Story & photos by Bernard L. Supetran
WHEN Calypso King Harry Belafonte sang the hit “Island in the Sun”, he might not be attributing it only to his beloved Jamaican, but to all sun-kissed, windswept islands across the tropics, which capture the soul and bucolic allure of his hometown.
In northern Iloilo province is this telltale island of Sicogon, which was once the archipelago’s poster image as a beach haven long before Boracay became a household name. Its powdery sand has graced countless tourism calendars, brochures and postcards up to the early-1990s, when it slowly faded from the limelight.
In the town of Estancia, dubbed as the “Alaska of the Philippines” because of the rich, deep-sea aquatic resources caught off its waters, the island was once the playground of the rich and famous because of the luxury yachts that dock here for an escapade at an upscale resort.
No less than Gloria Diaz frolicked in its crystal-clear waters in the classic movie Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa, a few years after she was crowned Miss Universe.
This sizzling island is not merely waxing on nostalgia of its glory days, but has come out from slumber to join the league of major tropical hideaways in the country’s booming tourism industry.
Early this year, Balay Kogon, a native-themed double-A boutique resort opened to begin luring back travel bugs who have been to the place more than two decades ago, and attract beach bums looking for new places to get their tan.
This is the only accommodation in Sicogon that evokes an authentic island vibe, minus the madding crowd of the more popular party colonies. More often than not, you can have the pristine Buaya beach unto yourself, especially on weekdays, where you can recreate Gloria Diaz’s memorable scenes.
The 24-room property, a joint venture of a local developer and Ayala Land Inc., has a variety of comfy garden, beachfront and hilltop rooms. It is the latter, though, which has the best view where you can gaze at the sleepy shores and a fisherfolk village in the next cove.
If you’re looking for the pulsating nocturnal life of the so-called 24/7 island, Sicogon will be a disappointment because what it offers is unadulterated quiet time, a communion with the mountains and the sea, and its ultimately Almighty Creator.
Across Balay Kogon is the dome-shaped Tomaquis, an uninhabited, thickly vegetated island that you can easily paddle by kayak or walk leisurely during low tide in the morning. Also a swimming distance away is the Mulo Pulo reef, punctuated with coraline rocks, which is ideal for pictorials or lazy small talk with family and friends.
The undulating Mount Opao, which serves as the island’s spine, is a trekker’s delight that provides a commanding view of both eastern and western coasts of Sicogon.
The resort also serves as hub in hopping around the equally enchanting neighboring isles, most notably Gigantes in Carles town, which has been a social-media sensation because of its talcum sand and the Tangke saltwater lagoon formed by the jagged rocks.
A master-planned tourism estate, the resort aims to replicate the model of its sister chain El Nido Resorts, which is recognized for its environment-friendly systems and community-oriented programs.
Once fully completed, a sprawling complex will comprise the Huni Bed and Breakfast, a Seda Hotel branch, a low-density lifestyle mall with retail and dining outlets.
A dedicated airport is also in the works, which will bring guests direct to Sicogon via leisure carrier Air Swift. But for now, visitors have to take the longer and more adventurous route of an early-morning flight to Roxas City, a one-and-a-half-hour van or bus ride to Estancia from the city’s transport terminal at Pueblo de Panay in order to catch the 12 noon boat trip to Sicogon, which docks a few minutes away from Balay Kogon.
On the way back, a boat leaves Barangay San Fernando at 12 noon for the Estancia feeder port, where you can take the vehicle bound for Iloilo City, about three hours away. From here, you can take the 10:40 p.m. AirAsia flight, the last trip out of the city. You can linger a little longer to explore the idyllic city and countryside.
Even in its present state, this island in the sun is simply irresistible for the likes of Harry Belafonte and Gloria Diaz, and other jaded stylish travelers.
Image credits: Bernard L. Supetran