Whopping Weekend at Isla de Gigantes

The name Isla de Gigantes itself is intriguing.  Based on the municipality of Carles’ website, the name Isla de Gigantes found its origin when the first settlers of the island found coffins measuring 8 feet in length, containing remains of colossal human being.  I wasn't expecting to find giants in the islands but we sure had whopping fun hanging out in Isla de Gigantes.

Isla de Gigantes

Day 1 - Getting to Isla de Gigantes

Isla de Gigantes, grouped into two major islands of Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, is found in the northern coast of Iloilo.  Coming from Manila, we took PAL’s first flight to Roxas City, Capiz and from there went by Ceres bus to Estancia, Iloilo, where boats leave to Gigantes Norte.  The Roxas route is just two hours away from Estancia port, compared to 5 hours travel from Iloilo City or Kalibo, Aklan.

Port of Estancia, IloiloAt the Port of Estancia, Iloilo

Isla de Gigantes is part of Carles municipality but the take-off point to Gigantes Norte, where most accommodations are located, is in Estancia.  A number of passenger boats leave the port once daily between 1 to 2 PM.  Resorts offering chartered private boats pick-up passengers in Bancal port, Carles.

Port of Estancia, Iloilo

Gerell, our passenger boat, took us to Gigantes Norte

Leaving on a long weekend, we anticipated that the place will be packed with local tourists.  Much as we wanted a weekend of peace and soaking ourselves with nature’s wonders, I was optimistic that the place is relatively unexploited tourism-wise.  We booked in advance at the Jesa Beach Resort through their Facebook page.  Mobile communication and internet access may be poor in the islands but apparently, some of the resorts have outposts or gain online access to clients when in Estancia or mainland Carles.

Boat to Isla de Gigantes

There’s a toilet, in case nature called during the trip

We were allowed to board the passenger boat as early as 10:30 AM.  Little did we know that by 2 PM, the boat will be loaded with commercial products, and occupied with people not only on those passenger seats (picture above) but also has space for standing passengers, seats on both sides next to the outrigger, and a top load for those who want to welcome the sun and the winds in all its glory.

Boat to Isla de Gigantes

Smoking area cum kitchen (Kitchen is for the boatmen’s use only. We observed them cooking and eating before the scheduled trip.). I'm not sure, but smoking and cooking inside a wooden boat sounds like a bad idea. 🙁 

It is likely that our boat was overloaded at that time, and they did not provide life jackets.  Good thing the weather was fine and no untoward incident happened.  This is, however, no excuse to shrug off safety measures.

Gigantes Norte

Arrival at Langub port, Gigantes Norte.  Passengers had to wait for their turn to be transferred on land via a wooden raft.

  Gigantes Norte

Kuya Yanyan of Jesa Beach Resort in green, eager to greet us and take us to the resort through less than 5 min motorcycle ride.

We arrived at the resort before 4 PM and were served welcome drinks.  Ate Sally, the resort owner, might have seen hunger mirrored in our eyes and granted our secret wish for a “welcome snacks”.  She served us delicious biko (sweetened sticky rice)! Yum! Yum!

Langub Sandbar, Gigantes Norte

After resting for an hour or more, we headed to the Langub Sandbar, which is just a few meters away from the port.  Afternoons or during low tide and just before sunset are the perfect times to visit the sandbar.  We were lucky to see beautiful sunset colors.

Sunset at Gigantes Norte Port Sunset at Langub Sandbar Sunset at Langub Sandbar

Find other sandbars in the Philippines

Carbin Reef in Sagay, Negros Occidental

Kalanggaman Island, Leyte

Kalanggaman Island, Leyte

Concepcion, Iloilo

Bulubadiangan Island, Concepcion

Day 2 in Isla de Gigantes

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

No better way to start the day but to get dirty.  Bakwitan Cave is our first stop on our first full day in Isla de Gigantes.  The cave got its name, Bakwitan, which means “refuge” in Ilonggo, because it served as a place of safety for locals during the war  times.  We were also told that some locals came to Bakwitan Cave for refuge during the super typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, in 2013.  Likewise, Bakwitan cave is said as one of the caves where the colossal remains were discovered.

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

The cave also served as burial place in the past.  According to our guide, human bones such as this one near the cave’s entrance (above photo) were left exposed by bad antique hunters who were seeking for burial jars.   Vandalism is yet another delinquent act that needs action by the Tourism Office.

Our guide also told us that the local government had already regulated entry to the caves.  In fact, a lot of other cave systems exist within the island and visitor access to these caves are now restricted.

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

At the cave entrance

Sorry for starting off with the negatives.  Here are a few photos showing the rock formations inside the cave.

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Cauliflower-like formation

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Rosary-like formation (Photo by Moyeh Sicat)

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

On this site (white deposit) will rise…stalagmites

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Stalactites on its "fetus" stage

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

This looks like an Eskimo to me

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

<frown, frown, frown> the works of vandals

Bakwitan Cave, Gigantes Norte

Parola (Lighthouse)

Next stop was the lighthouse or parola, in Filipino and it’s called just that, not Isla de Gigantes Lighthouse nor Gigantes Norte Lighthouse...just Lighthouse or Parola.  We arrived at about 10:30 AM and had the lighthouse all by ourselves.  The parola gets more visitors during sunrise and sunset times.

Parola, Gigantes Norte, Lighthouse

The parola now standing is a modern solar-powered lighthouse.  The original Spanish era parola was apparently destroyed by typhoon Frank back in 2008.  Beside the lighthouse is the keeper’s brick house quarter, which survives at this time as ruins.

Parola, Lighthouse, Gigantes Norte

Parola, Lighthouse, Gigantes Norte

Parola, Lighthouse, Gigantes Norte

Parola, Lighthouse, Gigantes Norte

Parola, Lighthouse, Gigantes Norte

“Kuya Yanyan, take a jumpshot of us at the lighthouse.” By that I mean, a shot of us WITH the lighthouse in the backdrop. Well, the mid-air shot was at least perfect.

Parola, Lighthouse, Gigantes Norte

Spring water in Tuburan

From the lighthouse, we drove to a nearby place which they call Tuburan, where our guides showed us a natural spring water source emerging from small holes between the rocks.  Two small impoundments, each about less than a cubic meter volume, were created by the locals to serve as a small reservoir, from where they can collect the spring water for drinking water or household use.

Spring water source in Gigantes Norte

Collection can only be made during low tide because at high tide, the spring water source becomes submerged in seawater.

Gigantes Norte, Iloilo

Back at Jesa Beach Resort

We headed back to the resort in anticipation of our delicious lunch, with our hired motorcycles in a riding in tandem style (one motorcycle, one driver cum guide, one passenger).

After spending the morning spelunking at Bakwitan Cave, taking in the sights of the Spanish era lighthouse and visiting the spring water in Tuburan, we had our usual seafood treat for lunch at the resort.  And what more’s the best thing to do after a satisfying lunch on a hot noon?  I know I am not alone here if mention these keywords:  #powernap, #sleep, #siestatime, #sarapmatulog.

After a few moments of rest, I found myself wandering the coastline fronting our resort.  Arriving in the afternoon from Estancia, this is the first time I’d be walking along the coast of our resort.

The harsh 2 PM sunlight did not stop me from clicking my shutter and continued walking for some beautiful seascapes.

Gigantes NorteGigantes NorteGigantes NorteGigantes NorteAbove is a type of greenery that is not appealing.  These are algae growing because they have plenty of sunlight.  Algae can also grow rapidly when there is enough sources of nutrients. And where do they get these nutrients from? A potential source is the untreated domestic wastewater that may be draining directly into the sea.  If this is really the case, dischargers must be aware that if the waters do not stay as pristine, then the tourism business might eventually go off as well.

Our first full day in Gigantes Islands isn’t over yet. The rest of this day we spent by doing Take Two of where we’ve already been yesterday and this morning, except the Bakwitan Cave.  For a different view of the Langub Sandbar, we climbed the limestone rocks this time.  We then shortly took a dip near the sandbar coast.

Langub Sandbar

Since it’s on low tide and having soaked ourselves in seawater, the timing is perfect to revisit the spring water of Tuburan.  The small catchment pool had been submerged in seawater earlier this morning.  Our guides knew so well that we’ll be needing a tabo (dipper) to scoop water out from the small impoundment and quickly handed us an improvised tabo from a 1.5 L softdrink plastic bottle.

At most two persons can fit into the spring water pool but you wouldn’t want to do that because the locals fetch water from these pools.  How did we know that? The kids in us carelessly jumped into the little pool and in a split second, our guide told us we should not be doing that.  Like children being scolded by their parents, we immediately obliged, but then giggled right after.  And so we bathed Filipino-style using the tabo, minus soap and shampoo, by the side of the rocky shore.

Feeling refreshed, we headed out to the lighthouse for the sunset, but found a lot of other local tourists doing their selfies, groupies, jump shots or just enjoying the views.  Sigh! … the disadvantages of traveling on a long weekend.  I’m glad we got to see the lighthouse with only us and our guides in the morning.

We went back to the resort to discover that water in the bathroom is not available.  Good thing we had a refreshing spring water bath earlier.

To be continued….


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