These series of posts about Panay spots are all narratives. I miss writing narratives. If you’re planning to go to Islas de Gigantes I’d highly recommend Lantaw’s epic guide. Most of your questions about the place- its people and spots, he probably answered already.
When I saw pictures of Cabugao Gamay island in Islas de Gigantes about I year ago, my immediate impression was “Huwaaaa-wow!!” Where is this place?” . That was the start of a year long dream of slipping past “obstacles” and porting myself to this island paradise.
Finding Gigantes on the map was quite easy, getting directions on how to go to the island, was not. So when Allan Barredo of Lantaw made an epic, awesome picture guide to Islas de Gigantes, I knew it’s time I go to that place.
Giant #1: Giant rains!
It was July and the rainy season has started. Generally, it’s not advisable to go Islas Gigantes on rainy days. I saw a tour operator posting a facebook picture saying they are not accepting guest during rainy seasons “for safety purposes”. I believe them and it scares the wits out of me, that typhoon is coming right smack into my planned trip. Summer or during “amihan” (sept, oct dec) are the best times to go there. But I hate crowded tourists places during peak season. Thus, I rarely travel on peak season.
This presents a proverbial dilemma for an off season backpacker like me. Here’s one place in the Philippines, off the beaten path for tourists, pristine, with what seems to me as very friendly, peace loving people , an affordable vacation and just about two hours away from mainland Iloilo. Except for a few , everyone’s telling me I can’t go to this place because it’s raining??! Why? Do the fisherfolks of Gigantes leave the islands during rainy season? Obviously not.
I have not seen the sun since arriving in Iloilo for my alma mater’s reunion. Since I was in Iloilo and it keeps raining anyway, why not visit Gigantes (and the rest of Panay), let Glenda and 2 other LPA go to hell! I called up Carles Tourism Officer and inquired if its ok to travel there. His answer was “yes” and I was on the road even before the rain stopped. Bahala na si batman!
Giant #2; People with BIG heart, helped me through giant obstacles!
Still fresh from Tibiao Antique, I went back to Iloilo City first and repacked my stuff for another journey. Cramped on a van chasing winds, I travelled to Estancia. I have to catch the 1-2pm passenger boat trip to Islas Gigantes or I’d end up hiring a private boat myself. My friend JoeSan arranged a meeting with a co-teacher for me if ever I’d be stuck in Estancia. I left my fate to the van driver.I was in Estancia port in less than 2 hours.
Thanks to Mr. Joel Decano (tourism officer of Carles) though he and his staff waited for me at the port of Estancia. I caught up with the scheduled boat ride even if it was 230PM already. I rarely had the chance to glimpse at the busy port of Estancia. It was bustling with activity. I snapped a few cellphone photo of the port and hopped into the boat.
Giant #3: Boat fit for a giant, load…
How large is the boat? It’s a 30 by 15 footer boat with an outrigger of the same length . It can accommodate 30 people plus a horde of ice chest (fish storage), motorcycles, bags of cement, truckload of groceries, cases of beer (hooyah!) and sacks of rice. The two hour boat ride will pass on some island communities that never existed on Google map but will drool you for its stunning coastlines or Karst formations.
Islas de Gigantes is composed of Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, and some smaller islands that form part of Carles, province of Iloilo. It’s known as “pulo” locally. Most of the inhabited islands that make up Gigantes are fishing villages . The culture, economy and almost every way of living revolves around fishing.
The first thing that struck when we arrived at Gigantes is the absence of landing ports. It’s low tide and boat this big isn’t going to go near the sandy beaches or it will scrape its bottom. What I saw was the 10 by 10 foot bamboo raft being floated towards us. Thats the floating port! We are going to hop in a raft that will bring us to the ankle deep area of the beach. Whoa! First time, on the many travels I did, that I have to “land” on a bamboo raft. Amazing.
Was waiting for the motorcycle (and the bags of cement, cases of beer, sacks of rice, etc ) to ride that raft too so I can photograph it. But they prioritized passengers to be brought shore first. I am already being fetched by the resort guide. Next time.
Giant #4: Giant hills of Scallops!
In Brgy Asluman Gigantes Sur, the island where I stayed, scallops is the center of everything- food, source of income, stories, anecdotes and the hopes of the people of Gigantes. Hence the title, Scallops Capital of the Philippines. Almost all the lands there are covered by scallop shells. Even the road pavements, and floors are built with cement and crushed scallop shells mixed in it!
Giant #5: Finally, on island filled with people with a gigantic simplicity!
Arriving at the Hideaway Resort in Brgy. Asluman, I met the resort manager who is the sister of Sir Joel and a rad tech too. I shamelessly asked if I can have the tree house as my abode during my stay in the resort. Argh, someone popular reserved the tree house ahead but I made a plea that if they’re not going to use the tree house, just give it to me. A few talks after, they gave me a cottage suite AND the tree house. Just how wonderful could that be??
Then they assigned me my guide. It’s standard protocol here that every group there or guest are assigned a guide. Since I was alone, I have my own guide, slash butler. We discussed our itinerary for the next day.
After I settled in my suite cottage and started charging my devices, I went out to the village and started observing people, shooting some spots and activities. The first thing that strike me about Brgy Asluman is the people. You can hear kids from ten, twenty meters from you yelling “Hello” and waving. I feel like Leonardo Di Caprio except that I am more handsome but underpaid. 🙂
Second, the people seem to understand well there will be foreigners in their place and they continue doing what they do after the small pleasantries. No beggars, no kidds haggling for candies or what. Its totally one of a kind.
After this brief stroll, I swore I like the place so much.
On the dinner table that the resort had prepared for me, I had my first foodie encounter with scallops of the islands. Seriously, I got hungrier than what I thought my stomach could handle. Crabs? Lapu Lapu? Plus, a really big shellfish?
I wish I had a stomach as big as the island. I had no one to talk to so imagine, how much food I devoured that night.
I hang around my tree house that night sorting out stuff and planning my stint the next day. If couldn’t get all in one day, then maybe I’ll stay here for a week. Nuts. I could hear the yells on my ears! You what??!! I had two bottles of ice cold beer. I was savoring the winds pounding my tree house. Then it rained, which made the stay all the more exciting. Just how often you get to hear the rain on your tree house rooftop ?! None!
I doze off smiling…