Experience a slow-paced lifestyle in Iloilo
WRITTEN BY GAYLE OCAMPO
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOHN DA RYL OCAMPO OF STUDIO 100
I didn’t grow up in the Philippines, which is why I used to have this perception that it took over a day to get to Iloilo. I know, right? What was I thinking? My friend who lives in Iloilo told me that it took a good 13 hours by boat. I guess I just assumed that Iloilo didn’t have an airport because who would choose to take a boat when there were direct 50-minute flights?
My trip to Iloilo is what you’d call a much needed “city break.” They have a completely different lifestyle, which is very refreshing for somebody who’s always lived in the city. There was barely any traffic, plus, people were so relaxed and calm. I was fortunate enough to go because interior designer Isabella Robles-Go invited us to feature some of her projects. Despite the fact that mine was a working visit, I’d definitely recommend Iloilo to condo dwellers who want a break from their whirlwind schedules and the ridiculous pollution of Metro Manila.
Breakthrough started as a small eatery in Lopez Arcade, Raymundo’s gift to his wife, Mia, as she was an HRIM graduate. They’ve become a famous “turo-turo,” which means “pick and point,” so if it’s your first time here, don’t wonder why there’s no menu. It’s just the way it is. The prices change daily anyway, depending on the weight and market price of the catch of the day.
Raymundo Robles also designed a massive ‘pot’ to hold live crabs and shells. His daughter now manages Breakthrough. She says that they serve all their seafood fresh, and don’t stock anything in the freezer to maintain the quality and taste of their products.
The area of river stones and bamboo aquarium houses Breakthrough’s best selling seafood, managat, lapu lapu, tilapia and lato. To supply the demand of their growing market, Breakthrough has begun farming their fish in Gimaras island, which is only a 20 to 30-minute boat ride from the restaurant.
I absolutely love oysters and scallops! The food is divine and it melts in your mouth. Plus, the prices were SO affordable: baked Talaba (oysters P135) and baked Lampirong (scallops P145).
If you don’t have the time to travel all the way to Breakthrough in Arevalo, Iloilo, you can try their branch in the city called Ponsyon by Breakthrough in Plazuela de Iloilo.
You can’t go to Iloilo and not visit the famous Miag-ao church. We woke up at 4:30 AM to visit this world heritage site famous for its Aztec-Baroque earthquake architecture with Filipino botanicals carved on the façade. An hour and a half drive from Diversion 21 hotel, the massive structure built of yellowish limestone was a fortress some 200 years ago.
After visiting the magnificent Miag-ao church, locals told us to also go to Garin Farm in San Joaquin. This only took 20 minutes from the church. The farm is Oscar Garin’s lifelong dream of sharing his passion for God and agriculture, while helping people enjoy livelihood and recreation. It’s widely known for its organic produce and recreational park.
I’m proud to say that I was able to accomplish climbing 456 steps to reach the 101-ft Divine Mercy Cross atop the hill. There was also a breathtaking view of the nature. On the way up, I was able to appreciate life-sized statues depicting such Bible stories as the Genesis, Noah’s Ark, Ten Commandments, and the nine major events in the life of Jesus. These works of art took almost a decade in the making and were crafted by local artists and workers.
We wanted to appreciate the view so after my climb up to the Cross, John and I opted to walk back to the entrance. There are endless canopies of vines, vegetables, and you’ll better appreciate the different agricultural activities.
At Garin Farm’s 5,000 sqm man-made lagoon, you can enjoy fishing (P130/kilo of catch), kayaking (single kayak P40; double kayak P90), or boating (pedal boat P120; rubber boat P120). You can take the 300-meter zip line (sitting P250; superman P350), or explore the grounds on horseback (P60 for two rounds) or on foot following a trekking route.
Garin Farm also has hilltop rooms with breathtaking views (family P3,500; twin P2,500; single P1,500). This is inclusive of the use of the swimming pool, breakfast, and golf cart rides from the Pavilion to the room.
Madge Coffee Shop
Madge Coffee Shop is a household name in La Paz, Iloilo. It’s one of the oldest establishments in town, and they serve homegrown coffee the traditional way. Note that parking can be difficult, so better take public transportation.
One of the perks of being a regular customer is getting your own cup with your name on it. Peter, the third generation owner of Madge Coffee Shop told me that customers’ names used to be engraved on the cups. Nowadays, he just has them printed.
Order your coffee strong (P20), and the taste is smooth and mellow. Peter shows me how the coffee is poured from the colador (strainer) to the cup. If you want to brew Madge Coffee at home then you can order by the bag, at P600/kilo.
Alright, this is not for those who like to sip café lattes with their pinkies raised and with soft jazz playing in the background but, if you want to taste coffee, the old fashioned way and a chance to mingle among the locals then Madge Coffee Shop is that place. Here, Peter shows me how his collection of cups has changed over the years.
We stayed at Diversion 21 while in Iloilo. It’s 30 minutes away from the airport and only 5-10 minutes from popular spots Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, The Avenue, One Esplanade and SM Iloilo.
One of the presidential suites (P5,000) in Diversion 21, owned by Romeo Go. Inspired by the hotel rooms during her honeymoon in Switzerland, designer Isabella Robles-Go wanted to go all-white with touches of wood, but opted instead to change color scheme every two floors, prompting many guests to request for a different floor each time they visit.
I’m not ashamed to say that I pigged-out and got my hands dirty. I don’t like all the work it takes to get little mouthfuls of crab meat out of their spiky shells, but Iloilo crabs are worth the effort. I had Imbao shell soup (P200), Lato (seaweed P85), steamed Krusan (crab P600/kg), Krusan with chilli sauce (P600/kg plus P80 for cooking), and Adobado nga Alimusan (fresh water catfish P450/kg). The Aligue rice (crab fat P80) and popular vinegar called Sinamak is also a must-try.
If you’re craving for a native dessert, watch out for manong selling native molasses in bamboo containers. It costs 3 for P100. Their buttered cream bars (P65) taste like silvana and sans rival.