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Marinduque Mainland from Tres Reyes Islands

Marinduque Mainland from Tres Reyes Islands
View of Mainland Marinduque from Tres Reyes Islands-Click on Photo to link to Marinduque Awaits You

Friday, April 23, 2010

Is Marinduque the next Travel Hotspot?

The Boac Cathedral Tower

This article was published on news.com.au. on March 19, 2010. It was written by Christine Pfeiffer. I assumed she is from Australia and is a guest of the Department of Tourism, Philippines. I found her article timely and realistic. We need more articles like this one so that Marinduque becomes a world tourist destination soon.

Is Marinduque Island the next travel hotspot?

"There are no sleek nightclubs, bars or tacky souvenir shops.

The few cars on the roads are vastly outnumbered by jeepneys (extended jeeps with two long seats behind the driver) and tricycles (three-wheeled motorcycles with passenger carriages).

All eyes are on our group of five as we walk through the streets of Boac, the capital. Western visitors in Marinduque are rare. Tricycle drivers stop by the side of the road to gawk, jeepney passengers crane their necks for a better look and shopkeepers run out to the street to stare. Shy children scuttle away when we try to take their photo.

Surrounded by Tayabas Bay, Mompoy Bay, Tayabas Strait and the Sibuyan Sea, Marinduque Island is only 170km south of Manila yet it's a world away from the traffic, skyscrapers and frenetic pace of the big city. The 959sq km volcanic island is a pristine natural treasure trove of sandy beaches, diving sites, caves, hot springs and waterfalls. The few local resorts on the island are simple and inexpensive. But this may not be the case for much longer because the local government has its sights on becoming the Philippines' next big vacation hot spot.

Change is coming

The ball is already rolling with new low-cost flights from Manila on Zest Air and SEAIR. A new luxury resort on a small private island nearby, Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa, has given the province a boost by building roads and employing local workers.

Most islanders are farmers or fishermen. But many are excited about the opportunities that a tourism boom could offer. Some have borrowed from money lenders to buy a jeepney (about $5000) or a tricycle ($1500). In a year or two, the more enterprising will catch on to the potential of operating souvenir stalls and cafes. The towns have Spanish names like Santa Cruz and Torrijos. And, with family names like Fernandez, Reyes and Gonzales, you could almost be convinced you're in South America, not Asia.

Our guide, Marie Diaz, grew up in Mogpog which was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II. On our tour, we pass bullocks working in rice fields and barangays (villages) where herds of goats and scrawny dogs roam the streets. Marinduque may be one of the poorer provinces in the Philippines but the people look happy. The streets are clean, homes are neat and children play with carefree abandon.

The town of Buenavista, Spanish for good view, lives up to its name with stunning ocean views, sandy beaches and swaying palms. Nearby Gasan is more prosperous, with bigger homes and concrete buildings. The shops are eclectic. The sign outside the local supermarket says "Glory to God, Sioland Supermarket, Gasan Branch". Next to the supermarket, in a space beneath a stairwell, is a fruit stall and a display of Western-style bridal gowns.

Island Highlights

The island's attractions include the WHS Butterfly Farm, near Gasan, where we chase a kaleidoscope of delicate butterflies fluttering among the flowers. The farm is a family enterprise that ships pupae as well as framed, dried and live butterflies around the world.

The Marinduque Museum in Boac is a good place to brush up on local culture and history. Exhibits include 16th-century porcelain recovered from the bottom of the ocean. Catholic culture on Marinduque has evolved in a unique way. Boac's main drawcard is the Gothic Boac Cathedral, which was built in 1666 to honour the Virgin Mary, introduced to the island by Jesuit missionaries. The Virgin Mary is known as Ang Mahal na Birhen ng Biglang-Awa or Blessed Virgin of Biglang-Awa Immediate Succor.

Back in 1807 the parish priest of Mogpog, Padre Dionisio Santiago, started a festival based on the story of Longinus, the one-eyed Roman centurion who pierced Jesus Christ while he was on the cross. Today people from all over the Philippines flock here at Easter time to watch the singing, chanting and street theatre. The main event is a parade that includes the Via Crucis, or way of the cross, in which "Jesus Christ" carrying a wooden cross is trailed by a group of barefoot devotees who whip themselves as penance for their sins. It ends with the beheading of Longinus.

Outside the Boac Cathedral we buy banana que (deep-fried bananas dipped in caramelised sugar), turon (banana jackfruit) and carioca (doughnuts) from a local woman. The snacks cost seven pesos each (18c).

It's a warm day so Diaz takes us on a short hike through the rainforest to Paadyao Cascades where we plunge into a cool pool beneath the waterfall. I spend the rest of the afternoon at my cliff-top villa at Bellarocca Resort sipping champagne in my private plunge pool while gazing at tranquil views of Sibuyan Sea.

Bellarocca's setting is stunningly Mediterranean. White-washed buildings are a stark contrast to green Mt Malindig and the turquoise ocean. Facilities include a nine-hole golf course, cigar room, gym and fitness centre, swimming pools and a spa. Rooms are luxurious and furnished with amenities such as L'Occitane and Aveda cosmetics, plasma television sets and iPod docks".


Getting there: Philippine Airlines flies from Sydney to Manila from $901. Zest Air and SEAIR fly from Manila to Marinduque; flights are about $70 return.

Getting around: Buenavista to the airport in a jeepney costs 20 pesos (50c); Gasan to Buenavista in a tricycle costs 120 pesos ($3).

Staying there: Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa's Dolce Vita package (valid until May 31) includes two nights' accommodation, brunch, afternoon tea and other extras from $350 a person.

More: www.philippinetourism.com.au or call (02) 9279 3380

1 comment:

The Rooster Crows at 4am! said...

Great article, David. Really enjoyed reading it. Hope it gives a big boost to your slice of paradise, Marinduque. Especially liked the part about the reaction from the locals as the kanos visited the town. Reminds me of my home in Guimaras.

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