The island province of Guimaras, near Iloilo, is best appreciated by interisland ship from Manila (by SuperFerry formerly, now 2Go Travel).
As the ship steams around the coastal province and its numerous attractive islets, you will see beach coves, limestone cliffs profuse with foliage, rock formations, mangroves, white sand, caves and fruit-bearing trees (mango and coconut) .
Near Iloilo Port, Guimaras beguiles the traveler from an antique land with its contrast to bustling and modernizing Iloilo City, with its canopy of trees, frontier-like towns (now with growing amenities), tropical atmosphere, beaches and resorts (Guimaras Mountain Resort, Andana), Trappist Monastery and specialty farms (grape farms, wind farms and the educational eco destination Jem Home Farm).
How did Guimaras get its name? The story is that the princess Guima fell in love with a slave, Aras. This angered the king, and so the lovers escaped, but perished in a storm. These days as the wind from the sea blows stronger around the island, you will hear the voice of the king, now guilt-stricken, calling out to his beautiful daughter and her lowborn but handsome lover: “Guima… Aras!”
The province’s main product is, of course, mangoes: green (delicious with bagoong) which become yellow, ripe and succulent after three months. Mangoes, however, are sugar-laden and not recommended to those with diabetes or just borderline. But perhaps your doctor will tell you that it’s OK to partake of mangoes “once in a while.”
Every year, Guimaras has a grand Manggahan Festival. The festive event in 2019 was not only local, regional, national but also international. The theme was Guimaras mangoes “to the world,” with an eye to the mango product being exported to foreign markets and thus increase its already considerable contribution to the island’s economy.
The towns of Sibunga, Jordan (the capital) and Buenavista went all out with impressive production numbers. There were huge, movable props and colorful backgrounds which opened up, one by one, to reveal young dancers with a high level of energy. It was a veritable youth on parade and historical pageant rolled into one.
The murals and screens gave a visual history of the country, beginning with the arrival of Christianity in the country, with dancing friars and all, along with an environmental message. Some related murals were truly international, depicting the Redeemer of Latin America, Buddha, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, London Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Rising Sun of Japan, the Union Jack of England, the Leaning Tower of Piza and the Sphinx.
As one of the program hosts put it, Guimaras “is not only about mangoes but also about people, culture and food.”