Iloilo City, Philippines. It is a growing city south of Manila that is full of ambition, progress, and dreams.
Iloilo can be reached by plane in under an hour from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. You can also reach it by boat though this is an obsolete and seemingly outdated way of traveling to and from Manila). The city now boasts big hotels such as Injap Tower (across SM City Mall), Seda (in the Atria area near Smallville), and Richmond Hotel (in the Megaworld section of the city). It is an investment that yields tremendous returns both for the city and the investors.
However, despite the progressiveness of the city, it continues to struggle with the congestion of cars, taxis, and jeepneys (local and public form of transportation). On top of that, traffic was ridiculously disorganized, with everyone wanting to be first. Although there are a few and scattered traffic lights around busy intersections, the people were set in their ways and hardly observe the significance of red-yellow-green. While I didn't particularly observe if the traffic lights were working, the amount of vehicles on the street at any given time was overwhelming. It is the culture and the way of Iloilo, which is surprising that fender benders were absent during the time of my visit. The use of horns to signal perhaps, "I am here first", seem to be a normal occurrence. This type of "me first attitude" was also apparent while waiting in line in public toilets (or Comfort Rooms as they are called) or when in line to speak with someone, such as, in a hotel lobby. Now, I'm not saying that the people were rude; it's just the way they were accustomed to getting in the front of the line. So, consider warned and adjust to it.
Ilonggo is the term used to refer to the people, dialect, and the food. Ilonggo food is full of flavors and love. It doesn't matter where you get the food (and I'm only talking about the cooked meals), it seem to exude the heart of the person making it. Similarly, the Ilonggo people are respectful and kind. They demonstrate good customer service (in public establishments) and want to please you all the time.
As you stroll the streets, pay attention to the sights and sounds. Your cell phone or Facebook/Instagram post can wait. It is only when you intentionally pause that you will find appreciation of your life and the life of the people in Iloilo. Poverty is apparent, but only if you are looking. It might be masked by the big hotels and big buildings housing stores for shopping, or the abundance of coffee shops serving delicious treats, or the inordinate amount of time people spend on their devices. Go out of your comfort zone and the pleasantness and safety of your hotel. Go where people really work to earn their pesos. It is in the streets that you will find the true reason why education is the number 1 priority in the city. Everyone goes to school because it is in the education that you can lift yourself and your family from nothing to something.
You can find street food anywhere in the city. Examples of these are bingka, fishball, peanuts, banana q, and balut. They are the best when cooked in front of you.
There's a number of churches around the city. The Philippines is 99% Roman Catholic and if you pay attention you might witness people making the sign of the cross as they pass by a church. It is the way of life. Pictured below is the church in Molo and street food in the plaza.
A few restaurants worth noting include Ponsyon by Breakthrough in Plazuela, Kamalig in Atria, Punot in Atria, Breakthrough (beach location), Tatoy's (beach location), and Deco's or Ted's (famous for their batchoy). Picture of batchoy below from Deco's.
For coffee, try Bo's Coffee or Madge Coffee in Atria. Pair your coffee with ensaymada (a sweet brioche type bread with cheese and butter) from the Granery in Richmond Hotel. It is delicious! While at Richmond, ask to sit poolside and check out the view and their amazing pool.
So, there's Iloilo City promising me each time that life is progressing. Maybe I'll visit the city again. Until then, I will dream of another undiscovered place.