IT WAS Nadine Sembrano, a former staff member of the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, who invited me to join her in a familiarization tour of Guimaras in order to update her tourism notes for her travel agency based in Los Angeles. Nadine’s father is a friend of Emily Relucio-Lopez, the first governor of the island-province of Guimaras.
Guimaras first gained status as a sub-province of Iloilo by virtue of R.A. 4667. It was proclaimed as a regular and full-fledged province on May 22, 1992 after a plebiscite was conducted to ratify the approval of its conversion pursuant to section 462 of R.A. 7160. Located southwest of Panay and northwest of Negros, it has a land area of 604.65 square kilometers. It has five towns with Jordan as capital. Its Hiligaynon speaking population reaches 130,000.
It was 6:30 a.m. when our pump boat left Ortiz wharf (Iloilo City) and it took us 20 minutes to reach Jordan. That was the start of our four-day tour of the “island that fits anyone’s taste.”
The island is blessed with natural and historical attractions. It has white sand beaches, falls, springs, offshore islets, coves and caves. We took notice of Buenavista Wharf, which was built by the young Lt. Douglas MacArthur. We also visited Punta Blanco and Camp Jossman, a target range and a military camp constructed by the US Army in 1903.
We did not miss Costa Aguada Island Resort located at the crocodile shaped Inampulugan Island which is a part of the town of Sibunag. It highlights clean white sand beaches, crystal clear water, 851-long bamboobridge that floats with the tide, a sea forest, a turtle park and recreational sports facilities. Its swimming pool is occupied by foreign and local tourists mostly in their colorful bikinis. Nadine and I enjoyed horseback riding and nature viewing on a mountain-top jungle park overlooking the entire island.
One small island with an area of about 100,000 square meters which we did not miss is Nagarao. It offers a very unique Visayan setting suited for holiday vacations. Isla Naburot has rich colorful marine life, visible and exotic sea creatures. Visiting its fantastic underwater world is like viewing a hidden paradise populated by schools of fish of different colors and rare coral colonies. The island really suits the taste of honeymooners who just want to hear their sweet nothings and people who long for a tranquil hideaway to realize their restless spirits.
Other resorts which captivated our delicate taste are Raymen, with its long stretch of shoreline ideal for swimming, sun bathing and fun games; Baras, with its unspoiled environment and pirate caves for exploration; Colmenares, for day picnics and disco dancing at night; and Shann, the favorite haven of college students from Iloilo. Good buy souvenirs could be found at Guimaras Trade and Information Center. Guia Marie sells leis with mango design. Trappist Monastery offers preserved fruits, religious items, native bags, coco shell products, and handicrafts produced by the cultural minorities assisted by the monks.
Native food centers boast of their polvoron, barquiron, barquillos, mango puree and pickles, shrimp kroepeck, tocino, tapa, corned beef, guava jelly, cashew nuts, camote bars, and nata de coco. Other cottage industry investors are engaged in the making of sala set, bookshelves, dividers, dining sets, hats, basket, jewelry boxes and fans.
Our friend Angie Gabinete, the dashing and efficient tourism lady of Guimaras, wholeheartedly facilitated our visit to Oro Verde Mango Plantation, the second largest mango plantation in the whole world. Nadine enjoyed picking mango fruits dangling from the branches while I delighted myself with crisp mango pickles. Guimaras is famous for its Manggahan Festival every third week of May.
“Paspas Guimaras!” is the battlecry for peace, unity, and progress of the Guimarasnons. They want to prove that their exotic island is a prime tourism feature that Western Visayas could be proud of.