Tuesday, July 14, 2015

7th Lechon Festival in Balasan

photo by Bombette G. Marin

Take one friendly town, combine with an enviable food culture, mix in passionate local producers and an array of exciting attractions and what do you get – Balasan’s Lechon Festival of course!

When it comes to lechon, there is no place in Iloilo that takes it as seriously as the folks in Balasan. Lechon Festival is a celebration of food, culture and community, making it truly one of Iloilo's most unique festivals. For the last seven years, the festival has fostered cooperation between the barangay officials and the residents.

As a kick-off to their Religious Fiesta celebration in honor of their patron Sta. Ana, every 24th of July, residents of this town gather on the main street fronting the municipal hall to share a sumptuous feast, the culinary centerpiece is the most revered of all Filipino food, the mouth-watering and flavourful lechon or roast suckling pig.

The lechons are prepared authentically Balasan by cooks who grew up roasting and eating it on this town. As early as 3 a.m. the cooks are already preparing the lechon. The pig is placed on a spit, innards removed, on a large stick and cooking it in a roasting pit filled with charcoal. It is roasted while continuously wiping its skin with brush made of banana leaves with oil and milk. This procedure makes the skin crispy, and repeatedly roasting it over the heat for at least 5 hours until they turn a crispy, red-golden brown.

The entire day creates an aromatic atmosphere that hangs over the festival, leaving a taste you will never forget.

The highlight of this theme-based festival is a mischievous merriment through a no-holds-barred boodle fight open to everybody. By the time the boodle fight starts at noon, the skin will be crispy, with some fat and super tender roast meat. The sumptuous buffet features a whole pig on display. People just sidle up to the table and pluck off whatever they want. When lunch is over, there is nothing but a few bones. Boodle feast bring the community even closer together.

Lechon is an all-time favourite Filipino fiesta staple especially during celebrations. It is a popular cuisine in Spanish speaking countries. It is said to have originated from Spain where it is prepared throughout the year for any special occasion, during festivals, and the holidays.

Aside from lechon, Balasan is also known for its Bibingka, a native Philippine delicacy made of rice flour, eggs, grated coconut and sugar. The RCJ Special Bibingka made in Balasan is known by many to be the best ever in Iloilo.

The people of Balasan, headed by their ever-supportive tourism oriented Municipal Mayor, Hon. Filomeno V. Ganzon is inviting everyone to come and take part as they celebrate their 7th Lechon Festival.

Balasan is a fourth class municipality in the province of Iloilo 134 kilometers north-east from Iloilo City. It is politically subdivided into 23 barangays distributed to its 4,100 hectare land area.
To get there is a two-hour and a half bus or van trip from Northern Iloilo Public Transport Terminal in Barangay Tagbak, Jaro, Iloilo City.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bulabog Puti-an National Park: Iloilo’s Largest Breathing Space

photo by Bombette G. Marin

Bulabog Puti-an National Park in barangay Moroboro, Dingle, Iloilo is the only National Park in Panay. Measuring 847.33 hectares, the park covers the barangays of Lincud, Moroboro, Camambugan, Caguyuman, Tulatula-an in Dingle and the barangays of Lip-ac, Palje, Compo, Rumagayray in San Enrique. It was designated as a National Park in June 14, 1961 through Congressional Bill No. 1651 and such is considered a "nationally significant area.”

The park is an area of protected countryside that everyone can visit, explore, enjoy the landscape and learn about the wildlife in the area. The centerpiece is the Bulabog Putian mountains with its Puti-an Peak measuring 322 meters, the highest in central Iloilo. It was named as such for its most distinguishing feature, its white stone wall that is still visible even when one is in neighboring Passi City.

photo by Bombette G. Marin

There is no question about it. It is no stroll through the park. Its rainforest trail is a pure sensory overload, thrilling and enlightening. For the adventurous in spirit who are willing to work for it, the real magic lie in its 33 caves, although only six are recommended for exploration to visitors in the park. It will certainly be a classic bucket list adventure when in Iloilo.

photo by Bombette G. Marin

Being unprepared can have disastrous results. However, when have the right gear and know what to expect, it can be one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of your life. Currently, the park is managed by DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) headed by a Protected Area Superintendent, Forester Abordo with five (5) DOT trained and accredited cave guides.

photo by Bombette G. Marin
Along the trail of coral rocks, visitors will take in mesmerizing scenery as they pass through century old trees of narra and molave that towers above you on both sides. The centrepiece is the 130 year-old Dao tree, a native tree that reaches 40 meters high and 90 centimeters in diameter at breast height. Dao trees occur primarily in forest at low altitude in areas with high rainfall. Its wood is used in light construction like bancas, rafters, and furniture.

The trail will lead one to its most prominent cave, the Maestranza where an amazing heritage experience awaits every visitor. A Spanish word for Garrison, Maestranza is famous for its coral rock with Spanish inscription believed to have been written by a guerrilla during the Spanish-American War. The Spanish inscription translated in English reads, “The Republicans were to die before surrendering. Local history would tell us that during the revolution against Spain, Dingle staged the first armed uprising in the Province of Iloilo in Barrio Lincud on October 28, 1898 with local hero Adriano Hernandez as its brigadier general.

photo by Bombette G. Marin

The park also plays a crucial role in the survival of many plants and animal species, and supports large numbers of bats.

Following the rules and regulations inside the park is a small effort for every visitor with a big result for this protected landscape. Visitors are expected to log in at the receiving area where they are oriented about the do’s and don’ts inside the park. Visitors must wear comfortable clothes, preferably t-shirts and jogging pants. One must wear rubber shoes. Be sure to have a face towel. Before the trek, apply insect repellants. During rainy season the trail gets slippery that might cause accidents. It is advisable to carry a long and sturdy stick for support. A minimal entrance fee of P15.00 is charged for local visitors, while foreign guests pay for P100.00. Helmets are required when exploring the cave with a rental fee of P10.00. Visitors are required to have a guide for a fee of P200.00. By observing these guidelines, we make sure that the future generations will enjoy the same beautiful scenery we can today.

photo by Bombette G. Marin

The municipality of Dingle is 37 kilometers away from Iloilo City. It is bounded in the northeast by Anilao; northwest by San Enrique; southeast by Pototan and Barotac Nuevo; and southwest by Duenas. It is subdivided by 33 barangays distributed around its 7,750 hectare land area.

To get to the town, a jeepney or van is available at the Northern Central Iloilo Transport Terminal, Inc. in Barangay Tagbak, Jaro, Iloilo City. For more information, please contact, Forester Abordo, Protected Area Superintendent at 09173536864 or Mr. Dane Dizon – Municipal Tourism Officer at 09477424341.

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