Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guiuan's Church and Airport, Eastern Samar

The town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar is an off the beaten travel path. Except for surfers who know its Calicoan Island as a prime surfing destination, its not on the usual tourism radar, even for Filipino travellers. But when I searched about the things we can do in Samar, it yielded a must-visit plan to Guiuan, the easternmost town in Visayas group of islands.

Due to its location, the town serves as the "doormat" for typhoons, as it sits directly on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. As expected, PAG-ASA has a monitoring station in Guiuan to track typhoons. During the rainy season, the ocean sends huge waves to the town, to the delight of surfers in Calicoan Island. 

Perhaps the same huge Pacific waves sent Ferdinand Magellan's ailing galleon ship to discover the island of Homonhon for Europe, which is also a part of Guiuan. Homonhon is that C-shaped pink island on the map below.

Aside from paving the way for the Spaniards' colonization of the country, not many people know that Guiuan played a major part in the Second World War. After Gen. MacArthur landed in Leyte to keep his promise, the Americans built their offshore largest naval supply depot in Calicoan Island. 

The late US president JFK was stationed there, along with thousands of American troops. An airport with wide and long runway was built on the town, to accommodate the large transport planes. The plane Enola Gay also stayed there, prior to receiving the H-bomb and instructions in Guam, then flew off to drop the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, Japan.

So we visited Guiuan's infamous and almost-deserted airport, except for one or two personnel. Its still operational, serving Mid-Sea Express flights from Cebu. The bigger local airlines still find it unprofitable to fly here. I took the opportunity to walk on its runway, which is something you can't do on busy airports.

Before going to the Guiuan airport, we checked the Tanghay View Lodge (+639176270226), to see if we can dine al fresco at their restaurant that has a view of the Tubabao Island. The island served as a resettlement area in 1949-1950 for 5,000 Russian Tsarists, when the communists took over Russia. I've had a hard time getting their room rates, so I will post them here, for the benefit of other travelers.

Tanghay Lodge's seaside restaurant is full when we arrived, and we don't have the time to wait at least one hour to be served with lunch food. So we transferred to the seaside eateries near the transport terminal. Total expense for 4 of us was only Php 219, on a lunch meal consisting of grouper fish, peeled sea snail in coconut milk, pork barbecues, steamed rice wrapped in puso (heart), and soda drinks. 

The sea snail (I forgot their local term) and the grouper fish are very good. The grouper fish cooked in soya sauce is very fresh with white meat, similar to the live groupers they cook in Chinese restaurants. For only Php 40 per order, it is a winner!

Later that afternoon, we visited Guiuan's Church of Immaculate Conception. Built originally in 17th century with wooden materials, it was replaced with a permanent Baroque-style stone structure in 1718 by the Jesuits. The stone belfry on its side was built in 1854 by the Franciscans.

Next to Pilar Fort in Zamboanga City, the fortressed Guiuan church was considered to be the most beautiful and better planned. The large contrafuertes or butresses provided protection against pirates or moro invaders during those ancient times. On each corner is a bulwark where previously 6 various cannons are mounted, facing the sea to meet their enemies.

Some local kids of Guiuan playing at the back of the church yard. The smallest girl on the left bugged me to take a photo of them. :)

On the facade of the church, we can see the age-old columns and stone carvings. Parishioners will be greeted by elaborately-carved hardwood doors, which continue to survive the elements after 3 centuries.

The painted ceiling bears resemblance with other old churches in Iloilo and Bohol.

It has three altars, an Augustinian and a Franciscan on each side. The main altar in the middle is a retablo or carved out of wood, as commissioned by the Jesuits.

Guiuan is a quiet and laid back second class town. Below is a photo of a resident enjoying a relaxing afternoon nap in a shaded front area of the church. :)

Before we left Guiuan, we bought some drinks and pasalubong at their tourist center.

Guiuan town can be accessed from Tacloban City by bus in 4-5 hours travel, or by 3-hour van ride which we did. Fare in the Duptours van is Php 150/person, with weak air conditioning or open windows. I suggest that travelers reserve in advance to get their preferred travel time and seat number.

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  1. What is the best time of the year to visit Guiuan?


    1. We went there last June and the weather is still fine, not raining and no typhoon. I would suggest the dry season months of March to May though, as the best period to see Guiuan.