Elizabeth Gilbert had to Eat, Pray and Love her way around the world for months while I was able to do it in Iloilo in a day.
My day was a series of alternating eating and praying. First stop was to grab some local knick-knacks at the original Biscocho Haus (Lopez Jaena, Jaro). I filled my basket with a day’s worth of Broas, Barquiron and Butterscotch to munch on while I go around the city.
Biscocho Haus goodies
A few steps away is the Jaro Plaza and across it, the historical landmark Jaro Cathedral where Graciano Lopez Jaena was baptized. It is also one of the few churches in the country with a bell tower situated on a separate structure from the church. I climbed the stairs in front of the cathedral to get a good view of the belfry. Also, to solemnly pay homage to the image of the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria before lighting the candles I bought. This makes my usual ritual extra special, because I am saying my prayers with the intercession of Our Lady of Candles.
Jaro Cathedral belfry
Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria
Colors of prayers
Male saints line up Jaro Cathedral
While the inside of the Jaro Cathedral is lined up with male saints, female saints adorn the Molo Church (also known as St. Anne Parish in Molo Plaza, Molo). Inside this chuch, I was able to pray the Angelus. The last time I was able to recite this mid-day prayer properly was probably while I was still in high school. It was strange seeing tombstones of people at the bottom of the altar in this church; but unlike the eerie feeling one may get inside a cemetery, staring at the image of Sta. Ana calmed my senses. I also felt strangely empowered in a spiritual way, amidst the presence of the images of the most faithful women of the Church.
Female saints lien up the church
Lunch was at Breakthrough Seafood Restaurant (Arevalo District) with some friends who were staying in the area for work. I told them about how I was enjoying my day so far, especially with the fresh air and clean surroundings. In this restaurant, we ordered a lot of seafood! Our table was overflowing with scallops, oysters, shrimps and fish good for ten people -- while there were only five of us. Almost everything was simply steamed or grilled, yet the natural flavors tasted so delicious. I ridiculously thought to bring home some of the food, when I saw the total bill amounting only less than P1,500.
Seafood lunch at Breakthrough
There was no way I was going to leave this city without a visit to Miag-ao, even if it took almost two hours worth of jeepney ride. The ride cost me P70, that was how far it was from the city. The Simbahan ng Santo Tomas de Villanueva (popularly known as Miag-ao Church) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, and for that alone deserves my time and effort.
Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church of Miag-ao
It is a massive beauty, towering over the very simple provincial landscape around it. Usually such structures are so daunting that the awe comes from its scale -- maybe that's really the point. After all, one characteristic of these churches is the way they were built as a fortress during war times. But during peace, it emanates a certain welcoming warmth.
Stepping into the church grounds, you immediately feel the spiritual embrace. I could (and wanted to) stay there for hours. There were people working quietly on the side door, and then rain started to pour heavily outside. Right at the pews where a couple of us knelt down is an undisturbed stillness. I could never get that kind of thing in the city. Knowing that it will be another two hours to get back to the city and that I had a flight to catch, I bow at the altar and thanked the heavens for this wonderful day before I embarked on a long, rainy ride.
Miag-ao in detail
The altar of Miag-ao Church
Before catching the shuttle to the airport, I had to do one more thing – eat La Paz Batchoy at Ted’s Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy. That one bowl of special authentic batchoy was the perfect meal to warm my tummy and to end my journey.
La Paz Batchoy
And for the 'Love' part of my journey? I apologize if you expected something romantic. But what I felt that evening, sitting on the airport while waiting for my plane, was love for my country. After tasting all those food and admiring all those beautiful churches, I felt a renewed love for life.