Tacloban is not just another city in Eastern Visayas. It is the Visayas Island’s gateway to Luzon and Mindanao and is therefore a vital link between two prime destinations.
Travel time by plane from Manila is one hour, 10 minutes.
“We have three daily flights to Cebu (Manila to Tacloban flights, via three airlines, occur 12 times a day),” Tacloban City mayor Alfred Romualdez explains.
He adds,“ You can cross just one ferry and be in Mindanao the same day.”
So what's in for a Leyte tourist? Read on.
Sto. Nino Shrine
This testament to the Marcoses’ glory days still leaves visitors in awe.
Just be ready to remove your footwear and exchange them for rubber slippers once you step inside. The Marcoses’ former vacation house, which has a floor area of 5,000 sq.m. has 21 bedrooms, some of which represent regions of the country.
The Palawan room, for instance, features a collection of mother of pearls. The Bicol room carries an abaca motif, abaca being the prime produce in Bicolandia.
The second floor ballroom has a wall-to-wall carving of Malakas at Maganda. Elsewhere, huge porcelain Ming jars, Imelda’s antique religious collections, Russian icons, chandeliers from Vienna, Australia, Malang paintings and other signs of wealth abound.
The bedrooms of the Marcos couple and their children, Imee, BongBong, Irene and Aimee, have brass beds from England. Bongbong’s bedroom has a divider with his collection of paper bills displayed on them. Imelda has the biggest bathroom and little Aimee’s room has two beds – one for her, another for her nanny.
San Juanico Bridge
The S-shaped bridge, the longest in the Philippines, is an engineering marvel. Spanning 2.16 kilometers, the bridge connects Samar and Leyte and offers a breathtaking view of islands sparkling under the sun and a carpet of deep blue sea below.
The bridge’s contribution to Tacloban’s progress was one of the highlights of the Parade of Lights that capped the city’s recent celebration of the Sangyaw Festival.
The Leyte Landing Memorial
Travel back in time to WWII, when American liberation forces led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in Red Beach, in the town of Palo. Pose beside giant figures of MacArthur and his men and wade in the ankle-deep waters that symbolize the beach where he made the famous promise, “I shall return!”
Cristina’s Women’s Shelter
This two-story residence city councilor Criistina Gonzales-Romualdez put up for abused and exploited girls, is a halfway house for troubled souls aged two months to 17 years old. A 15-year-old special child whose seventy something `guardian’ raped her managed to smile as Robbie Pangilinan, our friend, gave her and her friends stuffed toys from Manila.
Grade school pupils study at the nearby Remedios Trinidad Elementary School while older ones go through an alternative learning system, where they are taught the basics.
No trip to Tacloban is complete if you don’t try the succulent lechon, binagol (sweetened taro pudding), moron (suman made of ground rice cooked in coconut milk) and sagmani (suman made of cassava, gabi or sweet potatoes).
The new fiesta
There is also something new to look forward to in Tacloban: the Sangwayan festival.
Late June, Magsaysay Boulevard housed the first Sangyaw Festival Parade of Lights. Twenty floats carrying symbols of Tacloban’s past and present – a galleon with the image of the city’s patron saint, the miraculous Sto. Nino, a WWII military tank, the San Juanico Bridge, flowers, the butanding and a big white swan that stood for the place’s transformation, filed past cheering crowds.
The couple is reaching out to young people by swapping sweltering noontime parades with cool evening processions of floats with brightly-lit fleets that make you take a second look.
“We are doing something for the younger generation, for them to be involved,” says Alfred. “Previous parades depicted cultures of 100, 200 and 300 years ago. But they do not touch on what it is today. So we are showing things the more modern way.”
The more modern way means seeing a float that trumpets Tacloban’s progress in big, multi-colored bulbs shaped to form the letters HUC (for Highly-Urbanized City). Tacloban reached this stage in 2008, when it broke free from Leyte’s political jurisdiction and won financial autonomy.