Six things to do on a road trip down Southern Cebu

When we made the recent trip to the island province of Cebu for the Sinulog festival (one of the Philippine’s biggest fiestas–read: street party–and annual religious festival in honor of the Santo Nino or Child Jesus), my husband and I and a couple of our friends also made a three-hour trip out of the city to the southern town of Oslob and made some other stops on the way back for some good lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (pork cracklings). Because why wouldn’t you stop for lechon and chicharon?

1. Swim with the whale sharks. Like the sleepy Sorsogon town of Donsol, Oslob turned into a tourist destination, primarily because of the whale sharks that frequented its waters to feed. But unlike in Donsol where you have to search for them, the fishermen in Tan-Awan in Oslob hand-feed the gentle giants and lead them close to shore for the tourists to have an easier access to them. And there are three ways to see them, dive (P600), snorkel (P500), or just stay in the boat, (P300) because the whale sharks tend to stay close to the surface as the feeder throws uyap (shrimp) to feed them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino

One of the whale sharks in Oslob. This and the other one we saw were relatively smaller (but still amazing to behold) than the ones in Donsol (Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino)

Personally, I prefer the practice of whale shark interaction in Donsol. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a whale shark and capture that Instagram-worthy shot there–because they are after all supposed to be still in the wild–but it seems there’s less impact on their migratory nature (the whale sharks in Oslob, we’re told, are there year-round). Our friend who writes for About.com and was with us during the trip has a different take on it here (and a more helpful guide). Continue reading

Where people worship

I’ve always loved visiting churches, temples, shrines and other places where people worship. When you’re traveling, it can give you a glimpse into the place’s history or culture.  You see what people hold dear, what they believe in, what customs and traditions they have upheld through the centuries.

In the Philippines, Catholicism is the predominant religion. Three centuries of being a Spanish colony can do that to a country. Based on historical accounts, the province of Cebu is where one of the rulers of the country first converted to Christianity together with his subjects. It’s also where the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is located, believed to have been the oldest church in the country (until the original structure was destroyed in a fire in the 16th century) and its site is where the oldest Catholic image of the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus) was found from the 1521 Magellan expedition. That’s a lot of Catholic history. So when we went to Cebu, P and I visited the Basilica.

The atmosphere outside the church is just like any other large Catholic church in the country, bustling with activity outside and quiet and somber inside the church. A devotee praying on her knees was moving towards the altar. People were lighting candles. There was a room filled with statues of different saints and a few stood in front of them, whispering their prayers, dropping donations in boxes. All familiar rituals.

Basílica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu

In Japan, visits to its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples revealed rituals I was curious to understand. With majority of Japanese subscribing to Buddhism and Shinto, temples and shrines are their places of worship.

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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?

Beyond danggit, otap and dried mangoes

Don’t get me wrong, those are fantastic pasalubong items to bring home from a trip to Cebu. But a great addition to the salty, dried fish (danggit), the oval and sugary biscuits (otap), and the sweet dried mangoes are these thin, crispy Belgian chocolate lace cookies. I first heard about Les Chocolateries cookies two years ago from an old college friend from Cebu. So when I made the trip to the Visayan province a week ago, I made sure to buy some. It comes in semi-sweet, mint, dark and white chocolate. I got the Dark Chocolate. At PHP400 for 300 grams, they’re not the cheapest pasalubong, but they are the most decadent. Love the sweet-bitter taste of the dark chocolate sandwiched between the two crispy cookies. I haven’t been feeling well the past week so it’s the perfect remedy. (That is if I ignore the sore throat that chocolate brings me. And I did.)

Les Chocolateries cookies are available at Don Merto’s Restaurant/Casa Escano B&B, 94 Juana Osmena Street, Cebu City, tel: (63-32) 253-5563 to 64; Don Merto’s 118A Upper Ground Floor The Northwing, SM City, Cebu, tel: (63-32) 236-2934