Biking through Iloilo’s heritage sites

By Annie G. Cuevas

IN LATE January, the Department of Tourism, in cooperation with the Automobile Association of the Philippines, launched “Drive Tourism,” a new concept in tourism, during the first Asia Pacific Drive Tourism Conference, Auto and Travel Show held at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said “Drive Tourism” is where participants move through a tourism highway or road network that allows them to see diverse attractions on the road and experience the local way of life,” said

The AAP, headed by former Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor, is using the new tourism concept by undertaking caravans in various provinces to boost domestic tourism and provide income opportunities in the countryside.

Following the concept but not using motorized vehicles, Iloilo City launched on March 30 the First Iloilo Bike Festival, which put into focus the city’s numerous heritage sites.

 

More than 3,000 bikers joined the festival and were afforded a glimpse of heritage sites in the city.

Starting from Megaworld Corp.’s Iloilo Business Park, the bikers proceeded to Jaro, where Iloilo’s oldest and most prosperous families reside. Visited by the bikers were the Lizares mansion, which is now the Angelicum School – Iloilo; the more than 200-year-old Casa Mariquit house; the old Jaro municipal hall, which is now the Jaro Philippine National Police (PNP) station; Jaro Plaza, Metropolitan Cathedral, Jaro Belfry, the Sanson-Montinola Antillian House, and the Nelly Garden mansion owned by the old-rich Jison family.

The bikers then proceeded to La Paz, passing along the Redemptorist’s St. Clement’s Church, where the first novena mass in the Philippines was held.

The bikers crossed the Forbes Bridge, and proceeded to Iloilo city proper, passing Museo Iloilo, Casa Real which was the old Iloilo provincial capitol, the iconic Arroyo Fountain, Calle Real (JM Basa St.), Plaza Libertad, Iloilo Customs House, Iloilo City Hall, and Fort San Pedro.

Next stop was  Molo with the district’s Gothic architecture- inspired St. Anne parish church. The last stretch brought the bikers back to the Iloilo Business Park in Mandurriao, passing through the Iloilo Esplanade and making an exit to Diversion Road to go through the new bike lanes just built by the city government.

Participants of the 9th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour (ACGTDT) on July 28-31will have the chance to retrace nearly the same route when they join the Iloilo-Bohol optional tour, one of eight optional tours arranged by Rajah Tours for the ACGTDT delegation.

The Iloilo portion of the package will bring the participants to a downtown Iloilo City tour that will take them to Museo Iloilo, which displays an impressive collection of Iloilo’s cultural heritage which includes stone age native pottery, fossils, jewelry, burial sites, trade pottery from China, Annam and Siam, era photos, mementos and war relics, a British sunken ship, Spanish-era Filipino sculpture, and modern art done by Ilonggo artists and craftsmen.

 

The tour will then proceed to Nelly’s Garden; Lizares Mansion, one of many century-old majestic mansions owned by early sugar barons in the town of Jaro; and the Jaro Cathedral and Bellfry. The South Iloilo countryside tour then brings the participants to the province’s various historical sites such as the Molo Church; the Panaderia de Molo of the famed Pancit de Molo; Arevalo Church; a Sinamay dealer; Lola Rufina Heritage House and Curio Shop; Oton Church and Plaza; Tigbauan Church; Seafdec Fishworld Museum; Miag-ao Church; San Joaquin Church; and Guimbal Church.

 

Miag-ao Church, which was declared a national landmark in 1973 through Presidential Decree 260, has an architectural style reminiscent of the Aztecs. Built in 1786, Miag-ao Church was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993 along with two churches in Ilocos and the Manila Cathedral.

San Joaquin Church and cemetery is known for its bass relief featuring the Castilian and Moorish wars, while its cemetery is picturesque for its hexagonal chapel with rose windows and twin-tiered balustrades that lead to its entrance; meanwhile, three staircases lead to the historic rock. The Rennaissance-inspired Molo Church and orphanage, the Asilo de Molo, are unique for their architecture as well as for a rare product, hand-embroidered barong Pilipino in pina cloth.

The tour participants will be billeted at the Sarabia Manor Hotel in Iloilo City. To join this year’s 9th ACGTDT, call your travel agent now, or the Philippine Department of Tourism at tel. (213) 487-4525.

Other notable places of interest in Iloilo are the Panay Liberation Market, which commemorates the American libreation of Panay Island from the Japanese invaders in 1945; the Janiuay Cemetery, which was built in 1875, is made of cut stone and fossil rocks and features three imposing stairways and two Gothic doors; Sicogon Island, a 1,104-hectare palm fringed island with white sand beaches; Igbaras town, which has waterfalls, climbing hills, crystal caves and springs; and Dingle town, which boasts of a number of religious shrines and healing spring waters.

(Ms. Annie Cuevas-Lim is regional director of the Philippine Department of Tourism-Los Angeles Office.)