Iloilo City is my transit point between Manila, where I live and work for 18 years now, and Antique, my province. I go home regularly and I am always happy to stop for a while in the city. There are college batchmates and writer friends to meet-up for lunch and dinner over talaba and tinola. There are premiere hotels to budget rooms and heritage houses turned bed-and-breakfast. There are malls and malls with supermarkets stocking local organic produce. There are zones of green and open spaces friendly for biking with rows of franchised and home-grown restaurants and coffee shops. This summer, I chose to stay downtown, in the old district, the Calle Real, which is primarily the J.M. Basa and Iznart Streets. My sister and I found Gallery i. It is relatively new, one of the mushrooming galleries in the city. It is at the 2nd Floor of the old Eusebio Villanueva Building, across D’Top’s Bookstore. We caught them preparing for an art-and-bike event that week but we were allowed to come in. On display are the Hilway products crafted by women prisoners and curated by Rosalie Zerrudo of the University of San Agustin. D’ Top’s is known for its affordable textbooks. In absence of a decent bookstore in the city, that is, a bookstore that carries reputable titles and known writers both foreign and local, D’Top’s remains to be the bookstore to go, aside from BookSale in Robinsons. I found titles from UP Press.Nearby, in the same row of building, is KongKee, one of the oldest Chinese restaurants. We ordered lomi and siopao. We strongly recommend this place: good taste, good price, good service. There are many more gems to be revisited and discovered in the old district, such as of architecture & history, food & culture. These three spots filled me with both memories and visions: I left reenergized.
There are available versions online of the legend of Islas de Higantes that you can read. For the version of our tour guides, this is the one-sentence summary: There was once a giant who stole cabugao fruits from Negros and when chased and caught he dropped them and these became this group of islands now called Islas de Higantes. It is also known as Higantes Islands, or simply Higantes, in the town of Carles in the northernmost part of Iloilo. My sister and I first visited this early May. It was an hour of banca ride from Sicogon Island, from Balay Kogon where we stayed. It was a day-tour of four islands: the most Instagrammed Cabugao Gamay Island, Bantique Island for its sandbar, Antonia Island for snorkeling and swimming and lunch, and the Tangke Salwater Lagoon. Cabugao Gamay Island: “Cabugao” is a variety of native pomelo, though I have not seen it there either as a tree or as a fruit sold in stalls. “Gamay” means “small” in both Kinaray-a and Hiligaynon, two major Visayan languages in Panay region. Obviously, there’s Cabugao Daku, or the bigger island nearby. It was not included in our itinerary. This means Cabugao Gamay is more special: look at this view. We were also welcomed by baskets of Wasay-Wasay, a variety of shell shaped like an axe, thus its local name. This was my first encounter with Wasay-Wasay, and I loved it! Nanam, tasty and meaty.We had a basket for P200.00. We finished it, to full satisfaction and amazement, without getting sick! Antonia Island fascinated me: How did it become Antonia? No one was able to tell me. It has a wide powdery-white beach and big rock formations. We had fair weather: look at the sea reflecting the sky, look at the coconut trees!This is the designated snorkeling and swimming area.There are sari-sari stores and carinderias here for lunch. You can also bring your baon or picnic spread with family and friends. As for us, we had another basket of Wasay-Wasay, and scallops equally abundant here. And grilled squid and fish shared by our two newfound friends. “Tangke” means “tank.” I will remember the Tangke Saltwater Lagoon for my fear to swim in it, in contrast to my sister’s boldness and courage. I was enchanted that it is a lagoon, that it has towering heights of rocks with depths that I cannot measure from its greenish and bluish waters. Its beauty terrified me. My swimming pool lessons did not prepare me for it. I saved myself from cowardice by climbing a side of rocks encasing it.This encounter strengthened my resolve to get to know more about water: befriend it, have a constant relationship with it through swimming, to conquer my fear and to be able to enjoy more of our seas, rivers, lakes and lagoons.