In the Isle of the Giants

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I had the chance to revisit this wonderful piece of heaven in Carles, Iloilo. The last time I was here was about two months after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place, and much have already changed! Bancal port is now bustling with passenger boats ferrying people to and from Isla Gigantes. The “tangke” is cleaner and safer and the climb to the “view deck” in Cabugao Gamay is a lot more safer with the ladders and railings. Scallops and wasay-wasay are still in abundance and the crabs get yummier and yummier!

IMPORTANT: Tourists, especially those arriving via tour boats from Estancia, are now required to register at the Carles Tourism Office, where they will be given “access pass” to the Tangke hidden lagoon after payment of P70 per pax environmental fee.

How to get there:

There are several entry points to Isla de Gigantes, but I would rather you take the route that will lead you to Bancal Port in the town of Carles; Isla Gigantes being a part of Carles.

From Iloilo City airport
  • Make use of the airport shuttles/vans/FX stationed just outside the departure area to take you to SM City Iloilo. From there, take a cab to the Ceres Grand Terminal (Ceres buses now have their own terminal), if you prefer taking the bus or to Tagbak Central Terminal, if you’re taking the van. Just make sure you are on the Carles-bound trip, which will take you directly to Bancal Port. [I’m not sure about the schedule of vans in Tagbak, but Ceres buses leave as early as 3AM]. Alternatively, you can just ask the locals what passenger jeep will take you to the Ceres Grand Terminal or Tagbak Central Terminal (Leganes-bound and Jaro-CPU jeeps are some options).
  • Once in Bancal Port, make sure you register at the Tourism Office before you board any of the passenger boats that will take you to Isla Gigantes.

Where to stay:

Several accommodation options are available. We stayed at Dela Vega Cottages (see photos for their contact details) for P350/pax/night in an A/C room for 6. The resort also offers meal packages (starts at P200 per pax) that will surely satisfy your cravings for seafood.

Batanes: Home of the Ivatans

Batanes is a chain of small islands in the northernmost point of the Philippines. Of these islands, only three are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. These three (3) islands comprise six (6) municipalities collectively known as BISUMI: Basco (the capital), Itbayat, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao and Ivana. Although described as having no real ports, the island chains of Batanes boast small beaches and coves which serve as anchorage for the locals’ small boats.

Inhabiting Batanes are the Ivatans, their name derived from the language they speak: Chirin nu Ibatan or simply Ivatan, an Austronesian language spoken exclusively in the Batanes Islands which is characterized by the dominant use of the letter “v”, as in valuga, vakul and vanuwa.

Also unique to their culture is their limestone houses patterned after the Spaniards and adapted to stand the onslaughts of the notorious Batanes typhoons. Ivatan stone houses — called vernacular houses — are typically windowless cube structures with walls as thick as one meter with thatched roof made of cogon grass.

Where to go in Batanes

Tour destinations in Batanes are subdivided into four (4) clusters:

  • North Batan Island (Basco)
    • Mt. Carmel Chapel
    • Radar Tukon
    • Idjang Viewpoint
    • Fundacion Pacita
    • Japanese Tunnel
    • Valugan Boulder Beach
    • Vayang Rolling Hills
    • Basco Lighthouse in Naidi Hills
    • Sto. Domingo Church
  • South Batan Island (Mahatao, Ivana and Uyugan)
    • Chawa Viewdeck
    • Mahatao Pier
    • San Jose Borromeo Church
    • Diura (Fishing Village)
    • Fountain of Youth
    • Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country)
    • Imnajbu Point
    • Old Naval Base
    • Alapad Rock
    • Song Song Ruins
    • San Jose de Ivana Church
    • Honesty Coffee Shop
    • Famous House of Dakay
  • Sabtang Island
    • San Vicenter Ferer Church
    • Savidug Village and Savidug Idjang Rock Fortress
    • Sabtang Vernacular Houses
    • Sabtang Lighthouse
    • Limestone production
    • Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint
    • Chavayan Village
    • Nakabuang (Morong) Beach and Ahao Arch
    • Vuhus Island
  • Itbayat Island
    • Chinapoliran Port
    • Sta. Maria Immaculada (Itbayat) Church
    • Lake Kavaywan
    • Mt. Karoboban Viewpoint
    • Torongan Hills and Cave
    • Paganaman Port and Lagoon
    • Rapang Cliffs and Stone Bell
    • Kaxobcan Beach
    • Mt. Riposed
    • Nahili Votox Burial Site
    • Komayasakas Cave and Water Source
    • Manoyok Sinkhole
    • Sarokan, Pevangan and Do’tboran Caves
    • Agosan Rocks
    • Port Mauyen
    • Island hopping (when weather permits):
      • Siayan
      • Dinem
      • Ditarem
      • Yami (Mavolis)

Optional activities

Mt. Iraya Hike (North Batan)
Duration: 3hrs to 4 hrs
Highlights: At 1,900ft ASL, Mt Iraya offers a stunning view of Basco and a wide array of endemic flora and fauna.
Rates/Fees:
PHP1000/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1500/pax for 2 pax

Mt. Matarem Hike (South Batan)
Duration: 1.5hrs to 2hrs
Highlights: An extinct volcano, Mt. Matarem spans the municipalities of Mahatao, Uyugan and Ivana. At the summit, you’ll have a commanding view of Sabtang.
Rates/Fees:
PHP1300/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1800/pax for 2 pax

Hiking/Walking Tour
Duration: 4hrs to 6hrs
Highlights: Hike along the Basco-Mahatao Trail, stopping by Racuh-a-idi Spring of Youth in Diura Fishing Village for a cold, refreshing dip. Then continue on to the radar station, Fundacion Pacita and the wind turbines
Rates/Fees:
PHP800/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1200/pax for 2 pax

SCUBA Diving
Duration: 2hrs to 3hrs, depending on the dive location and number of dives
Highlights: Explore the rich marine life of Sabtang: Pavona coral fields, Trevallies Lair, Canyons, etc.
Rates/Fees:
PHP3000/pax for a single dive, or
PHP2500/pax for 2 dives or more

Fishing/Boating
Duration: Minimum of 1hr
Highlights: Experience “mataw” fishing with local anglers using nylon line and hook.
Rates/Fees:
PHP500/pax/hr for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1000/pax/hr for 2 pax

ATV Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: Explore Batan at your own pace.
Rates/Fees:
PHP500/pax for halfday, or
PHP1000/pax for whole day

Bicycle (Motorbike) Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: A visit to Batanes is not complete without trying out one of its iconic symbols, the bicycle. Tour Batan Island on two wheels, either self-powered or motorized. Travel from the heart of Basco to the southernmost parts of Batan.
Rates/Fees:
Bicycle: PHP100/pax/hr
Motorbike: PHP250/pax/hr

Contacts:

BISUMI Tours and Services
Ryan Lara Cardona <+63915.803.4582>
bisumitours@gmail.com

MarFel Lodge
<+63908.893.1475>
<+63920.976.4966>
<+63917.857.4493>
<+63917.883.3249>
marfellodge@gmail.com
http://marfellodgebatanes.com

Dive Batanes
Chico Domingo <+63939.935.1950>

Ivatan ATV Rentals
<+63998.551.9656>

Basco TODA
<+63929.703.8404>

Casa Napoli Pizza
<+63999.990.7553>

Rapang (Itbayat) Guide
Jose Valiente <+63949.620.0184>

The Dreamweavers of Lake Sebu

National Artist Boi Lang Dulay

Boi Lang Dulay (August 03, 1924 – April 03, 2015) elevated T’boli weaving into an art form, earning for her the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan in 1998 for her outstanding craft and masterpieces that made the t’nalak – and the T’bolis – famous the world over.

The T’bolis belong to the many indigenous tribes or “lumads” that live in the hinterlands of the southwestern part of Cotabato. The T’bolis of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato are famous for their dream-inspired and spirit-infused weavings, raised to the level of art by the iconic Boi Lang Dulay, the 1998 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee. Lang Dulay has designed and woven over 100 T’nalaks. She stopped weaving in 2011 due to advancing age and concentrated on designing. The last design she made was bought by the NCCA after she died.

The T'bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’nalak is a deep brown cloth made from “krungon” or abaca fiber, tie-dyed with intricate designs and produced mostly by the womenfolk of the tribe. According to T’boli tradition, T’nalak designs have been passed down through generations and are revealed to the best weavers in dreams, brought to them by their ancestors.

The T’nalak is so ingrained with spiritual meanings that its production and use is surrounded by a variety of traditions and beliefs.  It is believed that in order to maintain the purity of their art, T’boli women must abstain from “worldly pleasures” while weaving a T’nalak. During weaving, one should not step over the loom, for doing so is to risk illness. Also, cutting the cloth, unless done according to the prescribed norm, will cause sickness or death; and if a weaving is sold, a brass ring is often attached to appease the spirits.

T’nalak production is labor-intensive, requiring both skills and knowledge, and learned at a very young age by the women of the tribe.

Along with the its world-famous T’nalak, T’boli music and dances are also among the indigenous cultural heritage being showcased in Lake Sebu.

The Taong Putik Festival of Aliaga, Nueve Ecija

Forget colorful costumes. Forget fancy dance routines. No streetdancing. No drums. No parties. This is one somber festival.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

The Taong Putik Festival is an annual event held in Brgy. Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueve Ecija. Celebrated every 24th day of June — on the feast of St. John the Baptist, who is also the barangay’s patron saint — the Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

As early as 3AM, devotees flock to nearby ricefields to bathe in the freezing waters and rub their faces, arms, legs and body with mud. Now draped in mud-soaked dried banana leaves or water hyacinths fashioned into cloaks — usually hiding their faces — the “taong putik” (loosely translated as “mud people”) go from house to house to receive donations of money and candles which they would offer during the mass.

The solemn celebration culminates in a procession around the small community, where the image of St. John the Baptist is paraded. In the afternoon of the 24th, the fiesta atmosphere begins, highlighted by a carabao race and other games.

Nature’s wrath or Divine intervention?

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

1944. In retaliation for the killing of their soldiers by Filipino guerrilla fighters, the Japanese Army gathered all adult males in the village of Bibiclat for execution. Held in a small chapel, the men, fearful for their lives, began praying to their patron saint, St. John the Baptist, pleading for deliverance.

Before noon, the scheduled time for their execution, the men were led to the plaza where they were arranged in a single line, ready for the firing squad. As the executioners took their positions, a crowd of women and children gathered to witness the carnage. And as their lamentations and cries of woe echoed throughout the village, torrential rains blotted out the midday sun and drenched everyone in attendance. To the Japanese, this phenomenon indicated that even their gods did not approve of the massacre; thus, called off the firing squad, saving the men from certain death.

The people of Bibiclat erupted into jubilation, thanking St. John for causing the rain and saving the men.

And so began the “Taong Putik” tradition.

The Phoenix of Palo

Palo Cathedral, or the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration, was built in 1596 by the Jesuits and served as their home, until 1768, after being ordered to leave the Philippines, as an aftermath of political wranglings in Europe. They were replaced in Leyte by the Augustinians who in 1834 eventually ceded the northeastern parishes to the Franciscans.

Repairs–after it was hit by a fire and typhoon which caused its roof to be ripped off, and its convent to be destroyed–and construction of its two symmetrical towers began in 1850.

The cathedral was converted into an evacuation hospital from October 1944 to March 1945 by the American Liberation Forces. -- photo from kadetrosada.wordpress.com

The cathedral was converted into an evacuation hospital from October 1944 to March 1945 by the American Liberation Forces. — photo from kadetrosada.wordpress.com

The church became a cathedral on March 25, 1938, with Monsignor Manuel Mascariñas serving as its first bishop. During World War II, the cathedral was converted into an evacuation hospital by American Liberation Forces, and was used as refuge of civilians.

-- photo from inquirer.newsinfo

— photo from inquirer.newsinfo

Palo Cathedral was badly damaged by supertyphoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) in November 2013. DSC_0308Hurricane-like winds stripped this beautiful infrastructure of its roofs and windows. Yolanda left it almost wiped out. After Yolanda’s devastation, a memorial service for the typhoon’s casualties was held in the cathedral. Bodies were then buried in the cathedral’s grave site.

But like the mythological Phoenix, the Palo Metropolitan Cathedral rose from the “ashes”, signifying renewal and rebirth. In 17 January 2015, Pope Francis held mass here and met with families of survivors of superyyphoon Yolanda.

Today, through the major efforts of private institutions and the people of Palo, the cathedral has been fully restored and once again stand, in all its glory and grandeur.

Post Script

Red Beach in Brgy. Candahug brought Palo to the pages of world history. It is where Gen. Douglas McArthur first landed to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese occupation on October 20, 1944.

Red Beach immortalized Palo in the pages of world history. It was where Gen. Douglas McArthur first landed to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese occupation.

The celebrated town of Palo, Leyte has also played vital roles in our country’s history and religiosity.

Red Beach in Brgy. Candahug was where Gen. Douglas McArthur fulfilled his promise: I shall return, in 20 October 1944. Bringing with him the full might of the Allied forces, the massive landing in Palo signaled the end of Japanese occupation in the country during World War II.

 

The Colors of Ati-Atihan

Hala Bira!The Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo is just one of many similar feasts* in the province of Aklan honoring the Santo Niño.

“Ati-Atihan” means “to be like the Atis” — the original settlers of Panay Island — and is characterized by a town-wide merrymaking and revelry, led by various “tribes” in colorful costumes and weapons and dancing to the beat of loud drums.

The Barter of Panay

Participants smear their bodies with soot.

Participants smear their bodies with soot.

Popular lore tells of a group of 10 Malay “datus” or chieftains fleeing from their homeland of Borneo and seeking refuge in the island of Panay. The group’s leader, Datu Puti, appointed Datu Makatunaw to negotiate a trade with the Ati chieftain: a golden salakot or kudong (native hat) for the Ati chief Marikudo, a long pearl necklace for Maniwantiwan, his wife; and brass basins and bales of cloth,in exchange for a parcel of land by the seashore for the 10 datus and their families to settle in.  Thus, the Barter of Panay was struck — a pact that transcended cultures and skin color.

Grateful for the Atis hospitality, the Borneans smeared their bodies with soot and ash from their cooking utensils to mimic the Atis complexion and to show their appreciation for their kindness.

The Infant Jesus and Ati-Atihan

The Ati and the Sto NiñoThe Ati-Atihan was originally a purely pagan festival practiced by the Atis and neighboring tribes.

When the Spaniards came, they began colonizing Panay and converted the natives to Roman Catholicism. The new faith was embraced enthusiastically by the Atis, where thousands came to be baptized — hence the town’s name, “KALIBO”, meaning: isa ka libo or one thousand, referring to the number of Atis baptized.

The event was celebrated with dances and loud banging of drums, with the Sto. Niño as the central figure.

 

The Ati-Atihan Today

Currently celebrated in honor of the Sto. Nino, the Ati-atihan has become a very lively and colorful fiesta!
* The towns of Ibajay and Makato also have their own Ati-Atihan Festival.

Born to ride!

A young Kalinga girl with her sibling riding a wooden scooter.

A young Kalinga girl with her sibling riding a wooden scooter.

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