23 Feb

Our flight from Bali to Cebu, our first Philippine island destination, landed at about 5:30 am and we shuffled our tired selves to baggage claim and then outside to the taxi area. While we usually get assaulted by cab drivers, the atmosphere outside of Cebu’s airport was much more calm and the guards in the area were surprisingly helpful in telling us about our options to get where we needed to go and which way was the cheapest. One of the first things we learned is that taxis in the Philippines are fairly scam free. From our first to our last in Cebu, all had reliable meters and I never had to keep my eye on the numbers waiting for the them to suddenly soar to ungodly sums like they did in many Vietnam cabs. We arrived to where the hostel was on and spent a while walking around trying to find it and failing to do so. We thought that one place may have been it, but a barking dog woke the owner of what turned out to be a house and she directed us to the hostel. Since it was 6:00 AM at this time, they couldn’t check us in and we sat around for a while deliberating what we should do. While we were tired, the hostel had no common places for a good nap so we decided we would just have to carpe the diem.

We went to a cafe we had walked by earlier to have breakfast. We decided to treat ourselves to lattes alongside a plate of rice, eggs and bacon. While bacon is always a risky endeavor in Asia, we were given actual American bacon, which seems to be consistent across the Philippines. While the food hit the spot, the lattes were a different story. A quarter of the way through I saw a tiny moving worm on the edge of my cup. With basically no concern for sanitary issues anymore, I picked it off and kept drinking. Halfway through I realized there were at least ten of those little bastards in there. I had definitely drank maggots. It was certainly disgusting and we didn’t pay for the drinks, but at least now I can say the grossest thing I’ve consumed in Asia is a maggot latte.

We walked the few miles towards the historical Plaza Independencia, which has many of the city’s important monuments. During the course of the long walk I quickly realized there weren’t many foreigners in Cebu city. Some people were very happy to see and greet us while others were simply unable to hide their perplexed stares. I think this was the first time I was slightly uncomfortable as an outsider. In most other places there’s always at least a few other tourists around or people are used to seeing foreigners but here it clearly wasn’t the case. We went the whole day without seeing another Westerner, which I’m not sure has happened to me before. There was a lot of pointing, a lot of talking amongst people, plenty of smiles but also some frowns. While it wasn’t the first time, it was definitely my most glaring experience as a minority in Southeast Asia and it was completely humbling and eye-opening.

Christine and I arrived at the Plaza Independencia and, although tired, actually stopped to read and learn about the interesting history, keeping ourselves awake by reading out loud, alternating paragraph by paragraph on any information we saw. A few of the people and places we learned about are discussed below (I can only hope most of this is right).

-Ferdinand Magellan: brought an influence of Christianity to the Philippines on his global expedition in 1521, gifting the famous Señor Santo Niño de Cebu relic to Rajah Humabon, the the Rajah of Cebu at the time of Magellan’s arrival.

-Miguel López de Legazpi: established the first Spanish settlement in the East Indies, including the Philippines, after arriving to Cebu in 1565.

-Andres Bonifacio: a Filipino revolutionary leader who wanted independence from Spain. He started the Philippine Revolution in 1896 and is considered a national hero.

-Fort San Pedro: built originally as a wooden fort under the instruction of de Legazpi and later was remodeled as a stone fort. During the Philippine revolution the Spanish surrendered the fort after America’s win in the Battle of Manila Bay, marking the end of Spanish control.

Afterwards, we made our way to Magellan’s Park, the Cross of Magellan and Basilica Minore de Santo Niño, where the original relic is held. Our last stop would be the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. We showed up at around 11:30 AM, just in time for a mass apparently. The crowds were exceptionally large and we found a seat thinking we’d stay for a little to see a Filipino mass. It started with a procession for Mary, which was mostly in Filipino, with people in the crowd cheering and clapping, waving blue and white flags. We were so tired that Christine had to leave halfway through the mass, which was going on longer than expected, while I stayed until the end. People definitely noticed my presence as I was the only non-Filipino in the church, but I loved my experience. The Philippines is certainly a very Catholic country, with churches and chapels every few streets and pictures of saints and Mary in cabs and tricycles (the Filipino version of a tuk tuk). When I returned from Church just in time for us to check into the hostel, I tried to google what the celebration in mass was for, thinking that it was a feast day on the Catholic Church’s calendar, but nothing came up. Maybe that was just your average passionate Filipino mass celebration. Either way, it was beautiful.

We checked in and walked to a nearby mall to try and find a money exchange. We were surprised by the sheer amount of food stalls and restaurants. The mall definitely had more food options than stores, or at least it felt like that. We settled on Jamaican beef patties from a stall that were simply and surprisingly perfect, before heading back to the hostel for our long awaited naps. That evening we headed to 7 Eleven, too tired to do anything else, and grabbed some snacks before returning to our beds.

Our second day in Cebu started with another mall, the Ayala Center, where we gawked over all the items we wanted but have no use for, from places like H&M. We walked from the mall over to Mango Square which we were informed is a place where a lot of expats hang out. We had some actually authentic pho from another mall area that was really more of an extra large food court. Afterwards we headed to Marshall’s Pub, Cebu’s very own Irish pub opened by a man from New Jersey. There we had many beers and a Filipino man serenaded me with a few Irish songs that I got to sing along with at the request of the owner, before hopping into his usual set. While we were walking home we passed a food festival with a DJ and band, where we got some rice and beef. The DJ was running a contest for a free iPhone case for the first person to show a picture of their love for Valentine’s Day. Christine ran up and showed him our pictures together and wouldn’t let him deny us the win. I laughed my ass off from the seat while she convinced him we were worthy and as she walked off to gather her prize. Will either of us use the shoddy iPhone case? No, probably not. Was it worth it though? Absolutely.

The next afternoon we headed down south to Oslob, the coastal town known for one and one thing only, whale sharks, a filter-feeding carpet shark and the largest currently living fish species. We took the Ceres bus, the country’s local bus system, from Cebu city’s bus terminal. The local buses in the Philippines are some of the best I’ve used. For four dollars we were on a four hour bus that was comfortable, played movies, had wifi and was air conditioned. We got into Oslob after dark and made our way to Sharkey hostel, where we had booked two nights. We arrived at the hostel to find the owner sitting outside and appearing perplexed to see us. She asked us for our reservation and when we told her the name it was under she slowly walked us away from the hostel and towards a resort. Confused, we stood by while she called the name of the owner, clearly a friend of hers. He showed us a room and, wary of how much nicer it was than what we had booked, I asked if it was the same price as we paid. Of course it wasn’t, she wanted us to pay to stay here the night because she overbooked. It was about three times what we were supposed to pay so we told her no and that we needed something the same price. She then brought us up to someone’s home, where people were cutting up raw fish and preparing dinner and started a conversation with them, laughing and staring at us. They then opened one of the doors in the home which revealed an empty room, a bed frame and a grass mat over the bed frame. “You’re trying to put us in a room with no mattress?” I asked. Her response? Laughter.

Completely worked up we tried to go back to the resort and request an equal price to which we were denied. We then walked down the street to another place that was also very expensive. Apparently, beyond the one or two cheap hostels, most guesthouses will cost you 30 dollars for a double bed room which is simply unjustifiable for a crappy guesthouse in Southeast Asia. We were once again wandering down the street when we were greeted by a ten year old on a scooter, named Alfred.

Alfred: “Hey, do you need a room.”

Me: “Honestly, yes.”

Conversation ensued about what kind of room he had and the price, which was equivalent to what we were supposed to be paying. We followed him to this dungeon of rooms beneath a restaurant and, with virtually no other options, we agreed to take the room. At first glance it didn’t seem terrible, but once we got in it was impossible not to see the amount of dead and living bugs all over the floor. Clearly no one had cleaned this room in ages. I kicked the corner of the wall by the bathroom and ants started flooding out from it. We both knew we couldn’t sleep in this room and asked them if we could switch. While the room was definitely cleaner it was equally as gross and I spent the whole night in and out of bad sleep thinking I was getting bit up by bugs. I was happy when my alarm went off the following morning at 4:50 AM and more or less jumped out of bed in excitement to go see the whale sharks. After signing up, paying, getting a brief “orientation” and waiting for a short time we were put on a boat and taken a pretty short distance away from shore. We jumped in the water and instantly saw whale sharks, one at a time or two at a time swimming by. They were massive and beautiful and sleek, coming to the surface to get the plankton that the men in smaller boats feed them and then swooping back down. Their tails look and move like those of a shark and more than once I looked down to find one coming right for me. We were so amazed by these creatures and at how close we were to touching them. Yet, however much they may look like sharks, it’s pretty clear how docile they are (unless you make one angry of course). They’re certainly used to being around humans at this point. This brings up another issue. We have heard from people that it’s morally questionable to go see and swim with the whale sharks and quite honestly I can see why. They feed them to keep them around, messing with their migrant patterns and making them reliant on humans. While this type of tourism helps against whale shark hunting and the elimination of the species, there are certainly long term consequences that can come from this kind of feeding and I wish I had known more about it before I did it.

After our half hour mesmerized by whale sharks, Dave, a fellow New Yorker we met prior to getting on the boat, invited us in his taxi he had taken from Cebu to go to Tumalog Falls, just up the road. The waterfall was absolutely stunning, with slates of rock covered in green that jut out giving the impression that the water is falling over weeping trees. We even had ourselves a rainbow sighting. After a quick dip in that frigid water Christine and I walked back to our crack den guesthouse and quickly gathered or things to hit the road. With the exception of the whale sharks and the waterfall, Oslob and the surrounding area really don’t have much to offer. It’s one of those strange places that revolves around their big tourist trap only. We were glad we had done the one night only and understood why people advised against staying any longer. We hopped on the Ceres bus outside our hostel and made moves towards our next destination around the other side of the island, Moalboal.

We arrived at Moalboal, another coastal town with a small beach town next door after a few hours. We took the tricycle down to the beach and went to Chief Mau hostel, which we didn’t book in advance. They didn’t have room available that night so we booked for the following two nights and headed closer into town to Moalboal Backpacker Lodge, where we got a much cheaper and nicer room. We even ended up switching back to here for our third night because of a disaster night’s sleep with snorers and bad mattresses at Chief Mau. We spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach before going out to dinner with three people we met at the hostel, Moa, Matilda and Adrian. We decided that we would take the bus to Kawasan Falls early the next morning.

When people talk about Cebu island they always talk about Kawasan Falls so we were certainly excited. We, with the exception of Christine who was feeling sick, made our way into Moalboal town in the morning and got some baked goods before heading out on the 20 minute bus ride. The Philippines has bake shops everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It was my first time trying one and certainly not my last. I got chocolate and ube (taro) pastries. You can’t enter a bake shop here without seeing multiple different purple treats as ube is such a popular thing here. Once we arrived at the Falls, we hiked our way past the gorgeous base river and up past the massive first, smaller second and smallest third fall that compose all of Kawasan Falls. While beautiful, the first fall has far too many tourists and people trying to make you pay for a table to leave your things while you go for a swim. As you get further up the waterfalls there are less people and less distractions. While the top most fall was the smallest it was also the one with the largest pool so we swam around in the cold water for a bit before heading back down. Once we got back to Moalboal town we all got ice creams before going back to our hostels. The weather turned out kind of crummy so I wasted the afternoon reading in the hostel’s hammocks before heading to dinner with the girls. We were interrupted by a guy staying at Moalboal Backpacker’s Lodge who more or less invited himself to sit down and continued to talk about himself the whole time. We went for a beer at a nearby bar afterwards but everyone was tired from the day and from hearing this guy talk about himself so we put an early end to our night.

On our final day in Moalboal, Valentine’s Day, the four of us girls made our way to White Beach, about 4 km north of where we were staying, with the intention of having a nice long beach day. The weather however had different plans. We found ourselves on a terribly windy beach that whipped the sand into our faces and bodies. After trying to withstand it we gave in to the weather and went up by the street for a beer instead, with skin and hair full of sand. After a beer we moved down the beach to an area that was less affected by the wind, but it started to drizzle on us. You know what that means, another beer. After another beer we made our way back to Moalboal town where we treated ourselves to ice creams and multiple different chocolates for Valentine’s Day. We bought so many treats that the children in the 7 Eleven were whispering about us. Good ol’ greedy Westerners. When we got back, it was the perfect time to swim with the sardines just near the shore. The water was a bit rough, but me and Matilda and Christine took on the water to see this amazing natural wonder. The sardines overtake the water and swim in patterns together moving around you and in perfect unison in the water. It was fascinating and shimmery and perfect. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing card games and drinking beers before going to a nicer restaurant for dinner and to a bar where we watched some interesting characters dance and some people playing pool.

The following morning we were attempting to get to Dumaguete, a city on the eastern most part of the island Negros, just south of Cebu, which is accessible by a very short ferry ride. We took the bus to the Bato stop, and took a single motorbike taxi with both of us and our bags piled on. The guy took us to the passenger ferry port where they informed us no boats were running. We then had to go back to the supply ferry, which is just before the bus station and pay the motorbike taxi driver twice the amount just to be told no supply ships were running either due to rocky seas. Stranded with no plans, we decided to get a bus back to Cebu where we would spend the night before going to Bohol, an island southeast of Cebu city accessible by a two hour ferry ride. While we were supposed to end our eastern island hop in Cebu before flying to Palawan, this unexpected turn of events caused us to start there. By the time we got to Cebu it was late and we walked into a hostel crossing our fingers that they had room. Luckily they did so we parked our bags and did the only thing we know to do with our evenings in Cebu city, eat Jamaican beef patties, walk around the malls and go to bed totally exhausted.


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