Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Come Visit Iloilo

If you are planning to visit Iloilo City, now is the best time. There are many things happening in the city this month of January. For starters, there is the Arevalo Fiesta on January 21 (Sunday). After attending the Sunday mass at the Arevalo Parish Church, you can witness the “grand” fireworks display held at the Plaza right in front of the church (but don’t expect a fireworks spectacle approximating the one in the SM Mall of Asia recently: I am using the word “grand” here relatively). Firecracker manufacturing is a backyard industry in Arevalo, and it is said that all the firecrackers which the manufacturers weren’t able to sell during the New Year they expend during their fiesta. So when you do visit Arevalo, expect loud firecracker explosions everywhere. Simply put, the Arevalo fiesta experience is like the New Year celebration, multiplied by two. But during the rest of the year, Arevalo is peaceful and beautiful – it is full of flower gardens (landscaping being the other source of livelihood of locals) earning for it the monicker “Flower Center of Iloilo City.” Arevalo, or Villa to locals, is also famous for its seaside eateries along Villa Beach like Tatoy’s Manukan, Breakthrough Restaurant and Villa Regatta. One can buy a “caltex” of sisi or talaba (oysters) for P20-P30 (Steamed oysters are sold at roadside eateries there using old plastic cans of Caltex motor oil, hence the term).

After the Arevalo fiesta is the week-long Dinagyang Festival. Starting January 22 up to January 29, Iloilo City transforms itself into a mardi gras city and you can just feel the electricity all around. The streets are festooned with buntings, people are in no mood to go to work and students are absenting from school. A week before the festivities, one can hear constantly the “distant drums” of Ati tribes practicing their Dinagyang numbers all around the city. The highlight of the Dinagyang Festival is the Kasadyahan Competition on January 27-28 (Saturday-Sunday) where 15 groups vie for the honor of being named Best Ati Tribe of the Year. Their bodies painted black with uling (charcoal), each participating tribe has its own distinctive costume (usually made of indigenous materials), drum beat music and dance moves calculated not only to impress the judges but also to win over the general public. When watching the parade of Ati tribes, don’t get offended if a complete stranger suddenly dabs your face with uling (charcoal) – it is part of the fun. You can, in fact, choose to follow a tribe of your fancy and join in their merrymaking.

After the Dinagyang, you can “de-compress” and get away from the noise of the city by going to beautiful Guimaras island or traveling to the countryside. Guimaras is just a 10-peso, 15-minute boat ride away from Iloilo City and there are regular Iloilo-Guimaras boat trips (in 30-minute intervals) from the Ortiz Wharf and Parola. Catching a boat to Guimaras is easier than catching a taxi in Makati. Or if you are traveling with a large group, you can all chip-in to rent a motorboat and go island-hopping and cove-hunting in Guimaras. Not only will you see the natural splendor of Guimaras but you will also be able to see for yourself whether Petron had really cleaned up the province as they claimed. If the sea is not your cup of tea, you can take a trip to the “interior” to see Iloilo’s beautiful countryside. There are many splendid Spanish-era churches in the “interior,” most notably the one in Miag-ao, Iloilo (about 45 minutes drive away). Also, the University of the Philippines has a beautiful, sea-side campus in Miag-ao. Or if you’re a golfer, you can always play 18 holes at the Sta. Barbara Golf and Country Club, the oldest in the country (the club is celebrating its 100th year anniversary this year).

If you still have time, I suggest you stay on in Iloilo for the Jaro Candelaria Fiesta which is usually held every first week of February. You can attend mass at the century-old Jaro Cathedral, walk around the Jaro Plaza located just in front of the Cathedral (I recommend you buy the Dumangas Bibingka being sold there - yummy!), then view the old mansions of the Ilonggo sugar barons near the church. You can also watch the Candelaria Cockfight, one of the biggest and most prestigious cockfighting events in the world, at the Jaro Arena. But if cockfighting is not your thing, you can just shop for your pasalubongs at Biscocho Haus which is conveniently located near the Jaro Plaza. Jaro, which is near the airport, is the perfect “last stop” to your trip to Iloilo.

If you’re coming from Manila, I estimate that the entire two-week stay in Iloilo would set you back by around P15,000 to P25,000 (this already includes P5,000 for the round-trip plane fare plus hotel accommodations). Traveling as a group would certainly help to bring your expenses down. A full meal in a local “fancy” restaurant usually costs between P100 to P300 tops. If you’re traveling on a very tight budget, I suggest you take the jeepney when going around the city. Not only is it cheaper; it is also very convenient – everything in Iloilo is just one jeepney ride away.

A last word of warning: don’t go to Iloilo on some last minute impulse. Plan your trip ahead. At this time of the year, hotels and airlines are usually fully-booked so I suggest you make your reservations this early. As the malls, restaurants and resorts will be crowded this time of the year, always be mindful of your belongings.

See you in Iloilo. Hala Bira!

1 comment:

chymera said...

thanks for that really extensive feature. At last, I know the schedule for the Arevalo firewoks display ... I'll be going there next week hopefully.