It wouldn’t be called Queen of the Southern Philippine Islands if it does not possess the unparalleled beauty typical for a royal seductress – mesmerizing, captivating, one you can’t help but gaze.
Often featured as one of the world’s best islands among magazines as Travel + Leisure (6th), Cebu is a spectacle one should not miss dropping by: a mirror of what could be a complete Philippine experience – from the simplistic way of coastal living caught between the blazing sun’s heat and the cooling sea breeze, to the life-changing and surreal encounter with creatures of the ocean, to the modern-day way of city life.
An opportunity to visit Cebu came my way, and everyone knows I have to grab it. And I did, despite the lack of a concrete plan and solid savings. All I had were tiny specks of guts (which were enough for me to apply a 3-day vacation leave despite having been hired for only 10 months) but a big will to travel.
The flight was at 3:30 AM, an hour of delay so that’s 4:30 AM. I was with my officemates. We were sleepless, hungry and heavily disorganized. The one hour plane ride was scarcely enough for a nap.
At almost 6:00 AM, we took our first groggy steps in a 6-day stay in Cebu.
Simala: Nook of Catholic Faith
We stopped by at the place of our friend’s friend to cater our personal necessities – water, a little rest, and of course, the toilet – before heading to our first stop: the Mama Mary of Ligodon Church in Simala.
From Cebu City, Simala is a 3-hour bus ride south. It’s long but it’s a fantastic opportunity to explore the Cebu island’s country side which excellently reflects the Philippine country scene as a whole.
History has it that one man prophesied about a mysterious woman appearing in grasslands and hills which now will be the Church of Simala. Years later, in the 1990s, a group of monks traversed amongst the area and the prophecy materialized: an image of a woman mystically appeared.
Now, the Church of Simala is an important place for pilgrims in Cebu and daily, hundreds of people from all over the country come to the church to deliver their petitions.
On the way back, we stopped by at Carcar City to treat ourselves with the nationally revered chicharon Carcar.
Million Sardines and Some Turtles
Next day, we woke up at 4:30 AM to head to Pescador Island in Moalboal, Cebu. The sun is so our mood that morning: dreamy, half-wanting to rise, half-wanting to recline. The sky is crimson orange and after almost two hours, the smell of the sea was already prevalent in the air.
The engine of the motor boat we’re riding to cross island to island silenced our conversations, so we had the chance to just marvel at the vastness of the sea and beauty of the panorama.
Pescador Island is a home for a million sardines and some sea turtles.
Witnessing them maneuver adeptly under the sea, in their natural habitat, was mesmerizing – especially the medium-sized turtle who swam like a ballerina in a perfect piece with its flippers gliding through the water flawlessly.
Taking the Canyoneering Plunge in Kawasan Falls, Badian, Cebu
Kawasan Falls was our next trip and highlighted by a 3-4 hour canyoneering adventure. Not just mentioning the time it takes to overcome the adventure, but mostly how to overcome the trail – the rocky steep slopes, sharp boulders, the strong current of the river, and especially the 20-, 30-, 40-ft. leaps from a barely enough stronghold of cliffs down to the splash of blue, relaxingly cold but deep freshwater.
Personally, before I took that 40-ft jump, large amounts of fear, hesitation and excitement collided in my brain. Who wouldn’t when you’re not a professional diver lest a good swimmer? But then our guides told us to not think about the height or the fall. Thinking will only exacerbate the fear. Just take the leap. It only takes a second of courage to overcome the doubt and experience glory.
Unfortunately, we haven’t taken a lot of photos of our canyoneering trail because along the way, our action cam failed (sad).
At 5:30 AM the next day, we headed to the beach in Oslob, Cebu to witness with our very own eyes the one of the majestic sea creatures there is: the whale shark or locally known as butanding. Each morning while the sun is not yet too hot (thus, the early time) these gentle giants come to the surface to be fed by the local fishermen. This makes a fantastic opportunity for people to bond up-close with them, especially that they are generally harmless.
Encounter time is limited to only 30 minutes but were actually enough to revel at the sight of our friend in the sea (although at first sight, when it was 1 or 2 meters away from me and close to its overwhelming size, I was terrified. But that’s part of the process. It wouldn’t be called the biggest fish in the world for nothing).
Sadly, we saw one wounded whale shark and somehow I questioned myself, am I enjoying at the expense of these beautiful beings? I hope not, but still it didn’t felt right and I pray the whale sharks get the care and respect they deserve.
From the sea to the top
After immersing ourselves in Cebu’s waters for days, we reached its highest point – the Osmena Peak. As is with other hikes, the trail was energy-consuming albeit not that difficult. After 10-20 minutes, we found ourselves marveling the Cebu island from its crown.
And the richness in history and faith.
At a very young age, we were taught the richness of Cebu’s history: the landing of Magellan (who led the first navigator ship to circle the world – Victoria) and his death at the hands of arguably the first Filipino hero, Lapu-lapu, in the notable Battle of Mactan. The setting of Magellan became an important turnaround in Philippine history, paving the way for a 333-year of Spanish regime. This day, Magellan’s cross became a monument of this history. I can’t help but be amazed as I witness things I was taught as a young Filipino, as if ridiculously I was watching history unfold in my very eyes.
But perhaps what can be attributed most to Cebu culture-wise is the depth of its Catholic faith, as is evidenced by its monumental shrines and the nationally hailed Sto. Nino (celebrated annually during the Sinulog Festival).
The sporadic food trips:
There are tons of A-class restaurants that offer palatable food in Cebu. In this trip, we went to Casa Verde (where we’re treated for a dinner by a generous officemate), La Vie Parisienne and Zubochon (where we satisfied ourselves with the cuisine Cebu is known for – the lechon Cebu). But coming to the point when we have to budget, thankfully there is a local street eatery that gave us just what we need, cheap but delicious meals – the Pungko-pungko sa Fuente – where crabs, chicharon bulaklak, hotdog, porkchop and chorizo are put all together in one rectangular plastic container. Just pick one and eat. It was fun since we haven’t had that kind of eating experience before.
There’s still a long list of places to visit in Cebu: Bantayan Island, Tumalog, Aginid Falls and more. Next time, I’ll make sure I’ll tick off everything.
Until the next time, Cebu!