The Churches of Iloilo

Iloilo City – Iloilo Province – Panay – Visayas – Philippines

While on a short little trip up to the Philippines city of Iloilo back in January for the colourfully fantastic Dinagyang festival, I took the opportunity to see the Spanish era churches of Iloilo Province. These century old churches can be found in all the towns, and I visited 5.

1) Miagao Church

Also known as the The Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova, the church in Miagao town is listed as a UNESCO protected heritage site under the entry “Baroque Churches of the Philippines”. Originally built in 1797 in the local interpretation of the Baroque architectural style, the church served as a fortress against Muslim Moro raiders.

Grand facade of the Miagao church, includes two bell towers on either side.

Giant buttresses support the thick walls of the church. More fortress than church, definitely.

The pediment has a distinctly botanical motif. An interesting mix of east and west. St. Christopher carrying the child Christ under a coconut tree, with a papaya tree to his left.

The interior of the church. The ceiling is low compared to how large it looks outside.

2) The San Joaquin Church

This was my favourite church visited. Despite being less famous than the Miagao church, the 1869-built San Joaquin Church has an equally, if not more, outstanding pediment. This one features a busy scene of horse-riding soldiers in battle with the beleaguered Moro fighters, during the battle of Tetuan. To the right is a three storey attached bell-tower.

The pediment of the San Joaquin church. The reddish colour comes from the limestone and coral that makes up the church.

Compared to the exterior, the interior is tiled, with clean lines.

Also, the town of San Joaquin is very pretty, with trishaws and motorbikes with sidecars ferrying passengers up and down the main road.

3) Jaro Cathedral

Much closer is the Jaro Cathedral, located in the Jaro district of Iloilo city. Unlike the other churches on this list, it is a cathedral. Yes there is a difference. Built in 1864, it is known for its 400 year old image of the Lady of Candles. Encased in glass in front of the cathedral, accessible via a flight of steps, the Marian image of the Virgin is the site of an annual festival every 2nd Feb.

The Pope John Paul II himself visited the cathedral on Feb 21, 1981 and declared the Lady of Candles the Patron of Western Visayas.

An unusual feature of the cathedral is the bell-tower, which stands separated from the main church, across the road.

The rear interior of the cathedral

The interior of the Jaro Cathedral is simple, with male saints lined on either side of the nave.

4) Molo Church

The Molo Church, also located in Iloilo City, is commonly known as the female church. This is because the saints lined along the nave are all female. Looking at first glance more like a medieval castle than a church, this gothic structure was built in 1831.

Located in the district of Molo, Iloilo City is the Church of St. Anne, better known as the Molo Church.

The sharp pointy spires of the Molo Church stands out from the surroundings buildings.

The interior of the Molo church.

The altar of the Molo Church. I especially like the dove scene on the ceiling.

Stained glass painting of the Virgin and Child.

5) The Arevalo Church

Compared to the previous churches on the list, the Arevalo Church lacks their grandeur. But this modern looking church, located in the Villa Arevalo district of Iloilo City, has its own star attraction. The third oldest image of the Santo Nino can be found here. The 1581 Santo Nino de Arevalo is kept in a glass casing, flanked by two angels.

The exterior of the Arevalo Church.

The image of the Santo Nino de Arevalo.

A close up

The outer section of the church has a row of saints in white. The grills behind lead into the church, which has an open concept, with the grills replacing walls.

Getting There: For Singaporeans eager to pop down to Iloilo City to check out these churches, Cebu Pacific flies direct from Singapore. Yes, a direct flight to Iloilo City. If you are headed there, you could also time your visit to catch the colourful Dinagyang Festival in January.

Lima – Of Chocolate Hills and hiccuping tarsiers

13th Dec 2010, in Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines

Today was spent touring Bohol. We engaged through the hotel a driver and a car, for 2500 pesos, to take us to all the sights in a day. The standard package that all the tour companies offer will include the famed Chocolate Hills, a butterfly park, a man-made forest, the hanging bridges, a river cruise cum lunch in Loboc, tarsiers, the Bacylon church and the sandugo monument. Not bad for a full day tour, even though the main attractions were the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers, the rest were more or less filler.

When taking a car hire, everyone and their neighbour will offer to take you on the standard Bohol tour. It’s better to go with the hotel or a proper tour agency, rather than the trishaw rider’s brother/uncle/friend. There are some laws about having licenses to be a driver/guide, plus private vehicles have plates coloured differently. Only those with yellow plates or rainbow colourful ones can carry public passengers.

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From Tagbilaran, we traveled inland towards the Chocolate Hills, a unique natural geological phenomenon here in Bohol, of over 1300 hillocks than dot the countryside. Formed centuries ago below the sea out of limestone, the hills were created when plate movements led to their formation. They get their name because during the dry season, the top of the hills dry and turn brown, hence Chocolate Hills. Sadly, we saw only the green hills.

A small buttefly conservation centre, a man-made forest (mahagony seeds planted over 40 years ago to prevent erosion) and a hanging bridge (initially made for some families on the other side of the river) become attractions for tourists.

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Lunch was a kitsch affair, touted as a cruise on Loboc river on a boat where we would have a buffet lunch. At 400 pesos, I felt the food was sub-par, and the guitar strumming performer didn’t help much to improve the environ either. Possibly a highlight would be a ukelele strumming local performance choral group that sat by the side of the river and put up a performance for us. Very packaged, and touristy, I ended up buying a 400 peso ukelele. Talk about tourist traps.

After lunch, we headed for a “Kingdom of Tarsier and Other Animals”, to check out the other highlight of Bohol. The tarsier, one of the smallest mammals in the world, is found in the Philippines, and most easily spotted in Bohol. Cute little buggers, the tarsiers have gigantic eyes that take up half their face.

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Their uniqueness means many tourists come to see them, and this inevitably leads to illegal tarsier poaching and the such. Hence, government regulations means places such as these are allowed to keep only 10 tarsiers. The enclosure is pretty big, allowing the tarsiers to jump from tree to tree, but visitors can come in and stand within centimeters of a tarsier. This particular establishment stops tourists from taking flash photography and tells them not to touch or startle the tarsiers, but the regular flow of tourists will mean that some of these little guys end up traumatised and as ominously pointed out by the handler, “they commit suicide”, that is, they refuse to eat till they die. =(

After the tarsiers, we trooped to the next couple of attractions, both pretty anticlimatic actually. The Baclyon church was not bad, one of the oldest most well preserved churches in the Philippines, set up in early 17th century. We did a stop by the Blood Compact monument, to signify a treaty made by the Bohol chieftain and a Spanish explorer. I was more interested in the fact that blood compact here is the Sandugo, also the name of a footwear brand in Bohol. The slippers are good quality.

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Car sent us back to the ferry terminal, where we took OceanJet this time. (Supercat has newer boats, but Oceanjet has wifi on board). Back on Cebu, we found a metered cab to take us to a rest house near Ayala Center, an impressive megamall. And that was all for Malapascua / Bohol. Until the next backpack trip to Bangladesh (now THAT should be an interesting one), bye.

Apat – Tagbilaran Beauty Queens

12th Dec 2010, Tagbilaran, Bohol, Philippines

Morning saw us getting more adventurous, eschewing the chartered ferry and van for public transport. We walked to the village where others were waiting for the public bangka to take them to Cebu mainland.

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Yellow buses from Ceres Liner greeted us at the Cebu side, ready to bring passengers down south. I quite like the buses, even though they were non-aircon, the big windows allowed me to look out and take in the sights and smells. The bus driver’s route meandering around town also lets me see more.

The big city (relatively) of Cebu City is completely different from Malapascua’s laid back charm. We had a plan though, and skipped the city for later, instead heading straight to the port for our fast ferry to Bohol. Supercat’s ticket office, and subsequent check-in and waiting area were comfortable, modern and sees many tourists, evident in the multiple nationalities sitting inside this ferry right now with me.

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Reached Tagbilaran city, spent the rest of the day there. We took a 50 peso trishaw to Chriscentville Hotel, in the city centre for a 1200 peso room. Went to explore the surrounding malls, BQ Mall is a 5 storey mall which looks like the majordomo mall out here. That’s where i had Halo-halo, ice shavings and sugar and toppings, very much like our local Ais Kachang. More charming is Tagbilaran City Square, adjacent to it. This mall looks older and more run down, but then I’m biaised, because TCS was the location of Miss Dunkin Donuts 2010! We were shopping and minding our own business when the commotion on the second floor atrium signalled the start of the pageant. We stayed 2.5 hours to watch the beauty pageant from start to finish. My favourite, contestant number 8, won top honours!

Here’s the intro video, if you can’t see it, go to http://www.thefuriouspanda.com/search/label/tagbilaran

Practicalities:
It’s a 10 minute walk from Exotic to the village where the public boat sets off, just ask anyone for directions. The ferry ticket is 50 pesos one way, and at low tide, you need to pay 10 pesos on each bank for the little boat (tundas) to take you from shore to the ferry. First ferry sets off at 630am, so it makes sense to be at the ferry station (which is nothing more than a covered tent) at around 615am. The ferry bangka itself is about 40 minutes.

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At Maya, its a 95 peso, 4.5 hour bus ride with stops down to Cebu city. The bus is the yellow Ceres Liner, non-airconditioned. The bus stops outside SM Plaza in Cebu City.

From there, I took a 5 minute taxi ride to the pier. Always metered, starting meter price is 30 peso. In total it was around 50 peso, excluding a 10 peso port entrance fee.

Pier 4, where Supercat and Weesam have services to Tagbilaran, on Bohol. Pier 1 is where Oceanjet’s service start from. At Pier 4, I took Supercat, 535 pesos, a 1.5 hour fast ferry ride to Tagbilaran port. The ferry leaves at 1230pm, other timings also available on the bohol website.

tatio – Of Mandarinfish and seahorses that only come out at night

11th Dec 2010, Malapascua, Philippines

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9am for the first dive. We headed towards Lighthouse, the site of hull of a Jap WWII wreck, just 10m deep. We didn’t get a chance to do the dive sites at Gato Island, which was 45 minutes boat ride out. There needed to be at least 4 of us before they could take us there. Nevertheless, the next best alternative at the Lighthouse was a pretty good one. After all, we were getting one bangka boat to ourselves, with a 2 DM to 3 divers ratio.

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Mandarinfish

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Dive 4: Lighthouse. Hard corals, long dive since it was only 10m deep. Dive 5: Deep slope, which is a semi-wall dive, my favourite kind. The sheer amount of nudibranches spotted was enough to keep me happy all day. A moray roaming the slope was icing. Dive 6: Lighthouse (night). We returned back to Lighthouse for a dusk dive, ready to spot the elusive mandarinfish, a colourful fish that shies away under hard coral. They come out only at night, and since they fit into the palm of your hand, you can imagine how hard it is to find one in the water at night. Our DM Jojo was the hero, finding a mandarinfish almost immediately at the beginning of the dive. Additionally, he also found plenty of seahorses, a first for me in over 50 dives. Crabs, hermit crabs, cuttlefish and more boxer shrimps made up the night party.

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Dinner was at one of the beachfront restaurants. Dishes were around the 150-300 range, fairly reasonable. There was an absence of local type eateries here in Malapascua, since most of the food is home cooked for the family. I had adobo, which is any mean cooked with vinegar and what seems like soy sauce.

Dalawa – Thresher shark spotting

10th Dec 2010, Malapascua, Philippines

At 430am, we were up and about, getting ready for the pre-dawn dive, in order to catch a thresher shark sighting. The dive location is Monad Shoal, a sunken island, on whose plateau the trhresher sharks regularly hang out. They come out from the depths to this plateau to get cleaned by the cleaner fish, before going back down. It’s one of the few places to see threshers, characterised by their long dorsal tail fin that grows to almost half their entire body length.

We were hoping we’d get lucky. There’s a 55% chance of seeing one this time of year, according to the Evolution Dive owners, Matt and David. Our DMs were Jojo and Julius, both born and bred on Malapascua island. The conditions that morning at 5am were unfavourable. Morning torrents and choppy waters. We’d be cursing if we don’t see the threshers today; as it meant we’d have to go out again tomorrow morning in the cold rain to try again. We hear stories of divers who come here and dive for a week daily without ever spotting a thresher shark.

We weren’t disappointed. A huge 2m plus thresher was in the vicinity and swam round in circles, at one time turning towards me and coming within a few meters away. Stupidly, i forgot to bring down the underwater camera, and only had it passed to me later, by which time I only got fleeting shots of the shark. Ok, I’m content. Mission accomplished. Thresher shark spotted.

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The next couple of dives saw us spotting various local stuff like a frogfish, pairs of banded boxer shrimps, lots of lionfish. Dive 2: Lapus Lapus. Dive 3: Bantingi.

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In the evening after the dives, did a loop around the village that sits behind all the dive resorts. It’s my first Filipino village experience, and it delivers. Despite the resorts catering to the dive crowd, life in Malapascua remains simple. Children play in the sand, neighbours crowd outside a house, peeking in to watch the television in the household. Videokes abound too, you can hear the singing (wailing!) from the villagers belting local and foreign chart toppers. Malapascua’s changing though. More resorts are popping up, structures are being built as I was there, no doubt to capture the increasing tourist dollar. Come to Malapascua now, before it’s all gone in 10 years time =)

And the highlight, besides the sharks, here’s a video of the Malapascuan village kids dancing away, the last shot in the vid sees one kid pulling the other’s pants down =)

If you don’t see the Youtube video, go to the original source : http://furiouspanda.blogspot.com

isa – Mactan to Malapascua

9th Dec 2010, Malapascua, Phillipines

AirPhile Express’ A320 fleet flies out of Changi Terminal 2, Singapore, its first international destination to Manila and Cebu City. Armed with cheap promo tickets, off we go, T, ZJ and I to Cebu. The destination? Malapascua Island, off the northern tip of Cebu. The agenda? Thresher sharks.

As soon as we got out of the Cebu / Mactan international airport, we were whizzed into a van, to take us direct to Maya at the northern end, where we will take the pumpboat to Malapascua. It was a 3 hour van ride, which seemed longer because of the rain, and also due to the fact that it gets dark here much earlier, at around 6. The road hugs the eastern coastline.

Here’s the view from the pumpboat. I suspect the cross-like mast is intentional, seeing that the majority of Filipinos are Roman catholics.

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Dive outfit that we went with is Evolution Dive, one of the newer dive cos. on the malapascuan dive scene. And they put us up at The Purple Snapper, a 5 minutes walk inland from Evolution. Tomorrow morning, we will wake up at 4am, to go out to spot thresher sharks at Monad Shoal, since this is the only time when they come out.