War, adventure and remembrance
FOR history buffs, 2019 is a year of remembrance for monumental events in 1944 related to the Second World War— most notably the so-called D-Day Allied Landings in Normandy, France, to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany. Dubbed as the biggestever amphibious troop landings, it is immortalized in movie classics such as The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan.
In the Philippines, several areas were abuzz with the 75th anniversary of crucial events in the Pacific war theater—Romblon’s Battle of Sibuyan Sea, Leyte Gulf Landings, and the Battle of Surigao Strait, to name a few.
But to many travel industry professionals, these commemorations aren’t simply nostalgic trips down memory lane but huge opportunities for tourism and have thus coined the phrase “war, adventure and remembrance” to journey to the historic spots and beyond.
Bataan, the country’s ground zero of World War II, is synonymous to the heroic stand of Filipino and American troops to the Japanese memorialized at the iconic towering cross of the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) atop Mount Samat.
This peninsular province also offers a plethora of nature and adventure sites to complement the war-related attractions. At Mount Samat’s bosom is the 540-meter long, 43-meter high zipline, Dunsulan Falls, and the six-stage Tree Hopping Adventure where you can sidetrip after the Dambana.
A must-see is the City of Balanga Wetlands and Nature Park, a 34-hectare mangrove forest and foreshore, a bird-watching site and habitat to 9,500 endemic and migratory avians.
Further south is the seaside town of Mariveles, the Kilometer 0 of the infamous Bataan Death March, which can be reached through a scenic and steep zigzag. Its new social-media sensation is so-called Five Fingers because of its finger-shaped coves and its fine sands, crystalline water, and rock cliffs. Sisiman pebble beach, Mount San Miguel and Mariveles View Park are some of the raw and inexpensive getaways in the area, away from the madding crowd.
For staycations, The Oriental Bataan is the hands-down choice with its Old World and garden charm, modern amenities, Asian cuisine dishes, and cliff view restaurant known for its live band, buffet grill, dancing staff and fire dancers during dinners.
Formerly the Bataan Hilltop Hotel designed by the late National Artist Leandro Locsin, it boasts of an adjunct teambuilding adventure camp, a convention center, and a luxe dorm for executives and long-staying guests of the Freeport Area of Bataan.
For beach bumming in style, day tours to the upscale Camaya Coast can also be arranged through Oriental.
Down in the Visayas, Leyte Gulf arguably is the country’s counterpart to the Normandy landings with the monumental troops and warships who took part. This body of water is acclaimed for the biggest naval battle in history, which spanned the stretch of the archipelago’s Pacific seaboard from San Bernardino Strait to Surigao Strait.
Best remembered for the fulfillment of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s quotable “I Shall Return,” the landing site in Palo is like a pilgrimage site for tourists and locals who stroll by the largerthan-life bronze monument underwent a facelift in for the commemorations.
On its fringes are the Cathedral
of the Lord’s Transfiguration in Palo, Signal Site in Tolosa, Hill 120 in Dulag, and the Provincial Capitol, Price Mansion and Hotel Alejandro in Tacloban City, which figured in the liberation.
Beyond these hallowed grounds are the “Infinite Escapes” of Eastern Visayas as identified by the Department of Tourism—Sohoton Cave and Natural Bridge in Basey, Langun-Gobingob Caves and Lulugayan Falls in Calbiga, Ulot River Torpedo Boat Ride in Paranas, Kalanggaman Sandbar in Palompon,
Higatangan and Sambawan Islands in Biliran, and the San Juanico Strait Cruise, among others.
Adjacent to MacArthur’s shrine is the equally iconic The Oriental Leyte, a regional favorite with its resort ambiance, gardens and open spaces, stately seaview suites, Asian themed interiors and cuisine, local delicacies which include the tasty moron and binagol. Dinners are spiced up by a barrio fiesta highlighted by the signature fire dance show.
Formerly the government’s McArthur Park Beach Resort, it was destroyed by Supertyphoon Yolanda, and thus has a checkered story to tell. It reopened in 2016 with added Oriental flair of Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino and Chinese cultures and cuisine, as well as enhanced amenities like videoke rooms for unwinding after business functions.
The luxe resort hotel offers Second World War Sentimental Journey, customized tours for special guests, and butler service on demand to the various destinations in region. It is also the home of diplomats, veterans, and VIPs taking part in the annual Leyte Gulf Landings rites every October, and the venue of postevent fellowships.
War remembrances isn’t exactly opening old wounds, but also a healing experience as we value the uncommon valor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.