I was in the Philippines during Typhoon Yolanda. I weathered the storm with a family in Legazpi, about 250kms away from the epicenter, Tacloban City. I volunteered doing repacking afterward, but at the time, was not allowed to visit Tacloban. 3 years later, I finally got my chance. I flew to Leyte province, and I must say...Tacloban is doing much, much better than I thought it would be...
Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
Open For Business - & Better Than Ever
I know it's been over 3 years...but I guess I didn't expect this much progress. The Philippines is a country close to my heart, and it has many strengths. However, if I'm being honest, progress isn't really one of them. Like the U.S., there is so much political infighting. Progress moves at a snail's pace...if things are even moving forward at all.
However, Tacloban looked great. It was bustling with shops and businesses, and the quality of goods and services went far beyond my expectations. It's not a large city, but somehow it feels more sophisticated like one.
I had a motorbike very generously provided by Haven's Tourist Transport near the airport. Rhoel, the owner, was a great guy. He gave me a quick tour of the area before I took the bike out myself.
I stopped by a few places downtown. The first was beautiful Hotel Alejandro, which dates back to prewar times. There is an impressive exhibit with hundreds of historical photos on the walls. After that, I checked out Sto Niño Church, which is a vibrant white color now that it has been restored post-typhoon.
(Click below for more Tacloban street photos)
Next was the Sto. Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum, a rest home built for former President Marcos' wife Imelda. Apparently her bathroom was larger than most of the citizens' homes, and she actually ended up staying in the place only once.
I was able to do some street photography downtown, where I captured the hustle and bustle of the jeepneys, trikes, and commuters. Last, I visited the Anibong Memorial, or Yolanda Shrine. Many cargo ships washed ashore during the storm, but people began visiting and taking photos of this one in particular. Knowing this, the government decided to turn it into a monument - to memorialize the victims of the super typhoon.
The MacArthur Landing Site
Leyte is famous with WWII history buffs. That's because just south of Tacloban, you can find the site of General Douglas MacArthur's famous return to the Philippines. The American general had been forced to flee from the Japanese previously, but he kept his promise - and these statues memorialize his unit's return.
It was quite surreal for me, because I ended up here on the 4th a July, our Independence Day in the U.S. It's a time of celebration with friends and family, which I was desperately missing, having been on the other side of the world for over a year. Somehow, visiting this monument on this day brought me home.
I've always wanted to come here. It's actually a National Park, and it's located in the town of Palo, about 10 kms south of Tacloban City.
This is what particularly impressed me about Tacloban. The business owners seem to be so motivated, and the service + quality standards are a cut above much of the rest of the country. I guess I was impressed by the food in Leyte and Samar in general. Are the ingredients better in this region, or do people just have tastes that fall more in line with mine?
Jo's Chicken Inato Milagrina
Rewind back to March, 2013. I'm wandering the streets of Dumaguete (southern Philippines), with a hunger in my belly. I find a nice looking chicken restaurant, and try some Chicken Inasal.
Now fast forward to present day. I never imagined I would receive an invite to dine with the owner of the Tacloban branch, 3 years later. Jo's Chicken Inato Milagrina serves family-style Filipino food in a comfortable garden-style environment.
(Click photos of Jo's Chicken Inato Milagrina for more info)
(Assortment of Filipino foods)
The owner, Apple Anido Alagon was kind to prepare a nice selection of dishes and desserts for me to sample. Loved the Pineapple Mango Ginger Slush...all shakes and slushes are made with real fruit. Also pictured is the dessert turon (fried banana) with langka (jackfruit) and ice cream.
Next is the house specialty. It looks like Bacolod-style Chicken Inasal, but with a pork BBQ stick included. It's called Jo's Chicken Inato Combo. Last, a plate of Zamboanga-style Spicy Shrimp.
Yes, there's also unli (unlimited) rice.
Another one of Apple's claims to fame is her Salted Egg Potato Chips. Apparently they have proven quite popular with the locals, even some being taken back home as pasalubong, or souvenir gifts. If it's not obvious, Jo's is well suited for Asian / Filipino taste buds.
Apple's family has been in the Leyte region for generations, as is evident by the 90 year-old fountain on display in the garden. It was built by her great grandparents. She does quite a bit of community outreach as well, and is just a bright and cheery person in general. Stop by and check the place out!
Jo's Chicken Inato Milagrina: 241 P. Burgos St. +63 53 832 2042
Canto Fresco Pizza (Italian Influenced)
Pizza is one of my guilty pleasures, and the best way to cure my homesickness when I'm out on the road. However, it's not always easy to find decent pizza in the Philippines. Well, Canto Fresco goes well beyond decent pizza, in fact it's quite gourmet. I was particularly interested in the Mozzarella Bites I saw on the menu...
Oh my, they really hit the spot. It's so nice to nice to have legit pizza with authentic ingredients like this. I can't remember name of the one I ordered, but I've never tasted anything like it. Very festive! Haha. Honestly, I enjoyed it, but the herb flavor they used could have been toned down a tiny bit. It was unique, but a bit overpowering.
(click photos for more info about Canto Fresco)
The carafe of mixed fruit and vegetable juices was delicious! Very refreshing. I was hoping to find a menu online so I could specify all items, but no luck. Anyhow, the ingredients are fresh, pizza is homemade (and hand-tossed), and the indoor / outdoor seating atmosphere is rustic and charming. Very much recommended!
Canto Fresco: 279 Burgos St. +63 53 523 9085
(Continued below, but I recommend Booking.com if you need a good hotel in Tacloban)
Highside Bar & Restaurant
How perfect is it to visit a motorcycle-themed restaurant during my motorbike trip around Leyte? Highside was born from a passion for riding, but also from the tragedy of typhoon Haiyan. I sat with a few of the owners, Jo Jo and Mal, and listened to their story.
Mal has quite a harrowing tale of loss and survival himself. After the storm, the old friends would gather to have drinks and perhaps try to cheer each other up. They only had each other, as their wives and remaining family members had been relocated to safer areas. Like thousands of other Taclobanons, they had lost so much. Their city was devastated. What to do now?
Well, you know the expression...when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In their case, they rebuilt. Not only that, but they channeled their love of motorcycling into
a restaurant business, and even repurposed the remnants of vehicles destroyed in the storm. These pieces were used to decorate the bar, along with some of their own complete
motorcycles, which were left inoperable.
The guys told me that before, people were more timid to invest their money in new businesses, or to spend it around town having a good time. However, the storm taught them that you never know what will happen tomorrow, so you might as well enjoy today.
(Click photos for more info about Highside)
I'll never forget Jo Jo telling me "Money could do nothing for us. During the storm, Taclobanons were all struggling together. ..regardless of their income or status. That storm leveled the playing field". A powerful reminder of this sits right on the wall. It's the hood and trunk of a fancy BMW, which completely washed away in the storm. Oil barrels are now creative lounge seating, Hummer tires serve as giant beer coasters.
Speaking of beer, this is the best place to make it happen. The food is excellent, too. While not a single dish let me down, I especially loved the spicy
jalapeño "lumpia", called "Dynamite". It's jalapeño, cheese, chili, and ground beef - wrapped up lumpia style, and served with a tangy sauce.
I have to give it to these guys, they have done a great job making the most of this truly unfortunate situation. They felt like brothers to me, and I hope to visit them in their popular hangout again someday.
Highside Bar & Restaurant Gomez St @ Paterno +63 917 504 9452
(continued below, but I do hope you'll consider following along with me...)
HQ Food Park
While checking out the food stalls on Justice Romualdez Street, I met a guy who recommended a newly opened place south of town. It sounded familiar, and I realized I had passed it on my motorbike on the way to the MacArthur Landing site.
I came for an early dinner during the week (hence the smaller crowd). I imagine it gets pretty lively during the weekends. HQ is the first of its kind in Tacloban - a large food / gastro park, complete with drinks, darts, and live music.
I love the graffiti mural of General MacArthur out front...due to its proximity to the landing site, that was a nice touch.
General MacArthur Graffiti & Grilled Pork Belly @ HQ
I found some super cheap and delicious liempo (pork belly) here...nice to have a kamayan dinner! That means you eat only with your hands. I loved that they serve the rice wrapped in coconut leaves...I think this is called puso in Cebu. Anyhow, HQ Food Park is open pretty late, and worth checking out!
HQ Food Park - Real St, Fatima Village
Cafe Lucia - Definitely Worth a Mention
This charming little cafe sits across from the Tacloban Astrodome. It serves delicious + affordable coffee and snacks. Really, I was impressed! Wish there were more places like it in the Philippines, and that I had more time to explore other menu options:)
GV Hotel is a super cheap option right downtown. A good value, but you get what you pay for.
Ironwood Hotel is a classy place (more money, but still a great value). It has a very good reputation, with plenty of rave reviews.
If you prefer to use booking.com, check out more Tacloban City hotels here
How To Get There
Tacloban can be reached via boat or plane...but international flights must stop through larger cities like Manila and Cebu. Again, if you need transportation when you arrive at the airport, check out Haven's Car & Motorbike Rental.
Thanks for the Memories, Tacloban
This city is now high on my list of favorites in the Philippines. The people, the culture, and the food left a lasting impression on me. Big, big thanks to all who made this trip possible: Canto Fresco team, Mal, Jo Jo, Apple, Krizette and Rhoel...keep on making Tacloban proud.
I took this photo of the sunset at Tacloban Port. One of my favorites from this trip, and a great way to wrap up this piece.
I Shall Return...
- Nathan Allen
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