Have you ever been in a situation where totally unknown strangers not only saved a potentially disastrous trip but made your unplanned stay a superb experience? We did, and it was totally awesome! It made us realize that in the world of traveling and adventure, misfortunes are sometimes gateways to unexpected moments of luck. But more importantly, this impromptu episode made us realize that there are so many humble and genuine people who are ready to lend a helping hand without promises of money or favors.
For several months, our adventurer friend Halourd, Sheila and I have been gearing up to attempt one of the most challenging adventures in our bucket list—to climb the imposing Mt. Guiting-guiting in the remote island of Sibuyan. Normally, the standard route was to take a bus in Manila to Batangas. Then from Batangas, a ferry will take climbers to Sibuyan Island. But coming from Cebu, taking the standard route would be prohibitively expensive and time-inefficient for us. As such, we researched on an alternative route that took us to Roxas City in the province of Capiz. From there, we can ride a pump boat to Sibuyan Island.
Uh-oh! This trip started with a small misfortune. When we checked in at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, the CSR told us that our flight would be delayed for a couple of hours. But what immediately followed was a whoopee! The CSR apologized for the delay and gave us a free one-way domestic flight each!
We departed from Cebu at around 7PM and exited Kalibo Airport close to 8PM. It was here when we learned that we were in another uh-oh situation. There were no more van trips to Roxas City at this time and there were no direct bus trips from Kalibo to Roxas City. We were quite concerned because, according to our itinerary, we have to be in Roxas City at sunrise to catch a 7AM boat to Sibuyan Island.
We were left with no choice but to sleep uncomfortably in the bus terminal to wait for a 2AM bus to Ilo-ilo. Deprived of a full night’s rest, we rode the bus and took a jeepney bound for Roxas City in a town called Sigma. We finally arrived at the pier at around 5AM and had a light breakfast of coffee and bread to energize ourselves from a sleepless night.
Despite our grogginess, we were excited to get this adventure underway. But that excitement was shattered to a thousand pieces. It turned out the pump boat we were supposed to ride—and the only boat that goes to Sibuyan Island from Roxas City on that day—was undergoing repair! Oh, no!
We considered our options. We can ride a ferry bound for Romblon, but that will waste a day of our itinerary. We can hire a private pump boat, but it would be very expensive and unsafe (colorum pump boats avoid Coast Guard inspections). If we can’t get to Sibuyan Island on that day, our Manila-based team-mates, who are already in the island, will climb Mt. Guiting-guiting without us.
It was in this most desperate hour when we met Ate Ville, a quiet, kind lady who, like us, was bound for Sibuyan Island. She helped us consider our options and even accompanied Sweetie to the stricken pump boat docked a few miles away from the port to talk to the Captain. Knowing that we could never get to Sibuyan Island that day and a stay in Roxas City was never a part of our itinerary and budget, Ate Ville suggested we come with her so we can stay in a relative’s house.
It was at this moment when our totally unexpected, unplanned, and absolutely awesome tour around Roxas City began.
First, Ate Ville took us to her cousin’s house. Ma’am Rucel welcomed us with open arms. The two ladies, knowing how exhausted we were, brought us to an all-you-can-eat restaurant owned by Rucel’s friend, Ruel. We had a very filling and delicious lunch at the Asis Garden Palace.
Oh, and do you know that we didn’t spend a cent on this grand meal? That is true hospitality!
Who would have thought that the complimentary wonderful meal was just the beginning of our one-of-a-kind experience? The Good Samaritans then showed us to a guest room at the second floor of the Garden Palace. The guest room is fully air-conditioned, has its own toilet and bath, and has two queen-sized, soft beds with clean sheets! In other words, we stayed in a hotel-standard room—free of charge!
Ate Ville and Ma’am Rucel promised to give us a tour around Roxas City in the afternoon. They let us nap for an hour or two. Sweetie’s alarm beeped at 3PM, which meant that we only had two hours of sleep. While waiting for the two ladies, Halourd and I fell asleep on the couch outside our room.
Santa Monica Church
We started our impromptu tour at the Santa Monica Church, or the Church of Panay. It was constructed in 1774 through the order of Fr. Miguel Murgia. Damaged during a typhoon, it was reconstructed in 1884 under the direction of Fr. Jose Beloso. The Santa Monica Church is considered a National Historical Landmark by virtue of NHI Resolution No. 3 S 1997.
This church has something very special in it, as we shall soon see.
Like many Spanish era churches, the entirety of Santa Monica Church is made of coral stone blocks that are piled upon each other. The blocks are held together by mortar made from clay and egg whites.
With no internal foundations, the church, although strong, can topple down on a strong earthquake. We hope the LGU or any other cultural heritage preservation group will reinforce the church with cables and modern foundation.
We can’t help but admire the artistry of our forefathers. Look at just how this image and the alcove that contains it were carved in solid limestone blocks.
Beside the church is this old Spanish-era convent which doubles up as a museum. Look at the sliding wooden windows which are reminiscent of old Spanish-style houses. The panes are made of translucent capiz shells.
The interior of the Santa Monica Church is beautiful in its simplicity. The chandeliers and base reliefs, we learned, are around a hundred years old. However, because the interior walls are coated with modern cement, the interior is uncomfortably warm. In the old days when there was no interior wall finishing, the cool air would flow into the church through the coral stones’ holes and pores.
Awhile later, a bellman approached us and accompanied us to the belfry to see this church’s treasure. Along the way, we could see relics of the past such as one of the church’s original ironwood pillars and a non-functioning clock mechanism.
Behold the Panay Bell, Sta. Monica Church’s treasure! It is the biggest and heaviest Christian bell in Asia. According to our guide (who comes from a whole generation of church bell ringers in the community), the bell, which was cast in 1878 , is molded from 70 sacks of copper coins. The greenish patches on the bell is actually the color of oxidation (rust) on copper.
Just check out how big it is from the photo below. The bell is 7 feet in height and 5 feet in diameter. It weighs a humongous 10.4 tons. When struck, it emits a sound that can be heard miles away.
The Panay Bell (at the left of the photo below) is not the only bell in the belfry. Indeed, there are about half a dozen bells on top of the tower. We later learned that each bell—and each way of ringing it—serves a different community announcement. There are specific bells and a series of rings to announce marriages, town alarms, mass calls, VIP arrivals, prayer reminders, and more.
On a side note, I mistakenly rang a bell—loudly, I might add—that announces someone died.
From the top of the belfry, we could see the original roof of the church, which is made of clay tiles.
Ang Panubli-on, Roxas City Museum
After visiting the Santa Monica Church, we headed back downtown. We arrived at the Roxas City Museum close to 5PM, and the museum was about to close. After a short plea, the kind curator let us in as the last visitors of the day.
The museum, although small, is rich with historical and cultural relics, from pre-Spanish era to the early 1970s. Many of the relics are donated by collectors, politicians, and old clans.
(Photo credit: Halourd)
Also displayed are various memorabilia of the Roxas family, a prominent family name in national politics.
Various traditional swords and edged weapons used by our ancestors are carefully preserved and displayed here. It’s difficult to imagine that our ancestors used these primitive weapons to defend our country against the guns and cannons of the Spanish, American, and Japanese conquerors.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine
After our visit at the museum, we headed to Pueblo de Panay, a new commercial park that houses several restaurants, hotels and other businesses. At the edge of the park is a tall hill that overlooks the entire district and Roxas City. After driving on a dirt road that snakes at the side of the hill, we arrived at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine, a popular viewing deck and a pilgrimage center.
The shrine’s centerpiece is the 130-foot statue of Jesus Christ, which is probably the tallest Christ statue in the country. An open-air church is constructed in front of the image.
But for us, nature lovers, the best part of this shrine is the encompassing vista it offers. The hill makes a perfect vantage point where we can see the city of Roxas, the hills and farms around it, the bay in front of the city, and the surrounding islands.
We dropped by Ma’am Rucel’s place because she needed to get something. Then we proceeded to our last stop–at the Baywalk, a row of seafood restaurants at the shore of Roxas City, where we ate a mouth-watering dinner. And yes, this was another free treat courtesy of Ate Ville and Ma’am Rucel.
We ordered a variety of seafood dishes, but our favorite was this hot and spicy tinolang isda and angel wings (jackknife clams). Oh, and here’s another surprise. Someone else’s order, a large grilled fish, was served to our table without us noticing it!
We came back to our comfortable hotel room extremely happy and full over the day’s events. Despite our exhaustion, it took us an hour before sleep overtook us; we were trying to comprehend the totally unexpected events that unfolded that day.
But the surprise didn’t end there. Early the next morning, Sir Ruel prepared a warm all-you-can-eat breakfast for us. Then Ma’am Rucel’s husband drove us back to the pier where our pump boat for Sibuyan Island was waiting for us.
No amount of thank yous could express our gratitude to Ate Ville, Ma’am Rucel, and Sir Ruel (not in the photo). They certainly made what was supposed to be a costly and time-wasting day of being stranded in a far-off city a very productive and fun one. They fed us, ensured that we were well rested, and toured us around their beautiful city. Their generosity and hospitality are beyond compare.
Even now, Sweetie, Halourd, and I couldn’t fathom the good fortune that befell on us. No amount of premonition could have made us expect that we would encounter total strangers who would help us in our time of need. That much-needed help came without us spending a penny. Instead, what was exchanged between us were love, laughter, and lasting friendship. This experience made us realize that within the chaotic, distrustful world, there are a lot of kindhearted strangers who are always ready to answer the basic human instinct to help other humans in need.
Ate Ville, Ma’am Rucel, and Sir Ruel, we will never forget what you did for us. You will always have a special place in our heart.
Getting to Roxas City
Update (as of November 3, 2016)
Effective November 19, 2016, Cebu Pacific will have daily flights from Cebu to Roxas City. This is the best way for Visayan and Mindanao travelers.
Option 1: Take a flight from Manila to Roxas City. Obviously, this is the shortest and most direct path for travelers from Luzon.
Option 2: Take a bus from Ilo-ilo that goes directly to Roxas City. This is the most direct trip for Visayas and Mindanao travelers whose flights and boat trips arrive at Ilo-ilo. We reckon the fare to be around P 150 and up.
Option 3: Take a van that goes directly to Roxas City from Kalibo. This is the most direct trip for Visayas and Mindanao travelers whose flights arrive at Kalibo airport. Fare is around P 120. Take note that the last trip is at 7 PM. First trip is around 4 AM.
Option 4: This is the long way in case you miss the last van like we did. At Kalibo’s Ceres bus terminal, take a bus that goes to Sigma. From Sigma, ride a jeepney to Roxas City.
We took an extra tricycle ride to reach Culasi port since we plan to go to Sibuyan Island for our Mt. Guiting-guiting climb. Climbers and adventurers bound for Sibuyan Island who are following our itinerary may factor in the tricycle fare in their budget.
For Option 4, here are the pertinent fares*:
- P 100 per tricycle – Airport to Ceres Bus Terminal
- P 87 per person – Bus (non-airconditioned) fare to Sigma
- P 30 per person – jeepney fare to Roxas City
- P 80 per tricycle – Roxas City to Culasi port
*Rates are subject to change without prior notice.
Since our unexpected trip was sponsored by kind people, we cannot give you precise DIY pointers for a tour around Roxas City. But we’ll try to be as helpful as we can with the limited information we have.
1. Standard tricycle fare around the city applies at P 7. For farther destinations (like Sta. Monica Church) or longer trips, however, you may want to hire one for the entire trip. Benchmark fare for tricycle rental would be around P500 to P1,000.
2. There are only a few taxis in the city. Locals usually go around by tricycle.
3. Be wary of tricycle drivers who charge you more than they should. Your best defense against them is to ask locals such as vendors, policemen, and security guards for the right fare.
4. Roxas City is a highly urbanized city, so hotels, shops, restaurants, and other modern conveniences are not far away.
5. For more information about Roxas City and its attractions, please visit the Roxas City LGU site.