I’ve always known Kalibo as the home of the vibrant Ati-Atihan Festival. The celebration, which is held in January, includes a grand street parade that features indigenous costumes, dances, and music of the Ati tribe.
When we visited in May, of course, that was nowhere to be seen. But that didn’t make us skip the town. We were curious about its other secrets, things less known to travelers who usually just make Kalibo an entry point to Boracay.
In less than a day, we explored the town with the help of Sharon and Eden from the Kalibo Tourism Office. And to make going around easy, we took the tricycle of Kuya Bernie, who happens to be the president of the Kalibo Tricycle Drivers and Guides Association (KATRIDGA). This is a group of local drivers who were trained to do tour guiding, complete with kits and refurbished tricycles, for a sustainable livelihood.
Our first stop was the 200-hectare Bakhawan Eco-Park. This mangrove forest, the most beautiful I’ve seen around the country, is the product of more than 20 years of reforestation led by the Kalibo Save the Mangrove Association (KASAMA). The main attraction at the eco-park is a one-kilometer walkway that leads to a wide stretch of mangrove plantation. It’s a leisure walk with a breathtaking scenery of muddy grounds reflecting the slender mangroves rising to the sky.
At the end of the walkway, you can have a taste of the exotic tamilok, a cylindrical mollusk that the locals harvest from decaying mangrove. The delicacy is cultured in a dedicated area. Rotting mangrove trunks are left submerged in water until they are ready for harvest. The locals crack it open with an axe, and then slowly pull out the mollusk from the wood, wash it, and soak it in coconut vinegar (tuba). Then it’s ready for eating–right there and then. It tastes like oyster, they say.
The top local product of Aklan is cloth made from a special variety of pineapple. Piña weaving has been thriving for many years and is well established in the communities around the province. To introduce us to the tedious work of transforming pineapples to cloth and end products like barong and bags, Kuya Bernie drove us to the weaving facility of La Herminia, one of the popular names in the piña weaving industry in Aklan. There, we saw large looms and workers in different stages of the weaving process.
Next stop was Tigayon Hill and Caves. Those who are fascinated by history and folklore will get excited by the place. Now popular as a pilgrimage site, Tigayon Hill is said to be a secret sanctuary of the province’s freedom fighters during the Spanish era. The caves, although closed to visitors, have been the subject of some archaeological explorations by the National Museum. Potteries and human bones excavated in the site are on exhibit at the information center. Other attractions at Tigayon is the huge balete tree and the view of the Aklan River.
Downtown, we visited the Aklan Freedom Shrine dedicated to the 19 martyrs who led the revolt against Spain. A few streets from this site is the Museo It Akean. The first floor features the work of famous Aklanons including those of Godofredo Ramos, the Father of Aklan. The second floor has artifacts like century-old flat irons, pottery, images of saints, and piña products.
Beside the museum is the Kalibo Cathedral, the home of the image of Sto Nino in whose honor the Ati-Atihan Festival is celebrated.
Finally, after the short getting-to-know of the town, our group had to wrap up the tour. We went to KUBO Garden Bar and Restaurant some 600 meters from the Provincial Capitol. This restaurant has a famous branch in Boracay and is known for sumptuous seafood and local dishes. It was a breezy place for dining. After some 10 minutes of waiting, the food paraded to our table—chicken binakol, grilled prawns, oysters, grilled fish, and pinakbet. It was the best lunch ever for that whole trip.
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