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Secret Sicogon

CONQUERING MOUNT OPAO! Had to get this shot with my trusty walking stick. That’s Cebu’s Banatayan Island in the distance.

On a visit to Penang’s legendary Blue Mansion, I learned that this is the luckiest position to be in as far as feng shui is concerned. Despite its magical
reference, and as all things in Chinese geomancy, it is rooted in practicality. And as our speedboat banks to the right as it approaches Sicogon, one can see clearly why this 1,000-hectare island in Iloilo is in a fortuitous position.

GISING GISING, a dish made from green beans with pork in coconut milk, spiced up with chilies, garlic and onions with a bit of shrimp paste.

To lie on the dragon’s back simply means having the mountains behind you for protection, and the ocean in front for abundance. The island’s highest peak is visible as we slide into cerulean waters, right behind Huni Sicogon, the 52-room resort developed by Ayala Land and  the Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO) in this sprawling tourism estate. Mt. Opao’s namesake bare rock summit is 1,200 meters above sea level, and
faces one of the richest fishing grounds in the country in what is called the “Navel of the Philippines”, with Cebu’s Bantayan  Island in the distance, and a group of islands that form the shape of a sleeping giant, Islas de Gigantes.

Although the trip to this grouping just 30 minutes by boat across Sicogon is de rigeur for the iconic Cabugao Island selfie with the entire island

TURON with a unique twist, it was stuffed with shredded coconut instead of bananas or langka.

behind you from atop an observation deck (thus earning it the nickname Selfie Island, and feautured on this issue’s cover), and a dip into Tangke, a saltwater lagoon that magically rises on the feast of Saint John the Baptist, and the 1-peso scallops (yes, SIDECO’s Dave Sarrosa, ordered several bushels!) on Antonia Beach, the biggest surprise was on Sicogon Island itself.

Our second day started at the crack of dawn to trek up Mt. Opao, armed with a bamboo walking stick that made all the difference in the leisurely 1-hour climb. Despite the bare summit, the trail is a virtual botany lesson come to life. Our guide fed us berries en route, picking the tart-sweet fruit from the plant. “Litik litik” turned out to be Indian rhododendron, which gave way to fields of a mussaenda species with their distinct color-changing modified leaves or bracts (my grandmother has one named after her, the Mussaenda Clara Davide!), an army of industrious ants tending to the forest detritus, and vines of the carnivorous pitcher plants as we approached the peak.

By the time we reached the summit and the 360-degree view of the island and a peek into Northern Iloilo, even as far as Northern Cebu, we had developed a deeper respect for the land on which we stood.

CHICKEN INASAL had to be on the menu, after all it is an Ilonggo
classic!

“Liv Lo scaled it in 30 minutes, that’s a new record,” we were informed by Resort Manager Bayon Abescola, hurtling us back to the ground as our feat
paled in comparison to the TV presenter and yoga instructor, and more famously Crazy

Rich Asian’s lead actor Henry Golding’s wife, who climbed Opao a day after us.

Which leaves me with only one more record to break: in 1974, when Sicogon was the favorite playground of Hollywood’s elite, 1969 Miss Universe Gloria Diaz shot the iconic film Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (The Most Beautiful Animal on Earth) on this same beach, leaving an iconic image of her astride a horse wearing the flimsiest white dress.

I’m thinking bigger horse. Or flimsier dress.
(Visit Huni Sicogon by clicking www.hunisresorts.com )

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