Guimaras: (almost) everything right about Philippines

     Greetings from the Western Visayas! Who? What? Where? It’s somewhat overlooked even within the Philippines, so here is a map. Guimaras is an island between the biggest cities in the region, Iloilo and Bacolod.

mango country

     Mango country indeed. Few countries are as famous for mangoes than Philippines, and Guimaras is the mango capital of the Philippines. Alas, mango season is April/May.

     It’s in these unprepossessing little places where I get to experience My Philippines:
     I paid an unannounced visit to the government mango research center on the edge of the main town of San Miguel. It’s not meant for visitors, but I popped my head in and spoke with the big boss for fifteen minutes, who was patient and welcoming with my quasi interview. Try that in a US government office anywhere and see how it goes.
     Then I went to the capital building to check out their basketball and tennis courts. (Philippines is to basketball what Germany is to soccer. In Germany a village of a thousand people will have an immaculate soccer field better than any found at an American high school and most colleges. In Philippines you can hardly throw a stale pan de sal without hitting one of the very homemade basketball hoops all over the country, all improvised slapdash construction and few with pavement underfoot, but a basket all the same.) Inside the basketball arena is the emergency response center for natural disasters. A guy was on the computer when I poked my head in to ask if they had a basketball I could borrow to shoot around. As if it were a command, he instantly got up to corral some friends and play with me.
san miguel basketball

     These fine chaps and I dallied in a bit of basketball one splendid afternoon. (I feel very British in my black socks and black shoes.)

     The next time some barefoot high school kids played with me. I had enough fun that I considered staying an extra day just to play with them, something that was surely inexplicable to them–—or to anyone.
     Walking outside, a guy teaching tennis to little kids asked me if I played, and when I said yes, he told a kid to give me his racket so we could rally. After a few minutes I felt bad stealing the kids’ precious court time so I summoned the kid back.
     The point is that this is how Filipinos are. Yes, I am the exotic white man, but I think they’d be pretty welcoming to most anyone of any color, race or creed.
     So that is what I like about Philippines. I suppose it’s a shame to travel a third of the way around the world to play tennis and basketball. (That sound you heard was the carbon footprint people throwing up in their mouths.) Simply put, the Filipino’s friendliness and openness are why I am back here for the fifth time. I’ve been to India five times, too, but the people make me crazy there, so let’s just move on.
mango pizza

     On another visit to the emergency response center the operational head gave me some mango pizza that had been delivered. It is nothing more than thin mango slices in a cheese pizza, but it’s pretty good.

guisi beach

     Alubihod is the big name beach on the island, but it’s no great shakes. It is entirely fronted by so-called resorts and the water was surprisingly cold. The beaches are public, but the resorts want to have you pay for access. The next day I went further away to Guisi, pictured here, which is more the real deal.

lechon manok guimaras

     On the corner of the main intersection in San Miguel sits Papzy’s Lechon Manok, roasted chicken on a spit. I got to talking with Edward, a good-natured guy who told me all the ins and outs of the roasted chicken business. I asked him for his secret recipe, but he only allowed that he used condensed milk, a brown sugar mixture of some kind, and he stuffed them with lemongrass. 195 pesos (US$4.40) for a whole chicken. If you want to eat warm, non-fatty food in the evenings in the village, this is about it. Edward invited me to Sunday dinner, but I was leaving that day.

     Hitchhiking would be a lot easier if there wasn’t such a dearth of private vehicles on the island. I did manage to hitchhike to the most well-known beach, Alubihod, with a Filipino-American and then a Filipino-Canadian on the way back.
     The Filipino-American told me quite a few Americans own nice places tucked away off the main roads. There is a paved road that makes a circumference of the island with lots of dirt roads going into the hinterland. It is odd that Guimaras isn’t more developed. It is so close to a city, unlike Siquijor or Camiguin, which are more on the map, so to speak. I asked the Filipino-American what he misses from the city, Iloilo. He said, “A real sandwich with bread and melted cheese.” Whatever floats your boat, brother.
guisi hitchhike

     Got a ride hitchhiking out of Guisi with these guys in their contraption. It’s funny to see the locals do a double take when they see me go by.

hitchhike tractor

     I hitchhiked out to the northeast coast of Guimaras to East Valencia (horrible, don’t waste your time) and got a ride with this tractor-turned-jeep.

boy on cow

     The three amigos

drying fish

     drying fish

kids jeepney

     This is how I like jeepneys: from ten meters away and preferably with the engine off. If you are in the middle of this, you may as well travel in the trunk of a car next time for the same visceral experience.

     I thought of going to Guimaras as a day trip from Iloilo; it’s only twenty minutes by boat and I couldn’t come up with much information about accommodation, but I’m glad I struck out on my own, and I stayed five nights. That’s reason #55,523 why you should pack light: flexibility.
     I slept at the cheapest place known to man on the island, Sidewalkers Pension House in San Miguel for 150 pesos (45 pesos = US$1) a night. There is a place with similar-looking rooms called Small Wings Pension Inn that is 300 pesos a night. it appears to have a shower while Sidewalkers has merely a bucket of water you fill up and ladle over your head. The toilet is not squat, but not sittable either—the worst of both worlds. Who invented that?
thin mattresses

     Sidewalkers had a drafty, cold room with thin pieces of foam to sleep on. I had to put three together from the other beds to make it tolerable.

     The most interesting place to stay would be the Trappist Monastery just south of town, 700 pesos for a fan room and three meals (“plus two snacks” the lady added) Aircon rooms are 800 pesos a night, but it’s overkill; I have hardly used a fan since I came to the Philippines as nights are mild, even a titch chilly. I went to check it out as well as a rumor that they make mango piayas there. The rooms look the same as any other no-frills cheap place, but at least the paint wasn’t chipping off and everything corroding. It was nearly empty, too.
     There’s really only one place to eat if you don’t want a carinderia (simple restaurant food that sits out cold all day), Isla Kusina. A karaoke session broke out one night, everyone taking turns singing the Top 40 from 1978. Philippines is the best.
     Guimaras has a new post office in the capitol building. It is just a guy behind a desk who wants to know how much your postcard weighs before he can say how much it will cost to send, but still.
     There are prisons on both ends of town. I don’t know what you do with that information. Maybe it isn’t so practical.

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