Kalibo Town Proper (Aklan)

It was time for Jandy and I to return to Manila and, as we still needed to buy some paint materials, I joined Grace, Marve, Cheska, John Paul and Kyle on their way to Kalibo where building materials were much cheaper than in Malay.  After that, we could all have dinner prior to them dropping us off at the airport.  The hardware was located at the center of town, across Pastrana Park.  While Marve was attending to the purchases, I took time off to explore the the huge central plaza where all major arterial streets in Kalibo intersect.

Kalibo town proper

Kalibo town proper

Around the park are the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Museo it Akean, a Jollibee branch; the Gil M. Mijares Bldg., the former old tribunal which now houses Kalibo Police Station, Municipal Library and the Kalibo Sto. Nino Ati-Atihan Foundation, Inc. (KASAFI).

Pastrana Park

Pastrana Park

Across the park is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The town’s parish was created on September 18, 1581 with Fr. Andres de Ibarra, O.S.A., as its first parish priest.  The church was first built in 1804 but, from 1947-48, a new, bigger and more sturdy church was built.  After an earthquake in 1991, the church was rebuilt from 1993-97 under the guidance of Kalibo Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

The cathedral's modern interior

The cathedral’s modern interior

Adjacent to the cathedral is the elegantly-designed Museo it Akean.  Also called the Aklan Museum, this private museum is housed in the century-old, Spanish-era Estuylahan it Hari (“School of the King”), established in 1882.  Before World War II, it was a movie theater showing silent films and later a building of the Kalibo Institute.  During the war, it was converted into a Japanese garrison.  After the war, it was turned into a trial court sala and a warehouse before it was recently renovated and converted into a museum in 1980.

Museo It Akean

Museo It Akean

The museum showcases the history and remains of the old civilization of Minuro it Akean as well as contemporary local art. On display are talibong swords; wood and metacraft; the memorabilia of Archbishop Gabriel M. Reyes, Jaime Cardinal Sin and Godofredo P. Ramos; pina textiles, paintings of Aklanon artists; jars; pottery; religious relics; furniture; crafts; tools and artifacts from the Spanish era, and literature of Aklan.

Museo it Akean: cor. S. Martelino and Archbishop G. Reyes Sts., Kalibo, Aklan.  Admission: PhP15. Open daily, 8 AM to 5 PM.

The Other Ati-Atihan Festival (Aklan)

The highlight of my 5-day visit to Aklan with Gil Bilog, my wife Grace’s first cousin (on her mother’s side), was our visit to Ibajay town to attend the Ati-Atihan.     Held on the weekend after the more well-known and recently held (just a week ago) Kalibo version of the festival, this Ati-Atihan is less commercialized but just as old and is said by Ibajaynons to be the original and more authentic of the two. It being a Sunday, Gil and I planned to leave very early to make it to the town’s 8:30 AM mass. Joining us was Carl Flores, John Paul Sta. Maria and Jayrel Vicedo, Grace’s first cousin, nephew and grandnephew respectively (all on her father’s side).  Jayrel was to drive us there on our Mitsubishi Adventure. We left Malay poblacion by 7:30 AM and the 35-km. drive took just a little over 30 mins. 

Gil and I outside the Church of St. Peter the Apostle

After parking our car at the town center, we made a short walk to the Church of St. Peter the Apostle.  When we entered the church, the main aisle was cleared of pews and the churchgoers, including us, stood at the sides.  Special guest was Kalibo Bishop Jose Corazon Talaoc who delivered his homily in Aklanon.  Many devotees brought images of the highly venerated Sto. Nino (Holy Child Jesus), in varying shapes and sizes.  Old stories said that the image of the Sto. Nino  miraculously protected Ibajay from the bandits and and Moro pirates by preventing the invaders from docking their ships along the shoreline of the town.

The church interior

The end of the mass signaled the start of the culminating parade, a competition among groups (representing different tribes), with devotees dressed as warriors in flamboyant and colorful costumes made from native materials adroitly fashioned into feathers, headdresses and vests and carrying images of the Sto. Nino. By tradition, the devotees paint their faces with black soot and imitated the playful likeness of the Ati (or Aetas), the short, dark-skinned and kinky-haired first settlers of the Philippines. Ibajay claims to be the original site where the Atis came down from the hills to celebrate with the lowlanders.

Devotees dressed in flamboyant and colorful costumes

This parade is coupled with festive merrymaking, with heads, torsos, hands and feet gyrating and swaying to the sounds of whistles and rhythmic, hypnotic and continuous beating of drums with repeated shouts of “Viva Kay Senor Sto, Nino Viva!”  Some tourists and locals also smeared their arms, legs, and even their whole torso with soot, and joined in the street dancing.

A coconut-themed float

There were also simple floats, representing the town’s different barangays, decorated with palm fronds, fruits and vegetables and the all-important image of the Sto. Nino. On stakes were cooked fish, grilled chicken,  succulent steamed mud crabs, cholesterol-rich lechon (roasted pigs) and even bayawak (monitor lizards). The parade wound through the town, from the municipal hall to the main highway and back to the town center ending with an entrance to the church for a blessing.

Bayawak and steamed mud crabs on stakes

Unlike other major festivals, there’s no big cash prize for the best float, costume or dancing. We watched the parade from our vantage point at the palatial residence of Ang Kasangga Partylist Cong. Teodorico “Nonong” T. Haresco, Jr. (a fourth cousin of Grace).  After the parade, we dined, as guests of Cong. Haresco, on lechon, prawns and a dessert of buko pandan.  After lunch, we dropped by the residence of Judge Cesar Sta. Maria (another fourth cousin of Grace) and posed by the Ibajay Municipal Hall before returning to Malay.

L-R: Jayrel, Gil, the author and Carl

Malay to Nabas Tour (Aklan)

On our third day in Aklan, my good friend Gil Bilog (my wife Grace’s first cousin on her mother’s side) and I had our breakfast at our usual hangout, Seaside Restaurant , Malay  poblacion’s (town center) only full-service restaurant which is owned and operated by Ms. Myra Oczon (Grace’s niece) and her husband Dodoy.  Both also work at the nearby Municipal Hall.  As the name implies, the restaurant is located by the sea, along the poblacion’s clean, gray sand beach.  At night, during supper, we could hear and feel the surf pounding the sea wall.  Along the beach, we could  see the lights along Boracay‘s long beach as well as faintly hear the sounds of its active nightlife.

Malay Poblacion Beach

The native-style restaurant serves a number of Filipino dishes (including my favorite sisig and Gil’s favorite sinigang) and grilled dishes (fish, chicken, pork, squid, etc.) and also has picnic sheds for those who want the feel of the sea breeze as well as get a panoramic view of distant Boracay Island and its well-known white sand beach.   There’s also a pension house with rooms with bath for transients.

Seaside Restaurant

In the afternoon, I decided to tour Gil to the nearby town of Nabas to explore its Union Beach. For lunch, I drove the Mitsubishi Adventure the 6 kms., with Gil and Carl Flores (Grace’s first cousin on her father’s side), along the now completely concreted road, to Andok’s at Brgy. Caticlan’s Jetty Port.  It was already starting to rain when we finished lunch and it remained so as I drove the 20 kms. along the scenic coastal highway to Nabas

Union Beach Resort & Lodge

Along the way, at the left of the highway, we had a stunning vista of unspolied white sand beaches, the likes of which were similar to Boracay before the advent of tourism.  We made a stopover at Union Beach Resort & Lodge where we had hot coffee and a long chat at one of its elevated picnic huts.   As it was the amihan season, the resort had set up screens to prevent wind-blown sand from bothering guests.  

Gil, me and Carl along Union Beach

During a break in the rain, we made our way through the opening in the screen to walk along the beautiful, palm fringed white sand beach.  Boracay and its offshore islands can also be seen in the distance, northwest of the beach.  At a nearby point of land, Carl pointed out a property owned by host and comedian Ariel Ureta.  The resort also has small airconditioned rooms with bath and cable TV for those who want to stay longer in quiet surroundings.

Carl and Gil at Tabon Docking Area.  Behind is Laurel Island

It was again starting to rain when we left the resort.  Driving back to Malay, we made a short stopover at the Tabon Docking Area where boats from Boracay drop off their guests when rough seas prevent their docking at Caticlan’s Jetty Port.  The concrete docking area was now cracked in places and in dire need of repair. Across the port, we had a good view of the rocky, aptly named Crocodile Island, other offshore islands as well as Laurel Island and its white sand beaches.

Crocodile Island

Before returning to Malay poblacion, we made another stopover at Nimya Flores-Thompson’s beautiful seaside house in Brgy. Motag.   Ate Nimya, a long time Australian resident and citizen whose British husband Bill died some years ago (in fact, on November 1, All Saints’s Day), spends part of the year in her home in Malay.  The house is protected from the sometimes raging sea by a concrete sea wall.

Ate Nimya’s beachside house

Nimya entertained us from her porch facing the clean gray sand beach and the sea.   She also has a small separate cottage which she rents out to expats (it was then occupied).  Nimya’s neighbors are also expats who married Filipinas.  They also built beautiful homes in this equally beautiful seaside setting.     

Brgy. Motag’s gray sand beach
Seaside Restaurant: Brgy. Poblacion, Malay, Aklan.  Mobile numbers (0918) 399-8052 and (0908) 140-9791.
Union Beach Resort & Lodge: Brgy. Union, Nabas, Aklan.  Mobile numbers (0949) 750-5177 and  (0921)  762-7564.

Agnaga Falls and Cold Spring (Malay, Aklan)

During one of our family visits to Malay (Aklan), I decided, for a change, to veer outside our normal routine of visiting Boracay Island by visiting one of the town’s little-known tourist attractions – Agnaga Falls.  Though listed as one of Malay’s 7 natural wonders (Boracay is No. 1 of course), not many people, aside from the locals, know about or visit the place.

L-R: Cheska, John Paul, Ningning and Jandy

Joining me were my kids Jandy and Cheska plus their third cousin John Paul and John Paul’s mom, Ningning.  After lunch, we all boarded the Mitsubishi L-200 pickup and were driven my Naciang, Ningning’s husband and my wife Grace’s second cousin, along the road to Buruanga up to the jump-off point.  This was as far as the pickup could go.  Naciang stayed behind with the pickup to await our return.

Agnaga Falls

From here, it was to be all footwork through a dirt trail within a light forest. After about 20 mins. of leisure hiking, the sound of the fall’s flowing waters told us we have finally reached our destination.  The falls wasn’t high, just about twice my height, but the cool turquoise waters at its small, shallow pool were inviting. Besides, we were the only visitors around and we had the falls all to ourselves.   Simply heaven.

Agnaga Falls: Brgy. Kabulihan, Malay, Aklan.

On the Road From Caticlan to Iloilo City

From our R&R stop at Caticlan and Boracay, Charlie Kemplin and I were slated to begin our first Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) mapping at Iloilo City.  Joining us was Charlie’s friend Ron Connell and his son Steve (owner of Frendz Resort in Boracay), both married to Filipinas.   We left Boracay, early in the morning, for Caticlan’s Ferry Port, got the 1994 Ford Explorer at my father-in-law’s house in Malay town proper and were soon on our way by 9 AM.

Passi City Hall

The non-stop 212-km. trip to Iloilo City normally takes just 6 hrs. but, in our case, took more than that.  Charlie drove the first 65 kms. to Kalibo where we stopped for lunch at Greenwich in Gaisano Mall.   From Kalibo, I took over the wheel of the Explorer and drove the remaining 147 kms. to Iloilo City, making a short stopover at Passi City Hall for some maps.  It was just about dusk and raining hard when we reached Iloilo City.  Here, we checked in at 3 airconditioned rooms with bath and cable TV at the Fine Rock Hotel.

A Boat Tour Around Boracay Island

After lunch at Sea Lovers Restaurant along White Beach, Grace, my kids Jandy and Cheska and I opted to do something we haven’t done before in Boracay – going around the island by pumpboat.  Getting a tour was no problem, there are lots of operators going around White Beach offering this service.  All we had to do was haggle for a low price.  This settled, we boarded our boat along White Beach and were soon on our way.

Crocodile Island

Just off the southeast coast of Boracay, we passed by rocky Crocodile Island, so named because of its crocodile shape from a distance.  It has no beaches but is said to be a good snorkeling area and a popular venue for scuba diving.

The entrance of Crystal Cove

After 20 mins., our boat dropped anchor at the white sand beach in front of the welcome arch of Boracay Crystal Cove atTigwati-an Island.  This 2-hectare, privately-owned island, formerly called Laurel Island, is located just off Tabon Point, east of Boracay.

Resting along the island’s circumferential path

To explore the island and its caves, we paid an entrance fee (P75 per adult and P30 per child).The island had a circumferential cement path and, during our tour, we encountered statues of mythical characters. The island’s chief attraction are its 2 caves.

Posing among statues of mythical characters

One is located on a hill top.  There is also a small, 8-m. long cave at the tip of the island which is liberally covered with yellow and orange polyps.  The kids and I were excited to enter it but Grace opted to stay behind and just wait for our return.  The cave has a natural shallow pool on the side of the beach where we swam through.

One of the island’s caves

Back at our boat, we proceeded directly up north, near Yapak, to our last destination – the 800-m. long, blissfully deserted Puka Shell Beach (also called Yapak Beach). This beach, the island’s second longest, covers half of the northern tip of the island and ends abruptly at Lapuz-Lapuz Cliffs on the island’s extreme northern point. This most primitive and rugged part of Boracay has yellow, less fine sand and a stronger surf and a more abrupt change of depth than at White Beach.  We were careful when we swam there.

The blissfully deserted Puka Shell Beach
This beach was made famous by its heishi and shiny white (sometimes dotted with brown) Puka shells (actually part of the core of a shell), said to be the best in the world due to its luster and whiteness. Also found in Bali (Indonesia) and Hawaii, these shells were collected and stringed into fashion necklaces and bracelets and other jewelry in the 1970s and 80s.  Elizabeth Taylor once appeared in celebrity circles wearing such a necklace.  They are now very rare and the collecting, selling and buying of these shells are now prohibited by law.  However, women still collect, make and sell these jewelry pieces.  The beach also has a fine view of Romblon’s Carabao Island.
Boracay Crystal Cove: Tabon Point, Brgy. Caticlan, Malay, Aklan, 5608.  Tel/Fax: (036) 288-7482. Mobile number: (0918) 911-8134.  E-mail: info@crystalcoveisland.net. Website: crystalcoveisland.net and crystalcoveisland.com.

Club Panoly Resort (Boracay, Malay, Aklan)

Club Panoly Resort

During our 1990 visit to Boracay, my first such visit, we made an ocular visit of the new (opened November 1989), 4-hectare, Singaporean-owned (CTW Group) and operated Club Panoly Resort, the first triple AAA resort in Boracay. A year later, the resort was the site of the 1991 RPN-9 mini-series Boracay which starred Dina Bonnevie, Fe Delos Reyes (singer/comedienne), Joel Torre, Rollie Quizon and Noel Trinidad (the fictional resort owner).

Posing at the resort entrance

Six years later, Grace and I decided to plan our next stay on the island on this world-class resort, staying here for 5 days and 4 nights.  Together with our kids Jandy and Cheska, we departed for Kalibo on the 9 AM Philippine Airlines flight, arrived by 10 AM and, from Kalibo Airport, boarded an airconditioned  Boracay Star bus for Jetty Port in Brgy. Caticlan, arriving there by 11:30 AM.

Cafe Punta Bunga

At the port, we boarded the resort’s shuttle boat and arrived at Club Panoly in time for lunch at Cafe Punta Bunga, the resort’s coffee shop.   Sprawled throughout this luxurious resort are 8 native-style octagonal clusters with 5 cottages, all fully air conditioned, with hot and cold shower, cable TV, minibar, complimentary coffee and tea and 24-hour IDD telephone facilities, all standard features in all rooms. The custom-designed furniture were made with indigenous creativity and materials. 

Lounging by the swimming pool and poolside bar

Aside from Cafe Punta Punta, the resort also has a restaurant, a bar (El Capitan) and a beach bar.  There’s also has a swimming pool (with poolside bar), a plexi-paved tennis court, two jacuzzis, spa, sauna, multi-purpose conference room, billiards, children’s playground, souvenir shop, seaport and offers waterskiing, windsurfing, jetskiing, diving, paddle boating and speed boats.

Trying out the jacuzzi
Club Panoly Resort: Sitio Punta Bunga, Brgy. Yapak, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan. Tel: (032) 288-3011. Fax: (036) 288-3134.  Metro Manila booking office: International Vacations Corp.,  G/F, ACT Tower, 135 Sen. Gil Puyat Ave., Salcedo Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 812-2233 local 107 or 403.  Fax: (632) 812-6455 and 812-6434.  E-mail: info@thepanoly.com.  Website: www.thepanoly.com.

Mardi Gras in the Philippines (Kalibo, Aklan)

We were now in our second day at the Akelco (Aklan Electric Cooperative) guesthouse in Lezo (Aklan), having just arrived there yesterday afternoon upon the invitation of its general manager Job Y. Besana.  Today was to be a fun day as we were going to attend the extraordinary Ati-Atihan Festival, one of the most exciting and exuberant festivals in the country. The Ati-Atihan is invariably described by many as the “Mardi Gras of the Philippines” or the “country’s greatest party.”

Parading with Tribu Bukid Tigayon

This spectacular, 300-year old celebration is held in honor of the Sto. Niño (Holy Child), Kalibo’s patron saint, who was said to have saved the town from Moro raiders.  A mixture of pagan and Christian elements, this exuberant festival usually attracts an estimated 50,000 local and foreign tourists yearly.  Flights to and from Kalibo, as well as the town’s hotels and pension houses, are usually fully booked at this time.

However, we arrived just a little over a month after the December 1-9, 1989 coup de etat attempt in Manila and, as a consequence, foreign tourist arrivals are down. However, there was a plus side to this as lesser crowds  means easier access to the festival action.   We left the Akelco guesthouse right after lunch and, although Kalibo was  just less than 10 kms. away, the going was slow as we approached the town as there were still lots of people gathered along the street to watch the parade.

After parking our car, it was all footwork from hereon as we walked towards the parade route.  The parade was already underway when we arrived.   The parade featured tribus (“tribes”) composed of members of local barangays and organizations, each with its own striking costume made from local materials like coconut shells, feathers and fronds.  Participants also blacken their faces with soot and imitate the Atis, Aklan’s Negrito inhabitants, after whom the festival was named for.

Grace, Mommy, Jandy and I

The atmosphere was electrifying with its swirl of riotous color, reverberating drumbeats and cries of “Hala Bira!” and “Viva kay Señor Sto. Niño” (“Long Live the Holy Child”) as participants dance the Ati-Ati, a ritual dance with different movements.  Foreign, as well as, local visitors were also enticed to join in the dancing, drinking and the uninhibited revelry.   The festival also features a beauty pageant (Miss Kalibo Ati-Atihan), fireworks display, a Purchase of Panay re-enactment, a 9-day novena, field mass, pahilot (or paeappak, an old faith healing tradition), cockfight derbies, crafts fair and a torch parade and procession.    

Jandy admiring an Ati

Kalibo Tourism Office: Magsaysay Park, Kalibo, Aklan. Tel: (036) 262-1020, 268-4110, 262-3241 & 262-3079. Fax: (036)  268-4120 & 262-3241.

Boracay Here We Come! (Malay, Aklan)

After breakfast at Dad’s ancestral home in Malay, we boarded the L-200 and were driven, along 6 kms. of dirt road, to the makeshift jetty port at Brgy. Caticlan.  Here, we boarded a big outrigger boat for Boracay Island.  Our 15-min. pumpboat ride to the island was smooth all the way and soon the crystal blue waters turned sparklingly clear as we approached the island’s famous White Beach.  It was just about noontime and the palm-fringed beach’s dazzlingly white sand was practically deserted and enchanting.

On our way

Our boat docked at Boat Station 2, actually just an open beach point without piers where boats land.  All passengers, including us, have to alight the boat via a narrow gangplank then wade a short distance through the shallow water to the beach.  Others, however, hired brawny porters to carry them to shore on their shoulders.  From the beach, we walked a short distance to a narrow alley.  From the alley entrance, we walked a further 100 m. to Lion’s Den Resort on our left.

This rustic resort, owned and managed by Lowell A. Talamisan, an apo (grandnephew) of my father-in-law and a nephew of my wife Grace, is conveniently located midway between the beach and Main Road.  Here, we stayed at one of the resort’s quaint and cozy nipa and bamboo cottages with private bath.  Our cottage also had a verandah with a nice hammock slung at the posts.

Jandy and his lola relaxing at the verandah

Boracay Island then was without electricity and our cottage was lit at night with gas lanterns.  Other high-end resorts were powered by generators.  This didn’t matter to us then, since food and accommodation were inexpensive and the people were friendly. Sometimes we would dine on grilled blue marlin at the resort or dine out at the restaurant of the nearby Red Coconut Resort.

White Beach circa 1990

The most exhilarating portion of our 3-day stay on the island was  the  feel of the sand of White Beach, snow white and fine as sifted confectionary sugar, top-grade cake flour or baby powder.   It was so white you can get a total suntan  due to the  sun’s  reflection on the sand.  The  aquamarine  water was shallow and clear and the sunset was always magnificent.

Sand, sea and sky at Boracay

Up north along White Beach, across Willy’s Beach Resort, is Willy’s Rock, the familiar and frequently photographed landmark that dominates the seascape.  This large, castle-like natural boulder rises 7 m. (23 ft.) from the sand.

Posing by the much photographed Willy’s Rock


My First Visit to Aklan

My father-in-law, Engr. Manuel L. Sta. Maria, retired deputy administrator of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and a resident of Malay, Aklan, suggested that we visit his hometown and its emerging star – Boracay  Island. It would my first and Grace’s second visit, she having visited the place sometime in 1978 when White Beach was then blissfully deserted.

Grace at Boracay, circa 1978

The timing of the visit couldn’t have been any better.  Grace (then 5 months pregnant with my daughter Cheska), 3-1/2 year-old Jandy, my in-laws and I arrived  in Kalibo on  board a Philippine Airlines morning flight, just over a month after the nearly successful December 1-9, 1989 coup de etat.  Tourist arrivals were still down but this later proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Our arrival at Kalibo Airport
We were all picked up at the airport by an airconditioned L-200 pickup. The trip to Malay town proper took all of of 90 mins. and the  going  was rough as we approached Brgy. Caticlan, Malay, , the gateway to Boracay Island, because the zigzag road there was still unpaved and dusty.  Foreign tourists, however, didn’t seem to mind as we  saw many  of them  clinging precariously onto the roofs of  jeepneys, thoroughly  enjoying  the bumpy and dusty ride to Brgy Caticlan.  The views of the Sibuyan Sea from the road were magnificent.  Along the dusty part of the road to Malay, we chance upon Malay Mayor Roger S. Aguirre, the nephew of my father-in-law and Grace’s first cousin, who was supervising the concreting the road.
My father-in-law’s ancestral house

We finally arrived at my  father-in-law’s old 2-storey, wood and concrete  ancestral house located near the plaza and seashore. The town of Malay was created only in 1949, being a barrio of Buruanga before that time.  The father of Tay Lolong (as my father-in-law was called there), Mr. Melanio Sta. Maria, was mayor of Buruanga from 1925-29.  The street in front of the house was named after him.

Jandy frolicking by the beach
About 50 m. from the house was the shallow, brown sand beach of the town and beyond it, seemingly within paddling distance, were the enticing white sands of Boracay’s White Beach.  We just couldn’t wait to get there.