With a super typhoon threatening central and northern Luzon (and expected to bring heavy rains to Manila as well), I hopped on a early morning flight to Iloilo city. My tentative destination: Bolobadiangan island (name is also spelled as Bulubadiangan) in Concepcion, a quiet fishing town on Panay's north eastern coast, some 2-3 hours away from Iloilo City.
You're probably wondering why I stated "tentative". My trip coincided with the Masskara festival in Bacolod, just 45 minutes away by fast craft. If the weather turns sour by the time I land in Iloilo city, I'll head to Bacolod for the festival instead (I'm not very fond of festivals though). Its one of the perks of traveling alone, destination can be anywhere.
Thankfully it was nice and sunny in Iloilo. So I proceeded to Tagbak terminal in Jaro district and boarded an HPQ bus to Concepcion. It was an interesting 3 hour bus ride passing through quaint coastal towns (we passed by Barotac Nuevo, my dad's ancestral town. I know I have lots of relatives there but I don't know anyone). Every few kilometers the bus would stop, pick up some farm produce like rice grains and livestock. I chatted with some of the passengers since I know the local dialect (they would notice how my accent is different) and before I knew it 3 hours have passed and we are already in Concepcion.
Unlike the island of Guimaras where transportation and tourism are well established, Concepcion is as untouristy as it can get. Boat trips to the nearby islands don't really have schedules. You can either have someone from the island you are visiting fetch you (if you have contacts there) or you can hitch a ride with locals returning home after they are finished with their business in town. I was planning to do the former but the contact number I was given was not answering, so after buying supplies I proceeded to the port area and asked around for boats that may pass by Bolobadiangan. There were a few who offered, but they were not sure what time they would leave. Dark rain clouds are beginning to form and I'm desperate for a ride. Luckily a man with a small outrigger boat offered, he is returning home, its out of the way but he'll drop me off if I reimburse him for his gasoline. I asked him how much, and he replied: "what ever you think is fair".
It was 30 minute boat ride to the sand bar that juts out some 200 meters out to the sea (maybe longer at low-tide) at the northern end of Bolobadiangan island. Its a small island with only about 7 families there. The northern part is owned by the Eusala family, relatively well off by island standards with their concrete houses (and electricity provided by a solar panel and generator). They built several (open) cottages and aptly named the place "Sandbar Island Beach resort".
I was met by Mang Sonny (the family's patriarch) and he helped me settle in one of the cottages. Its off season and they are not expecting more visitors so I had the place all to myself. Rain started to fall, the sea breeze was cool, soon I was snoozing.
The rain stopped as quickly as it started and the skies cleared. I still have 4 hours till sunset so I decided to have a look around the nearby islands.
We went to Agho island but found it in a state of disarray, the beach area was littered with garbage brought in by the sea and the small cottages needs some serious repair work.
Dropped by Malangabang for a few minutes (most populated island, with stores where you can buy food and supplies) but I decided to forego Pan de Azucar island and head back to Bolobadiangan as the sun is getting low. I plan to scout vantage points for sunset but I think I was more inserted in getting back to my hammock.
Sunset that day had muted colors, but I did not really care. I spent more time enjoying the place rather taking photos of every nook and cranny. Dinner was steamed "kasag" (blue crabs) and grilled fish I bought from two kids earlier. (Mang Sonny pointed out to me where I should stand and wave to small boats going to a specific direction if I want to buy fresh catch). We exchanged ideas about environment conservation over our simple dinner. Mang Sonny's family is quite passionate about it. They have a coral garden and a protected area for giant clams at the western side of the island and visitors can see these clams at low-tide. The area around the northern part of the island is also declared a no-fishing zone.
It was hammock time again after dinner. No drinking crowds, no blaring music.
- Although HPQ buses are the only ones that go to Concepcion directly from Iloilo, they are not exactly the fastest. They would stop every few kilometers to pick up everyone and everything from livestock to farm produce. Its faster if you ride a Ceres bus, they have 1-stop trips to Sara. From Sara you can take jeeps or the HPQ buses to Concepcion (only 7.5 kilometers away). Your 3-hour trip will take half as long.
- Get your supplies (water, food stuff, etc) in Concepcion. Prices will double on the islands such as in Malangabang island. Most of the islands don't even have stores.
- Boat rates vary a lot, some are reasonable, some are not, especially if you really stick out of the crowd. Haggle. You can drop by their "tourism office" (adjacent to their town hall ) but tell them you want to just hitch a ride with one of the locals. If you are with a large group you can hire a whole boat for the trip.
- Planning to buy some dried pusit (squid) in Iloilo city for pasalubong? Get them in Concepcion instead, they are much cheaper there. Those being sold in pasalubong shops in the city mostly like came from northern towns like Estancia and Concepcion.