Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I'm back from my trip with Jenna to Cebu and the Camotes Islands in the Philippines.

We flew into Manila on Wednesday evening, from where we transferred to a plane to Cebu. We didn't have enough time to leave the airport and explore the city, but I had a good view of Manila as our plane landed at the airport. It's an absolutely enormous city - truly huge and sprawling. Just before the plane touched down it flew over a very affluent-looking residential neighborhood full of attractive single-family homes, right next to a decrepit-looking slum full of shacks. Even from the airplane it was a very striking contrast.

At the airport in Manila we went to a Jollibee. Jollibee is an ubiquitous fast-food chain in the Philippines. Jenna got hooked on them on her previous visit to the country, and insisted that I try it. I guess my Jolibee hamburger was my first authentic taste of Filipino food in the country.

We landed at Mactan-Cebu International Airport that evening. The airport is located almost directly adjacent to the beach where Ferdinand Magellan was killed in 1521. The spot where he died is something of a tourist attraction now, but we never got there.

One surprising thing about the Philippines is security. There seemed to be much more security for our domestic Manila-Cebu flight than our Taipei-Manila flight. On our return trip, we had to go through a baggage check in Mactan-Cebu Airport just to get to the check-in counter. In our hotel in Cebu, the gentlemanly middle-aged man who made us tea and tried to get our cable TV working wore a very visible gun and holster. This would have been unimaginable in Taiwan.

The next morning we took a bus to the town of Danau, to catch a boat to the Camotes. Danau is principally known to tourists for the St. Thomas de Villanueva Church, built in 1755 and restored in 1981.

More Danao pictures, from the vicinity of the church and boat terminal:
19th National Statistics Month.
Don't Text While Crossing the Street.

While waiting to board the boat to Consuelo, Pacijan Island, we observed a couple of very unhappy and uncooperative pigs which had apparently just come in on a previous boat being forced onto vehicles bound for elsewhere on Cebu Island. We were kind of wondering whether we would end up sharing a boat with a big unhappy pig, but although we heard some vaguely pig-like sounds on our return boat to Cebu, we never actually saw one.

Jenna's picture of a large angry pig on the pier at Danao (our boat to Consuelo is visible behind him):

After boarding the wooden boat - and waiting for about an hour as passengers and cargo continued to slowly accumulate - we left for the Camotes. The Camotes consists of three main islands: Pacijan and Poro, which are connected by a narrow land bridge, and Ponson, which is more distant. We never reached Ponson, but Pacijan and Poro Islands were more than enough to keep us occupied.

We were met at the dock in Consuelo by a van driver from Mangodlong Rock Resort, a beachfront hotel just a short ways south.

We spent most of the rest of the day at the hotel.

The next day, Friday, we traveled up the west coast of Pacijan Island. We hired motorbike drivers to drive us around the islands (once, long ago, I was terrified of riding on the back of a motorbike; Sumatra forced that fear out of me) and they took us to where we could hire a small boat to Tulang Island. Tulang's a small island off Pacijan's north coast, and we tried snorkeling off its beach. (Rather disappointing, except for the cool neon-colored sea urchins.)

There is a small village on Tulang Island - imagine a Westerner's mental image of a rural tropical island village, and you've got a pretty accurate picture. I don't think Western visitors are completely unknown on Tulang island, but we attracted quite a few kids practicing their limited English on us.

Some of Jenna's pictures of Tulang:

An old lady who chatted with us on Tulang Island insisted we accept a gift of a large fruit we didn't recognize.

We eventually found out that it's called a breadfruit, and it should be eaten cooked. We had absolutely no idea how to prepare it, so that evening we asked the kitchen at our hotel to cook it for us. It was served to us stewed and sweetened; it tasted vaguely like sweet potato. We liked it.

Jenna's picture of a road in the Camotes:

That day we ate lunch as the sole customers at a restaurant at Lake Danao, where we made sure to order vegetables as a change of pace from the food we'd been eating, which was mostly meat and rice. Then we went to Buho Rock on Poro Island for more snorkeling. The snorkeling was rather better at Buho Rock than Tulang Island - we actually saw fish, not just sea urchins and garbage.

On Saturday, we started out by trying the snorkeling at the hotel. It was surprisingly good - despite some heavy boat traffic, we saw a decent variety of fish, and a very surprising amount of live coral.

In a way, I think my very first snorkeling experience in the Penghu Islands in Taiwan spoiled me. There wasn't much live coral, but I saw a greater variety of aquatic animal life in Penghu than anywhere else I've snorkeled - puffer fish, colonies of squid, and a pair of cuttlefish who patrolled the rocky shallows. (Looking back, I think we got very lucky with those cuttlefish. Scuba divers encounter cuttlefish frequently in deeper water, but I don't think they often venture into shallow water.) Now every time I go snorkeling I expect to see a similar variety of swimming creatures.

For lunch on Saturday our motorbike drivers took us to San Francisco, the biggest town in the Camotes. San Francisco is the only part of the Camotes where I saw a chain store (Julie's Bakery, a common chain in the country), although we went to a small locally-owned place where where an unused karaoke machine sat in the corner and a couple of cats came by begging. (Both of these are extremely common sights in the Philippines.)

Then to Altavista View, a lookout point on Poro Island.

Looking west, that's Poro Island in the foreground and Pacijan Island in the background. The land bridge that connects them is to the left, out of sight in this picture. Lake Danao is at the left, and Tulang Island is the small island of the coast of Pacijan on the right. Cebu Island can be seen on the horizon.

Our next stop was Bukilat Cave, also on Poro.

Light was provided by holes in the cave ceiling; we never fully established whether there were safety measures in place aboveground to keep people from falling in.

Our final Poro Island stop was Panganuron Falls, a waterfall which proved rather difficult for our drivers (who seemed unfamiliar overall with Poro Island) to find. With no signs to guide us, we had to ask for directions a few times, and finally ended up on a hiking trail that led us to the very top of the waterfall.

The question is whether there was a more clearly marked trail that would have taken us to the bottom of the waterfall, presumably more photogenic. I'll probably never find out.

This ended our exploration of the Camotes. On Sunday morning we went snorkeling again at the hotel, then got driven to Poro Town for a boat direct back to Cebu City. Once again we boarded the boat, only to wait as passengers and cargo trickled on board. (And the boat was already full of passengers when we boarded!)

Upon arriving back in Cebu, we took a taxi to the same hotel we'd stayed at before. Then we walked over to the nearby Ayala Center to get our fill of Filipino mall culture.

Filipino mall culture is very different from what you'd find in Korea or Taiwan, or probably anywhere else in Asia. In Korea or Taiwan you'll find Korean or Taiwanese versions of American shopping malls. But I can't call shopping malls in urban Philippines a Filipino version of an American model - rather, I feel like they ARE American shopping malls, that happen to be located in the Philippines. Smaller shopping centers in Cebu look just like American strip malls. It all comes from the Philippines being massively influenced by American culture right when it was modernizing. They all looked to the American model, rather than European or Japanese models.

So in the Ayala Center we found Western mall design, Western food, and a surprisingly large number of Westerners. Presumably for Cebu-area expats, the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon is to hang out at the mall. It was even linguistically familiar - in Danao and the Camotes we'd run into some communication problems, but once in Cebu I found that most locals spoke good English. Often to each other.


Nerissa said...

I am amused by your experience. A taste of Philippine life and culture.I even read your post on Tagalog and Cebuano.I'm from the Philippines but I am here in Seoul right now....
You have captured Philippine life even if your visit was just for a short time....continue exploring the world.

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cagayan de oro resorts said...

Camotes Island is just simply amazing, everyone who has been there all sing the same song. I could never get enough of its beauty and how I wish I could live there.