[PH Travel] Romblon: Heritage haven

Fung Yu
Traveler Fung Yu writes about the second time he visits Romblon — and it still isn't enough

NATIONAL TREASURE. St. Joseph Cathedral and bell tower. Photo by Fung Yu

MANILA, Philippines – The roosters here have no sense of time.

I was jotted awake at 4 AM by one cock crow, which quickly became a chain reaction as the rest of the birds followed, as if taunting me to go back to sleep, but my mind had already become active with the day’s thoughts (foremost of which was to murder some fowls — which, of course, I did not).

Located some 260 km south of Manila, the province of Romblon comprises 3 main islands — Tablas, Romblon and Sibuyan — plus the 4 other small island municipalities of Banton, Simara, Maestro de Campo and Carabao Island (touted as “the next Boracay” but without the environmental damage, we hope).

Contrary to popular perception, getting to Romblon is relatively easy. Zest Air has thrice weekly flights that land on Tablas Island from the domestic airport in Manila. The more adventurous can take the cheaper overnight Montenegro ferries that ply the Batangas-Sibuyan route. Once in the provincial capital, smaller ships and numerous bancas are available to other island destinations. 

STRONG HOLD. Steel pipes reinforce sections of Fort San Andres from collapsing. Photo by Fung Yu

Hotel accommodations in the town are currently limited to a few 4-story buildings, but seaside resorts abound. Apart from boats, the principal means of transportation around the island is via motorcycles, mostly 2-wheelers for families and 3-wheelers for public conveyance.

Romblon is known as the “marble capital of the Philippines” because it is the source of the simples marble tiles to the finest hand-crafted marble pieces. Craftsmen start as young as 12 years old and hone their skills by making small figurines of dolphins, elephants, birds and other animals. Marble art can come as life-size statues, spread-wing eagles, mermaids, Buddhas and coiled dragons that require several months of work and could fetch tens of thousands of pesos.

In Romblon, you will find not a single fast food chain, nor shopping malls or big drugstores. During my visit I only saw a single bank. I don’t recall ever seeing a telephone set either.

Best to conclude that, if you want to get away from the stress of modernity, Romblon is definitely the place to be.

Chosen by the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) as “Heritage Province for 2012,” rustic Romblon was host of heritage month’s opening celebration that falls on May each year.

WELCOMING HERITAGE MONTH. Led by Gov. Firmalo, Vice Gov. Madrid, NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon Jr. and other members of the Commission and Provincial officers, Commissioner Regalado Trota Jose officially opened the Heritage Month. Photo by Fung Yu

Supported by the local government, the celebration opened with an exhibit of historical artifacts at the provincial capitol building, followed by a culinary journey of the province’s unique seafood dishes of mostly crabs and shrimps. Then came colorful cultural presentations capped with a dinner sonata at St. Joseph Cathedral, Romblon’s oldest Catholic Church, declared as a National Cultural Treasure.

COLORFUL PERFORMANCE NIGHT. Cultural night presentations at the Provincial Capitol. Photo by Fung Yu

The day after the opening, we were taken on a guided tour of the church and its bell tower, the old municipality building which is now the police station, two 18th century Spanish stone bridges, Fuente de Belen (a water fountain), the ruins of Fort San Andres and its 205 steps, marbles sites, and a lecture plus a sumptuous buffet lunch at a nearby resort of Punta Corazon.

TOUCHING THE PAST. Pieces of old jars displayed at the Capitol grounds during the opening of exhibit. Photo by Fung Yu

I would have gone with the group to Banton Island scheduled on the last day of the month’s opening celebrations if not for some prior commitments in Manila. The island is said to be a treasure trove of heritage sites which include burial caves, wooden coffins that yield the oldest burial cloth, a limestone fort and a church. 

This was my 2nd trip to Romblon, the previous being the climb to Mt. Guiting-Guiting in Sibuyan Island (referred to as the “Galapagos of Asia” with its rich flora and fauna), yet the reasons to come back never seem to end.

Apart from the heritage structures, the province boasts of many pristine beaches and dive sites, including the recently featured blue hole in Tablas. In both trips, I have yet to swim Romblon’s waters; I have also yet to continue enjoying my newfound appetite for sarsang uyang. 

Romblon continuously beckons. I have a feeling it won’t be long until I set foot again in its shores. – Rappler.com


(Click on “Romblon” and get amazing 360-degree views of places around the province.

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