Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Arroyo Fountain, Museo Iloilo & More Gems - Iloilo Day 2

I had an idea what to do on my second day in Iloilo, but it wasn’t etched in stone. After all, some plans are best left to mood or gut feel. An itinerary is a mere guide so you can optimize your time. What do I do when it drizzles on an early morning? This was a city of 500,000 souls yet the bustle seemed moderate.

I refused to eat at some fast food restaurant so I headed to a carinderia (small food joint) along Montinola Street; one that served liver steak at a measly P60. The discrepancy between this makeshift restaurant and the colorful Grand Tower was obvious. Nearby, Iloilo River looked shallow and timid this time of day. Last night, under a moonless sky, it felt menacing and mysterious, but the presence of sunlight easily changes perception, making things a little more mundane than thought. I walked north and found Arroyo Fountain as Iznart found its northern end.

Liver steak for breakfast?
The colorful Grand Tower: Iloilo River to its east and Iznart to its west.

Imperial Appliance Plaza beside the Grand Tower
Sedan-style jeepneys along Iznart

YMCA along Iznart Street (above and below) founded 1928. If budget is tight, youth backpackers may opt to try YMCA. Call +63 (33) 337-5760 / 337-7531 for more information.

I half expected someone resembling a little woman with a neck brace, but the site turned out to be a neoclassic landmark facing the Provincial Capitol (aka Casa Real). Four Grecian women carry what looked like a basin. This structure pays as homage to former Senator Jose Maria Arroyo (born 1875 in Iloilo City and died in Liguria Italy) who laid the foundation of the city’s water works. Aside from its backstory, the fountain serves as road reference for travel and distance measurement, thus its other moniker – Zero Point! The fountain was, however, water-less making it less attractive. I then proceeded west along General Luna Street to Check out Atrium Mall beside a Day’s Hotel.

Along Bonifacio Drive, I passed by Iloilo Medical Clinic which looked like a coterie of puzzle pieces waiting for a major fall; just across were a few other landmarks: the Department of Tourism, Museo Iloilo and, up close, the Provincial Capitol.

Arroyo Fountain

Homage to a former senator? Why Grecian ladies?

Atrium Mall

Provincial Capitol or Casa Real

Waiting Shed donated by Lion's Club perhaps?
Doane Baptist Church

Assemblies of God - Bethel Temple

Museo Iloilo was a big checklist on my itinerary so I was pleased to learn that it was open on a weekend. Unfortunately, like many of its kind, the museum disallows photography, lest you want a P500 fine. I was seriously thinking of handing them P500 straight ahead just as long as they’d allow me to take snaps. But I didn't want the trouble of explaining... so I just contented myself with cursory observation.

Entrance to the museum was cheap: P25 for adults and P15 for students. I went inside the spacious hallway, paid my entrance fee, and signed the logbook. The hall way was divided into two areas. The one closer to the entrance displayed contemporary art works, most of which were haphazardly perched on some canvas. Handicrafts were placed on the floor. The bigger part consisted of statues depicting ethnic tribes from Maragtas, religious artifacts  ancient vases, weavings, antiquated guns and even skeletal remains of people believed to have lived in the 1300’s perhaps? An elderly guide was enthusiastically annotating for three Caucasian tourists. Outside, the drizzle turned into downpour, and I felt a sense of regret for not being able to share these displays to a web-browsing student community. There’s a lot to be learned from our past, and this could provide a glimpse into some of our people’s past – the Bornean chieftains and their subjects, the Ati tribes who went uphill, etc.

Picture-shy Museo Iloilo flanked by the Provincial Capitol and the D.O.T. office where offers maps and free information on travels in the region.

Bas relief adorns Museo Iloilo's facade.

Queen Maniwantiwang meets a European royalty?

Statues are cracking to pieces in front of the museum entrance.

Department of Tourism opens daily on weekdays from 8 AM to 5 PM.

From the museum, Bonifacio Drive crossed the river through Forbes Bridge that eventually led to a Gaisano Mall. Nothing there so I walked back south, passing by old houses and an imposing hotel-like structure all painted in immaculate white.

Iloilo is particularly enamored with white. Many sites are painted in white. Then it suddenly dawned on me, I have to see Miag-ao Church that day. With fixed resolve, I walked faster and looked for someone I could ask about the Mohon Terminal, the take-off point for travels to Miag-ao, from where I can get my ride. Interestingly, the church is listed among the world heritage sites, thus a must-see. If I took all the pains to scour Sri Lanka for her heritage sites, why not in my country. Travel will be a production number, but I was sure it’d be worth it.

Little did I know that the ride to Miag-ao would, in itself, be some journey.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

A government building: home to a justice department or the Ombudsman, I forgot. Notice the white paint, typical of several structures around Iloilo.

Bonifacio Drive becomes Forbes Bridge (which leads to Gaisano City Mall)

Snaking Iloilo River flow eastward and under Muelle Loney Bridge

West of Iloilo River

Jalandoni Bridge? I think this goes to Mandurriao, SM City Iloilo and party place Smallville.

This is a particularly eye-catching building labelled Castle Hotel. I don't think it's a hotel these days because the gates are closed.

Once again, white paint with the subtlest of yellow.

If this isn't Hispano-Filipiniana, I don't know what is. This is located right across Museo Iloilo.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Flying to Iloilo City - An Obstinate Start

Overnight, I had a crash course about Iloilo, thank heavens to the world wide web. Even my map was from an online source. The ride to the airport was uneventful. Taking my reserved and specifically paid seat for my flight out of Manila wasn’t. I always pay for an aisle seat so as not to compromise my mobility: bathroom, stretching my legs, etc. Forget the window view, I’ve seen enough of clouds.

Iloilo International Airport

When I got to my seat, a grouchy old woman in her sixties was sitting on my mine. “Excuse me po, but that’s my seat,” I smiled and calmly told her. She looked up at me then without saying a word pointed me to the window seat. Not a word. “No, that’s not MY seat. You are sitting on mine. I paid extra for an aisle seat,” I sheepishly explained. How else do I say it? Lo and behold, she spoke: “Wag kang magalit,” (Don’t get angry) she chided me, raising her voice this time. I was of course glad she wasn’t mute.

I am not mad at you, but I have to tell you that I paid extra for the seat you’re sitting on because you don’t seem to understand,” I replied. This time, I was clearly agitated for her twisting the situation. I was the aggrieved party here. But remember, this was a geriatric woman I was talking to. She stood in a huff, made faces and finally transferred to her window seat saying, “It’s allll-right; it’s allllll-right. Don’t get maaaad,” animated and dripping with sarcasm, as though she was talking to a child. At this point, I was up to here.

When people age, they are expected to obtain wisdom and grace, right? I am not about to let anyone get away with rudeness, regardless of their age; not when other passengers were an audience to the exchange. It’s never too late to teach anyone manners – or put people in their proper place. This time I was stern and emphatic with my words: “It is NOT alright! It’s not alright for me to have to explain to you that there are reserved seats that people pay for. In a civilized world, people are assigned seats. You don’t just pick any seat you want. And it’s not my job to teach you that.”

Guess what? She shut up. I don’t feel proud that I had an altercation with an elderly, but I am not charitable when dealing with acrimony or impudence especially when I am treated shabbily by someone who was wrong in the first place. She could have nicely asked for my hundred-peso seat if she wanted it that badly. This trip is starting out badly, I thought.

My airport taxi worth P500.
My plane flew for an hour. At 2:30 PM, I stepped into Iloilo International Airport, walking past the old woman and into the baggage claim. Standing by the exit door were festive and colourful Dinagyang Festival masks and costumes.

Your imagination summons you to the revelry of a Pinoy fiesta; its otherworldly demeanour. Hmmm I am having mixed signals already. Iloilo International Airport, located northwest from the city center, is a dwarfed version of NAIA Terminal 3. This is even more evident as you step out of the departure area.

Dinagyang Festival costume on display at the airport arrival hallway.

I hopped outside the lobby, greeted by transportation touts. This was my country and I wasn’t scrimping so instead of speeding away with a metered taxi, expected to fetch P250-400 on a flagged down rate, why not hire a slightly more expensive fixed rate ride?

I ignored all other touts and proceeded to the friendliest looking fixed-rate booth (there are half a dozen waiting outside the arrival area). What is P500 ($12.30) for a worry-free ride straight to your hotel at the city center (or any point within the center)? The ride stretches along 19 kilometers (12 miles) of well maintained roads, finally turning to Eugenio Lopez Street where the famous Jaro Church rises.

It’s a 35 minute ride punctuated by some of the city’s must-see sights. My driver, who’s a little confused if there indeed is a difference between Hiligaynon and Ilonggo as a language, annotated, pointing to historical sites, hospitals, universities, a House of Biscocho and colonial structures. I inquired about the sugarcane landlords and he pointed to the ABS-CBN and Sky Cable Compound. “The pink house is owned by a gay Lopez scion,” he cited with amusement. True enough, a high wall adorns a pink structure, partially framed by tall shrubbery. I of course took this with a grain of salt. After all, pink is a common modern-day hue and doesn’t generally signify sexual preference. But there’s more to this story later.

A  bridge carried us further south, then sped at a riverside thoroughfare called Muelle Loney (“mool-yeah lo-nee”). I expected more from this narrow avenue. After all, it could have been developed into a leisure promenade in the old part of the city. Emaciated plants grace this road. 

The Iloilo River surged beside it, and right across were factories spewing fumes. From a distance, I could see the imposing white structure of the Aduana Customs House looming tall like a belfry. We turned right at Yulo Street and stopped at a white building labelled “Summer House”, Iloilo Midtown Hotel's unofficial name. 

Midtown is a popular hotel for wedding receptions. This is evident in the guests moving around the hotel. The 7-story hotel is owned and managed by a mild mannered Chinese family visible at the counter at most times.

My Agoda check-in was brisk, I was readily whisked off to my room at the 7th floor, a personal preference (they have 2 elevators). Room 7016 was located at the end of the hallway. I could hear the gush of the wind rushing away from Iloilo River some 50 meters east of the hotel. Good sized and tidy, the place is well maintained and spotless; the sheets smelled fragrant; the bathroom dry. A flat screen TV automatically came to life. My window faced Yulo Street, but I was on high ground that the bustle below was barely audible.

It was 3:30 in mid-afternoon. I knew there was a local movie being shown at the nearby Iloilo Cinematheque, just at the next block so I rushed to catch the Ilocano flick. What impressed me more were the two cinema halls. This cultural facility is being managed by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). The seats were comfortable; the viewing room cosy. Each movie would cost a measly P30 to P50 per screening.

Iloilo Cinematheque along Solis Street
World Cinema is likewise on view, including treats from Argentina, Venezuela, Italy, mainland China, etc. Many of these special films are part of FDCP's film exchange program. What’s sad is, very few souls even care to visit. Iloilo Cinematheque is at the ground floor of B&C Building along Solis Street, probably 10 paces from Iznart Street, a major landmark if you were to orient yourself with the city. If Manila has her Recto, Cebu has her Fuente Osmena and Davao has her San Pedro Street, Iloilo City has Iznart which treads southward towards the old, albeit historical area called Calle Real.

Iloilo Cinematheque

The hustle and bustle of Iznart Street going south towards Calle Real.

It was sundown by the time I finished a couple of movies. I proceeded to SM Delgado (along Delgado and Valencia streets) located just a block from my hotel (after crossing Iznart). This SM branch is significant because it’s the first one to be opened (1985) outside Metro Manila. A swankier, bigger SM mall with Cineplex has been operational since 2009, but it’s located (along Jaro Diversion Road) at the Madurriao district. SM Delgado is more intimate, compact, no-frills department store. In the vicinity are restaurants (Chowking, Jollibee, Mang Inasal), a Mercury Drug, several fruit stalls selling lansones, the Amigo Mall, etc. 

I crossed the street from SM and went inside Ted’s. This is the only place I remembered from my very first visit several years ago – Ted’s and its La Paz Batchoy, a delectable noodle soup made with pork entrails, crushed pork cracklings (chicharon), chicken stock, beef loin and round noodles.

I couldn't get enough of the authentic dish when I first tasted it in Iloilo some years ago, the only Batchoy I liked. Unfortunately, the batchoy at Ted's was mediocre. The gastronomic experience competed only with its bored or inattentive waitresses. Now I remember why I've mostly ignored batchoy. I might as well be paying for slop. An expensive slop at P75. What a waste.

SM Delgado

La Sallete Shopping Arcade: has Deco's, Ted's, Mang Inasal, etc. This is located across SM Delgado.

Mary Mart Center

Veterans Bank

Fruits of the season: the most popular is the lansones priced at P50-60/kilo.

Robinson's Place Iloilo is a couple of blocks west of SM Delgado.


I went back to Iznart and walked south until it branched into Ledesma Street (to the southwest), Governor Fermin Caram Street (straight ahead) and JM Basa (to the southeast). There was a buzz of excitement as I took Basa. What I initially thought was a lengthy avenue turned out easily walkable.

Soon enough, I recognized the beautiful Villanueva Buildings, now housing RCBC Bank and Western Union. The art deco design has been successfully restored. In the shadows of a dimly lit avenue, punctuated by rundown buildings, go-go and videoke bars, Villanueva’s architectural ouvres were illuminated by strategically placed show lights. Meanwhile, brashly made-up women in their skimpiest incessantly waved at me, taking me back to Paris’s Moulin Rouge area. They do wave at me like I had oodles of cash. I dunno why something about this scenario intimidates.

Calle Real, the designated Heritage Zone, sears with enigmatic shadows at night. If long forgotten spirits still meander around the dark by-ways, they would find rivals in the breathing shadows that loom behind aging walls and near-caving ceilings. I was safe, but the murkiness of J.M. Basa Street, one of the three southern tributaries of Iznart Street, was a bit petrifying. With that in mind, I knew it was time to head back to my hotel room. Back to where I could slumber in safety, and dream with curious transcendence.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

P.S. Please refer to correction on the dates of opening of the SMs in Iloilo care of Maritel. She also moderates her own blog so look it up from her link. Thanks.

Amigo Plaza Mall has a single shop as of this writing - the clothing line Bench The security guard said that most of the shops have transferred to Mary Mart Center since the renovation. Now, it's swanky, but empty.

Iznart going towards a fork of the road punctuated by the Iloilo Jaycee's Monument  (below) at the rotund.

Iloilo Jaycee's Monument marks the forking of the south Iznart Road. Governor Fermin Caran Street is decked with red Chinese Lanterns and is probably the designated Chinatown of Iloilo. The street parallel to its east is J.M. Basa which leads to Calle Real.

S. Villanueva Buildings along JM Basa Street corner Arsenal Street are part of the Heritage site,. From Aldeguer Street, Calle Real officially starts. We'll post better daylight photos.

View from my room at the 7th floor along Yulo Street which doesn't have much for tourists, except for uninviting restaurants, old shops and beer joints with not much customer traffic. A few paces east is Iloilo River and the Muelle Loney Street (the riverside avenue).

BDO ATM machines near Iloilo Midtown Hotel along Iznart. This seems reliable because it's almost always on-line.