Miag-ao Iloilo: The Church, the Widow, and the Seafoods
Left Manila groggy one cold foggy afternoon on March 2010. After 10 years, I’m going back to Iloilo. Last time I was here we did fieldwork one summer for linguistics and anthropology in the neighboring province of Antique. I’m a freak of remote places so I had plan to visit Buri and see their majestic rice terraces. Yes, rice terraces can’t be found in Banaue, Mountain Province alone but in almost every part of the Philippines. But due to a mad typhoon that hit the province a couple of months before my visit, I ended up in the province of Igbaras and Miag-ao.
No definite plans, no guidebook, no research, but this time I’m shamelessly bugging my friend Marcos whose based in Iloilo. I reclined the sit, closed my eyes and rested my head on the old familiar window. I should be excited but now I don’t care, I can’t wait to get off the plane and take a nap. Spontaneity is starting to bore me.
“Your alone?”, a woman wearing a wide genuine smile and a wide glasses though not as thick as the bottle of Coke surprised me. She has short wavy hair, chubby cheeks, spotless face, blue coat. With an innocent look on her face, her eyes was locked on the map I was holding. “Ahhhh, the same ol’ epic question I have to deal with whenever I travel!”, I mumbled. I’m not in the mood for a conversation with a perfect stranger. But then I think I heard Alex Garland whispered a passage from his book, “ Never refuse an invitation!” .
Since then she never stopped talking.
As we touched down at Iloilo airport, an old-fashioned car is already parked outside waiting for us. My new-found friend called her friend to drive us to the city and she decided to take me to Miag-ao. First off we need to drop her luggage at her house tucked somewhere in Iloilo, then we will commute to the town of Miag-ao.
She is a widow. Like me, she is alone, but unlike me, she is not lonely.
Eccentric? Yes. But strangers indeed have the power to change our lives in a few minutes.
”So where do you live?”, she asked. Not trying to be hard to her I answered, ”I live somewhere under the blue skies”. “Napaka-sekreto mu naman”, she teased me.
That’s how I’m built.
Where I come from and my work has nothing to do with my travels. I detest it when people treat you well or judge you based on your work, affiliations or where you’re from.
Within 45 minutes, we’re winding up to Miag-ao, through sweeping panoramas of lush green rice farms, and mountainsides with modest shacks. The villages with Spanish old churches lie serene and sluggish in the valleys. From the tainted window of the van, I watched in nostalgia a series of black and brown sand beaches and fishing villages slipping away. I’m missing ordinary beaches like the ones I used to see during my childhood summer days. I guess I’m starting to get sick of white sand beaches.
“Sa lugar lang”, in her native tounge she asked the driver to stop the jeepney.
As early as 5pm, the bucolic town is already feeling drowsy. We move at a stately pace up the streets, hurrying for nobody. The steel gate introduced an intimate courtyard with a stone fountain-like slender structure in the middle surrounded by flowering plants . Behind lies the massive church of Miag-ao, one of the old Spanish Baroque church in the Philippines declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Standing proudly amidst the dancing agoho trees, the centuries old facade is adorned by by a large coconut tree in bas-relief which is the central figure representing the “tree of life” in the Philippine culture manifesting a native touch. Another imposing sculpted image is that of St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulder surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna.
I wasn’t able to get inside at that time as the mass is going on and my new friend insisted my blue dress is kind of “prohibited” inside the church. The photos shown here inside Miag-ao church were taken during my return late last year for the Visayas Blogging Summit. I wanted to stay longer but she seems in a hurry because we might miss the last trip back to Iloilo city. Sometimes, that’s the downside of traveling with a companion – if your travel buddy is in a hurry you’ll be forced to leave the place as well even though you still wanted to savor the moment.
There comes a point it just hits you when you’re on a lone journey, you know. You long for a travel buddy who has the same passion as yours so you wouldn’t have to think of boring him/her and you wouldn’t have to explain what you’re doing and all. But sometimes, we wish so much for someone so ideal that we take for granted the person who is standing right there for us. And we only realize that once they are gone.
We took a jeep to San Jose terminal and then took a cab to eat at Tatoy’s – a famous local restaurant in Iloilo. We ordered mostly seafoods the specialty of the restaurant. I honestly don’t find anything special with the food, probably because I’m used to eating sea foods in our province. But I like the rustic aura of the place. My guide happens to know the owner of the restaurant – Mang Tatoy, a simple old man.
After dinner, I reverted back a lone traveler wandering aimlessly in the city.
I took a cab and asked the driver to drop me off at Ong Bun, a cheap hostel. Manong Doods (the cab driver) has been very nice to me, too bad he didn’t have a number I could post here but he said if I call his taxi company (Lights and Glory taxi ) and request for him I could find him again. We passed by at Smallville, the famous hang out in Iloilo. He toured me quickly. Unfortunately the supposedly cheap beds is full already and I wouldn’t spend on a Php 1500 room for 1 night.
At 9pm I’m walking at Iloilo City with no place to stay. I’m holding a map and couldn’t figure out where to go because I don’t even know where I’m at.
Now I’m missing my good Samaritan. I wish she can help me at the very moment when I needed her.
With blinding orange lights, I crossed the still busy streets and took a jeep. I’m in Iloilo, and it’s one of the safest place in the Philippines for solo female travelers. That’s what I like about this province, the sweet and hospitable people, you won’t have to worry if you’re lost or in trouble because most of the time, almost everyone is willing to help you.
And I was right.
The locals inside the jeepney pointed me to New Emperor’s Palace Pension in La Paz. We passed by Gaisano Mall and beside it lies this huge budget hotel. Room rate starts at Php 300 and the room & bed is huge enough to accommodate 2 people with TV and private bath.
Now I can sleep and continue dreaming after over 24 hours.
Arguably, solo traveling is self-rewarding , the feeling is just ineffable. But sometimes loneliness will hit you and that’s when you start making perfect strangers into new friends. Ever since I started traveling on my own, dealing with strangers along the road has somewhat become “my expertise”. Using common sense and trusting my instinct is the name of the game.
I cannot erase the fact that trusting strangers can also be scary to the unwary solo travelers that’s why extra care and awareness must be kept in mind. Fear can rob us of the rewards and joys of travels and one of the most significant reason why we travel – our desire to understand the local culture and connect with its people. When someone or something disappoints us, treated us unfairly or hurt us, it is expected that our perception of that place, people or culture will be clouded by misjudgment and unfair generalizations brought by pain, fear and vengeance that envelops us at that very dark moment. But if I let fear eat me alive, then I wouldn’t have turned perfect strangers into friends.
Fear is the highest wall that could separate us from the world that we want to explore and the culture that we want to experience. But traveling should open our minds and our hearts. For most of you, I may seem us a unique girl because I dare to travel alone even on the unexplored and remote places in and out of the country plus I have a lot of misadventures! But the truth is, I am just like any other girls, fragile and vulnerable, only that I’ve learned to accept my fears, challenge it and accept the world as it is than how I wished it to be.
I am a stranger here myself, but the people I’ve met on the road didn’t let that stop them from helping me.
As Mary Manin Morrisey puts it, “You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith. ”
Without faith, there is nothing.
So trust your instinct. Face your fear and get out.
*This is part of my Iloilo series.
*Some photos shown here were taken during my return to Miag-ao for the Visayas Blogging Summit and Philippine Blog Awards
*This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers September Blog Carnival entitled ”Unforgettable Human Encounters on the Road” hosted by Mark Ramone Go of Nomadic Experiences.
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