Lugar Lang: My (Gastronomic) Backpacking Experience in Iloilo City (Plus Guimaras)

Iloilo is a province in the central Philippines. Accentuated with a rich history, the province is endowed with natural resources, vibrant business environment, fascinating culture and… yes, delectable food. Even the primary reason I had in mind when I decided to purchase travel ticket to the province three months prior to the actual trip is food – the butterscotch, not the batchoy, not the molo soup.
For three months, I was able to design my itinerary as tight as possible for me to travel and visit a lot of interesting places in the province. I have gone from including Bacolod City to scrapping the city and replacing it with Guimaras. All my excitement literally and figuratively dropped into the quicksand of helplessness when I realised that I would not have money on the scheduled travel date. I saw a flicker of hope at a distance – in the face of my superfriend, my second brother, Jerry. Hurrah! He agreed to lend me enough cash for the trip. And so I slept and woke up at 0200hours to have a quick shower and walk to the nearby waiting area for a ride.
In the Manila Domestic Airport, we had to wait for almost two hours because we were never informed that the departure time had been changed. And I could not even sleep because the seats are not intended for sleeping. Jerry, Sweet and me were not yet sure of our schedule that led us to great chats and brainstorming. “If Guimaras is not good for overnight stay, then we will go to Bacolod.” At 0510hours, the plane took its track in the air.
After 50minutes, I cast my first footprint over Iloilo. I never thought that Iloilo Airport is amazing in terms of its size and structure. Vans service the area. They offer you packaged tours around the city and out-of-town escapades. There are also public transports (GT Express type) that offer more affordable rate: 50pesos for a ride to the centre of Iloilo City or SM City. For us, we got off at Jaro, near the church. Since I was too excited for my first-time in Iloilo, I immediately embarked on a walkathon with my friends. Jerry, by the way, is not new to the place since he had worked in Iloilo before. Our first stop was the Jaro Church. The bell tower is separated from the main body of the church. After that, we proceeded to the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Park, where we saw young boys playing basketball in the watered court. My first food in Iloilo? Bibingka! This is similar to rice cakes. One paper box that contains 10pieces costs 15pesos. We saw Ted’s Oldtimer La Paz Batchoy, but the lady told us that they were still closed that time. The cook is out!
We finally decided to go to Guimaras, instead of Bacolod City. We rode in a jitney (ask the police what to take – somebody told us to take Jaro Liko, but I forgot what did we take) to Ortiz Pier for 7.50pesos. Ortiz Pier hosts pumpboats and vessels bound for Jordan Wharf. The Parola Port also serves as loading and unloading area for vessels to and from the Jordan Wharf. This is opposed to what the blogs are saying that Parola Port only caters to passengers and cargoes bound for Buenavista Wharf. In the jeepney, we got off at the street where the Department of Trade and Industry Region 6 is located. Just walk straight until you reach the pier (hint: big boats at the end of the road). Then turn left. Before reaching the Bureau of Customs building, there is a small hut at the side of the street. You can buy your ticket here for 14pesos. Travel time is 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of crests and troughs. The searide was truly exciting because we were anchored to the seats just behind the noisy “heart” of the pumpboat. In front of us were sacks of animal feeds.
Seeing Jordan Wharf is like watching a dilapidated port in an Anaconda film. Corroded steels, hanging bars and reclining structures greeted me, with the warning that bringing of any part of mango plant is STRICTLY PROHIBITED in Guimaras. I must understand that the main source of livelihood and economic development of the province is mango. Alighting in the wharf never crossed my mind that it could be so difficult. Tricycle (locals say “traysikol”) drivers blocked my way. It was like a scene of a movie premiere. I am the movie star coming out of my car. And the minute I stepped into the red carpet, reporters and fans greeted me with claustrophobia. One intrepid driver, who is old and grey-haired, followed us up to the nearby cafeteria (we decided to take our breakfast in the island). We wanted fish, any fishy viand. Unfortunately, they only had pusit, tocino and chicken. I am glad I found a thing that made me smile: “Lift” softdrinks. I would have asked for it had I not known that it contains Yellow #5, similar to all yellow-colored softdrinks. This substance is theorised to cause some reproductive health-related problems.
After eating, the old man was still there… selling his service to drive us around. We asked his rate to Igang, jump-off point for SEAFDEC. He told us 500pesos for the reason that it is 38 kilometres away. I told him that I would rather take the jitney for 35pesos to Igang. Longer chatting with him provided us the advantage of knowing the real fare rate. I asked him again of his rate to Igang, where we can take boats to SEAFDEC. He said in an astonished pitch, “Igang? Akala ko ay Villa Igang. Mas malapit yun, kaya okey na yung 300, mga 28 kilometers din yun.” Since we did not know if his claims were true or not, we closed on the deal. And I asked him to go to Trappist Monastery to buy the products made by the monks.
We felt that the trip to the jump-off point was taking too long. So I asked our driver for the nearest beach. Raymen! On our way to Raymen Beach Resort, a trike took the first place in what seems to be a “race” for our driver, who drove faster and wilder. He honks at people who are already at the side and not even over the cemented part of the highway. He also did that to a group of bikers, who got pissed off. I do not recommend him. I disliked him more when I learned that the Villa Igang he mentioned to us is just the neighbour of Raymen. Napakasinungaling!
We reached Raymen Beach Resort at the mouth of Alubihod Bay in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras around 1030hours. Entrance fee is 20pesos. The neighbouring Villa Igang’s entrance fee is 100pesos, as per our driver. I wondered what made the two resorts different from each other since they are literally composed of the same sand and saltwater, separated by fish nets. People flock the resort with 20-peso entrance fee. While resting under a talisay tree, I opened one of the boxes of mango bars (butterscotch) I bought from the Trappist Monastery. After two hours, we decided to tidy up and head back to the city. We had our lunch at Lisa’s Talabahan. A tray of oysters (ca 15pieces) is 30pesos; pork barbecue is 48pesos; and native chicken barbecue is 50pesos. I ate the oysters with spoon and fork because I am not good in eating with bare hands.
After lunch, we proceeded to Mt Balaan Bukid (170+ masl) in Hoskyn, Jordan, Guimaras. The mountain is home to 15 praying stations, with a cross as the last stop. You can see Iloilo City from the peak and nearby places. The caretaker lives near Station 11. They usually close the church to prevent theft and robbery of valuable items. The hike from the first station to the peak lasts for only 15-20minutes.
At 1500hours, we left for the Jordan Wharf. We bought our tickets for 14pesos each. Though there are lifevests hanging on the seats, some are damaged. I wondered how it can be used with its torn state. There are no problems if you are a good swimmer. But for me, whew! Paging, police!
We then took a jitney with the signboard “Super / Robinsons.” Fare is 7.50pesos. We walked and passed by the market, until we reached the Chito’s Hotel. A junior deluxe room (under promo) is 690pesos per night, good for two. An additional bed is 150pesos per night. Check-in time is 1300hours and check-out time is 1200hours. The air-conditioned room includes hot and cold shower and cable television. We took a rest for 30minutes. At 1630, we went out and rode to Molo for 7.50pesos. The Molo Church looks like the Jaro Church.
Fiesta! The plaza was filled with the usual components of Pinoy theme park. The grand church is overlooking the plaza plagued with gamblers. Then we went to the Carpenter’s Bridge and the Treñas Boulevard, a platform for jogging. Since the drizzle was getting worse, we took a jitney at the end of the jogging area. For 7.50pesos, we were brought to SM City Iloilo.
For 68pesos, we had a special batchoy at Ted’s Oldtimer La Paz Batchoy. The stock is unlimited. Biscocho Haus has branches at the jitney unloading station and inside the mall. You can also buy souvenir shirts at the Department Store. It was already dark when we left the mall and took a walk to Smallville. We talked about having a booze session, and Pirates accommodated us. After getting our heads floating in the happiness of lightness and swirl, we headed to JD Bakery Café. Jerry has been saying good things about this bakeshop. We ordered molo soup and hot chocolate! What a treat to end my first day in Iloilo!

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