“Typhoon warning 1 has been issued. We have rooms available tonight but I don’t think boats go any more. I don’t think you can come.” So said the voice on the other end of my phone just before I ran out of credit and the call cut off. I was sitting in the back of a taxi, stuck in rush hour traffic in Iloilo (pronounced eelo-eelo), nearly 2 km from the pier where bangkas make the trip to neighboring Guimaras every 15 minutes. My traveling companion and I looked at each other, at the map, at the ominous clouds closing in, and quickly agreed to hoof it. We stepped out of the car into rain and a wall of traffic. We weaved our way through streets packed with cars, motorbikes, food vendors, pedestrians, jeepneys, and tricycles (the local equivalent of a tuk-tuk with a sidecar attached to a motorcycle and shaded canopies over passengers and driver). Filipinos smiled at us, probably thinking us deranged, a conclusion not hard to draw given our laughter as we jumped puddles, swerved around piles of trash, and allowed rain to pour over us and our bags. When traffic opened up, we hopped into a tricycle for the final stretch then scrambled onto a boat, water dripping from our noses as we settled in for a windy 20-minute ride to the island of Guimaras.
So began a 3-day stay on an island best known for having the sweetest mangoes in the world. An island with “resorts” that feel like a cross between a 1950s Catskills family camp and a New Zealand holiday park. An island with only outdoor activities and mangoes to enjoy (at least for those not keen on talking with monks or attending mass at the old Trappist Monastery). But with a typhoon in the area and New Year’s Eve to celebrate, no one was particularly interested in selling mangoes or even telling us where to find them and island hopping on a small boat was out of the question. Once the rain died down, we managed to find a waterfall and some nice views that stretched to Panay, the island from which we’d come.
We also stumbled across a place called Bella Cove which was – or maybe still is – a resort home available for rent. Without a human soul in sight, we wandered the grounds looking at the caged animals, peering through windows into an empty dining room, and marveling at the sheer size of the place. The animals were clearly well-fed and the grounds maintained so it’s evident the place is occupied or at least tended to but I remain curious about its usage. If someone reading this has any idea if it’s still in use, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
On New Year’s Eve, I finally got my hands on a mango – half of one, anyway. But if I’m honest, I enjoyed the champagne more than the mango. I suppose that’s not surprising given how easy it is to find mangoes in SE Asia, how hard it is to come across champagne (actual Champagne, not Prosecco, Cava, or sparkling wine), and the fact that I’ve been in this part of the world for more than seven months. To be fair, the mango smoothie I had my first morning on the island was the best I’ve ever had: naturally sweet and flavorful, it proved that Guimaras mangoes really are some of the sweetest in the world.
Guimaras might not be the most well-known tourist destination in the Philippines (I hadn’t heard of it until a Filipino CouchSurfing host suggested a visit) and I don’t see it becoming one. But for a place to wait out a typhoon or to escape crowds and find a bit of peace without much access to the internet, I’d highly recommend it.