it means the bistro serves pata, or crackling pork belly. I call this language rule, Just Add –An to create the word for what you want to eat, and you’ll find a the word for the place that serves it.

From the wind farms, it’s a good 40 minutes or more to Cabalagnan in the South of the island, to Idarapdap. I’m back in the Stress-Free-Zone at Czech Beach House. I say goodbye to my local guide for the day, Macmac. He is happy with the motorbike rental and guide fee, and I’m happily back under the tamarind tree, writing to the sound of waves.

I have felt really safe on Guimaras. The time I’ve spent cruising on a motorbike around the island was a great way to see it, and to note down places I would definitely go back to, just to hang out and relax.

I am so glad I didn’t stay in and try to battle with the internet. And, did you notice there were so many temptingly empty beaches?

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