Panay Impressions



Panay is one of the larger islands in the western Visayas. It is much less known than Boracay, which itself is only a mini-island but a world famous holiday paradise, and Cebu where a lot of diving and snorkeling takes place. So is this a disadvantage? I should think not! Especially if you appreciate peace and quiet and want to enjoy the Philippines from a very different and authentic perspective. As you can see from this site's main page there is a lot to see and do on this island. But the interested reader may enjoy a few impressions of everyday life, amongst the locals, away from the touristy areas. So, here are a few images and tales for you to enjoy ...

Local fisherman on his boat
The best time of the year to visit is December till February. It's the dry season then and not yet too hot. It's a fantastic time to take a walk along the baybay (beach) and dive in every now and then. There's no need for formal beach attire because the Filipinos themselves simply dive into the dagat (sea) wearing T-shirt and shorts. This is a great idea because it saves you having to carry beach gear around. Your wet clothes will not only keep you cool for another half hour, but also protect you from the tropical sun, which is an added bonus if you are a pale European. Walking along the beach, you will often encounter the local fishermen and their boats. Though not all of them speak good English, they are ivariably very friendly and love to tell you about their work and the catch of the day. With a bit of luck you might be able to buy a freshly caught tuna or even share a glass of tuba (coco beer). It's pretty strong stuff but quite nice once you've acquired the taste. There aren't too many things that help along foreign relations like the combination of sunny weather, an alcoholic beverage and a friendly smile ...

Mini-Boracay: peace and quiet
Of course there are some absolute gems amongst the 7,107 Philippine islands. Generally, Boracay is considered to be among them. Personally I'm not that fond of it. It's much too busy with tourists, every 10 yards they try and sell you tourist junk and the prices are just at home. No, I prefer the serenity, peace and quiet of an island like Malalison (which the locals call Mararisson in their local tongue Kiniray-a). First you stroll down to the Culasi market for some barbecue essentials. Then it's on to the beach to hire one of the small boats to take you to one of the many secluded bays on Malalison. Then you can spend the rest of the day in the shade of a cave or a tree, while occasionally going snorkeling or diving in between the coral reefs and the colourful fish that live there. Coral reefs are having a tough time everywhere so it is, quite rightly, protected. Unfortunately, here too people used to fish using dynamite to stun their catch, but here around Malalison coral reef is still abundant. When you take a stroll along the beach (you might have to climb here and there), you will discover other secluded, beautifully white beaches that are just begging for a swim.

Company on the road
In the Philippines, it's quite exceptional to be by yourself. There's always a member of the family at hand to ward off loneliness. Sometimes, even the kanu (short for americano, an expression used for white folks) is called upon to join the company. Hikers are in short supply here and so these young ladies kept me company on their way home from school. They were far too modest to greet me with the very common "Hey Joe!" (again an expression to denote americans, but liberally used for other white tourists). Because English (the American version that is) is the country's second official language, the ladies could already converse a little with me. But of course it is much nicer if you know the local language a bit. The first offcial language is Filippino which is based on Tagalog (spoken in southern Luzon around Manila), but on Panay there are a number of different accents, such as Ilongo, Hiligaynon, Kiniray-a to name but a few. These accents are grouped under the name Visayan. Unfortunately however, not much has been written about, or indeed in, Visayan, but in larger towns the National Bookstore generally has a few books on Tagalog.

Fresh young coconut juice
After hiking for a few hours, a refreshment is very welcome. Of course you can buy cans of softdrink in the so-called sari-sari stores by the road side, but it is nicer to enjoy the local produce. In many restaurants they sell buko, young coconut. No sugar, no colouring or other useless additives, marvellous! Restaurants are rarely the rather formal institutions like in Europe by the way. Quite the contrary, often they are completely open so you can savour the fresh wind coming from the sea. Very tasty are grilled manok (chicken) and isda (fish), served with the ever popular rice. Hygiene is generally OK in these open places, but it is wise to remain watchful. Especially tubig (water), even for washing vegetables or salad, should not be taken directly from either tap or pump but should be cooked for at least 5 minutes. Those that are still of the opinion that portions are small in the Philippines, should think again. Especially when entertained by friends or relatives, portions are hefty by any standard and your hosts will easily eat 3 of those per day. Sweets are also popular and the Philippines offers banana-cue (fried bananas in sugar), or yimas that are made from condensed milk. careful with your teeth (and weight)! Even though some American fast food stores have made ground here, Kalibo boasts many grill-restaurants and a local fast food chain called Jollibee's. They not only serve the usual hamburgers and fries, but also local dishes with rice or pasta, such as palabok.

Every village has at least one drumband
When you're tired of walking around in all these natural treasures and when sniffing the culture has worn you out, it's time for something different: the Village Festival! Let us take you to Sebaste in de provice of Antique which is situated along the west coast of Panay, but every town or village has one. Some of them even multiple times a year. Of course, what is being organised depends largely on the region and on the size of the town, but one thing is certain: there will be a drumband. All schoolkids, their parents and teachers are summoned to join in. Streets are decorated and accompanied by as much noise as possible the procession walks through the town on its way to the town square, a stadium or some other appropriate spot. Especially the majorettes and musicians are dressed up in colourful uniforms and brave the tropical heat with their hats and plastic boots. The procession is the prelude to many other activities. Obviously, there will be a holy mass in honour of the patron saint of the locality and in the evening there will be a disco for the youth and those that still count themselves amongst them, rightly so or not. In Sebaste, there is a sports pitch with a decent roof over it, so this is where some enormous loudspeakers are situated that continuously bring forth noise most of the day. Unfortunately, there is little consideration for immediate neighbours, both in noise volume and the number of repititions of a song. During the preparations of the festival, which usually lasts a week, the band must practise of course. To this end, espcially the young lads that play Xylophone have the tendency to flock to (formerly) quiet locations along the beach and "tingle" until they are exhausted. The town itself is relatively quiet during the day. You can stroll along the many market stalls (also used as tents during the night) to buy bandi, sometimes referred to a Philippine choclate. In actual fact it is a sweet and tasty mixture of peanuts and muscovado, which is a sugar kane derived product.

Local beauties seeking fame
Especially in the evenings many noteworthy activities are planned in Sebaste, such as a reunion of the Sebaste High School. There's something peculiar about Sebaste and that is that many of its (former) inhabitants live and work in Europe or America and that they regularly visit their home town. They often combine their visit with this reunion. A marvellous institution is the Miss Sebaste Contest. All local young ladies between 16 and 25 may participate. With the help of their neighbourhood, the Barangay, they are dressed up in beautiful clothes and bathing suits. Here's a small anecdote about the part where the contestants have to answer a few questions in English. The reader is reminded that the ladies are still very young and that English is only their third language, after Kiniray-a and Tagalog. A question for one of the ladies was: "With which local product would you promote Sebaste in the region, the country and even the world?". By no measure a simple question of course, so the contestant fell rather quiet. After some encouragement from the public and the moderator, she uttered "errrrr ... coconuts!". The public laughed as she said it and even the moderator was temporarily out of action, but then replied: "And why would you choose coconuts?". This did not help the contestant's situation at all and further silence indicated she was carefully considering her options. Her own Barangay among the spectators cheered her on and tried to help her in any way they could and finally she said: "... Because we have a lot of them!". Despite this humurous session, this particular contestant did not make it into the finals, but in any case we had a wonderful evening which lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

There's always room for more
Transport is quite different than in western countries. Cheap transport is absolutely essential to keep the local economy spinning. This is why 100cc 2-stroke motorcycles are equipped with sidecars made by local welding shops, to be used for just about anything. They are used as substitutes for taxis, lorries and busses. Unfortunately, a 2-stroke is cheap to produce but it is a disaster to one's health and thus nowadays we tend to see more and more 4-stroke motorcycles that produce less fumes and foul smell. If you're in for a record-breaking attempt, find a local school or university campus and wait for it to finish. The whole street will be swamped with smoking tricycles laden with human cargo. A beautiful sight! Solo motorcycles also abound, but since you can generally only buy them up to 200cc and the condition of the roads tends to vary somewhat, you don't generally see them on provincial roads. But even so, a solo motorcycle can still manage whole families of 4 to 5 persons.

Colourful transport
In larger towns and for longer distances, the so-called Jeepneys are used. They are based on the model of the Willys Jeep that the Americans left there after the 2nd World War, but these days they are produced by specialised companies on the basis of the chassis of a small truck. They're heavily decorated in as many colours as they can think of with a lot of chrome parts and often sporting a religious expression of some sort. Once I spotted one that had "God's Gift" written on it in large print, but judging by the state it was in, God must have been in a particularly bad mood the day it was given ... In town a driver will work by himself and the fare and loose change is passed back and forth by the passengers, but normally there will be a conductor that handles the fares and helps store the bags of rice, bookshelves and watermelons on the roof. The more customers a Jeepney has, the more the earnings, so maximum weights are generally disregarded. Fortunately the roads don't allow high speeds most of the time because I'd hate to think what happens in case of an accident with an open and heavily laden vehicle. There are hardly any (enforced) speed limits because these are simply dictated by road conditions: your speed is determined by the average number of sleeping dogs, playing kids and amount of rice left to dry per square meter of road surface.

Hopefully they treat him right
In Manila there's another mode of transport that has become a tourist attraction all over the world: horse and carriage. Fortunately for the horses they only roam the streets of the historic town centre, Intramuros, or else they would have to do their work surrounded by heavy traffic and fumes. Intramuros has only little traffic and the old buildings and narrow streets allow for plenty of shade. As a horse and animal friend I was not too keen to take a ride in one of the carriages, but female pressure persuaded me. However, under one condition and that was that I would first inspect the animal for its condition and if I found it wasn't in good shape, the deal was off. We informed the driver of my intentions and he agreed. Still, it appeared he was quite surprised when I started to examine the horse, named "Richard", in detail, lifting the legs to inspect the hooves, looking in its mouth etc. Fortunately, the little fellow was in sound condition and we took off. Fort Santiago is also a good place to visit. It has a long and rich history during which it's had its fair share of unhappy moments. Not only did the Spanish colonial army execute Philippine national hero Jose Rizal here, but many American and Philippine prisoners lost their lives at the hands of the Japanese during the end of the 2nd World War. Nowadays it is a quiet location, housing an interesting museum and offering nice views over the Pasig river and the high rise buildings of nearby modern Manila.

Hectism and too much to choose from in Robinson's
There's another fenomenon in Manila that the average traveller perhaps would not expect and these are the truly gigantic shopping malls like Robinson's, SM Megamall, Ayala Centre etc. One even bigger than the next. There are literally hundreds of smaller or larger shops, as well as countless eating establishments, housed in buildings of 6 or more storeys with various wings, elevators, lifts, ponds, promenades, lightshows and even cinemas, which are used to entice the visitors. These buildings may look a bit uneventful from the outside, but once you're in there's no end to the styling and efforts that were made to blend everything into such a colourful, well, experience I think the word is. But there is more than just shops. In Robinson's, the wider lanes and squares are filled with tiny markets where the proprietors will be only too happy to sell you a fake Rolex or an expensive brand of ladies purse. All well known brands (the real ones) are represented here and especially with clothing good deals can be made. Apart from shops and market stalls, there are the representatives that walk around in search of prospective customers, like the young ladies that attempt to lure you into a cosmetics boutique or the young chaps in suits that explain the advantages of a nice appartment building outside of Manila. But even if you don't buy, the atmosphere is exhilirating and friendly and everybody there seems to be in for a friendly chat.

The perfect ending of a perfect day
After travels back home again, families like to spend the evenings in each other's company. Grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins and nieces all drop by and join in for a bite to eat and exchange the latest gossip. In a village where everybody knows everybody and familie relations are tight, they all know in gory detail who exactly is that third cousin of the brother-in-law's niece. Tourists crouch up behind their maps on the veranda and assorted literature to plan for the next eventful day on Panay, while they listen to the crickets and the occasional cries of the taka lizard (it literally says its name). But it is clear that there is no better way to end the day, relaxing on the veranda accompnied by a glass of Tanduay Rhum (which is cheap but of good quality). And when the view is like this picture, then you know you are on a top notch holiday that you hope will never end. In other words dear reader, the Philippines is a fantastic holiday destination. I strongly suggest you go take look!






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