I flew into Kalibo (Aklan), took a van to Roxas City (Capiz), rode another van to Estancia port (Iloilo), and hopped into a boat to an island in Carles, Iloilo that is so far out at sea that people couldn’t even contact me.
My father hails from a town in the outskirts of this city. I spent many childhood summers in Aklan, in my grandfather’s house by the sea. My memory of that time consists of only images: the narrow, bougainvillea-lined streets; the smell of fresh pan de sal and fish mingling in the bakery by the port; the pile of rocks by the wooden gate, where an aswang, I was told, lived; the woven nipa roof and the ever-dusty redstone floor; the rough, gray sand of the beach behind the backyard and the chicken coop by a stone wall; the door to the balcony, which was always locked. For memories of people, I would need to consult my relatives. I don’t remember playing hopscotch with the neighborhood children in the yard, or riding in a banca paddled by my grandfather, or marveling at how my fattest uncle managed to fit into his yellow Volkswagen Beetle. But then I barely know that side of the family anymore, so I suppose it hardly matters.
I spent my three hours in Capiz walking around the capital with my brown-bagged breakfast of bread, strolling into a cemetery, taking pictures of skulls in a dome full of bones exhumed by a recent flood, and chatting with the undertaker, who happened to work for some time as a jeepney driver in my hometown. I also visited the Sta. Monica Museum and Church in Pan-Ay, the oldest church in the region. Unlike the baroque churches in Iloilo, the church in Pan-Ay is poorly maintained, almost devoid of relics and religious art. The five-storey belfry that used to hold the largest Catholic church bell in Asia is in ruins, so the bell was brought down to the courtyard, where tourists could easily have their pictures taken beside it.
Two hours by boat from Estancia Port, Brgy. Asluman, dubbed the Scallops Capital of Iloilo, is a small fishing community in the southern part of Isla Gigantes in Carles, Iloilo. With its shell-cobbled dirt paths, nipa huts built with narra and adorned with balite vines, a beach covered with decades’ worth of discarded talaba shells and surrounded by mangrove trees, the town has a rustic charm. Add to that the lack of telecommunications and the fluctuating electricity, and it seems like the perfect rural getaway for the urban-weary. Yet the town is not to be so romanticized. The remoteness of the island, its limited access to technological conveniences and commercial avenues, and the dependency of the entire community’s livelihood on daily catch have long hindered the town’s economic progress. That is, until it opened itself up to tourism around two years ago. The town serves as the “base camp” for island hopping in those parts of northern Iloilo, which feature the most beautiful, secluded beaches I’ve ever seen, unmarred by noise, rowdy party people, and commercial establishments. There are also hiking and spelunking opportunities in the island. The accommodations in Asluman town are rudimentary: a couple of rooms, some nipa huts, a tree house built upon a young banyan tree, and tents inside a small resort compound (Gigantes Hideaway Inn) or by the elementary school fronting the beach. There are toilets with limited water and many sari-sari stores. The town has plans of building more facilities to accommodate the influx of tourists, but I fervently hope it keeps its simplicity, its artless beauty.
The most beautiful, secluded beaches I’ve ever seen
Antonia (for snorkeling and spelunking), Tangke (for cliff-diving), Cabugao (rock scrambling). Dreams of sky, sand, and sea.