Setting off to a distant island across rough seas and under intermittent weather in the wee hours of the morning aboard a large fishing vessel may sound like a romanticized adventure. But that’s exactly how our journey to Seco Island began. Well not exactly, it’s actually a clumsy ride on a flat boat that held everyone’s breath as we grope for balance to transfer from the shore to the big boat. I’ve only seen flat boats used here heavily in Antique, but these outrigger-less, flat surfaced geometrical boat is a challenge to balance on water especially with a number of people inside. But it did wake us up under the starry night sky and kept us alert as we boarded the shipping vessel for a 2-3 hour ride.
Like the Isla Gigantes in Carles, Iloilo, Mararison Island, got under the tourist radar after Typhoon Haiyan. This little known island just 15 minutes off the mainland of Culasi, Antique used to be enjoyed exclusively by the locals and a few tourist. But soon, word got out, or simply, photos of picturesque hills and an alluring sandbar found in just one island went viral across the net. Being highly accessible from the mainland, the once quiet fishing community now welcomes visitors at their tropical island home.
The beach and the sea may be my playground but I always felt more at home in the mountains. The nippy air, being among trees and soothing greens is a balm to the senses. Upon learning that in my return to Antique, just barely after a month from my last visit, I would have a chance to visit one of the highlands in Panay Island. On the first night of our Antique Heritage tour, we’ll be located at 869 meters above sea level at Aningalan, San Remegios, south of Antique bordering close to Iloilo. It’s where clouds roll along hills, dramatic rock formations jutting out the cascading landscape and a glassy lake are found.
It all stared with a hungry Spanish explorer landing on the shores of Pandan Antique. Meeting an Ati local for the first time, he asked if they have food. The Ati pointed to a basket full of Kamote (Sweet potatoes) and said “Dan” which for them meant “that”. In excitement, the Spaniard exclaimed “Pan” which means bread, mistaking the potatoes as bread. It was an amusing play of words between two different culture that gave birth to the name of this place in Antique. Whether this event really is the etymology of its name, one thing is for sure, Pandan is rich in natural attractions and culture.
Following our exciting hike and visit at Bugtong Bato Waterfalls, it was time to for a much deserved lunch. Our habal-habal drove us back past Baranggay Tuno, back on the dirt road we passed by earlier to a large spacious hut hanging by the cliff road. We had our hearty meal of adobo and grilled fish on that breezy hut while hearing the ambient sound of the nearby river. Our wet adventure isn’t over as we check out the rapids of Tibiao River for some whitewater kayaking.
Cruising Bugang River was not the end of our water escapade in Antique. The following day, we took a day trip tour to the nearby town of Tibiao which can be reached through a one hour ride along the scenic coastal road heading south. The well-paved road boast of sweeping views of the mountains on one side and the sea on the other amidst a bucolic setting. We’re expecting another wet and wild adventure as we head to our first stop, the Bugtong Bato Waterfalls.
“Duck!” I heard our boatman up front yell, as our raft headed under a cluster of low-lying bamboo stalks leaning close to the waters of Bugang River. Another boatman was in chest-deep water behind the raft, tugging the rope at the back and fighting the current to somehow steer our fragile bamboo raft to a safer direction. Could this raft hold? I heard they just assemble it when they need it. We cleared the bamboo trees unscathed and found ourselves in tamer waters opening to a surreal landscape of age-old trees standing tall amidst the turquoise waters, strong and defiant of the currents.