More Than Sand, Sea, and Saint

Yes, it is a must to visit the radiant white  sands of Boracay, or lose yourself in the  loud beating of the drums and bask in the  colorful costumes of Ati Atihan, but there  is more to Aklan than just a handful of “must see”  sights and “must experience” festivals. Here are some  of alternative places that show Aklan away from the  postcard perfect scenery we all are used to.

Katunggan it Ibajay Mangrove Eco-Park 

Barangays Bugtongbato and Naisud, Ibajay, Aklan 

Want to walk under the canopy of luscious green  leaves enveloped by the symphony of birds and other  wildlife creatures? You can certainly experience it  here, and more. This 44.22 hectare tourist attraction  is filled with mangrove trees sprawling over a long  bamboo bridge.

Prepare to walk over or crawl under mangrove  branches as you walk on the 800-meter foot walk  because some branches obstruct the way and it is  prohibited to cut any part of any tree. At the end  of the bamboo foot way is a group of century-old  Apiapi or Bungalon (Avicennia rumphiana) mangrove  trees which are endemic in the Philippines. The most  remarkable tree is what they call Avatar tree which is  20 meters tall. It has an 8-meter circumference which,  according to Reynante Panaligan, Tourist Assistance  Officer of LGU Ibajay, makes it “the biggest in the  Philippines, if not in Southeast Asia, when it comes  to body diameter”. And during January, be captivated  by the Piag-aotree as its leaves turn a brilliant yellow,  orange and red before it fall off.

This eco-park is considered the most diverse natural  growth mangrove community in the Philippines and  Southeast Asia as confirmed by the Southeast Asian  Fisheries Development Center-Aquaculture Department  (SEAFDEC-AQD). It is home to 28 out of 35, or 80  percent of Philippine mangrove species.

Unlike the mangroves in Bakhawan Eco-park in  Kalibo which were planted in straight lines and were  trimmed regularly, mangroves in Ibajay are naturally  propagated and allowed to sprawl all over the place.  While the Bakhawan project was initiated to mitigate  the flood and over-siltation that usually affects the low  marshlands, the Katunggan it Ibajay started out as local  people’s effort to stop chainsaw owners from cutting  down trees and converting forests into fishponds.

This project is implemented in partnership with Ibajay  LGU and the Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation  Project in the Philippines of the Zoological Society of  London (ZSL). Minimal fees collected upon entry are  used to maintain and develop the bamboo foot walk  and other facilities.

Why visit Katunggan it Ibajay? Well, aside from  itsdazzling and relaxing ambience, it also serves  as a reminder that we have to be concerned with  our environmental health. Tourism doesn’t have to  mean cutting down trees and razing down mountains.  Katunggan it Ibajay is man’s initiative to preserve  nature, just like how God intended it to be. The  magnificent view is just a bonus.

Basura Garden

 Poblacion, Balete 

In the middle of bustling Poblacion in Balete is a onehectare  compound filled with artworks and sculptures  made with recycled garbage materials, hence the name  Basura Garden.

Basura Garden started out as a personal collection of  Cipriano Lachica, back in 1990’s. Its purpose is to  create a haven of inspiration for the family, to evoke  their innate creative nature or talent. The number  of his artworks gradually grew and began to take  over their whole yard.Neighbors began to notice the  growing collection and came over. They were amazed  by the artworks that they saw, and by word of mouth,  the garden was made known not only to the people  in the neighboring barangays but also to the nearby  municipalities.

“Nowadays, students coming from different provinces  who were having their field trips in Boracay and  other tourist spots in Aklan drop by as part of their  itinerary,” explained Stella, Cipriano’s daughter.

Lachica’s personal collection of artifacts, antiques and  wood sculptures are displayed side by side with his  other artworks made up of recycled materials such as  old shoes, wine bottles, umbrella handles, and many  more. The whole lot is an assortment of different  items made of garbage presumed to be worthless and  then converted into works of art.

If you do a quick survey of the place, it seems  as if everything is dumped haphazardly. But careful  inspection will reveal that the artworks have rhyme  and reason. Found near the entrance is a year-round  Christmas tree made up of different plastic items  reminding every visitors that every day is supposed  to be Christmas day. An ordinary stone is framed to  portray realities which many oftentimes ignore. Several  wood sculptures are grouped together with pierced  tennis balls to convey the importance of population  control. You can sit on benches out of woods or logs  recovered after the major storms that hit the province,  fitting reminders that something beautiful can be made  out of something so horrendous.

And if by any chance you feel hungry after turning  over and looking at countless items, there is a café  inside serving affordable snacks and refreshing drinks.

Cipriano Lachica does very minimal commission works  so if you want to see his wood sculptures, you have  to visit the Basura Garden. No need to worry that you  might break something…it was broken anyway.

GLESI LYN T. SINAG

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