Cebu was one of the destinations I’ve always wanted to visit for the longest time mostly because of my fascination with Philippine history. Unexpectedly, that wish came true! But there’s a catch—the trip was merely for only a day and a half! And here’s how this “surprise” trip came about.
My trip to Cebu was a weird spin-off from my Bohol trip. Due to some travel-related issues, I was forced to purchase my ticket for Bohol just days before the actual trip, and last minute changes usually brings about last minute troubles—in my case it was the lack of ideal flight schedule back to Manila. Who would want to leave Bohol on the first (and only) flight out?
Fortunately, I got some good advice from seasoned traveler officemates, and with some processing I figured to extend my trip by a day and return to Manila via Cebu. Since my Bohol trip was already set to be my most expensive travel so far, shelling out a few more grants for an extra day of vacation won’t really matter much. Thus, the birth of an “instant” Cebu trip.
Catching a Cat
Sunday late afternoon, hours after my 22K trail run and after that final quickie tour, I was bound for Bohol’s pier to catch a cat, SuperCat—a high-speed ferry crossing the islands of Bohol and Cebu. Inside it’s actually more like a very wide airplane—only that it’s in the water. It even felt like one as you hardly feel that you’re in the water as its speed practically cancels out the waves—except for the very big ones that feels like turbulence. Despite its fast speed Cebu was still about two hours away. Cost: P500 + P11.25 terminal fee.
Naturally I was very tired when I got to Cebu, hauling all that luggage after a three and a half hour 22K trail run with hours of travel time back to Tagbilaran and an additional two hour trip. I was lucky that two of my newfound friends were from Cebu province so they were my tour guides until I got onto that cab to my pension house. Coming from a great hotel in Tagbilaran it was so easy to simply just hop onto another lavish one in Cebu, but then again I had a different intention—I don’t want to visit Cebu as a “tourist” but instead experience its culture.
Being my first time in Cebu and to be totally alone in an unfamiliar place I was of course a bit worried, but my weary body and sense of adventure kept my drive to find the most decent money for the least amount possible—that’s the instruction I gave to my cab driver—which sadly ruined my first impression of Cebu City by negotiating a fixed rate and not use the meter. If your body is craving for rest you’d just want to get it over with the quickest way so I reluctantly agreed.
The ones I looked at from my online research were sadly fully booked so it was anything goes, regrettably. I found one in the area of Fuente Osmeña (which I intended) but being cheap was the only positive remark I can describe my room—farfetched from the luxury I enjoyed in Bohol. At least I have my own toilet and bath.
After settling in I decided to walk around the area to find a nice place for dinner and figure out if it was safe to conduct my planned early morning run around the city. I didn’t find any distinct place for dinner since it was a bit late that time (and it was a Sunday), and found a lot of “obstacles” that could compromise my morning run. After pondering while having my “anything but unique” dinner at a popular fast food chain, I decided to cancel my early morning run. I’m a stranger to the place and I don’t feel comfortable proceeding with it so even if I didn’t want to, I had to. Safety should never be compromised.
Travel Tip: If you’re not absolutely certain of your safety, stay out of the streets in the wee small hours. It’s always better safe than sorry.
The following day I realized I was lucky to have stayed in an uncomfortable room—had I stayed in a much better room, I may have never wanted to come out to explore the city! To a person who badly needs rest, any place he can get it safely is good enough. Now that it’s gone over with I can’t wait to checkout and leave this so called room. All charged and ready, an entire city tour awaits!
First on my itinerary was the Cebu Capitol which was just a few hundred meters away. It’s one of the most iconic symbols of the province, and personally it’s one of the best government buildings in the country. Armed with his trusty tripod, this trooper had no fear of being excluded in the frame, and with a fully charged camera he captures the sights incessantly to his hearts desires—the ultimate soloist tourist.
Then it was time for lunch. It was fortunate that jeepneys that pass in front of the Capitol heads toward my next target, Ayala Center. Of course it was pretty easy to just hail a cab to get around but if I was to accomplish my objectives, doing how Cebuanos do it normally should be the theme. No “tourist mode.”
After a short trip I was on my next destination, Ayala Center. I picked this spot for one primary reason—the gym. No, I didn’t spend the entire afternoon pumping iron—I visited my gym’s Cebu branch inside Ayala Center so I have a place to leave my luggage and move around lightly. A gym turned into a baggage counter. 🙂
Now that I can move lightly, touring just got even better. I found a nice place for lunch named Harbour City Dimsum House, and I was very delighted how cheap everything was! I think I got a bit carried away though as my meal was good enough to feed three—all for only P301.
Touring: On Foot
I stumbled upon a problem getting to my next itinerary, the Basilica of Sto. Niño. For some weird reason I was unable to find a commute to the site, and I don’t exactly speak the language so it was frustrating. For what it’s worth, I really do appreciate the efforts of the locals to speak with me despite the language barrier. At times I could just imagine that same scenario must’ve been how it was when the Spaniards came to the island almost 500 years ago.
Frustrated, there was only one desperate act I can think of to resolve the issue—to run! Not only will it solve the problem of getting there, it would also cure my itch to run in the city! And with some divine intervention, the rain had just passed at the time but left the clouds so I took that as a go signal. It was around 3:30PM then, and this runner’s about to fulfill his desire to tour the City of Cebu on foot.
In case you’re wondering how I, first time in Cebu, had the courage to navigate a city I’ve never been to. How does Dora the Explorer do it? With a map! Days earlier I had already made myself a map of Cebu City based on Google Maps for running navigation. Since my planned route was already too impractical to realize at that time, I had to improvise and devise a new route to the Basilica of Sto. Niño. The result—a shorter but surprisingly better route!
The first spot on this improved route was the “Heritage of Cebu.” I actually don’t know of this until that time, and I found it by luck on my printed map. It’s a new monument in a city full of historical sites, but it’s still a nice spot to visit.
Next stop was the country’s oldest street, Colon, which is named after Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish). It traces its origins to the town plan by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Spanish conquistador who arrived in the Philippines to establish a colony in 1565.
It was starting to drizzle at the time so I decided to hurry and get to my ultimate destination for this run, the Basilica of Sto. Niño. I realized that I had forgotten an important aspect on my map—the scale, so I can’t really figure out how far I was to my destination—just run and find out later.
Heading towards the general direction of Cebu City Hall I noticed the sides of an old church. I’ve always had the fascination with old churches so I decided to deviate from my planned route and check it out. To my surprise, there was an inspection before entering the church’s premises, like a mall, so I was intrigued where I was, until I saw the sign—Basilica of Sto. Niño.
Wow! The destination I was seeking apparently was the one who found me! It was as if I was lead or invited here—a real blessing for me. Thinking back and knowing how poor my navigation skills are, finding the Basilica faster than expected without realizing it must really be a Divine Intervention.
After some short prayers and giving thanks, I was back to taking pictures. I just had to be really discreet though inside the Church as the people inside the Basilica are mostly devotees and are really praying.
I’d admit that those short moments inside the Basilica were my favorite part of my Cebu trip. For some reason I was contented, and I’m seeing the true meaning of devotion. Aside from the great show of Cebuano spirituality, the Basilica itself was one of the most beautiful churches in the country. The ceiling was decorated with stunning paintings like those in Europe, and the architecture was just magnificent. For a structure that was standing since the 18th Century it’s one of the best preserved structures in the country. Beautiful, historic, and spiritual.
The Church and Convent erected by the Augustinian Fathers under the Rev. Andres Urdaneta in 1565 were the first established in the Philippines. Both were burned down on November 1, 1566. The second church was likewise destroyed by fire in March of 1628, but rebuilt soon after (1628-1629) under the administration of the historian Rev. Juan de Medina, O.S.A. The present massive Church was designed and constructed during the Priorship of Rev. Juan Albarran O.S.A., (1735-1737). The Sto. Niño venerated in this Church since the time of Legaspi, is the center of intense devotion and religious pilgrimages throughout the Visayas.
I figured I had to hasten my pace as I was gradually losing light when I stepped outside the Basilica. I still have one more famous landmark left on my list, Magellan’s Cross, which I was told was just in the area. I can’t locate it on my map so I don’t know where it was exactly. After taking some final shots, I was back to my previous route and practically just after a few steps I saw it!
Then the rain poured. Imagine how surreal that moment was for me—I was taking shelter at Magellan’s Cross! I can’t stress how important this Cross is to us Filipinos as it marked the arrival of Christianity in the country. That actual cross planted by the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan in April 21, 1521. It’s there; we just can’t see it outright as it’s enclosed in that protective wooden casing made of Tindalo wood that we now see.
From time immemorial this spot has been set aside to commemorate the erection of a Cross in Cebu by the expedition of Magellan. When King Humabon of Cebu and his Queen, son and daughters, together with some 800 of their subjects were baptized by Father Pedro Valderrame, this hallowed site was improved in 1735 by Rev. Juan Albarran, Prior of San Agustin and in 1834 by Rt. Rev. Santos Gomez Marañon, Bishop of Cebu. The image of the Sto. Niño found by the expedition of Legaspi in a house near the present site of the Cathedral of Cebu is venerated by the faithful in the nearby Church of San Agustin.
I had originally planned my route to be to the Basilica and back, but the rain showed no sign of stopping anytime soon so I really had to take that jeepney ride back to Ayala Center. The question was, where? I had asked a few people where I could take that ride, but once again I was lost in translation and had to trace my path back on foot. Of my repeated “interview” with people the only comprehensible information I got was to go to Colon Street, which I did, and there I did get that ride.
Cebu City has an interesting transportation system wherein routes are designated with codes. My commute from Colon Street to Ayala Center for instance was “13C”—something that I didn’t quite get initially until I actually took that ride. This I think is quite tourist friendly as you need not remember the last stop of your ride, although how you’d get this code is trivial as I’ve never seen any spot where these are written. If there’s anything I can suggest the city improves is its insufficient signage as there’s hardly any street signs. Fortunately, the people of Cebu are hospitable and are always accommodating despite the occasional language barrier.
Finally after experiencing Cebu City’s rush hour traffic, I was back at Ayala Center for my last supper. I was aiming for their famous lechon but sadly it ran out by the time I arrived. Oh well, that’s another excuse to return!
From Ayala Center I took a cab towards Mactan-Cebu International Airport and fortunately I got a good and speedy driver. It was too bad that it was late at night so I wasn’t able to see much of the sights including the famous Marcelo Fernan Bridge.
During this trip I realized that Cebu City very much resembles the City of Manila. Its old district looks so much like Quiapo-Recto area, but considering that Cebu City predates Manila, maybe it’s the other way around. Its new business district even looks like Bonifacio Global City during its early days.
Unfortunately, even the not so desired aspects of a highly urbanized city was present in the city which was disappointing for me as I’m not used to seeing it in the provinces. Even heavy traffic was present here due to the city’s old narrow roads, albeit not at the crazy levels seen in Metro Manila. But despite the off-putting scenes I’ve seen I still loved the city for its spirituality, history, and hospitality. I’ll be back, and next time I hope to savor their unique delicacies. Could this be the sign that I should sign up for Cebu Marathon?