The New Blue-Signed Tourist Trail


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, January 12, 2005 was originally posted on January 20, 2005.

DAY 452:  I caught a TV program in the suite back in Boracay about the state of tourism in the Philippines.  To sum up, the program interviewed many officers of the Ministry of Tourism with their gripes about the lack of development in the tourism industry in the Philippines.  They felt sort of embarrassed that almost every other southeast Asian nation is ahead of them, and can’t seem to figure out why.  They blamed the government, and their lack of investment into the industry, which is most likely the major factor, but I think it’s also simply because of geography; the Philippines is “out of the way” from the standard tourist routes of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  It may also be due to the fact that many people generalize all of the Philippines is dangerous, when in actuality, it is quite safe as long as you avoid the extremists-frequented areas of Mindanao in the south.

The TV program ended with a question:  What will 2005 bring to Philippine tourism?  They left the answer open with something to the effect of “We’ll wait and see.”  While tourism hasn’t developed as fast as a place like Vietnam has, it is developing nonetheless, even in the small island of Guimaras as I saw throughout the day.

THE DAY STARTED at our bungalow at Guimaras’ Alibihad Beach, a beach with crazy rock formations and different tropical flowers, where we began our way via public transportation on the island:  shared jeepneys for long distances between towns, and tricycles to get from the jeepney stop to where you want to go.  The easy transportation infrastructure is an integral part to the infrastructure of tourism.

Guimaras is really pushing for the growth of tourism on the island.  From what I saw, it appeared that the people of Guimaras suddenly woke up one day and said, “Boy, I’m hungover.  But let’s go build up tourism anyway,” and then had a meeting where they made a list of all the potential tourist attractions on the island.  I’m sure they didn’t cross anything off that list and just made anything remotely a draw for foreign tourists one of the points of interest on the map of Guimaras, as everything from old colonial churches to “the world’s smallest plaza” were designated as tourist sites with a blue sign with white lettering. 

The first tourist site that day was Macopo Falls, which was billed as a scenic swimming hole nestled in the hillside, but didn’t exactly live up to the hype as the dry season kept the falls flowing at minimum capacity.  The swimming area wasn’t nearly as nice as I had seen in a picture, so we left and moved on to the next place with a blue sign after a bowl of batchoy in the town of Jordan.

ANOTHER TRIKE RIDE LATER, we were at the Navalas Church, the oldest church on the island, constructed in 1885 by Spanish missionaries and deemed a tourist attraction with a blue sign (picture above) a little over a hundred years later.  Down the road from the old church was a place a bit more modern and luxurious, the Roca Encantada, the summer home for the rich Lopez family, also designated with a blue sign.  While the house wasn’t officially open for tourism (we snuck in the main gate), the views of the palm trees were just inspirational, an mental image to shoot for if kids stayed in school and persevered. 

Speaking of school, the education system in Guimaras knows that tourism can truly transform an economy — look at Thailand and Vietnam for example — and teaches the workings of tourism as early as elementary school.  While it may seem wrong to train children to grow up and serve foreigners at such an early age, I’m sure they teach them how to wait for the tip.

ONE OF GUIMARIAS MAIN EXPORTS is mangoes, with what they claim to be the “sweetest in the world,” thus giving the island the moniker “Mango Capital of the Philippines.”  Like churches and rich summer mansions, the mango industry has also joined the blue-signed ranks of the tourism authority, with tours of the official-looking National Mango Breeding Research Center and the Oro Verde company’s orchards.  The day before we had driven through an orchard of young trees on our “shortcut” across the island, and in just a tiny section of it, I saw there were over 4,000 trees alone — the total number of trees of Oro Verde is well over 42,000 — producing sweet mangoes, mostly for export to richer mangoly-challenged countries like Japan, Australia, and the USA. 

That afternoon we stumbled upon the big to-do in the town of San Miguel, a big food fair that took over the main plaza.  It was there that Oro Verde had a booth set up to give some of the info you just read, and to provide us with samples of their famous mangoes — or so we thought.  They had run out of fresh mangoes and only had mango-related products — jams, purees, dried snacks — but fortunately had a blender to make mango shakes from fresh frozen puree, blending sweet ripe mango puree with tart green mango puree for the ultimate mango shake experience.  Rich and thick, the shakes tied us over so we didn’t have to spurge on food from the festival.  Apparently, Tita Josie was feeling the bulge of unnecessary overeating too.

Across a booth selling handmade galleons (another big industry on the island), the Guimaras Department of Tourism had a booth set up with a promotional video playing in a loop and maps showing off all the places they designated with blue signs.  They really went all out with brochures and flyers explaining what a tourist could do on a visit there — trekking, spelunking, diving, fishing, even paintball — as the “Island that fits your taste!”  Furthermore, they made the island sound like the thing romance was built for, with their pamphlet explaining the origin of the island’s name:  “Guimaras” comes from the forbidden love between Princess Guima and a slave named Aras, who eloped and disappeared together on a raft out to sea, never to be heard from again. 

The Guimaras’ Tourism booth was one the national Philippine Ministry of Tourism would be proud of.  It’s just a matter of getting the word out to the rest of the world that tourism in Guimaras is not only alive, but safe, inexpensive, and relatively easy.  And if that’s not convincing enough, here’s a photo of the breathtaking sunrise on Alubihad Beach (Hi-Res) I took the morning after.

That TV program I saw before in Boracay ended with the question:  “What will 2005 bring to Philippine tourism?”  I don’t really have the answer to that one; I just know it involves a lot of blue signs.


Next entry: Black Baby Jesus

Previous entry: Super-Size Me

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Comments for “The New Blue-Signed Tourist Trail”

  • Macopo Falls pic is 404. So is Roca Encantada. I like the palm tree pic - nice.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  09:22 AM

  • I’m glad you took a picture of a sunrise because I NEVER get up early enough to see one!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  02:11 PM

  • haha sara… I guess your 9-5 commute isn’t as long as mine.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  03:36 PM

  • I’m REALLY digging your tropical / beachy pictures… it’s mad cold in MI right now.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  04:45 PM

  • After all the pics, who doesn’t wanna go?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  08:28 PM

  • What is “spelunking” ?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  11:12 PM

  • NOELLE:  Thanks for the QA. The pictures are up.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/21  at  08:55 AM

  • Those missing pictures are up.  Thanks NOELLE.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/21  at  08:56 AM

  • JANICE:  Spelunking = cave exploring

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/21  at  09:00 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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