The Real Philippines Part 1

I’ve been wanting to check out another part of the Philippines for some time now and if you travel within the country you avoid the crazy high airport exit charges so it’s win-win.  You still have to pay P200 per person ($4.60 ) but it’s much, much less than the charge levied when you fly internationally. The cheapest flight I could find was to Cebu, so Cebu it was. It turned out so much better than I expected!

The day after school got out Coco and I took the one hour morning flight to Cebu. Our resort was a tiny oasis on a crowded, chaotic street about fifteen minutes from the airport. It was nice enough, not 5 stars or particularly luxurious but certainly adequate. The grounds were lovely with three fish ponds and a large pool but it wasn’t anything about the resort that made this trip so fantastic. No, it was the fact that we got out of the resort and saw Cebu, the Philippines that Filipinos know that made this trip so unique.

We spent three days in Cebu. I knew nothing about the area but I figured we’d need a beach holiday at the end of the year. I found a ticket on sale and decided to check it out. I now know there really isn’t much to see or do there, yet it will always be remembered. But let me start at the beginning. We arrived a few hours before check-in so I asked the cab driver what there was of note to see that was on the way to hotel. Jennifer (yes, that was his name) took us to see the statue of Lapu Lapu and a shrine erected for Megellan. I had heard of Magellan but had no idea what his relevance was for the Philippines and I had never heard of Lapu-Lapu but I agreed anyways and took some pictures of the sites. I knew I’d have the chance to read up on these folks on Wikipedia when I got home! LOL

   

After checking in we checked the place out. For Coco that meant the pool, the beach, the fish and the insects. “Awwww! Look, Mommy! A baby cockroach! Awwww.” 🙂

Coco loved watching and feeding the fish each day. We were both amazed at how large they were!

After checking in we just relaxed the rest of the day.  Being on vacation and throwing all my healthy habits to the wind, I fed into my cravings and took a cab to the grocery store in the late afternoon to pick up some cookies for the room. In chatting with the driver I learned he worked with the hotel doing tours and he convinced me to hire him to do a tour of the local waterfall, shoe factory and hot springs. At P5000 ($115) it was out of my budget but it sounded interesting so I agreed. Early the next morning after eating our buffet breakfast that was included we met up with him at the front desk. They made really good omelettes and the bananas were nice but the rest of the buffet was typical buffet food that you find in the Philippines, i.e. disappointing. People here tend to add bad oils and sugar to everything and rely on processed packaged goods. It is extremely hard to eat healthfully when traveling. This place was no different. They had loads of greasy meats, fake juices with added sugar, cold chocolate cereal, sweet oatmeal, pancakes with sugar added to the batter served with fake syrup can canned fruits, plain rice, bland salad bar (iceberg lettuce, olives, julienne peppers, carrots and cucumbers, pickles) and an assortment of breads made with refined, white flour. I insisted that Coco and I start off each meal with a banana and an egg but the rest of the day was downhill, not helped by the Oreos I purchased. After breakfast we found Ray, our driver, chatting with the front desk clerk. We learned that the waterfall he had planned on taking us to was temporarily closed due a government crack down on all the pushy vendors that were taking over the place. The two of them continued chatting about it in rapid Tagalog and came up with the idea to take us to Mantayupan falls instead.

Mantayupan waterfall is an undiscovered gem of a place, just recently opened to tourists. The locals use the falls to generate electricity and for irrigation but the incredible beauty, the government has decided, would make it a good spot for tourism. Luckily, few people know about it so we got to experience it in all its natural splendor. It was breath-taking!

Mantayupan Falls was about a 2-hour drive outside of Cebu so on the way we stopped in CarCar at a well-known shoe factory. I bought Coco some new flip-flops (they call them ‘slippers’ here) and myself some sexy shoes for summer. Hers were P80 ($1.85) and mine were P370 ($8.50). Not bad, huh?!

On a side note, they say Cebu is a well-developed section of the Philippines but it was obvious most of those people had never seen a black person before. We were stared at everywhere we went and I can’t tell you how many of them commented on, touched, or photographed Coco or her hair! She didn’t seem to mind for the most part but it started to bother me after the twentieth person or so. But I digress.

After scoring some cheap shoes, we headed to the falls. We parked and started the short walk to the top. The entrance was draped with some hanging vines which I thought were so pretty and a quaint little grill. There was also the requisite random chained up monkey.

We climbed to the top which included traversing this bridge. I gripped Coco’s hand so tightly but she didn’t complain once, later admitting to me that crossing the bridge was scary. Yeah, you can’t really tell from the photo but it’s quite a drop if you slip. I saw several people walking across swiftly and it looked sturdy and our guide made it seem like it was no big deal so I went for it. I’m afraid of heights but the foliage was so dense you really couldn’t see down very clearly. Less than a minute later we were on the other side.

But, man, it was so worth it!! When you do finally get to the falls, your jaw literally drops at the sight. It is so intensely beautiful you can’t help but to experience some sort of enlightenment or be moved in some way.

We brought swimming suits and towels and Coco was dying to go swimming in the water and I really, really wanted the experience but when I looked around I saw that there were only Filipinos there. They seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit, swimming and relaxing and floating their babies in little plastic blow up floaties but I got paranoid. For one, they were picnicking by the falls and some of their trash and cigarette butts were floating in the water. But it was also the lack of foreigners that made me nervous. I figured the Filipinos could all enjoy it because they are locals and don’t have to worry so much about parasites and waterborne illnesses. It could have been perfectly fine but I wasn’t willing to take the risk. We did wade in a bit, up to our knees or so, which in and of itself was an adventure. The rocks were covered with algae which made them very slippery and the current was quite strong in places! It was a bit scary.

I know our driver thought I was crazy when after taking over two hours to get there I was ready to leave in ten minutes. We snapped a few pics at the exit and got in the car to go see the hot springs.

I was looking forward to seeing hot springs cause I have never seen a hot spring before and I figured it would be something we could go into. We started the drive with our windows down as I was so enchanted by the scenery. There were lush green villages accessible to the residents only by foot. Ray said the red roof in the distance was the school for the local school children whose parents worked on the farms in the area.

There were lots of farms with boney cows, scraggly goats and chickens running around.

But most interesting to me was seeing all the rice fields and tropical fruit trees!

Coco thought that last one with the scarecrow was particularly cool after reading about one made from Peter’s clothes in Mr. McGregor’s garden from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So neat when you can make connections 😉

I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the mango trees. They were covered in slips of paper. Ray explained that the paper made their sweet smell less evident to the insects looking for a sweet treat. He thinks only farmers in the Philippines do this. I didn’t get a photo because shortly before we approached the side road that was to take us to the hot springs Ray advised we roll up our windows. He said the area was remote and the villagers may not take too kindly to foreigners. He said it was best not to let them know we were even in the car! As I was processing this I peered out and saw groups of people on the sides of the road as we had come upon a village. His windows were darkly tinted and he assured me they couldn’t see in but as we drove down the bumpy dirt road I expressed to him that I thought we should turn back. He said that I needn’t worry, that it was his responsibility as our tour guide and driver to keep us safe but I wasn’t so keen. “They won’t try to get into the car,” he said, “because they think the driver of a car like this will have a gun.” “Do you have one?” I inquired. “Not today,” he responded. His day job, he explained, was in security and intelligence and though he was licensed to carry a gun he didn’t have one with him that day. I wasn’t sure if that made me feel better or worse but he agreed it was best we turn around and forgo the hot spring. (Peter Rabbit and assault weapons in the same post?)

Back on the main road with the windows back down and my sense of safety back, I snapped a few more interesting shots.

 

As we headed home Ray was hungry and asked if we could stop to buy some bibingkas. For P20 we got four. Two for Ray and one for each of us to try. Bibingka is made from rice powder, coconut milk, sweetener smushed into a paste and grilled. Not bad.

It was a full day and worth every penny. Such a rich, cultural experience!

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