A four-hour drive from my province, Iloilo, to Aklan might sound harsh, but there are plenty of good reasons any tourist like you or me should give it a shot. For one, a stay in Panay island (Western Visayas region) is never a stay at all without a visit to any of the towns of Aklan. Why? I will tell you.
Our recent trip to Kalibo, Aklan had us stuck in the car for almost four hours straight but for a second it did not bother the group as the natural beauty of rural life had been looming over us all the way to our destination. I had my trusted digital SLR camera in my hand, ready to click stills away.
Our destination: Bakhawan Ecopark. Bakhawan is a local word which means mangroves. A hundred-peso entrance fee per head was our ticket to the green paradise. The long winding bridges made of bamboo led us through the forest, with stations unique from each other.
Before getting into the first bridge, we were greeted by a lovely Philippine cockatoo, Cristian. Off to the first one, we saw a wide area for clam culture. At the foot of the bridge were friendly ladies selling clams for Php20 per kilogram. I mean, how cool is that? Fresh clams for almost free!
We took another bridge leading us through a lake to another station featuring separate areas for fish and prawn culture. Everything around us, including tiny hats and resting benches, was made of natural resources. It felt like we were transported to a different world, able to sustain itself on its own.
Walking on, our delight blinded us from the fact that we already walked a kilometer to the final station: the open bar area. This was another breath of fresh air; another concealed world waiting to be explored. This is where families and friends can enjoy swimming in the beach area, with bamboo sunbeds and picnic tables – whichever way you want to enjoy the day with. Amid the rather hustling activities of kids splashing waters and parents preparing their snacks, an unsung painter in an almost unnoticed corner took my attention, and he was kind enough to allow me to take a few photos of him.
Bakhawan Ecopark is more than just a mangrove forest. It is a sustainable world, providing a leisurely walk to health, a serene place for reflection and an ideal holiday destination. With an intention to prevent seasonal flood, the Kalibo community had done an impressive job – much better than a solution to the problem: employment of diligent local sea farmers and residents, and a charming tourist spot.
It is indeed worth the long travel.