February 14, 2014

Travel Bites - Marinduque: Heart of the Philippines

THE heart-shaped island of Marinduque comes to mind whenever Holy Week approaches.
The destination is most famous for the colorful Moriones Festival, where locals—usually farmers and fishermen—wear painted masks (moriones or moryones) and don elaborate Roman centurion costumes of their own crafting, in a re-enactment of the search for the centurion Longinus. (According to Biblical lore, Longinus, who pierced the side of the crucified Christ with his spear, converted to Christianity after Christ’s blood dropped on his blind eye and restored his sight. The centurion was later caught and beheaded.)
 Marinduqueños participate in the annual festival as a form of panata or religious devotion, in exchange for divine favors. This year the festival will be held from March 25 (Holy Monday) to March 31 (Easter) and will feature several parades of the moriones, culminating in the chase and beheading of  Longinus at Easter.
(The Moriones Festival is the most popular fiesta in Marinduque. It depicts the search for the centurion Longinus, and is held during the Holy Week. Photo from http://www.visitmarinduque.com)
During the week, other Lenten traditions are also practiced and staged such as  the senakulo(play depicting the life and sufferings of the Christ Jesus), pabasa (singing/chanting of a narrative on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ), and the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross).
Those planning to travel to Marinduque to enjoy the festival should book their flights and accommodations this early as most Marinduqueños go home in droves for their first long vacation of the year.
The rest of the year, Marinduque offers a quiet respite from the daily hassles of modern, urban living. Although quite accessible from Manila by air and water, the island has not yet lost its rustic charm with the locals known as among the friendliest, and always eager to lend tourists a helping hand.
In 2010 the international broadcasting network CNN named the island as among “the next-gen [generation] Asian tourist spots,” highlighting the opening of the luxurious Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa and local-government efforts to elevate the province’s profile in the international tourism arena.
Other than the pleasures that the resort promises, Marinduque also offers serene white beaches, a diverse marine life and hot springs still veritably untouched by the tourist hordes.
TRAVEL back in history. Travel blogger Ivan Henares was first to have noted the potential of Marinduque’s capital, Boac, as a heritage town, in similar fashion as Vigan, Ilocos Sur or Carcar, Cebu.
In downtown Boac, there are still quite a number of ancestral homes designed in the bahay na bato style, combining wood and stone and are usually two-story affairs. Many of these houses are still well-preserved, with the sliding windows, for instance, still retaining their capiz shells inlay, and with the ventanillas at the bottom in intricate grillwork or short wooden posts.
Most of the homes now use the ground floor for commercial uses, while the upper floor consists of the living area of the homeowner’s family. So far, Casa Narvasa is the only ancestral home in Boac that has been declared by the National Historical Institute as a heritage house.
The Boac Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) is another historical landmark that harks back to the Spanish era. Built in 1756, the fortress-church with its red-bricked façade and ornate retablo was often used as sanctuary from marauding pirates of the time.
The Boac branch of the National Museum features old agricultural tools, ancient pottery, stoneware and ceramics from the 10th century. The museum itself is housed in an old Spanish building that was also used as a garrison during the Japanese Occupation.
A VIEW of Mount Malindig, an active volcano and the highest point in Marinduque, from a seaside villa at Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa. (Photo copyright Stella Arnaldo)
White beach. The 1-kilometer Poctoy’s white beach near the town of Torrijos has fine white sand and crystal-clear waters. There are quite a few resorts in the area offering basic accommodations and amenities. Swimming and snorkeling are the common activities there.
To your health. Mount Malindig, the highest mountain in Marinduque and which is also an active volcano, feeds the Malbog Sulfur Springs and Marinduque Hot Springs Resort in Sitio Mainit. The hot springs are reputed to be therapeutic, helping ease hypertension, salving skin ailments and eliminating toxins from the body.
The hot springs flow into pools with both establishments offering visitors on-site accommodations.
HIKING. Located in Barangay Sihi in the town of Buenavista, Mount Malindig is considered an easy climb for regular mountain trekkers. At 1,157 meters above sea level, the climb to the summit takes about one to two days depending on the pace of the climber.
At the peak of this still-active volcano, one gets panoramic views of the province’s surroundings like the nearby Tres Reyes Islands, named after the Three Kings (Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar) who visited the infant child Jesus.
Spelunking. The Bagumbungan River Cave (or San Isidro Cave) is a local popular destination in Barangay San Isidro, Santa Cruz. Considered a delicate fragile geological formation, exploration permits have to be secured from the municipal office and local barangay, which have joined forces with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in conducting educational tours.
Other caves worth exploring are the Bitik and Tarug Caves in Santa Cruz and Mogpog, respectively, and Bathala Caves also in SantaCruz that consists of eight different caves. Local guides are available to help visitors explore the areas.
Snorkeling/diving. Not quite as popular as Tubbataha Reef in Palawan or Anilao in Batangas, Marinduque also offers a tremendous wealth of marine life and World War II shipwrecks. Banton Island is home to barracuda, sharks and numerous pelagic fishes, while ship wrecks dot the surrounding waters of the Maestre de Campo Island.
Where to stay
BELLAROCCA Island Resort and Spa offers guests luxurious accommodations with a Santorini theme. There are villas and a hotel that gives guests awesome views of Mount Malindig or the sea. Villas have their own plunge pools, while the hotel has its lap pool. Staff are excellent, accommodating the requests of guests. (For inquiries, click http://www.bellaroccaresorts.com/)
Chateau Du Mer Beach Resort (Barangay Amoingan, Boac) is a two-story beach house facing the Amoingan Coast, where guests are able to bask in the setting sun from a view deck.
With only two bedrooms, the property offers guests privacy and can accommodate up to six persons. It is great for small families and barkada outings. Maid service is available during the day, while management can arrange for massage services and diving trips for the guests. (For bookings, call 042-332-1338 or 042-332-1754.)
Getting there: ZestAir flies to Marinduque daily (the flight takes 45 minutes), while there are six Roro trips daily offered by the Montenegro and Starhorse Shipping service at the  Lucena Port (Talao-talao)-Balanacan and Cawit Ports in Marinduque. The Roro can accommodate vehicles of visitors.
There are daily outrigger boat trips between Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro, to Gasan, Marinduque, which take about four hours, as well as two-hour boat trips between Buyabod Port in Santa Cruz and General Luna, Quezon.
For more on Marinduque, check out http://www.visitmarinduque.com/
(This piece was published on Jan. 21, 2013 in the BusinessMirror.)

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