The town of Concepcion, situated in northern Iloilo, is blessed with one of the most scenic seascapes in the whole province.
Forming a safe natural harbour for Concepcion Bay are 16 islands connected by azure waters and rich marine life.
According to Geraldine, Concepcion shelters only 14 (and a half, because the other is for the other town). Whichever, these islands won’t disappear on the map anyway!
Let’s get a bit into history.
The coastal portion of mainland Concepcion is an ideal and natural harbour for boats because of the string of islands that surround it. In 1872, the Spanish authorities, taking advantage of the strategic location, set-up a headquarters on an east-side hill. Later, the town became the capital of the sub-province of Northern Iloilo. Spanish galleons, Chinese junks and ships of other countries would call in to trade, make repairs and seek shelters from storms.
Near the end of World War II, a fierce naval battle between Japanese and American forces was staged in the waters of Concepcion.
In September 1944, a Japanese transport vessel and a convoy of naval boats were attacked by American air and naval forces and after four days of fighting, not one Japanese vessel remained afloat. The mast of this ship, which tried to navigate through the narrow channels of Pan de Azucar after being attacked, could be seen protruding above the water during low tide until around 1960s.
Around 7AM, mom and I went out to the town proper, ate breakfast with the early birds in town, and brought native delicacies and water as snacks for the island trip. By around 8AM, we met our tour guide and the boat operators for the day and off we went to our first island, Bulubadiangan!
As we passed by the coastline of Concepcion, we noticed the busyness of the town’s fish port, as several fishing boats disembark their fresh merchandises to the local market. Geraldine pointed out that Concepcion is amongst the towns that supply seafood and other marine goods to the people of Panay.
The boat ride to Bulubadiangan Island took us 30 minutes. Mom and I braved through the sea’s erratic waves, and the skies were even gloomy but it didn’t falter us. As we got nearer, the sun began to appear, and the waves got calmer. It was apparently a warm welcome from the island instead!
Bulubadiangan Island is known for its long white sand dune located 5 nautical miles east of Concepcion.
In this island, you find Sandbar Island Beach Resort, a privately owned 21-hectare island resort. The island is known for its shifting white sandbar that is almost reaching the other island, and it would also shift from left to right depending on the direction of the wind. There were benches and small cottages available for a whole-day stay, or you can better spend a night too since there are also nipa huts available for visitors, or you can set-up your own tents. The resort uses solar energy that only lasts until 9PM. No restaurants around, so you must bring your own food or cook the food yourself.
Mom and I ran around like little kids as we were seeking for our personal spots on the island. All you can only hear on the island are the different sounds of the waves and of exotic birds. Yes, there were exotic birds. So far, I was able to find an egret at the nearby swamp, and a couple of small black birds resting on the island trees. The sand dune was an exquisite sight, too. It looks like a hand reaching out to the other island. The island is obviously photogenic and even an amateur like me couldn’t resist its charm.
With such captivating beauty of this island, our tour guide and I were starting to get dreamy. Geraldine and the island’s owner have this informal pact; that someday, she’ll be wed here on this island, the first of its kind to happen. I told her that I have the same idea, and it could be a nice-have to be the first couple to be wed, too. So far, a few people have visited the island mainly for leisure, and for photoshoots; but no couple has ever exchanged their wedding vows on the island yet. Definitely, the first Bulubadiangan Island wedding is still up for grabs. Yay!
After two hours of stay in Sandbar, we traveled again for another 30 minutes to explore our second island, Agho!
Agho Island is one of the few uninhabited islands with extensive white sand beach area and a sprawling coral reef located 7 nautical miles northeast of Concepcion.
Geraldine claims that Bulubadiangan is a mixed breed between Camiguin and Boracay; yet as most tourists always tell her, Agho is a better version of Bora. I’d like to believe her so. Pristine blue waters, clear skies, scorching heat of the sun, refined white sand—they all define a Bora beach life, except, of course, staying in Agho is more laidback, calming and peaceful!
Time flies so quickly while you are having fun. We still had one island to see, and that’s the Pan de Azucar (or Sugar Loaf), the largest of all Concepcion islands. It is known for its enchantingly tall and steep mountain, Mt. Manaphag (one of the tallest peaks in Panay and the steepest mountains in the country); and for Tampisaw Festival, which is held in the island every third week of April. The island is also home to white-breasted hawks and a community of wild monkeys. We weren’t able to explore this island much because it was already noon, and we were so dead-hungry. A half-day trip wasn’t really enough after all, drat!
I love listening to urban legends and folklores. Here’s what I got for Concepcion.
Before we got to Bulubadiangan, Geraldine pointed an uninhabited island that is assumingly enchanted. According to her, a few people who visited this island just disappeared without a trace.
Another one, rumor has it that Agho used to shelter a marijuana plantation. It was sometime around the hippie days when a foreigner leased the island. Then townspeople began seeing sophisticated marine vessels (a submarine, how’s that?) afloat near the island. Later on, the plant was left abandoned when constabularies found it. As of date, Geraldine claims that there were still a few marijuana trees sprawling on that area in Agho.
One town legend for our pleasure, a giant named Toya used to inhabit the summit of Mt. Manaphag. Toya takes a bath in a lagoon on the summit, using for a scoop the shell of a gigantic manlot or clam. Oh, Toya, where art thou now?
Apparently, there were even more historical spots that I missed seeing in Concepcion proper and in its islands—a pearl farm, a modern maritime lighthouse, an underground Japanese garrison, a Spanish well, two Spanish canons, the historical talisay tree at the Concepcion College of Fisheries which was used by Spaniards to hang Filipinos, and Punta Bagongon where a certain Captain Yugis Mohammed Commanding of the 64th infantry assaulted Japanese soldiers in their garrison and secret barracks. These things sounded even more exciting, but we only have one day for Concepcion. And more places to visit in Iloilo!
All throughout this Concepcion’s island hopping experience, I caught mom several times exclaiming praises to God. She’s thankful for giving her a chance to see such beauty of nature. Okay, it’s too much drama to see, but knowing her, she meant what she said. It turns out, as I believe now that this vacation was meant for her more than mine. Well, that’s cool.