One late morning weeks before this, I awakened to my sister’s sudden prod accompanied by her high tiny voice. Then she blurted out, “Let’s go to Cebu!” I was half asleep and murmured, “Sure” and went back to sleep. I thought she was joking. Cebu is halfway down the country, separated by seas. Hours after, I was online trying to check cheap flights and accommodations.
Days before our big trip, a storm was reported to hit Visayas region, where Cebu is located. I was like, “Oh great, the storm wants to have a trip with us, too”. Luckily, on the day of our departure, it was such a bright day. Since the tropical weather usually takes a toll on me in the long run, I brought my umbrella and a big fan, squeezing it into my tiny luggage. Just before we landed, I thought I glimpsed the famed Chocolate Hills of Bohol on the plane window.
I got excited and anxious as I landed in Mactan Island for the second time. The joyful thought is that this one was purely a leisure trip unlike the first time. It seemed apt then that we loaded our bags on an airport taxi without all the fuss. En route to Cebu City, there are two bridges connecting it to Mactan Island. One is the old and infamous Mactan Bridge and the other, the new Marcelo Fernan bridge which looked way higher and is probably a struggle for very beat-up cars. I asked our driver in Hiligaynon dialect to take the old bridge instead, just for my sister to see it.
It’s her first trip there. It’s a relief we can speak a Visayan dialect. Cebuanos speak a different one, but Hiligaynon is a bit similar and people understand us. Partly, it’s a way to show the locals our familiarity with the place and veer away from the usual mode of tourists coming from Manila who only speaks Tagalog or English. But that’s just us, they pretty much understand the latter two languages. Chuck it to the strange Visayan kinship.
It was mid-morning as the taxi cruised along the streets. Good thing there’s no traffic yet. I took out the map (obviously I’m the guide) and checked the landmarks we passed in Mandaue City. Our hotel, which is actually a small inn, is about 30 minutes away from the airport and near the Fuente Osmena circle, which I think is the heart of the city. Staying at pension houses and inns here is much cheaper and practical, especially for those with tight budget. There are so many to choose from but we like Apple Tree Suites. A nice name, too. It’s a few steps away from almost everything you need and very convenient for jeepney rides.
The first day was unforgettable. We walked to the nearby Robinson mall and found this souvenir shop full of colorful beads and native materials made into bracelets, necklaces and decors. Postcards, woven bags and souvenir shirts are also sold. We promised to come back for a thorough check because I developed allergies due to sudden changes of temperature; from our morning flight, getting into the hotel, walking outside under the noon sun, then going inside the air-conditioned mall. We planned to go by the Capitol to check its classic architecture and bronze-like statues but we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in our room, with me recuperating.
Next day at downtown. We rode the jeepney to visit the Basilica of Sto. Nino, rather than take the taxi. It’s nice to cruise along Jones Avenue on a morning. One thing we noticed though, instead of the usual pay-the-driver, there’s a conductor who rides at the end of the jeep, calling for passengers every stop and clutches coins on his palm for fare change. We passed by Colon, an old street lined with ancient pre-war buildings. My sister and I were amused to see that Colon looks exactly like the downtown of Iloilo City, with tall arcades along the sidewalk, behind each of which merchants sell every kind of merchandise; from apparels to gadgets to anything mundane.
Arriving to the church, Friday mass had just ended. We went inside through a side archway, marveling at the intricate gold hues of the altar before joining the crowd of church-goers going out the main door. Adjacent of the church is an open complex used for major holy days, like fiesta time or Lenten season. The inside of the basilica can only hold so much people, hence this was built. It’s a large area, sort of like a rectangular auditorium with a high stage at the end, where the priest holds the mass. Beside the complex, there’s a columned courtyard where we lit a votive and placed them on iron holders scattered along the square path way. Votive is free, donation is optional, so tourists and locals alike kept those votive burning continuously. We didn’t stay long for the heat waves might trigger my allergies again.
The map shows that the famous Magellan’s Cross is just a few steps away. Using a bracelet compass I wore just for this trip, we followed the crowd passing under an arched alley. Walking out into the bright sun, there in the front of us is Magellan’s Cross. It surprised us how very accessible it is, like a shrine planted in the middle of a busy Plaza Sugbo. Tourists took their pictures inside. I didn’t because I feel somehow that it is a sacred place and posing below the cross doing a peace sign seemed inappropriate. I stood outside by the walls, observing the old ladies in red skirts and yellow blouses holding souvenir rosaries and candles, urging visitors to buy them and present it as an offer.
Adjacent to the shrine is the Cebu City Hall. It is noticeable that the hall and the plaza fronting it underwent a renovation. I could see it on the cobbled paths, plant boxes and benches under the shade. It looks very nice and lounge friendly, indeed. I suggested to go to Fort San Pedro but the map seemed a bit tricky. My sister gave me a look. “Fine, I’ll go ask for directions,” I said. I walked to the basement parking of the city hall and used some charms to those middle-aged officials stationed at the entrance.
We, then, started walking towards port area. Passing some native shops along the way, we stopped to one and checked the lovely native straw bags in different designs. I picked one with a dark green lining. Good enough for summer strolls but not necessarily looking like going-to-the-Sunday-market bag. I like that we bought it on an out of the way shop. It could be expensive on others, like the ones at the mall.
We continued to walk under the almost noon sun along the closed Plaza Independencia, toting my broken umbrella, as I discovered only then. Who would care, nobody knows me there so I guess it’s alright? After clearing the curved lane, we spotted the old walled entrance. Old stones with climbing vines on broken patches cover the wall. It is very charming. We paid the entrance fee and found that the inside is even more charming. I could envision a lovely garden wedding here.
Flowers, growing ornamental plants, globes of light strung on trees, stone and wood seating lane, stone stairs and paths, it really is well-kept. In a corner, an open shed lend shade to a lone old musician playing a guitar with a donation box placed beside him. He seems a familiar figure for all tourists and locals who have been there. I have read about him on local blogs even before landing in Cebu, and now I see him, I can’t help but smile. All these years and he’s still there playing whatever novelty song that’s currently popular.
We climbed up to the battlement level, where bouquets of bougainvillea lined the walkway instead of bleak bare stone. Green green grass carpeted the lawn. There’s an old tree surrounded by chopped trunks made into a long bench and short seats. In another area, a shed for butterflies is being tended by a woman. One thing that caught my attention in the farthermost corner is an old tin can holding a bouquet of flowers. Does it look familiar?
I wonder what’s the story behind it. I felt that it was a nice gesture. I looked out the short wall and glimpsed the Cebu City Post Office building just across the street. From where I stood, I could see the white and blue painted house of Malacanang sa Sugbo. I paused to rest on the stone bench, fanning myself with a big yellow fan, while my sister went around taking photos. Inside the restroom, I found another simple glass vase holding a few stalks of flowers. Against the old mirror and cream tiles, it looked photographic.
Our next stop is Casa Gorordo, an old Spanish house turned into museum, which is a bit farther from the fort. A taxi passed by the entrance just as we exited. Lucky chance! The noontime traffic slowed us down but I used the time to check our map and glanced around the usual traffic scene. A couple of walking vendors offer cold bottled water, passengers of jeepneys fan themselves from the noon heat, while I noted that the jeep signs are painted with a combination of letter/numbers, depending on what part of the city you’re going. That is really helpful and makes it easier to commute. To get back to our hotel, all we had to do was find the jeep, 21-B, and it brings us to the vehicle stop just a couple of blocks away.
Entering the wrought iron gate of the museum, I wonder how should I describe it to you? I always have a thing for old houses, especially these Antillan ones. It is a home I’d want to grow up from, you could say. We were ushered to an official looking office to pay for the entrance fees. The room definitely looked out of place from here. Tour started from the ground floor, which in the old days served as a garage for carriages and other storage. Now, it displays an array of wooden and iron tools; huge grass cutters, mill equipment, huge stone mortar and pestles; spades and hoes. Scattered in between are intricate wooden sculptures. A group of tourists entered with us, I surmised from Manila, too because they speak in Tagalog. I don’t really mind the crowd but they’re just too noisy, ignoring the solemnity of this home.
We climbed the wooden staircase, prevalent on these Spanish-like homes, to a long hallway, with the doors lining it opened wide for viewing. You can see that some rooms are connecting, probably where children slept with their nannies. I read somewhere while studying Antillan homes that rooms were built opening into another just so the kids could play around the house without disturbing, say, visitors on the living room. The hall doors remained close for that matter. Today, a few rooms were cordoned off in velvet ropes, I guess for preservation purposes. One glimpse would suffice anyway. I gazed at all the canopied beds and their white embroidered covers, dreaming to own one someday. My sister thinks otherwise. It reminds her of horror movies set in an old house like this. The lace curtains billowing by the window gives her the jeebies.
No photos are allowed inside. As much as it looked photograph worthy, I do felt like using a camera was an intrusion on this quiet place where once people have lived. In the front part of the house overlooking the street, there’s a small living room set with wooden pieces of furniture. Off to the left was the bishop’s room complete with a little altar. In one of the guest rooms, I found a porcelain wash basin placed on top of a mirrored vanity with a cream pitcher at the bottom shelf. I remembered readings of eighteenth century English novels. I can already visualize the pitcher being brought by a shy girl maid in black and white starched dress into the room. By the staircase was the suitor’s corner, made up of two chairs facing a small round table. Considering that corner can be viewed from any part of the house, it does give one an idea how uncomfortable a suitor might have felt.
Parallel to the hallway is the flower-covered balcony. You could barely see out with the profusion of crawling vines. It was off-limits anyway. We continued to end of the hall where an ancient kitchen and bath are located. Even the cream bathtub is still there. The exit stairwell at the back of the house leads back to the garden area, near the souvenir shop. We found this charming old well and I admired the iron scroll work above it. Another door suddenly opened on the ground floor near the entrance and a man gestured us in, telling us to check the contemporary art gallery. Inside, it was air-conditioned, the place transformed into a modern spacious room with hanging paintings on the walls. The artworks depict Filipino myths, mythic animals, farming, birds and butterflies, and a lot more. It was really interesting to see. Most of the subjects are pre-Spanish period, a time I have always been interested. Who are we before the men from other lands came?
By noontime, we went back to our hotel for lunch, which was a good thing because it rained. The hotel’s restaurant on the rooftop, The Treetops, serves home food suited to our liking. Because of time constraints, we weren’t able to check out the best local food and restos around the city. Definitely, next time. At the moment, our itinerary is just going around scenic spots and we don’t even rush on that. There are more beautiful places we missed but that gives us more reason to go back.
Third day. We hired a taxi to drive us up the hill to the Taoist Temple. It was a bright day, and as the driver said, on nice days like this, lots of people go there. On the way up, we passed grand homes and another temple but it says private. We reached the temple and parked next the tour buses full of students. The guard at the entrance told us we can only visit for 30 minutes. I climbed the flights of stairs leading up. It was a relief the stairs wasn’t the obstacle I thought it would be.
The temple’s vivid colors are marvelous under the bright morning sun. The green and reds of the dragon statues look fierce, with their mouths open to breathe out fire. My sister kept berating herself for forgetting the camera charger. The camera died yesterday, hence we only have her phone camera to use. I think the colors would have been amazing in the digital cam.
From the landing, one can view parts of Cebu City and note the tall landmarks. I can’t miss the intricate light blue-green towers of Waterfront Hotel-Lahug. Up another flight of stairs is a large glass walled main altar where visitors lit incense and offer up little prayers and wishes. We climbed another curving stairs.
Almost everything is painted rich red and the sun blazed under our heads, making the colors sharper. My yellow fan and broken umbrella were sure handy. In one corner, there’s a small pond with a statue of a man fishing. My sister and I were struggling to take a photo of ourselves with the statue as our background. One man, a foreigner, stared at us in amusement and came forward to offer to take the photo and asked us to take his photo, too. We gladly agreed.
We explored the rest of the temple. I particularly enjoyed the scenery from up there and the one of a kind Buddhist architecture. It is a lovely place for those who seek serenity and be in touch with their spirituality, only if there’s not much visitors. Moving bodies that come and go can be quite distracting. We concluded the tour by going to a smaller temple off to the left of the main. It was much quieter and there we lit our incense to the altar for good health and prosperity.
Hopping back to the cab, we detoured to Marco Polo located on top of another hillside. Yesterday, the local channel featured the huge Tree of Hope on the hotel’s lobby and my sister wants to hang a couple of Christmas balls as a donation. Secretly aside, we hoped to ride the elevator up to the rooftop cafe to check the skyline view. It was closed today.
We let the driver drop us off The Terraces at Ayala Mall, shopping the rest of the afternoon for souvenirs. Instead we ended up buying random shoes! At dusk, The Terraces looked beautiful with all the mellow lights and modern structure. The first time I was there, the exact place was once a park. I remembered a little bridge, green patches of lawn, a flower garden, an old tree under which a charming restaurant stood. I thought of visiting that resto but sadly, it’s gone now.
Back to Tree Tops for our last dinner. From the rooftop, I can see the vertical light of Marco Polo up the hill and the festive lights of Crown Regency near us. My sister puttered her phone to take advantage of the free wi-fi service. I enjoyed the local produced mango juice drink in can. Strangely enough, a lot of the more interesting things happened not while viewing the tourist spots but the mundane things most people who travel here overlook.
The bakery just around the corner where we bought bread for our journey up the Taoist Temple; a drug store across it to buy toiletries; the cheap jeepney rides to and from the hotel; the vending machine where my sister got a P2.00 worth of bottled water near Casa Gorordo; our very nice taxi driver who gave useful tips and offered to take us around the nice places in the city; the always smiling receptionist; buying a discounted Jane Austen’s Emma at a nearby book store; a lovely wooden-framed standing mirror deeply discounted that we couldn’t buy because we’d have to ship it to Manila.
It may be awhile before we could go back. It’s already hopeless to wish that mirror would still be around. On the drive back to the airport on a Sunday morning, the city wakes up to its usual routine to a day just the same as any. It is indifferent to us who are a bit saddened for the trip to end.
The weather is bright again today. I’d like to think that it is a nice send-off. The taxi drives on.
More photos here