Monday, September 10, 2012

Experience Western Visayas first in Iloilo

I have been to Iloilo several times which I consider it as my second home province since my father is a pure bred Ilonggo but I never had a chance to fully explore this underrated province when it comes to tourism purposes. Most people would think that Iloilo is a province for commerce, business, agricultural and industrial development. Only a few people would think that it is a province for tourist to explore. Often, people that would do their vacation there because it is either that is their home province or they have relatives living there just like what we normally do in my several trips to Iloilo.

One of the fame landmarks of Iloilo - Molo Church
Four years ago, my family visited Iloilo but we only made it as our jump point to visit our main trip destination which is Boracay. But four years after, I realized that it is time to return to Iloilo as it is emerging as home of exciting places, cuisines and adventures that can be ideal for travel vacation. Iloilo is just waiting for my feet to discover it.

It was a moment of excitement for my return to Iloilo after four years! I’m returning to the province to explore its wonderful sights, places and cuisines which I did not enjoyed in my previous trips there. My family usually stays at my grandmother’s house in Pototan whenever we visit them. So my latest visit to Iloilo is really something memorable.

First glance of Iloilo province in the air...
I also decided to explore Iloilo because it is often out of tourist radar when it comes to visiting Western Visayas region in the country as most are bound to the popular Boracay of Aklan province which is also in the region. Like I said, many visitors would think that it a province of commerce, businesses or agriculture and would just make it as an alternative gateway to the popular tourist island of Boracay. Its underrated status attracted me to prove that there’s more in Iloilo aside from that. And that is to prove that it is also an ideal place for travel trips and adventure!

Iloilo City is the jump point to explore Iloilo province. The city is a historical city rich in culture and heritages. I think this is the core of the province’s history and economic progress where most of the financial centers, businesses and establishments are located. In Iloilo City alone, I get to experience the rich heritage of Western Visayas when it comes to history, sights and culture of Ilonggo people. The city has wide choices of mass transportation to explore it. From buses, jeepneys, taxis, tricycles up to pedicabs, I tried it all just to discover Iloilo City’s sights and cuisines.

Welcome back to Iloilo after 4 years!
An grand ad welcome at Iloilo Airport.
And though, it is a city, it’s still has a relaxing pace without the rush hour mode of a usual city. It may not have rising tower buildings of a standard city, mushroom blocks of buildings or financial centres yet Iloilo City has an idyllic atmosphere that is simply enjoyable and charming. Actually, the Ilonggo’s are part of that idyllic atmosphere of the city. They are generally helpful, cheerful and friendly. People in the city are not always in rush or in a hurry but not very slow as well. They just take their time in doing things. And if visitors ask for a help, Ilonggo’s don’t hesitate to lend a help especially when I inquire about directions and correct public vehicles to ride in the city and going to a sight I want to visit. My good experiences with them made my stay in the province more enjoyable.  

It was 11 in the morning when we reached SM City Iloilo in Mandurriao district from the airport in Santa Barbara. It was a good thing that prior to my arrival I pre-arranges to meet my Iloilo resident aunt who will accompany us for this trip with my sister and cousin. When we met at SM City Iloilo we engaged into an almost never-ending conversation since I haven’t seen my aunt for a long time. While we continue our conversation and stories, I and my travel companions decided to take a lunch first to have energy before exploring the city.  

The facade of Jaro Church.
Jaro Belfry just across the church.
Even though it was one hot afternoon, I proceeded with the exploration of Iloilo City. We started off with one of the famous religious landmark that is near in Mandurriao – Jaro Church, also known as Jaro Cathedral or Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  It was built in 1864, the year the Jaro district was named a diocese by Pope Pius the IX, by order of His Grace Mariano Cuartero, first bishop of Jaro. The cathedral’s style is basically Baroque, with the addition of Gothic elements over many renovations.

As I approach Jaro Cathedral, I can’t help but noticed the church’s belfry located on the plaza park on the opposite street across the church. I can clearly observe how old the ruins were dating back through the Spanish colonization period. I learned that Jaro Belfry is one of the few belfries in the country that stands apart from the church. It was ruined by 1948 earthquake and restored by the Iloilo City Government during the last decade of the 1900s. Though, it’s built is already old, the ruin still looks sturdy and hard. Its location makes a unique landmark within the Jaro plaza park with its towering height that attracts any Jaro district visitor.

The interior of "masculine church" - Jaro Cathdral.
Mother and child: Jaro Church entrance door with the opposite view of Jaro Belfry across the street.
Inside Jaro Catherdral, I quickly noticed the grand designed of the altar line up with male saints which dubbed the cathedral as a “masculine church.” The main altar is hanged with an elaborately designed chandelier. And at the centrepiece of the altar is an image of Nuestra Senore de la Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles) with the painting of Jesus and Mary’s sacred immaculate heart hanged on the walls of both sides. The narrow ceiling painted in light blue jives with the dominant light yellow paint of the columns and walls with accents of green and white color as well. I looked back at the main entrance area where I noticed the colourful prayer candles on the stands that have caught my attention. And I think each color of these prayer candles is of different prayer purposes. All I know pink is for love life and blue is for career.  

Colorful prayer candles for Our Lady of the Candles.
Jaro Cathedral is grand as it is but it serves its purpose – a solemn place to pray and communicate with the divine creator. The church is one of the great landmarks of the city and much more of the district of Jaro. Don’t forget to leave Jaro without dropping by at a branch of Bischocho’s Haus. The food shop and “pasalubong” store are a great way to sample unique Ilonggo delicacies like barquillos (local wafer), pinasugbo (banana brittle), piyaya  (flat unleavened bread filled with mozcovado (raw) sugar) and biscocho (buttered toasted bread and some with dry sweet condensed milk filled topping), of course!  

Museo Iloilo - a great place to start your Iloilo exploration trip.
 We took a jeepney to Bonifacio Drive to the province’s repository of cultural heritage - Museo Iloilo. A visit to this prime museum of the city leads us to experiencing being bought back century years ago. Inside were exhibits of scientifically-dated fossils, shells, rocks, native potteries and tools that indicate the arrival of civilization and age of Panay Island. Also inside the museum were local artifacts, religious images and antique relics and jewelries preserved from the Spanish period of colonization. One of the delightful sections of Museo Iloilo is the art gallery section where contemporary art paintings by Ilonggo artists are on display. The painting viewing was a great addition to the museum but I wished the curator or the city government would expand the museum to give more room for more historical artifacts and include a cover of the whole heritage of Western Visayas inside the museum.

I’ve learned that Museo Iloilo is the first gov’t sponsored museum outside Metro Manila and was designed by Ilongo architect Sergio Penasales. Museo Iloilo’s permanent exhibit covers the cultural history of Western Visayas from prehistory to contemporary history. Museo Iloilo is found in Bonifacio Drive, just beside the Iloilo Provincial Capitol and the Department of Tourism Regional Office.

Inside the repository of Iloilo's rich history, culture and heritage - Museo Iloilo.
Art gallery section of Museo Iloilo.
One of the untitled art inside Museo Iloilo.
The sun is scorching hot so we decided to take a taxi to Molo district to visit another Iloilo’s religious landmark, Molo Church.  The church is one of the most familiar landmarks of Iloilo and Molo district. Built in 1831, the church exudes a blatant expression of Gothic-Renaissance architecture while interior is a fusion of Gothic and Romanesque architectures. The Spires of Molo are yet the most interesting colonial “skyscrapers” in Iloilo City aside from the neoclassic Belfry of Jaro.

The church is distinctly characterized with gray-black covering walled bricks with imposing two bell towers with pointed roofs. Inside the church were predominantly white painted walls, columns and ceilings with grey color accents. I also noticed the 16 women saint images adorned the lining hall of the church towards the altar. This has made the church dubbed as a “feminine chruch” opposite of Jaro Church as a masculine church.  The altar of Molo Church is grandly lit with gold ornaments and designs with various images where the centerpiece in the retablo is the image of Sta. Ana, the patron saint of Molo.. After only a few minutes of stay in the church, me and my travel companions decided to leave the church as there is a mass is on-going inside.

The beholding facade of Molo Church.
Molo Chruch's elegant interiors.
From Molo, I don’t have a clue on how to easily reach Miag-ao, our next destination. So we decided to take a jeepney bound to “Super” where there is a San Joaquin bound jeepneys to take that will pass through the municipality of Miag-ao. Our goal in visiting that municipality is to visit the fame Miag-ao Church because of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status and being probably the most famous church in the whole province of Iloilo. The municipality of Miag-ao and its church is 45 minutes away from the city so be ready to endure a long jeepney ride going here and make sure to visit it first in your Iloilo itinerary trip.   

Miag-ao Church is the most beautiful church I have been in Iloilo. This is probably its unique architectural character and exquisite bas-relief that depicts images of ordinary life of Filipinos during the country’s Spanish colonization period. Constructed more than two hundred years ago in the year 1797, the Miag-ao Church stands as a living legacy of the culture and way of life of the people of Miag-ao centuries ago. The artistic facade of the church is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanueva, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-storeys and the other three-storeys high.
 
Miag-ao Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The side area of Miag-ao Church.
Unfortunately during our visit, Miag-ao Church is closed. So I haven’t fully appreciated its inside façade. But I learned that the interior of the church is highlighted by a striking gold-plated retablo. We just explore the outside grounds and façade of the famed church and left right away as we have a boat ride to catch.

Souvenir photo with the famous church of Iloilo province.
When in Iloilo, don’t miss to try Iloilo’s culinary pride and must-try cuisine, the La Paz Batchoy. A local noodle dish made of scissored noodles and pork innards simmered in both is perfect either for afternoon merienda or breakfast treat. I was able to try a bowl of La Paz Batchoy at Ted’s La Paz Batchoy branch in Robinson’s Place Iloilo mall before we enroute to Concepcion. Eating a bowl of La Paz Batchoy is like eating a whole bowl of Iloilo cuisine! It was heavenly delicious with all the spices, broth and meat flavour! Just take cautioned and moderately in eating La Paz Batchoy because of it has high cholesterol content.

While I was in Guimaras, I got a sample of Pancit Molo, a soup with spiced pork and chicken meatballs daintily wrapped in thin dough, boiled in chicken–pork broth. It is also another must-try cuisine when in Iloilo which I surprisingly like it on my first taste! You’ll appreciate the deliciousness of the soup when served warm. Both Ilonggo dishes are also served in other specialty restaurants around Iloilo City.

La Paz Batchoy: Namit gid!
Puto: perfect partner for La Paz Batchoy!
Around Iloilo City.
If you still have time, you can insert in your “Explore Iloilo” itinerary trip, other must-do and must visit in the province. A side trip to Igabaras to explore Nadsadjan Falls via two hour trip and trek is a good sidetrip when in Iloilo or exploring other landmark churches of the city like San Joaquin Church and Guimbal Church. Located in Arevalo district, Villa Beach is a good option for seafood dining with its row of retaurants offering affordable and fresh seafoods. A fun night out in the city can be found in Smallville. It is a popular dining and nightlife complex located in Mandurriao district where visitors can go to eat, drink, and bar hop in Iloilo.

One of best time to visit the province is probably during its fame Dinagyang and Paraw Regatta Festival. Dinagyang Festival is one of the grandest fiestas in the province and in the country that is held both to honor the Santo Nino and to celebrate the arrival on Panay of Malay settlers and the subsequent selling of the island to them by the Atis. The festival is Ilonggo’s pride for showcasing its rich culture and heritage. While Paraw Regatta Festival is a race of colourful sailboats called Paraws in the straits between Guimaras Island and the city of Iloilo held every third weekend of February.
 
Iloilo - heart of the Philippines!
It was indeed four years has passed since my visit to the province. Yet, Iloilo did not change and remain idyllic and charming with friendly Ilonggos that made my stay enjoyable and comfortable. I enjoy exploring Iloilo and glad to prove that there’s more to this underrated province when it comes to places and sights to visit. I am also glad to discover and explore the historical Iloilo City that uniquely offers Ilonggo’s rich heritage, culture and daily life. A four year return is indeed worthy! I experience the best of Western Visayas first in Iloilo – the heart of the Philippines!

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Experience Western Visayas first in Iloilo is a part of my Iloilo blog series of the same title where I share my travel experiences in exploring Iloilo City after 4 years since my previous visit last July 9-11, 2012. Some information are credited to Exlopre Iloilo - one of my guide and information source for this Iloilo trip. You may also read the other parts of the series here:
  • Visita Iglesia, Ilonggo style
  • Airport Review: Iloilo Airport

9 comments:

  1. Ganda talaga ng mga church sa Iloilo!

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  2. Bigla ko naalala back post ko about this Church. Once pa lang ako napunta sa Ilo-ilo and I have never explored the place pa. I was supposed to go there last week pero I have to cancel it out due to work :(

    Awesome post Ian. Very informative :)

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  3. Ganda pala sa loob ng museum, 3 times na ko nakapunta ng Iloilo, pero di ko pa napasok yun even once

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  4. @Ninya: I agree... yan yung mga treasured landmarks ng province. Sayang 3 nga lang na-visit ko. Pero nakita ko yung Guimbal Church.

    @Oman: Thanks for the visit. If you have chance to visit Iloilo again, explore it and I'm sure you'll produce a lot of heritage photos.

    @Christian: Quite disappointing nga lang yung museum kasi maliit lang sya sa loob at hindi ganoon kadami yung makikita mo pero you'll appreciate every piece of artifacts displayed there.

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  5. nice. I miss the heritage churches in Iloilo tuloy. good to see you got a complete glimpse of miag-ao church. dati ako puro scaffoldings haha

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  6. @Jasper: sana nga nakita ko yung loob ng Miag-ao Church... golden daw ang kulay.

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  7. dami ko pang hindi napuntahan sa ilo ilo... sana makabalik ulit soon! thanks for sharing Ian! :)

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  8. Wow one of the paintings in the Art Gallery is my father's :) I wish we met. :) See you soon and thank's for visiting Iloilo (feeling ambassador lang hahaha)

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    1. Really? I never got the names of the artist in each painting. 'Wish I looked closely. Thanks for reading!

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