Leyte Island: Touring Tacloban

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Story and indicated photos by Lovel Aniag

When I booked the flight to Tacloban, I expected a quiet, somehow melancholic city. After all, it’s only been less than four years since typhoon Haiyan destroyed it. The news showed boats and ships washed ashore, homes and dead bodies swept away to sea. Everything left behind lay flattened and rotting.

But for this city of nearly 250,000 people, located northeast of Leyte Island in the Visayan group, four years was more than enough time to rebuild and recover.

The typhoon may have destroyed the land, but nothing can put a dent on Tacloban City’s spirit. While one can still see remnants of the nightmare, the city has clearly bounced back. Homes once again line the shore, establishments rebuilt and landmarks restored.

But what really got me most was how the people were able to turn the devastating damages of the typhoon into iconic landmarks of hope: The grounded ship on the coastal community of Anibong was salvaged, painted and turned into a memorial marker.

Likewise, an abandoned building was restored and turned into one of the more chi-chi hostel I’ve ever been to: Yellow Door Hostel.

Yellow Door Hostel
One month after the destruction of typhoon Haiyan, Tacloban siblings Jack and Lucia returned to their hometown to help. While assisting some volunteers to find accommodation, Jack stumbled upon an abandoned building. Due to limited availability, housing prices skyrocketed at that time. The siblings decided to fix up the place for volunteer friends to stay in.

From being a volunteer quarters, the location was eventually turned into a hostel. The name “Yellow Door” was a tribute to their family home that was completely destroyed by the typhoon. The house used to have a yellow main door.

San Juanico Bridge
The most iconic landmark in the Leyte is the San Juanico Bridge – the longest bridge in the Philippines spanning 2,200 meters. It was built during the Marcos regime, connecting the provinces of Leyte and Samar. It was believed to be a symbol of Ferdinand Marcos’ love for his wife, Imelda.

The bridge can be crossed by jeepney or by foot. We decided to do both. From the central terminal in Tacloban, we rode a jeep (PHP 10) heading for Samar and asked to be dropped off at the Samar welcome rotunda.

To cross the bridge back on foot, we had to log in our names at the bridge checkpoint. Realizing I was not from the area, the policemen suggested we go to a secret beach under the bridge for a perfect view of the San Juanico.

Floating hut at the secret beach and the San Juanico Bridge
We walked back the entire stretch of the bridge which took us around 30 minutes. You can literally feel the bridge swaying with every passing vehicle. Scary fun!

MacArthur Landing Memorial Shrine
We then headed out to Palo Leyte to visit the MacArthur Shrine. Douglas MacArthur was an American general and field marshal in the Philippines during World War II. After escaping Japanese forces and leaving the Philippines, many American and Filipino troops felt betrayed. To inspire hope (and maybe save face, in a way), he famously declared, “I shall return!” This promise he kept when he, indeed, returned to the country two years later and became an instrumental figure in the liberation of the country.

MacArthur and his boys
How to get there:
To Tacloban
Book a flight to Tacloban via Cebu Pacific, Air Asia or Philippine Airlines.
To San Juanico Bridge
Take any jeep or bus going to Samar from Abucay Terminal. From the terminal, ride any jeep heading to Samar.

To MacArthur Landing Memorial Shrine
From San Juanico bridge, take any jeep, bus or van heading back to Abucay Terminal.
From Abucay Terminal, take any public transport heading to Palo, Tolosa or Dulag. Ask to be dropped off at Philippine Science Junction.
From Philippine Science, take a tricycle to take you directly to the shrine.

Where to stay:
Yellow Door Hostel
From the airport, take a jeep heading to downtown Tacloban and ask to be dropped off on Juan Luna St. If you are not carrying much, you can walk and ask people where the hostel is. PHP 500/night

Thank you to my good friend, Angela Go for touring me around Leyte! Follow her on instagram: @ladysuadersz

Ingat and see you on the road!

Know a place I should discover? Or want to travel together? Email me at emaileatpraylovel@gmail.com

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