23 January 2020
Boarding at Bancal Port
It was an early start for us on our day two in Iloilo. We took a tricycle to Bancal Port, signed up for our island hopping tour and waited to board the boat. Our group was called to board and we were shuffled toward the rocky part of the pier as the boat was not able to dock closer to the safer side. “Be careful”, I warned Wifey holding Maddy as they both descended with caution. My mother-in-law also took care not to slip on the jagged path. Oli was strapped to my chest, nestled in the baby carrier. As we boarded the outrigger I noticed that we were the only ones in the group with kids. The boat was smaller than I imagined. “Hoping for a calm ride ahead”, I said to myself as I buckled up my life jacket.
After an hour and a half of mostly rough sea journey, we reach our first destination. Cabugao Gamay is a small uninhabited island, famous for its viewing platform that sit atop a rock formation. Reaching it is a feat on its own as you must climb a very steep set of wooden stairs. It was around noon when we decided to take the climbing challenge for a once-in-a-lifetime photo op. With Oli still bounded to me, every step I took felt heavier than the last. The intense heat from the sun adding to the discomfort. Upon reaching the top, the view made the climb worth while. A 360-degree view of the whole island! Our tour guide who climbed earlier acted as the photographer. As we sat on a bamboo bench, the photographer failed to get Oli to smile. He was done for the day and it was only the first stop!
We settled beneath the coconut trees that grew along the beach to cool off. Maddy searched the white sand for shells. The shore was peppered with peculiar stone stacks that looked liked art scupltures.
Our next stop was at a small sandy stretch of beach on the island of Bantigue. A quick dip was in order. The water was shallow and warm, perfect for the two kids who had been itching to play after being stuck on a boat.
We headed next to Antionia Beach which is on the South Gigante Island. The tour guide suggested that if we wanted some snacks, there was some available to purchase at the mini convenience store on the shore. We had plenty of snacks and the kids were too tired from their previous beach frolic and so Wifey and my mother-in-law stayed on the boat while I ventured out to take some photos and videos of the view.
A stone’s throw away was Mini Boracay Beach. It had the purest white sand that was very similar to what you would see in Boracay which is one of the most famous islands in the world because of its pristine white beach (hence the name). Maddy and Oli (fuelled and energised by their snacks) were once again keen to take a dip. A huge boulder became our shelter from the sun as the kids enjoyed making sand castles and splashing about in the water.
For the tour’s penultimate stop, the boat took us to Tangke Lagoon. It is a saltwater lagoon, hidden within limestone rock formations. “Let me know how it looks in there”, Wifey said to me as she had to stay on the boat since both the kids were napping. My mother-in-law joined me and as soon as we entered I was in awe of this ‘secret’ paradise. It wasn’t much of a secret though as numerous tour groups were there at the same time which was a little distracting.
As part of the tour, we were served a seafood banquet of fish and all-you-can eat scallops. There was also a simple chicken broth that Maddy was willing to try. Oli was even fussier and only had rice. I ate my weight in scallops. It was fresh, tender and a little sweet.
Back to the Hotel
The boat ride back was a lot smoother. We hailed a tricycle back to the hotel. “Do you know where the nearest wet market is?”, my mother-in-law asked the driver. He took us to Bancal Public Market where we bought some fruits for the kids.
Dinner was again at Angga Restaurant. I ordered the sizzling sisig (spicy pig face and pork belly dish), pinakbet (vegetable stew) and fries for the little ones.
The island hopping tour had some highlights (e.g. Cabugao, sandbar and the scallops!) and lowlights (e.g. the choppy boat ride). It wasn’t as kid-friendly as I would have liked it to be but to be fair, it was not advertised as so. I was happy to have seen the beauty of the Gigantes Islands.