Iloilo Xmas tidings

14 Dec

Iloilo cultural heritage - hidden very well

I found a flight back to Manila for a ridiculous price – so I didn’t think about booking it twice, even if that meant flying from Iloilo – a 6 hours bus-race away from Boracay. There wasn’t much to do or see in Iloilo, unless you looked very well. But we managed to bump into some pleasant surprises when there:

The Iloilo excuse

Iloilo - jeepney city (national mode of transport)

When planning my Philippines trip, I found a ridiculously cheap flight to Manila from where I was (something like 17€ to fly across the Philippines!). Well, ‘where I was’ is relative, it was a flight from Iloilo, the capital of Panay Island (the neighbour of Boracay) in Western Visayas, Philippines, Going to Iloilo turned out to be a 6 hours kamikaze ride on a local bus over a potholed road (but at least there was a road – not like in Pandan).

Ever had a cinema all to yourself?

There’s not all that much to do or see in Iloilo. So to entertain ourselves we had to resort to non-touristy things that normal people do: i.e. go to the movies.

We went to the ‘late-night’ show at the movies (which by the way is at 7pm here! Logical maybe if everybody wakes up at 5-6am! Gggrrrr.). When we arrived at the cinema, got our tickets and hugged into our chairs, waiting for the commercials and trailers to finish, we looked around and we were the 2 only ones in the movie theatre!

Main street in Iloilo

Nevertheless they had put the ‘ref’ on ‘max’ – ‘stup’ & ‘uneco’ (Filipinos like to use abbreviations like crazy – refrigerator, maximum, stupid, un-ecological,… – that’s why I keep on saying they don’t speak English but some other funny bread of Taglish). I honestly don’t know how they make money on a ticket of 100 peso/head (appr. 1,5 Euro).

The quality of the image and sound was better than most of the cinemas I’ve been to in Belgium. The sound system was certainly up to scratch – I was almost cursing myself for not having borught my ear plugs (that loud was it). Combine that with the impressive animations and effects of the scary scenes of ‘New Moon’ (the Vampire versus Wearwolf movie), and half of the time I was hiding & shaking behind the back of my mate

  • I guess I’m not maded for scarey movies: I even had nightmares for 2 weeks after seeing E.T. when I was a kid!
  • All the better we were the 2 only viewers in the cinema (you know, ‘saving face’ is big in Asia ;-)

How do you ‘sight-see’ if there are no sights?

Jaro church - oldest in Iloilo

There was not really all that much to see in Iloilo. There were some old (Spanish style?) buildings dotted around the town centre, but they were hidden well under pollution, huge billboards (US influence?) and market stalls. Anyway, it was impossible to take any pictures without jeepneys on it! That seems the only and smog-producing way of transportation here ;-)

We went to visit the oldest church (the Jaro church) in town, but it drowned in traffic and was closed in the evening when we got there. So instead we looked for traditional ‘people-sights’ (instead of old buildings). The christmas season in the Philippines comes with some nice and not so nice traditions.

Xmas everywhere - over the top

One thing that gets on my nerves is the xmas music everywhere, no matter where you go: in the streets, hotels, on the plane, in the mall, at the gov’ offices, ring tones on people’s mobiles, etc – simply IN-ES-Capable! (and you really want to escape that same Jingle Bells after the 6000th time, I assure you!)

But the best discovery of my stay this time round was Bibingka, the traditional xmas bake. Women set up their corrugated iron improvised charcoal oven on the side of the street and bake fresh thick moist ‘n sweet rice-pancakes with shredded coconut. The BEST! (anyone have the recipe? Please send it to me! I’ll pay you generously ;-)

The Bibingka tradition also shows that the Philippines really IS a free country, unlike Belgium… Because you wouldn’t have to try selling your home baked pancakes on the corner of the street. You’d have the health inspection raiding your business in no time, tax inspectors taking away half of your money (and fine you on top of it) and police would close you down because of lack of permits in the blink of an eye. Anyway, nobody would want to buy your stuff if it doesn’t look proper, official and pre-processed… Sigh.

Riding a jeepney, everywhere & anywhere

Jeepney in front of Iloilo town hall

Iloilo seems to be infested with Jeepneys – the national way of transport (besides tricycles). They are the sort of trucks/jeeps converted into buses – custom made and especially decorated with the most diverse trimmings – often with Jezus or other religious sayings painted all over them. The ceilings of the Jeepneys are very low, so you almost need to crawl on hands and feet to get in and out (or maybe I’m just to large for the Philippines?).

The Jeepneys do a set route, and you can hop on and off wherever you want along the route. They are a very economic and social way of transport. A trip within the city costs only 7 Pesos (10 eurocent), You’re propped together with 15-20 other Filipinos on 2 narrow benches along the open windows (actually holes, because no glass) – so you get into close contact (literally) with the locals. And to pay you just pass down your money from hand to hand till it reaches the driver, who will pass back the change passing through other passengers’ hands, all at the same time while the driver is dodging the impossible traffic and talking on the mobile phone.

The port, or was it ‘the escape’?

Another thing to ‘see’ was the port, overlooking the sea… (although relatively non-happening) we decided on the spur of the moment to take a bangka boat to Guimaras Island, just a 15 minute hop away – with all the surprises it entailed. (more here)


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