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Long Live Leyte

By VIANCA GAMBOA

MacArthur Landing National Memorial Park

MacArthur Landing National Memorial Park

Harrowing history surrounds Leyte.

The Leyte Gulf with currents that extend to thePacific witnessed many abject things that the world has come to know circa1940s. It was where the largest na-val battle of World War II—by some criteria, the largest in history—tookplace after General Douglas MacArthur declared his return to the Phil- ippines along with the Allied Forces,commencing the battle against the Japanese with the help of almost3,500 Filipino guerillas.

In the present day, resilience was again tested as typhoon Yolandastruck Tacloban in 2013, with total wreckage on the land, with an af-termath as gruesome, leaving thousands of residents missing.

But remnants of the past were immortalized by the town’s tour-ism sector to commemorate these happenings and serve as a tangible imprint of resolve, or an ode to the national call for tabang (Bisaya for giving help), though never in a way to mitigate the tragedies and what they meant to many.

So, to speak, reflection drives tourism in Leyte. People come hereto relive not angry, lost spirits thatlurk around its waters, but the spirit of a living, hopeful city bulldozed inthe past.

This “reflection” was right off the bat as soon as we arrived at the Daniel Romualdez Airport at around 9 a.m., and we’re guessing it’s because of the gloomy weather. Gray skies meant nothing more than a metaphor of melancholy, for me, who tried tovicariously relive the category-5 super typhoon that happened right in front of Kuya Domeng’s very eyes, a van transport barker who lived to tell the tale, but eventually lost his son in the wake of the typhoon due to food shortage. “Hindi ko pa ‘rin ‘yun matanggap (I find that hard to accept, until now).”

I saw banners that read “Leyte Gulf Landings 75th Anniversary” mounted in every lamppost like election campaign posters. Another wave of reflections hit me at that moment—one being able to set foot on one of the most historical places in the world according to history books, and Britannica, for that matter, and two—MacArthur really had returned, huh?

Oriental Hotel
We checked in at the Oriental Hotel in Palo, Leyte, a fifteen-minute drive away from the airport, fenced off meters away from the gulf. Thewaterfront hotel has a lot of “oriental” thing going on at the lobby alone, with its wooden fixtures, intricate sun stencils, and decors that are juxtaposed with imbalanced design elements but nonetheless, still worked. Its in-house restaurant Samsara, where we got our filling hotel breakfast fill, had a Thai feel. It was surprising to find out that they had curated our lunch by thepool side, considering the overcast weather ever since we got here inthe morning. They served us margarita pizza, oyster bombs, lamb chops, blueberry cheesecake, and a brownie a la mode.

The hotel hosts a fire dancing show every night where dancers circle around glowing embers and spew fire in the air. Our experience was something entirely new since we watched it amid a thunderous and rainy night.

We had our spa session done at our own room and I must say that its Signature Oriental massage was one of the most relaxing sessions I’ve had in a while probably because it has combined Swedish and a hot stone massage in one.

The rooms are (really!) spacious that we joked about biking around it. Typical elements include earthy tones, wood accents, ornate carvings on the bed frame, and a view of the gulf. It even has disabled-friendly rooms to accommodate disabled guests, a governor’s suite, and a presidential suite with a design based on a Japanese architecture and setting, which looked like it came straight out of the Korean dark comedy thriller Parasite (Japanese? Korean? It’san oriental design, you get the point).

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Leyte Gulf Landings
Oriental Hotel truly mimics the town’s penchant for history, and its strategic location that cuts right through the center of Leyte makes it the most popular hotel to visit when you want to experience its historical culture. Of course, the hotel was fully packed when we got here a week be-fore the celebration—it was a mix of balikbayans, businessmen, local and foreign tourists. The town had lined up several activities to commemorate MacArthur’s return to Leyte, including nightly cultural presentation, and to see MacArthur Landing National Memorial Park, in a new light, like literally, with its neon-lit treatment. Mind you, it’s only a three-minute walk away from the hotel.

We weren’t able to join these festivities because of our flight schedule so we just did a tour around historical spots relevant to the gulf landings on the first day. The first place we visited was Hill 120 in Dulag where the first hoisting of the Philippine flag during the Liberation took place. It was kind of like a grotto trail that you trek for five minutes to see sculptures and figures of war scenes, like Deadeyes military helmets, and murals with battle gears, troops, and war symbols. We also went to Tolosa beach where people stage reenactment of “Signal Day”—a celebration that commemo- rates the heroic acts of a Boy Scout named Yayong and Vicente Tizon who sailed using a frail banca towardan American warship to pinpoint Japanese fortifications to American bombers and gunners—every 18th of October along the shore.

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Hill 120

Tolosa Beach celebrating ‘Signal Day’

Tolosa Beach celebrating ‘Signal Day’

Sohoton Cave and Natural Bridge Park
For our second day, we crossed the famed San Juanico Bridge, our longest in the country, to visit Sohoton Cave and Natural Bridge Park in Basey, Samar. We went kayaking through Sohoton, crossed a rock formation or the natural bridge in the middle of the river, and entered a bat-filled natural void. Our sharp-witted tour guide wowed us with his knowledge of stalagmites and stalactites shaped like chandeliers, foot, and even NSFW stuff we can’t disclose here. We bet he would probably ace Geology classes in high school. The most amazing things you can find on this cave are the glistening crystals formed from limestone and rock formations—perfected by nature from hundreds of years ago.

Sohoton Cave and Natural Bridge Park

Sohoton Cave and Natural Bridge Park



Source: Manila Bulletin

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