We only had one full day in Bantayan Island. The first and third days were mostly spent heading there and leaving the island to spend the night back in the city. (Note to self: Next time, no more overnight in Cebu City, just leave Bantayan in the morning and book an evening flight back to Manila. The island is much, much more relaxing than the city.) But one full day in Bantayan was still worth the trip since P and I still got to see much of the small island without rushing ourselves and experience its biggest selling point–aquamarine waters kissing its creamy white sand coastline.
1. Get in the water. It’s the first thing I do as soon as I step out of our little hut. I’m not a morning person, but for some reason when P and I are on vacation, we easily wake up at 5 or 6 am, eager to start our day. Bantayan was no different. Though the sand on the island is not talcum powder-soft like it is in Boracay, Bantayan still has a fine sandy beach. You only need to walk 10 to 20 meters into the water (still just waist-deep at that point) for your feet get past the jagged sea shells and to find that soft sand. After an hour of floating, staring at the wonderful blue horizon, and pitiful attempts to do some laps, I got out of the water to shower and find some breakfast.
2. Lamon kung lamon. Eating loads of food just goes well with being on vacation. And in the island, specifically along Batobalonos Street in the municipality of Santa Fe, there are a number of restaurants geared toward both local and international tourists. We found our breakfast at D’Jungle, where P and I gorged down a plateful of fried rice and danggit.
Across D’Jungle is Marisqueira Portuguese Bar & Restaurant, which is where we had a late lunch a few hours later. And what do we order in a Portuguese resto? Calamares fritos (deep fried squid rings) and Bicol Express (local dish of green chilies, pork and coconut milk)! The Portuguese dishes were just a bit over our budget, so we relied on good old Filipino food. Most of the bars and restaurants in this part of Santa Fe, though owned by foreign nationals (I’m assuming with Filipino business partners?) and serve dishes from their native country, also serve Filipino food.
Before dinner and drinks, P and I stopped by Khel’s BBQ stand at the corner of Batobalonos Street, in front of the small Santa Fe public market. It’s got a good location and a good following (its mention in this informative Bantayan website might have something to do with it as well). It has a couple of tables and chairs on the street and many locals eat there. We also saw groups of foreign tourists trying its barbecue during lunch. Its specialty is chicken barbecue with hanging rice, but since we were still going to have dinner somewhere else, we just ordered a stick of pork barbecue (a bit tough and too sweet for my taste) and some baticolon or chicken gizzard, which P loves whether they are perfectly grilled or burnt.
Later on, we trooped to Blue Ice Bar & Restaurant just a few meters away. Since it was our last night in Bantayan, P and I decided to have a few drinks. By a few, I mean one rhum coke for me and one San Miguel beer for him. Yeah, we’re such party animals.
The night before, we had dinner at CouCou Hotel & Restaurant, also along the same street. We ordered a Hungarian pizza and its version of aglio olio pasta. The dough of the pizza tasted like the pizza doughs you buy in the supermarkets. The pasta was better, but that’s not saying much. I like it that you can eat in garden though, so just order something different.
3. Market, market. The island has three municipalities, Santa Fe, where we stayed and where all the other resorts are located, Madridejos, and Bantayan. The public market in the municipality of Bantayan is the biggest and, we were told, where the danggit was cheaper compared to the markets in mainland Cebu. I wanted to bring home some danggit so we went to the town of Bantayan and bought a couple in sealed plastic bags. (It was cheaper by a hundred bucks.) The entire market (even the street outside) smelled of dried, salted fish. It’s not the most pleasant aroma, especially for people not used to the smell, it sticks to your clothes, and it can stink up a room. If you’re bringing home some, better buy on your last day. And you also have to check it in when you fly back home.
4. Explore the island. Thankfully, we didn’t just lie on the beach and stuff ourselves in between (not that there’s anything wrong with that). After breakfast, P and I decided to check out St. Peter and Paul’s Church. According to the inscription, it was originally built in 1580, but it burned down and the church that stands now was built in 1839. It was empty and quiet on a late Friday morning (though it completely gets packed during Holy Week). Then we went to Kota Park, a public park with picnic huts where an old Spanish Fort is located.
5. Lastly, do something for the first time. Every trip is always a chance to do something you’ve never tried before. I had never ridden a motorcycle longer than 30 seconds (I was 21 and I got scared), so when P and I were thinking of doing something after breakfast, like exploring the different towns of the island, and a man on a motorbike (there are plenty of them around) offered his touring services from the back of his bike, we thought, why not? (We paid PHP500 for the tour. But if you know how to drive a motorbike, you can rent one for an entire day for half the price.)
If you’re going to ride a motorbike for the first time, Bantayan is a pretty good place to do it in. There were not a lot of other four-wheeled vehicles and sometimes we had the road all to ourselves. I was initially scared, but after a few minutes of cruising along the highway I started to enjoy it. And yes, I was humming “Life is a Highway” in my head all throughout the ride. It was fun!
Of course, there are other things you can do in Bantayan, which you’ve never done–visit an island nearby, check out Ogtong Cave, try every restaurant there is, eat a chicken’s uterus. Afterwards, you can always go back to the familiar–sand on your feet, view of the horizon, and sucking at swimming freestyle.