Tacloban City is the capital of Leyte, and the regional center of the Eastern Visayas. It is by far the largest city in the area.
Though tourism is underdeveloped in Tacloban City, as it is throughout the Eastern Visayas, the city does have a lot to offer to the visitor.
Santo Niño Church
The Santo Niño Church, the largest church of the city, dominates the skyline of Tacloban City. With its distinctive color you can see it from afar, even from the plane just before landing.
The church has daily masses in English and in several Filipino languages.
Santo Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum
The Santo Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum, also known as Romualdez Museum, is a mansion built for the then first lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos.
The Marcos family never used it, though, and after President Marcos was ousted the villa was opened to the public.
Stations of the Cross
Just outside the city, on a hill aptly named Calvary Hill, are groups of larger than lifesize statues depicting the stations of the cross. You have to climb all the way to the hilltop to see all the stations, so visiting them is not for everyone.
It’s a long way from our base in Tacloban City to the church in Sulangan. When we visited Sulangan, we started our trip at 4am, to be in time for mass, and even though we had breakfast and snacks in the car, we felt quite hungry after the mass. So when we passed a few resorts on our way to Balangiga we decided to stop at one of them to have an early lunch.
We stopped for lunch at Villa Calicoan, a small coastal resort. We were soon joined by other pilgrims, on their way back from Sulangan to Tacloban City.
Villa Calicoan is a very small resort, but it has several spots with a beautiful view over the ocean. While waiting the ladies in our company (that means everyone except me and the driver) roamed around to find nice spots to pose and take photos of each other, and I also took a few photos of the views (and of the ladies).
The Surf Camp is a luxury resort, almost next door to Villa Calicoan. The ladies wanted to have a look, and as there were no guests at the time we received permission for a short visit.
From the southern tip of Samar back to Tacloban City is a long trip, so we had another stop-over for a drink, a walk, a rest, and another photo shoot – this time at the Caluwayan Palm Island Resort.
Villa Calicoan and The Surf Camp are in the municipality Guiuan, province Eastern Samar, at the extreme southern tip of the island Samar. Caluwayan Palm Island Resort is in the municipality Marabut, province Samar.
On our way back from Sulangan to our base in Tacloban City, we made a small detour to visit Balangiga, a small town in the south of Samar.
Balangiga was the location of a guerilla attack in 1901, during the Philippine-American war, when almost fifty American soldiers lost their lives. A monument in front of the church reminds passers-by of this event.
The Balangiga incident
In the Philippines, Balangiga is famous as the location of a guerilla attack during the Philippine-American war. In 1901, guerillas attacked a group of American soldiers and killed almost 50 Americans. In retaliation, the American army burned down the (deserted) village when they returned, and American general Jacob H. Smith ordered the killing of everyone ten years old and over. Thousands of Filipinos perished, most of them civilians (American estimates are 2,000-3,000 casualties, Filipino estimates are much higher). Because of the killings, Gen. Smith was reprimanded (!) and forced into early retirement.
On the main square, in front of the church, there is now a large monument commemorating the initial guerilla attack and ensuing battle. The battle is now known as the Balangiga massacre, the Balangiga incident, or the Balangiga encounter. The latter phrase is used in the monument inscription.
In the Philippines, on the island Samar, is a town called Sulangan. It is a small town on the extreme southeastern tip of Samar. The area is a popular destination for windsurfers. Sulangan is also the home of a shrine of San Antonio de Padua (Saint Anthony of Padua).
St. Anthony (1195-1231) was a Franciscan friar from Portugal. He was a gifted speaker and famous preacher. St. Anthony spent most of his career in Italy. He was sickly, and died young, near Padua, Italy. It is said that, on his death, the children cried in the streets and all the bells of the churches rang of their own accord.
Apparently, the statue of San Antonio (St. Anthony) in Sulangan was actually meant for the nearby island Suluan, but several attempts to bring the statue failed: Each time, winds and rough sea would force the boat onto Sulangan. Eventually, a shrine was built in Sulangan to house the statue.
Several miracles and miraculous healings are attributed to this statue of St. Anthony.
Pilgrims from all over the country flock to the shrine to pray to San Antonio, and to ask for his intercession. If their prayers are heard people often return to express their gratitude. My wife has made the pilgrimage twice in the year before our wedding, from her home on the neighbouring island Leyte. A few months after our wedding, when we visited the Philippines, we went to Saint Anthony’s shrine together for our first joint pilgrimage.
Our pilgrimage to Sulangan
The road from our base in Tacloban City to Sulangan was long: To be in time for mass we had to leave just after 4 am. First we went to pick up a few family members who wanted to come with us, in other parts of the city. Then we crossed the 1.3 miles long San Juanico bridge into the neighbouring island Samar, and we started our long drive over the badly maintained roads of Samar.
Sulangan is in the municipality Guiuan, in the extreme southeastern tip of the island Samar. The area seems to be poor and sparsely populated. Sulangan itself is on a small island, just off the coast of the main island, and can be reached by a bridge.
When we arrived we first visited the office, where my companions requested (and paid for) their prayers, and changed money into small coins. We still had time to wander around to take a few photos, and buy a statuette of St Anthony at one of the souvenir stalls.
Then we went inside the church. Inside are many statues of saints, each with their own trunk. It is the custom here to visit each saint, say a prayer, and put a coin in his (or her) trunk, taking care not to offend any saint by bypassing him. My wife, a devout catholic, made the round along all the saints, while I, from protestant stock, had a look around the church and took a few photos.
The mass started with the reading of the list of sponsors of the mass – people asking for St Anthony’s intercession or expressing gratitude for an earlier intercession, and who were paying for the privilege. The mass itself was in Waray-Waray, the local dialect, so I missed most of what was said and done. After the mass we shook a few hands (there were several people my wife recognized, that also made the pilgrimage the same day), and my wife went looking for the priest to have our St Anthony statuette blessed.
The church had become too small to house all pilgrims, and building works were on their way to extend the church. (We saw the new church – not yet finished but already in use – on a later trip to Sulangan).
On our way back to Tacloban City we made a small detour to visit Balangiga, a village near Sulangan and the site of a famous battle during the Philippine-American war.
On the long trip home, passed several resorts, and stopped at two of them for lunch and drinks. And we visited a third resort, just to have a look and take a couple of photos. Interested? Read the story and look at the photos in Three Resorts.
Sulangan, Balangiga, Villa Calicoan, and The Surf Camp are in the municipality Guiuan, province Eastern Samar, at the extreme southern tip of the island Samar. Caluwayan Palm Island Resort is in the municipality Marabut, province Samar.
If you just want to see Sulangan and/or Balangiga, then a day trip from Tacloban City is probably the easiest way. Tacloban has daily flights to Manila and Cebu, and proper hotels. It is possible to travel by public transport, but I would not recommend it: Jeepneys and vans are uncomfortable and crowded, the roads in Samar are bad, and it’s a long trip. Furthermore, there is no time table: You never know when the next van back to Tacloban will arrive. You are better off renting a car, preferably with driver. If you have relatives in Tacloban, they will no doubt advise you about a suitable driver, otherwise head to the tourist office for advice.
If you plan to stay at one of the resorts, you will also travel via Tacloban City. Your resort can arrange a transfer from Tacloban City airport to the resort.
Eating, drinking, sleeping
There are several resorts on the southern tip of Samar, but I have no personal experience with them – except what I mentioned above. The lunch we had at Villa Calicoan was good enough but not terrific, and as far as I could see it was a decent, clean an well-maintained resort (but I have not been inside to take a look). I would probably go there if I needed a place to stay.
The neighbouring Surf Camp is too expensive for my taste, but if you want something more exclusive then The Surf Camp is probably the place to go. And compared to prices at European and American resorts and hotels, maybe the Surf Camp is not that expensive after all.
What to do
The area has a few old churches and historical sites (like Balangiga mentioned above), and there is some natural beauty to admire, but most people come here for only one thing: Windsurfing. If that’s not your thing, you’re probably better off going elsewhere (or just visit on a day trip, like we did).
In Leyte, just outside Tacloban City, is a hill with the name Calvary Hill. On the slopes of Calvary Hill are groups of statues depicting the stations of the cross. It follows the traditional fourteen stations, from Jesus’ condemnation to His entombment. There is one extra statue on top: Jesus arisen from death.
Follow me as I climb Calvary Hill on my way to the arisen Christ.
Jesus is condemned to death
The first station is Jesus’ condemnation to death. He was condemned by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. Pontius Pilate later confirmed the death penalty. We see Pilate washing his hands here.
Jesus receives the cross
Jesus receives the cross and starts the Way of the Cross. The cross is marked INRI, which stands for Iesus Nazarenus rex Iudaeorum, in English Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It is based on John 19:19-20:
And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Jesus falls the first time
In the traditional series of stations, Jesus stumbles or falls three times. There is no basis for this in the scriptures, though.
Jesus meets His Mother
On our way to the next station, a small child joined us, requested a peso to be our guide, and (after receiving the fee) walked with us to the top. The little kid pointed out the several stations (as if we could miss the large statues!) and posed on each of them, whether we wanted or not.
The next station depicts Jesus meeting his mother, Mary. This station has no basis in the scriptures.
Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
According to the gospels of St Matthew, St Mark and St Luke, Simon of Cyrene carried the cross all the way. He was just a passer-by who was ordered to bear the cross. In the stations of the cross, we usually see Simon helping Jesus to bear the cross, or taking over from Him, after Jesus bore it Himself for the first part of the Way of the Cross.
Veronica wipes Jesus’ face with her veil
The story of Veronica is based on the Acta Sanctorum, not on the scriptures.
Saint Veronica was a pious woman of Jerusalem who, moved with pity as Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, gave him her veil to wipe his face. After Jesus used it, the image of His face was miraculously impressed upon it.
Jesus falls the second time
Apparently, Simon of Cyrene has disappeared and Jesus carries his own cross again. He stumbles for the second time. Again, there is no basis for this in the scriptures.
Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem
This station is based on Luke 23:27-8:
And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
Jesus falls the third time
Jesus is stripped of His garments
According to the scriptures, the soldiers who accompanied Jesus took his garments and divided them among themselves by casting lots.
Jesus is nailed to the cross
We are nearing the top. My companions (all Visayans) are exhausted by the climb and the heat and stay behind. Except for the little kid, who followed me all the way to the top.
We have arrived now at the actual Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
Jesus dies on the cross
The death of Jesus. Jesus dies on the cross, surrounded by three (female) mourners.
Jesus’ body is removed from the cross
This station is also known as Deposition or Lamentation. We see the same three mourning women as Jesus’ body is removed from the cross. One may assume though that someone else must have been present to help remove the body.
Jesus is laid in the tomb
The fourteenth and last of the traditional stations. Jesus is laid in His tomb. Ususally, the last station also depicts covering Him in incense, but I don’t see any incense here.
Jesus rises from death
Not part of the traditional stations, but the most essential part of the story: The arisen Christ. Jesus stands here on top of Calvary Hill, overlooking and apparently blessing Tacloban City.
Views from the hill
Those that make it to the top are rewarded with magnificent views over the city and the San Juanico Strait.