Kalibo is known as one of the gateways to Boracay island. Bigger than the Caticlan airport, which is nearer the tiny island, the Kalibo International Airport can accommodate bigger aircrafts and chartered flights from Taiwan and South Korea.
While most tourists that pass through Kalibo only stay long enough to board a bus or van to Caticlan, there are those that head to this municipality every third weekend of January for the ati-atihan festival.
I’ve done those two, so when there was an opportunity to stay with a friend who lives in Kalibo, I quickly grabbed it.
Chris, our host, took us to Bakhawan Eco Park, an eco-tourism project of the local community that spans 170 hectares in Baranggay New Buswang. It’s just a short drive from the town center. There are no jeeps or multicabs that come this way, so best to ride a tricycle. Entrance to the eco park is Php 15 per person, while cottage rental, if needed, costs Php 100.
It was an 800 meter stroll on a bamboo walkway raised about 3 to 4 feet off the ground, through the mangrove forest. The bamboo were already showing signs of age, but were still quite stable. You’d have to watch where you step at some point though. It was a pleasant walk, with the trees providing shade and the gentle breeze from the sea cooling you off as you near the end of the path. There are 2 rest stops along the path, with cottages at the end for picnics.
Chris tells us that the landscape in the swamp has changed. Typhoon Frank’s path through the Visayas left Kalibo with a terrible mudslide that affected the town for over a week. Most of the mud flowed out to the mangrove forest. Where there used to be a beach and water, now only has mud.
Despite the distance of the sea from the cottages, we were still able to appreciate the relative serenity of the place (there were a bunch of teenagers singing Justin Beiber songs in the cottage right next to us). After munching on some ban mi that Chris’ aunt packed for us, we moved on to unpack, pose and take pictures of our dolls. Since it was a weekday, there were hardly anybody in the place — no busy bodies getting in between our lenses and collection.
Next in the itinerary was the Aklan State University campus in the town of Banga. It’s approximately 15-minute drive from Kalibo, or one multi-cab ride (just ask the driver to drop you off at the ASU gate). The university lies at the foot of the Manduyog Hill, a pilgrimage site owing to the life-size stations of the cross that line the 750-meter path that winds around the hill all the way to the summit, where there’s a huge cross and a chapel.
While the path is not paved, it’s an easy enough walk up to the fifth Station of the Cross. Can’t really say if it gets easier or harder beyond that since we decided to walk back to the car. Following the path does have a meditative feel to it — I felt if we weren’t pressed for time, we would have ended up walking all the way to the top.
To cool off, Chris had us try ASU’s home grown product: fruit juices. Packed in an unassuming and unimpressive plastic bag, Cla and I were instant converts after the first sip. Coming in flavors like calamansi, calamandarin, szincon, the package boasts that its ingredients only includes natural fruit juices, water and sugar. At only Php 10 per pack, it’s a cheap and healthy way to refresh yourself.
We drive next to the town of New Washington, hometown of Jaime Cardinal Sin (RIP) and now home to Sam Butcher, the man behind the Precious Moments brand. An American artist and minister, he fell in love with the Philippines and settled in New Washington, where he built his home and the Sampaguita Gardens Resort that offer accommodations, convention hall and Jojo’s Christmas Cottage — a year-round exhibit and store of Precious Moments goods. There’s a Php 50 fee to enter the complex, but it’s fully consumable.
Getting ready for Ati-atihan 2011
Before heading home, we stopped by the town plaza where the square was lighted up with festive Christmas lights and the air was filled with drumming sounds of groups practising for the Ati-atihan 2011. It’s interesting to see the community come together like this — kids and teenagers involved in the festival, people hanging out with the rest of the town out of doors, instead of cooped in their houses watching soap operas. It’s making me want to consider leaving the city for a quiet life in the province.