A December tradition

Since I got married several years back, my husband and I try to celebrate our wedding anniversary in a new place every time. We didn’t really get to travel together before we got married, but we knew we wanted to see more of the world, or at least as far as our modest savings will allow us.

So after we said our ‘I dos’, we also took it as a vow to regularly travel…in good times and bad, in upset tummies and un-sexy coughing fits; to have no qualms about roughing it when called for and to hold on to our sense of humor, from this day forward, for better or for worse, until delayed visa applications do us part.

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One day in Bantayan Island

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.

Good morning, beach!

Twenty or so meters into the water and the it’s still just waist-deep (even for little me)

Another activity you can do is to go to the smaller islands surrounding Bantayan as the Japanese couple next to our hut did

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Never to skip breakfast

I never like to skip breakfast. When we were kids, my mom always insisted that my siblings and I eat our breakfast even when we were rushing to school. Fried fish and rice. Tocino (sweetened, cured pork) and rice. Daing (dried, salted fish) and rice. Corned beef and rice. Homemade longganisa (local pork sausage) and rice. My mom was big believer of a heavy breakfast. Kailangan may kanin. (There has to be rice.) I wasn’t a big fan of it when I was in elementary school. All I wanted was a bowl of cereal or a taste of a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich like what the kids in Sesame Street were having. But by the time I reached college, those big Filipino breakfasts had won me over. (Either a consequence of living away from home for awhile or fuel to write those Philosophy papers by junior and senior years, I suspect.)

When I lived away from home and couldn’t make the time to cook rice in the morning, I would at least have time to cook some bacon (how can you not have time for bacon?) and toast some bread. Or I would stop by the small donut shop in front of the university and have a BLT and tea. When I started working, I was amazed at people who only had coffee in the morning and would eat their first meal by lunchtime. I knew my tummy wouldn’t let me hear the end of it–all the grumbling–if I did the same thing.

Whenever I travel, I also make sure I never skip the first meal of the day. On the recent trip to Cebu, I have to admit that I looked forward to seeing the beaches of Bantayan as much as having dangsilog (fried danggit + sinangag or fried rice + itlog or egg) for breakfast where danggit or dried, salted rabbitfish is a local favorite. Below are two danggit breakfast sets from D’Jungle and Blue Ice Bar & Restaurant, located just next to each other in Santa Fe in Bantayan Island:

D’Jungle danggit breakfast: I ordered it with their vegetable rice and it’s also served with two eggs, coffee or tea and juice. Around PHP165. I love the veggie rice and the fact that the danggit pieces are really small.

Blue Ice Bar & Restaurant didn’t have a danggit breakfast set, because all their Filipino breakfast sets had a heaping of danggit served with it! Served also with a smaller cup of rice, one egg, tiny salad on the side, and coffee or tea. Around PHP125. More danggit and cheaper too!

Want a break from dried, salted fish breakfast? How about cured goodness of bacon? Here’s another breakfast set from Blue Ice Bar & Restaurant.

Another Filipino breakfast favorite is the beef tapa (cured beef). In Don Merto’s Restaurant in Cebu City, their version of beef tapa is cured and dried and when fried, almost has the same texture as crispy bacon. Just as tasty too.

Don Merto’s tapsilog (tapa or cured beef, garlic rice and egg)

Since I’m finishing a lot of writing for work this month, I think I’ll just be posting favorite breakfast photos in the next few days. Maybe some of the local rice cakes like bibingka and puto bumbong, popular early morning fare around this time of the year?

How to get to Bantayan Island

A large part of Bantayan’s charm in my opinion lies on the fact that it is not the easiest island to get to. Nowadays, with the powdery, white sand beach and amazingly turquoise clear waters of Boracay just being 35 minutes by plane and a quick boat ride away from Manila, anything longer than that for a beach that doesn’t rival Boracay (often touted the Philippine’s best beach) seems an awful lot of effort. But if you want an island without the mass of tourists (unless it’s the Holy Week) and still has that sleepy and idyllic countryside charm, make the trip to the island of Bantayan.

If you’re coming from Manila or somewhere else besides mainland Cebu, try to get the first flight to the province (or a 9 am flight at the latest) so you have enough time to make it to the last ferry to Bantayan.

1. From the Mactan International Airport you can take a taxi to the Cebu City North Bus Terminal. We didn’t see the line for the regular white cabs (flagdown of PHP30, PHP2.50 per additional), so we ended up lining in the yellow airport cabs (flagdown of PHP70, PHP4.00 per additional). The fare reached almost PHP200 from the airport to the bus terminal.

At the North City Bus Terminal, look for the Ceres bus with the Hagnaya signboard

2. At the North Bus Terminal, there are no ticket booths. You pay the bus conductor the fare once the bus hits the road. We took a Ceres bus with a Hagnaya signboard, but just to be sure, we asked the drivers and conductors waiting by the bus stop if it was the one heading to the Hagnaya port, where we could catch a ferry to the Sta. Fe Pier in Bantayan. It was. It’s a non-air conditioned bus so be prepared for the heat when you get on the road around noon. The fare ranges from PHP50 to PHP70. On the way to Hagnaya, we paid PHP50. On the way back to North Bus Terminal, we got charged PHP70. My theory is it depends on the condition of the bus you’re riding–old, dinky Ceres bus for PHP50, relatively better and bigger Ceres bus for PHP70. My theory is probably wrong, but just prepare for that amount of fare.

It’s more than a three-hour bus ride, mostly along the national highway of Cebu, where you’ll see typical rural landscapes…

…grassy hillsides, sprawling fields

…a couple of old churches

…a few abandoned-looking buildings

…and the occasional Astro-Boy statue

This definitely made bleary-eyed me, sit up and take notice. What was Astro Boy doing in a highway in Cebu? (On the way back, I saw that the statue was in front of an office building/factory called Cebu Mitsumi. A quick Google search shows that it’s a manufacturer of electronics, computers, and mobiles. Not sure if it was Japanese-owned though.) Anyway, after the Asto-Boy sighting, there remained around two more hours on the road.

3. When you get to Hagnaya Port, head over to the Island Shipping Corporation ticket booth. The fare is PHP70 per person. Supposedly, the Aznar Fastcraft gets there faster but the booth was closed. We hadn’t had anything substantial to eat (unless you call Ding-Dong and wheat crackers substantial) since we left the airport, so with only 10 minutes to spare before the 1:30 pm ferry left, we wolfed down these sticks of pork barbecue, grilled hotdogs and two bundles of puso (Cebu’s hanging rice) for our late lunch. It wasn’t the most delicious lunch, but for PHP47 for everything including a small bottle of Coke, who was I to complain. (Schedule of the ferry from Hagnaya to Sta. Fe: 5:00 am, 6:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3 pm every day, 5 pm on certain days; schedule from Sta. Fe pier to Hagnaya Port: 5:00 am, 7:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm every day, and 5 pm every Wed, Fri, and Sun)

Less than P50 (a little more than a dollar) for lunch

4. After almost an hour and a half on the ferry, it docks at Sta. Fe port. Porters and pedicab drivers would be approaching you to help you with your bags or take you to your resort (or in some cases the resort where they think you should stay because they get a commission); you can just ignore them if you want. We were thinking of just riding one of the pedicabs (God bless Bantayan, there seemed to be more pedicabs and bicycles than motorcycles and tricycles), but since it looked like it was going to rain pretty hard, we thought it best to ride a tricycle. It’s typically PHP25 per person if we waited for four more people to ride with us, but the driver asked for PHP100 if we wanted to rent the entire thing and leave. We were on a hurry so we agreed. And within a few seconds, the rain poured in thick sheets. The kind that even if you have an umbrella or the roof of a tricycle over your head, you’ll still get wet. When we got to our resort and I saw the beach, I thought, “I’m already soaked, I can swim right now.”

Our welcome to Bantayan Island

P and I chose to run to our cottage for cover first. We made sure our clothes inside the backpacks were still dry and changed out of our wet clothes. Then the skies cleared and we got this.

Then it warmed up to us

And we ended up loving it too

An almost empty beach

The resort was rustic. The beach glorious. It didn’t look as ‘perfect’ as Boracay, but the trip to get there and having it (almost) all to yourself–save for that couple on the other resort next door, the French guy in the hammock, and a family introducing their two babies to the wonderful world of sand and saltwater–can’t be beat.

Welcome to Bantayan Island

After an eight-hour plane-bus-and-ferry ride, we finally reached Bantayan Island in Cebu. It was an exhausting trip and when we got to the island it started raining really hard. But after an hour, the sky started to clear and we ventured out of our little hut to the beach just a few steps away. The French guy in the neighboring hut looked pretty cozy in the hammock, while P and I just stared at the sky and swam (or tried to) until the sun set. Bantayan is beautiful and I’ll post more photos and write about it when we get home. Right now, the beach beckons. 🙂