Pan de Azucar (Sugar Loaf) Island from coastal highway near Sara, Iloilo
On March 18, 2007 we were invited on a trip to Estancia, Iloilo Province. Estancia is known for having one of the best seafood markets in the Philippines. That's why it's called the little Alaska of the Philippines.The six of us left early, convivially jammed into our friend Eli's Mitsubishi pickup. Heading north on the coastal road, the scenery really became beautiful starting in Barotac Nuevo. A recommended stopping point for lunch is Tito Paps Restaurant between Banate and Barotac Nuevo. Next, we climbed over the "hilltop" in Pili and by Ajuy we were getting distant but impressive views of Pan de Azucar (sugar loaf) Island which leaps out of the sea near Conception. While we did not take the side road into Conception, we definitely want to in the future. Acommodations: there's a pension house next to Tito Pap's; Mojoe Pension House 033-362-0213 which the sign says is open 24 hours. There's a resort in Conception and in Ajuy there's the El Jardin restaurant and lodge (033) 329-0410 which we did not visit but looks like it might be nice.
Estancia Fish Port
We reached Estancia in about 2.5 hours, stopping for mereinda at the pretty Punot Restaurant. Next we drove the short distance to the famed Estancia fish port, so famed that Estancia is referred to as the "Alaska of the Philippines". This is really a wholesale rather than retail port and often the sellers wanted to sell in large lots. Fish dealers and buyers from Iloilo City and other places come here to buy the best seafood, much of which is sent to Manila or exported. Fortunately, the men who unloaded the incoming boats were paid in fish which they would then immediately resell.
Banca with Calagnaan Island in background
A fish port may not seem like much of a tourist destination but for the seafood lover, it's one of the best places in the Philippines. The market was busy and exceptionally clean. The setting was scenic with the colorful bancas and bustle of the market in the foreground and beyond the sparkling ocean and Calagnaan and Sicogon Islands. The color of the offshore water at Estancia was a deep blue-green and seemed very clean.
The islands off of Iloilo's northeast coast cry out for exploration. Such exploration requires determination as transportation and facilities are basic at best or non-existent. One has to go to Estancia, Conception, San Dionisio or Carles and arrange pumpboat transportation. Reportedly, you'll find no resorts beyond simple beach huts, no restaurants or stores so you'll have to bring what you need. But, you will find unspoiled white coral beaches and climbing and hiking opportunities. Our plan is to base ourselves at the Iyang Beach Resort in Conception.
Loading ice on pumpboat to N. Gigante Island
You can catch boats to the offshore at the Estancia fish port; North and South Gigante and almost certainly to Calagnaan and alluring Sicogon. We don't have information on schedules. We were there about 1 p.m. and it seemed that the boats will leave when full so be prepared for a possible long wait.
These islands are rarely visited by tourists and have no tourist infrastructure. You may be arrange homestays and meals. We have not been to any of these islands but it's on our list of things to do.
Passengers waiting for pump boat to North Gigante island, Iloilo to depart
Unloading fish at Estancia
We stayed at the market for some time -- waiting for the seafood we wanted to come in on the boats; crab, cuttlefish and a local fish similar to Pompano.
Carol (cautiously) examines Stingray
While we were there a boat came in with several large stingrays, not sure what kind but impressive. The stingers had been cut off. These fish were not treated with much respect and perhaps did not have too much commercial value.
We loaded three coolers with ice and seafood and drove to Roxas City and had lunch at the 8 Dragons Tang Dynasty Restaurant on Burgos Street. The 8 Dragons is reputed to one of the best Chinese restaurants on the island. Our friend come to Roxas City from Iloilo City just for a meal there. Not sure I would do that. Chinese food in Hong Kong makes one hard to satisfy, but the 8 Dragons was the best we've had on Panay. Roxas City is not very enthusiastically treated in the guidebooks but we found it to be a quite pleasant small city with attractive and well-maintained public areas and public market.
Packing up our purchases.
We had to buy an additional styrofoam cooler at the nearby market. We had planned to buy a nice Coleman-type cooler in Iloilo but found that they were very expensive, two or three time what they would cost in the USA. We kicked ourselves for not bringing them with us.
Estancia Public Market - a dried fish paradise!
The Philippine government tourism site says, "this awe-inspiring church is a monument to past Spanish grandeur in Pan-ay town. Almost a small fortress, it is about 250 ft. long and 80 ft. wide with 9-ft. thick walls of coral blocks. The floor is colored marble that shines in subdued tone in misty light. The central altar is an elaborately sculptured retablo of silver and hardwood in florid Baroque style. The lateral altars have intricately carved tiers of niches for images of saints. Sta. Monica is the patron saint. The church’s five story belfry shelters a huge antique bell surrounded by 8 smaller bells. Shrouded with many enchanting tales, the huge bell holds more fascinating truth. It was cast from 76 sacks of coins believed to have been contributed by the citizens of the town. Its mammoth size holds a staggering record. It is seven feet in diameter and weighs 10.4 tons. In fact, it is estimated to be the largest in Southeast Asia.
Pan-ay Church Historical Plaque