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GuimarasMarch 9-13, 2008


The mere mention of Guimaras conjures images of an idyllic beach island ruined by a nasty oil spill in Aug. 2006. I could imagine it wreaked havoc on its tourism industry, not to mention the catastrophic ecological outcome. The island province of Guimaras is conveniently located between the bigger islands of Panay and Negros. It's a short pumpboat ride from the 2 major capitals, Iloilo City from the north, and Bacolod from the south.

My compelling reason however to go there can be summed up in one word: MANGOES. I am such a mango addict I can't have enough of it. Guimaras boasts of having the sweetest mangoes in the world. In fact, word has it that mangoes served in the White House and Buckingham Palace are from Guimaras. However the good folks at Zambales and Cebu contest that claim, saying THEY have the best mangoes in the world. Hey, wouldn't that be cool? The 3 best mangoes in the world are in the Philippines? Talk about mangoes, I'm curious to taste the Alphonse mangoes of India as well. I heard from an Indian that Alphonse mangoes are the world's best. Hey, is there any mango out there that's NOT the best in the world?

Unfortunately, with the unpredictable global climate of late, mango harvest has been delayed. As of my stay, there weren't too much of it in the market. The ones out there were selling at normal market rate: P60/kilo. Nonetheless, I helped myself to a kilo everyday, choosing the ripest of them all. Guimaras mangoes, I noticed, have thin skin and thin seed, making most of the fruit, edible. And yes, they are indeed sweet!

Simon says 'Don't Bear Fruit'
The biggest mango plantation in Guimaras is Oro Verde, a subsidiary of food giant, Marsman Drysdale Group. The mango farm consists of roughly 50,000 fruit bearing mango trees. I couldn't resist the thought of doing an 'eat all you can' mango spree so I went back to Guimaras to pay it a visit (from Iloilo, a 10 minute boat ride away, P11). After waiting an hour for the next jeep and then taking the single motorbike ride, I was finally at Oro Verde. There was one problem though - there was no mango on the trees. The skeleton staff told me they didn't spray for the season so there is no fruit. I explained that it's the mango season, so mangoes should bear fruit as part of its natural fruit bearing cycle...that it wasn't dependent on an artificial spray. They gave me a stupid look, paused, and then said, "...but we didn't spray!" I looked around again and had to concede. It was warped logic but they had to be right. There was no mango. Hmmm....have they bred mutant mango trees that only respond to artificial sprays in order to bear fruit? Whatever happened to the natural cycle? I went back to Iloilo unsure of how to feel about that whole 'spray' thing.

Guisi Beach
I was told by a local guide that the best skin diving in the island was in Guisi where the lighthouse stands. With my snorkeling gear, I was off to Guisi on top of a jeep and back-riding in a motorcycle, called single (locally pronounced sing-gol). I didn't bother with the resort. I chose an undeveloped section of the beach and pitched my hammock, spread my picnic stuff on my ground sheet and I was already chilling out. I noticed a fine trace of the oil spill with the blackish outline on the shore. The cleanup was not complete.

Again, it was the open coral reef and me...nobody else. The current, the single element I fear the most, was slightly strong. I had that eerie feeling I couldn't shake. What the heck. I began swimming towards the floating house, maybe 100 meters away from the shoreline (it's a house on a raft and the raft is anchored). I was viewing the corals as I swam by, but it got scary when it got too deep I couldn't see the bottom anymore...and the house was still many strokes away. Anyway, I just stayed on the house, trying to muster enough sinew for my swim back. The element of panic was again there as I was heading back. I didn't even take a plunge into the reef bottom. I just wanted to reach the shore. That was it. When in doubt, I don't push it.

Trappist Abbey
Another tourist destination is the Trappist Abbey. They have a little souvenir store where visitors can buy 'blessed' jams. It's funny how one customer insisted on knowing if the jam she was purchasing was 'blessed'. Assured that it was, she further requested the monk to bless it again. The manner she asked for it was like a 5 year old saying "...please" a zillion times. I wanted to crack up thinking a life of sin can be redeemed by spreading 'blessed' jam on white bread.

A Conversation with a Monk
I found myself in conversation with the resident monk who has not left the monastic ground for the past 15 years - that was his vow. I wanted to pick his brain and find out why anyone would want to do that. I can understand a month-long retreat in silence inside a monastery for some kind of spiritual cleansing. Or maybe in my private world, that translates to mountain biking for a month with no destination in mind...just a communion between me, my thoughts and my place in this conflicted world. But 15 years? What's with that? I asked him if I can be candid with my thoughts. He said yes. So I asked him point blank, "...what prompted you to do that?" I followed up with near-irreverent questions, "...has your faith ever waivered?", "It's a beautiful world just steps away...were you ever tempted to take those steps?", "Has it ever occured to you that what you're doing might actually be a crutch against the real world?". The answers I got were equally as candid as my questions. I got the impression he was at peace with himself and with the world. But is he happy? I didn't get a sense of that.

Mountain Bike Opportunity
Had my stay been 2 weeks later, I would have been in time to participate in the annual Guimaras Mountain Bike Festival. At any rate, I tried touching base with the event organizer hoping I could at least ride the trail system and get a heads up on what it's like to be on the race. It didn't pan out.

Beach Resorts
The island has a good number of beach resorts and they're not bad...they're not superlative either. I found the general rate to be a little on the pricey side. The common charge for a fan room with not much inside is about P800 to P1000. The beaches are ok - a good stretch on some but fairly narrow, fine white sand (but not Boracay-fine).

Ending Thoughts
Guimaras is a fine diversion if you're already in Iloilo. There are a good number of beach resorts to go to, but don't expect too much. Perhaps the biggest draw for me would have been the mountain bike scene but it didn't happen. Oh well, when I've done my part to make things happen and yet it didn't happen, I just tell myself it was for a reason...and that's probably the case anyway. Oh yeah, back to mangoes. My verdict? I don't know about being the sweetest in the world, but it certainly has my seal of approval...2 thumbs up!

--- TheLoneRider

    Places to Stay:
  • the only budget place I could get was a room for P200/night at the Small Wings in San Miguel. But there's nothing in San Miguel. I had to ride the jeep or single to go to the beach areas. The return trip could be sketchy.
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