It was actually the first time that I have seen so many stars in one night. The absence of city lights, or should I say electricity, had all the stars shining above me that I was just in awe staring at the early morning skies. It was surreal and beautiful that, at plain sight, the skies was naturally shimmering. Those thousands of stars in the night sky would be etched in my mind and will always be associated to this serene beach in Batangas – Burot Beach.
Reading through blogs, Burot Beach is one of the favoured quick escapes south of Manila. The cove is just 3-4 hours away from the metro and it is comfortably nestled along the shores of Calatagan. It boasts of semi-fine cream colored sand and its own set of rock formations. The place was once owned by the Elizalde family and was sold to a Filipino-Chinese corporation for further development. Burot Beach is still open to the public while it waits for the development plans to roll out on its shores.
Burot Beach, despite its proximity to the town center, remains unspoiled by developments. There is no electricity, no standard accommodations, and limited facilities to cater to its visitors. The best way to experience Burot Beach is to camp it out. Yes, sleeping inside a tent under a million of stars is the way to go.
We got there at around 7pm and it was already dark. There were a lot of campers for the weekend and a couple of bonfires were already lit up. Good thing that we brought my handy headlamp so I did not have a hard time setting up our tent. This was my family’s first camping trip and I guess we went there not THAT prepared. You can rent out a table for Php300 and a griller for Php100 for convenience sake. If you do not have a tent with you, there are also tents available.
Although there is a store in Burot Beach, I suggest that you purchase everything that you need at the public market before heading off to the beach. It is a lot cheaper and you can also get fresh produce that you can grill. My pick for that day was squid and that made my evening after we grilled it with salt as its seasoning. Talk about going back to the basics.
For an additional of Php200, you can have a bonfire all for yourself by the beach. We were lucky to have set up our tent by the beachfront so our bonfire also gave us a close-to-the-shore feel. The good thing about the bonfire set-up is that the locals will prepare everything for you and even the cleaning up. This was one experience, with Asher, that I would not want to miss out and it was nice having conversations with her by the fire. It was also a great feeling that she was enjoying the experience.
The lack of amenities, like electricity, in Burot Beach paved the way for me to experience and appreciate one of nature’s gifts to us – stars. I have never seen so many stars in one night. The sky was literally shimmering that night. It helped that we had good weather that night that I was able to appreciate the beauty of the night sky.
As camping was new to us, I was not in the comfort of getting a good night sleep at that time. Well, the noise from other campers did not help in tuning me in to a snooze. But because of me dozing in and out of sleep, I was able to see night skies at 3am and 4am and I must say that those are the best times to enjoy stargazing. And you will be surprised as to how many stars you will get to see in one night.
Walk the Beach
Burot Beach is a small and serene cove and exploring it is quite easy. You will get to enjoy the soft sand under your feet as you walk along the shores. If you are facing the sea, you will see a rock formation that stretches out to the sea. Exploring it requires caution as the rocks are a bit sharp. Two trees have already taken its roots on the rocks and gives it a more dramatic effect for photographs. From this point, you will get a panoramic view of the cove. You can also take a dip on its cold waters but practice caution in doing so.
On the other side of the cove are rock formations, some of which jut out from the sea. A lot of people walk around and explore these rocks as it is also adds drama in photography. Smaller coves in between rocks can be seen on this side of the beach. Further along the trail is another cove that is quieter than the area where we pitched our tent.
On this side of the beach is where you can do another kind of stargazing, one where you find the stars underwater. You will get to enjoy the different sizes and the different colors of starfish in the area. I have read blogs that you can also be lucky to catch a glimpse of sea snakes to which I was not really keen on searching.
Unfortunately, the sandy beach of Burot is not conducive for an actual swim. Apart from the water depth that extends further onto the sea, water plants also cover the floor area of the beach. I had an actual swim by the beach further out during our boat ride.
I was intrigued when we were offered if we were interested to do island-hopping for an amount of Php500 for a whole boat. When I asked as the destinations that it will cover, Kuya Renato said that the hour of boat ride will cover a visit along a nearby sandbar and a stop at a coral reef. The sandbar got me interested so I decided to go for it.
The sandbar is 15 minutes away from Burot Beach and, as described by Kuya Renato, boasts of powdery white sand and clear waters. The waters were so clear that it was easy to spot sea urchins who are residents in the area. The shores along the sandbar are swimmer friendly because of its sandy bottom and its water levels. But again, be cautious of sea urchins in the area.
On one side of the sandbar, you will get to enjoy a different underwater scene – the sandy shores filled with starfish. You can get into the water to enjoy counting starfish of varying sizes and colors.
After enjoying the sandbar, we then worked our way to the coral reefs. Too bad though that I did not have my goggles with me and that our manong also did not have the gears for snorkelling so I had a hard time viewing the reefs. We just had fun taking a quick dip into the cold waters before heading back to shore.
Side Trip: Faro de Punta Santiago
Simply referred to as the Calatagan Lighthouse or the Cape Santiago Lighthouse, this century-old lighthouse is definitely worth a visit before we headed back to Manila.
Built in the 1890s, the lighthouse was built during the Spanish period and remains to be the oldest structure in Calatagan. It stands at 16 meters and offers an amazing 360 degree view of the sea, the mountains, and the flat lands of Batangas. The round structure was built from brick and mortar and remains functional even to this day but with modern light fixtures. It is open to the public but you would need to first seek permission from Kuya Junior, who serves as the third generation caretaker of the lighthouse.
The Calatagan Lighthouse was a 20-minute tricycle ride from Burot Beach through agricultural fields. It pays that you have a good travel guide/tricycle driver, Dominic, around who knows his way around Calatagan and he knows almost everyone in town. He was the one who sought the permission of the lighthouse caretaker for our visit. Dominic shares that apart from Burot Beach, there are other coves that we can also check out on our next visit.
The lighthouse is hidden from view because of the lush greeneries surrounding it. In fact, you would have to traverse a road trail to the lighthouse once you make the turn from the main highway. A pathway leads up to the gate of the lighthouse from where you can see the lighthouse in its glory.
The lighthouse has maintained the same structure that was built during the Spanish period. The iron-gate bars, the complex, and the tower was maintained although some facilities were no longer being used like the kitchen. The main building and the actual tower is still fully functional although there are still minor repairs that needs to be done.
The lighthouse is still in use today using the same old structure that was built. You can climb up the tower using the original 65-step iron spiral staircase that leads up to the viewing deck. The deck offers a spectacular view of the Batangas’ coast, flat lands, and the nearby mountains. Kuya Junior gamely provided us a number of trivia on the landowners of the place. One could really see the beauty of Calatagan from this vantage point.
I noticed that the lighthouse did not have the seal of recognition from the National Historical Institute so I asked Kuya Junior why so. He said that the lighthouse is still bounded to a contract that prohibits NHI to install its marker that recognizes the Calatagan Lighthouse for its historical value. I hope that it will get the recognition soon.
Post Travel Notes
Burot Beach is definitely a cheap and easy option for those who want a quick weekend beach escape. It is a great place where you will definitely enjoy the camping, bonfire, and stargazing by the shores. The beach is good for pictures and the same goes for its almost powdery sand.
On the other side of it, the beach is not ideal for swimming because of its depth and its floor cover. In the same way that basic facilities are crude and, at times, unpleasant to all the senses.
At this point, Burot Beach is STILL open to the public despite privately owned by a major corporation. I was told that development of this popular beach will start by next year. I just hope that, should it get developed, it will also provide opportunities for the locals of the communities around it.
Getting there: The fastest and easiest way is to take a van to Calatagan. The terminal is at the back of Kabayan Hotel in Pasay City. Fare is at Php180. You can ask to be dropped off at the Calatagan Public Market. You can then take a tricycle from the public market to the entrance of Burot Beach. At the gate, you pay Php20 and then board another tricycle to bring you to the beach proper. Fare is at Php100 per trip.
Our tricycle contact in Calatagan is Dominick Velilia. He is very accommodating and is one person who seems to know everyone in town. You can arrange for him to bring you to Burot Beach and back to town with a Calatagan Lighthouse sidetrip. Dominick can definitely be a tourism frontman for Calatagan. You can reach him at (0926) 5457371.
Biyaheng FX is a new blog series that I am doing where I intend to explore destinations near Manila by just hopping on an FX or a van, hence, the series title.
From the blowing of the whistle of Sinulog to the beating of the drums of the Chinese New Year, I was in Binondo for a solid Chinese New Year celebration last Monday. It was my first time to celebrate Chinese New Year in Manila’s China Town and it was one great experience.
Binondo was overwhelming to the senses – the sight, the sound, the feel, and the taste. It was like being transported to a different place and in a different time. Binondo or Manila’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown having been established in 1594 by the Spaniards as a move to monitor the movements of migrants from China. The settlement later on evolved as a center for business and commerce. In fact, Escolta was once known as the “Wall Street of the Philippines” with major financial institutions establishing their offices along this hallowed street.
Binondo’s landscape changed dramatically after World War 2 when major businesses settled in newer locations in Makati and Quezon City. Yet business still flourished in the area especially among Filipino-Chinese making Binondo one of the most colourful and vibrant places in Manila.
Welcome the Chinese New Year!
The celebration was in full blast when we arrived in Binondo. Throngs of people filled Ongpin Street, Binondo’s main thoroughfare, who were all eager to join the celebration. Firecrackers erupt every now and then to join the chorus of merrymaking. You could hear distant beating of drums that serves as the heartbeat of the Chinese New Year celebration.
So how do you celebrate Chinese New Year in Chinatown?
Stroll along Ongpin Street, or at least try.
At the heart of the all the revelry is Ongpin Street. The street that is strongly associated with Binondo in such a way that when you mention Binondo, the first thing that will come to mind is Ongpin and vice versa. It is a 1.5 kilometer stretch where you can find almost anything Filipino-Chinese. From food to jewelries to charms to Chinese medicines, you would probably find it here.
A Chinese-inspired arc welcomes visitors coming from Santa Cruz. A similar arc can also be found at the other end of Ongpin coming from Binondo Church. The streets are lined with shops that offer a variety of Chinese goods, Chinese restaurants, and Chinese shops that sell charms for good luck.
Expect that Ongpin Street will be full to the brim during the celebration with Filipinos and Filipino-Chinese gathering to enjoy the festivities. And when we speak of festivities, it is one big party on the street with dragon dancers jumping from one shop to another inviting good luck and fortune.
You would also be amused by the different stalls that are set-up along the streets that sell charms and items that invite good fortune to anyone who purchase these items. Walking along Ongpin Street during the Chinese New Year celebration can be quite a challenge but definitely an exciting one.
Dance with the Dragons
As we were searching for a temple to visit, our group chanced upon a group of dancers that was doing a street demonstration of wushu. Our group got attracted to the swift and graceful movements that we opted to stay and enjoy the street show. As it turned out, they were also the group who were to do the dragon dance which gave us a peek into the amazing Chinese culture.
The dance started with firecrackers commencing the festivities. It was a good 30 minute of crackling firecrackers to shoo away the bad luck and bad spirits. It was then followed by the rhythmic beating of the drums where dragon dancers pranced to its melody. It was amusing to watch a full production of this Chinese tradition that ended with the dragons entering the shop, which I presume was to bring good fortune to the family and the business.
After the whole ceremony, the family shared their blessing by giving away candies and rice cakes to those who watched and attended the ceremony.
Visit a Buddhist Temple
With the rich Chinese culture in Binondo, it is not a surprise that you will also find a couple of temples in the area. Although most of these temples not be open to the public, there are a few that you can visit and explore. One of these temple is the Kuang Kong Temple along Kipuja Street.
Kuang Kong is a Chinese deity who is known as the protector of Quan Yin – the Goddess of Mercy. He is also known as the Patron of Scholars and Martial Arts.
Finding Kuang Kong Temple can be quite a challenge as the temple is well-hidden along the side streets of Binondo so, if you are up to the challenge, you have got to keep your eyes open. First, you need to find your way to the Barangay Hall that is near Maxim’s along Ongpin Street. You enter that street and turn left on the alley. The temple is located on the top floor of the third building from the corner.
The temple is located on the third floor of an old rundown building that would remind you of old Chinese apartments that you watch on television. The waft of burning incense will overwhelmed our sense of smell as we entered the place as it was full of devotees and observers.
The main highlight of the temple is the altar dedicated to Kuang Kong. Offerings are in abundance on the tables. Devotees take the time to light candles and incense and offer prayers to the deity. Every now and then, one visitor would reach out to the temple elders for advice. Interestingly, you can also ask for the elders to look into your fortune for the coming year.
It is definitely a great place to learn and have a better understanding of Buddhism and Chinese culture.
Eat your heart out.
A definite must when in Binondo is to enjoy the authentic Chinese food that its restaurants offer. You will actually find a lot of selection along Ongpin Street from the usual mom and pop eateries to the more established and famous Chinese restaurants. You can enjoy the wide selection of dimsum, noodles, siopao, and Chinese viands.
I always enjoy meals at Estero Fastfood. The place may not appealing because of its location, being close to an “estero” or canal, but it is one where you can enjoy authentic Chinese food. You have a number of small shops that you can choose from and you also have a choice of dining in al-fresco or inside airconditioned rooms. Just do not expect much on the ambiance but I am sure that you will enjoy the food.
Another must try is President Tea House along Salazar Street. This unassuming restaurant has a better ambiance compared to Estero Fastfood. They have a wide range of authentic Chinese food selection. Similarly with Estero Fastfood, the food are freshly prepared when you order. Must-try from their selections are Beef and Brocoli, Hakaw, and their Yang Chow Fried Rice.
Be forewarned though that getting a table on these restaurants can be quite a challenge during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Charm yourself with treats
Weaving through human traffic along Ongpin Street can also be a visual delight as you would be visually amused by the trinkets and lucky charms being sold along the sidewalks and the shops that line it. These colourful lucky charms can vary from bracelets, house decorations, and rice plants woven together that are believed to bring good fortune to recipients.
Take time on checking out these trinkets and make sure to ask the vendor what the trinkets invite or ward off. You will be amused at the varied charms that they sell.
You should also get yourself some take-home treats from Eng Bee Tin, a shop that is known for its Chinese delicacies like hopia, tikoy, and peanut balls. The store took its roots in Binondo in 1912 and, due its popularity, expanded beyond the boundaries of Chinatown. It is now one of the well-known Filipino-Chinese brands in the country. So make sure that you bring home some of these treats to share.
Post Celebration Notes
Celebrating the Chinese New Year in Binondo was a great experience. As mentioned by one reporter of a major news channel, Binondo is one place where you can see and experience the fusion of two different cultures. It is a great place to learn the differences of Filipino and Chinese culture from which a better understanding will come out from these differences. More than that, it is a great place to see and hear the sights and sounds of two cultures that blended into one unique experience.
Getting there: One can take the LRT 1 and go down on Carriedo Station. Walk towards the Santa Cruz Church where you can start your walking tour of Binondo. The Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arc is located right in front of the church.
“How many minutes pa, daddy?”
My daughter and traveling partner, Asher, asked as she was starting to get bored with the three hour trip to Balanga. We were enroute to Mount Samat and we were both enjoying the bucolic scene while our bus was traversing the green fields of Pampanga and Bataan. We decided to spend one laid back Sunday to cross out one item that has been on my bucketlist for a long time – Mount Samat in Bataan.
Mount Samat is a historic mountain in Bataan where a 302-foot Memorial Cross was erected in honor of the valiant heroes that fought the Japanese forces at the onset of the World War 2. It was in the Bataan Peninsula where our valiant freedom fighters stood their ground before bowing down to the Japanese forces in 1942. It was also in Bataan where the 100-kilometer traverse, by the tired and hungry American and Filipino fighters, through Bataan to Pampanga started. It was to be known as the “Death March” where hundreds of POWs died. Hence, the national shrine was erected as a fitting tribute to the valiant men and women freedom fighter.
The Road to Mount Samat
Our trip to Mount Samat started in Cubao where we boarded a bus that was headed to Balanga in Bataan. The three-hour bus ride had us enjoying the green fields of the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Zambales, and Bataan. It was a nice break from the usual city landscape that we see every day.
Our first stop was Balanga - the capital city of Bataan. What really struck me the most was the city center where they were able to maintain the old city vibe. In fact, there are specific areas of the plaza where you would actually feel that you are somewhere in Europe because of the architecture of the buildings surrounding the area.
After a quick lunch, Asher and I walked to the Central Terminal where we boarded a jeep headed for Cabog-Cabog. Again, the jeepney ride had us cruising along the green fields of the Bataan Peninsula. I actually noticed the Death March Markers along the side of the road that meant we were driving along the way where heroes once tread.
At the jump-off point to Mount Samat, we hired a tricycle to bring us to the Mount Samat Shrine. The trip from the base to the top took about 20 minutes of traversing through a winding road that is highlighted by the rich foliage of the mountainside. You would also feel the cooler weather as you get nearer to the shrine while catching a glimpse of the Bataan Peninsula. It was an exciting 20-minute fast-and-the-furious-kind of ride.
Up and Above
Upon reaching the Mount Samat Complex, I was treated with a very magnificent view of the Bataan Peninsula. The flat terrain of the province meeting the blue waters of Manila Bay was a visual treat. The view made me feel like I was on top of the world. The sun was out during the visit and the weather did not deprive us of being able to appreciate the amazing Bataan landscape.
The complex is complete with a colonnade with artworks that pay tribute to the heroes of World War 2. Adjacent to the colonnade is an esplanade where guns and ammunition are strategically displayed. The marble structure and its manicured garden complements the view of the mountain ridges and plains of Bataan. The place was peaceful and serene. It was a great place to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet that it offers.
At the back of the Colonnade, is a cemented zigzag trail that leads to the huge cross at the top of Mount Samat. Although an asphalted road is also in place for those who brought their cars, the trail is a good alternative for those who want a huff-and-puff kind of experience going up to the iconic structure. One good reason to walk up the path is that it offers a spectacular view of the land that Mount Samat overlooks.
A Hero’s Cross
Standing at 92 meters from its base, the memorial cross of Mount Samat is the second largest cross in the world. It sits on the highest point of the mountain at 555 meters above sea level. The base of the cross bears the NHI plaque that recognizes the historical value of Mount Samat. The base is also highlighted by sculptures done by Abueva that depicts the country’s significant events and personalities. A small compact entrance will lead you inside the cross where you can opt to take the stairs or the elevator to the cross’ viewing deck.
Located within the walls of its crossbar is the shrine’s viewing deck. The easiest way for access is the elevator but, if you are coming in for a visit on a weekend or on a holiday, expect to line up and wait for your turn to head on up the deck.
The viewing deck offers visitors a 360 degree view of the Bataan Peninsula, from the waters of Manila Bay to the mountain ranges that guard the province. It gives you a bird’s eye view of its landscape. It was an amazing sight. Interestingly, the place is not airconditioned as the glass panels are open for natural air to come through the deck to circulate. No worries as the glass panels are too small for a normal person to fit in. You can attempt to take a peek down its base which can be quite a challenge if you have a fear of heights.
The view will definitely captivate you and I guess the best way to enjoy the view is to sit down and enjoy the landscape as you feel the gentle and cool breeze blowing on your face. It is definitely relaxing.
Sidetrip: Balanga Cathedral
We were not able to get around much in Balanga as time did not permit us to do so. Although, we did manage to get a good look of the Plaza Mayor de Balanga – the city center. At the center of all the activities is the Balanga Cathedral.
Established in 1739, this humble church served as an artillery station by the Japanese against Filipino and American soldiers who took their last stand on Mount Samat. The church had undergone a lot of renovations and improvements after World War 2. Needless to say, its architecture blends in with the old city feel of Balanga’s city center with its red brick walls. An image of Saint Joseph, to whom the church is dedicated to, highlights its façade.
The interiors of the church was designed with simplicity with the altar as its major focus. The cream-colored altar has the image of the Holy Family as its main centerpiece.
We came in at a time when a mass was ongoing so getting around and exploring the church was not really a smart thing to do. In the end, as a traveler, I need to respect the community and the motions of their faith. But it was good stop for a short thanksgiving prayer for another opportunity to travel and discover the Philippines.
Post Travel Notes:
After the rush of getting to Mount Samat, my little travel partner and me decided to get a quick snack of chicken skin and settle down in one of the benches of Plaza Mayor. We did get a couple of smiles and nods from the locals. I guess we were pretty obvious that we were just visitors in the area and the affirmation from the locals that we got made us feel very comfortable.
Looking back, it was a great experience for both me and Asher. It was nice to get my little girl understand a little bit more of Philippine history through our travels. It was also a nice way of teaching her that travel need not be the usual holiday trips that we get. Exploring destinations is about hopping on a bus and discovering something new.
It was also nice to strike off Mount Samat from my bucket list. Now… I need to plan for the next.
Getting there: You can take a Genesis Bus or Bataan Transit Bus bound for Balanga. Once you reach Balanga, you can take a tricycle to the Central Station where you take a jeep bound for Cabog-Cabog. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Mount Samat Shrine jump-off point. From the jump-off point, you can hire a tricycle that will take you directly to the shrine.
Ask the tricycle driver to wait for you at the gate as you will need them to head back. Once at the jump-off point, you can take public transport to head back to Balanga where you can take a bus back to Manila.
Having two days to spare before the Grand Sinulog Parade, we really did not have any itinerary although we did have a number of destinations in mind. We initally planned to go down South to Oslob to go whaleshark watching and to head up to Cebu’s Tops to view the metro but none of these were really finalized. I guess this made our trip unpredictable – no plans except for us to enjoy the Sinulog 2016 celebration.
Touchdown Cebu (Day 1)
Our first hours in Cebu was really spent preparing for Sunday’s festivities. Of course, lechon was the main course for breakfast and I must say that CnT Lechon, near SM City Cebu, was a great way to welcome us in the Queen City of the South. My trips to Cebu is never complete without enjoying a hefty serving of Cebu Lechon.
The rest of the morning was spent looking for the right Sinulog shirt and designing it for Sunday’s festivities. We also had to do our shopping for the festivals must-haves – whistle, dreamcatcher, headress (optional), festival powder, and face paint. All these goods are to be used to ensure a fun-filled Sinulog experience.
Of course, going through all these shopping got us in the Sinulog mood because the Sinulog theme song was blasting in almost every corner of the city. The locals ensure that its visitors will get into the Sinulog spirit, days before the Grand Parade.
Robinsons Galleria Cebu
One of the newest malls in the city is Robinsons Galleria. Just a few hundred kilometers from SM City Cebu, the mall exudes class and elegance. Its mall’s interiors give it an atmosphere of a high end mall. The mall still has a lot of tenants that are still in the process of fit-out.
Interestingly, a Sinulog exhibit was on display at the ground floor of Robinson’s Galleria. One section features the Sinulog gowns that was used during the past celebrations. These dresses glow in vibrant colors of gold, white, silver, and red. These lavish gowns come with amazing headresses.
At the end of the hallway are winning captures of Sinulog 2015. You will be amazed at these captured moments of triumph and manifestation of faith.
One of the things that I enjoyed the most with the new mall is the aesthetic design. The malls have managed to incorporate nature and zen designs onits lower ground giving you that feeling of being close to nature even if it is artificial. Of course, we took the chance of challenging our visual creativity with these amazing interior designs.
Cebu Taoist Temple
Standing in all its grandeur at 300 meters above sea level, the Cebu Taoist Temple offers a grand view of Cebu City. It was built in 1972 to cater to the Chinese community of Cebu who needed a temple where they can practice their Taoist faith. In the end, this magnificent temple located in one of the posh villages in the city, Beverly Hills, now serves as one of the tourist spots to visit when in Cebu.
Although I have been to Cebu numerous times, it was only now that I was able to visit the Cebu Taoist Temple and I was really amazed with its intricate Chinese architecture. I was in awe with intricacies of the design from its staircase to its temple. One could really say that a lot of detail really came through during its planning and construction.
The temple also offers an amazing view of the Queen City of the South from its balconies. The dragons that seem like guardians of the temple seem to be also looking onto the city. It was also nice that we came in at a time when the sun was starting to set as it allowed us to play with the light and shadows of the afternoon sun.
We were rushing to get to Tops Lookout as we wanted to catch the final burst of colors of the setting sun as our good IG friend, @awesome.lei, said that it is a good vantage point and we did get there at the nick of time.
Tops Lookout is a good vantage point to have a panoramic view of Cebu City and the nearby Mactan Island. We came at a time when the day and night was at its eclipse and it gave me a full view of how the city looks during the day and how it glitters at night. The glittery night show was complemented by the cool weather of the mountain top that it was a breather from the humid weather of the city.
It is no wonder that people would really head up to Tops Lookout as it offers an amazing and relaxing view of the city and its nippy weather.
Rushing up to South Terminal wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to start our second day in Cebu. We earlier planned to head down south for a dose of Vitamin Sea but the fluidity of our plans allowed us to make changes instantly. But our first concern was really catching the bus that would leave at 5am. As the city was gearing for the weekend celebration, the major thoroughfares was being closed off that resulted to the temporary relocation of bus stations and that was the main reason why we were on a mad rush to catch the 5.30am trip.
Yes, we did manage to catch the bus.
Three hours of catching snooze in the bus, we finally found ourselves in the municipality of Dalaguete. The municipality is known as the “Vegetable Basket of Cebu” because the cool weather of its hillside make it conducive to vegetable farming. Like any Cebu destinations, Dalaguete has its own share of natural wonders above and below.
Osmena Peak and the Habal-Habal
After a hefty breakfast prepared by the family of our good IG friend, @willjr42, we discussed the day’s intinerary. We planned on heading up to Osmena Peak then proceed to Oslob in the afternoon for our dose of Vitamin Sea. Now all the plans were temporary as things may change due to time constraints.
After an hour on the road aboard a habal-habal through highways and dirt roads, we were finally at the jump-off point of Osmena Peak.
Osmena Peak is the highest point in the island of Cebu at 1000 meters above sea leavel. Named after the Osmena clan of the province, the peak offers a panoramic view ofBadian. The hike to the top takes about an hour and gives you a visual treat of greens, both from hill covers and vegetable plots, intertwined with rock formations.
The view from the top is really amazing, matched by its cool weather. We were lucky to have come in when the sky was clear that gave us an unobstructed view of Badian. Visitors of the peak will also get treated with a view of a mountain range with pointed peaks that gives Osmena Peak its unique character.
For that extra cheap thrill, you can try standing on one its rock formations at the peak. It will definitely give you that height jitters while trying to keep your balance.
Dalaguete Beach Park
Having stayed a little longer at Osmena Peak, our plans quickly changed as we knew that heading off to Oslob after was not a bright idea. But the decision to stay in Dalaguete proved to be a better idea as we discovered an amazing cove that is also a worthy of attention for a quick beach escape.
Dalaguete Beach Park is a tranquil cove that is managed by the local government. For a minimal fee of Php20, one can already enjoy a strip of white sand beach, clear waters, and the sea breeze. They also have cottages for rent and facilities for group activities. An abandoned private beach resort sits adjacent to the beach park.
I enjoyed the tranquility of the Dalaguete Beach Park. With only a couple of groups who joined us for that Saturday escape, we enjoyed the peace and quiet that the public beach offered. The atmosphere was so chill that I was able to catch a snooze after enjoying a sumptous lunch of grilled chicken and puso.
The Dalaguete Beach Park is one destination that you can check out when you are in Dalaguete. It may not be as impressive as other beach destinations but its cove can offer that peace and quiet when you are searching for a quick escape.
Simala Church (Sibonga)
More like a castle than a church, Simala Church has been attracting Marian devotees from different parts of the country to seek the divine intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also known as the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist Church and has set its home in Sibonga, some 30-minute habal-habal ride from the main highway.
The huge and grand design of the church will take you more than an hour to explore and is still undergoing construction. As soon as you enter the compound, you will be amazed at the lavish design of its current structure and the huge expanse that it covers. It really looks more like a castle rather than a church. Its grand design includes a fortress-style walkway, grand staircases leading to its courtyard, and towers on its four-corners. As earlier mentioned, construction is still ongoing with renovations on its courtyard. I heard that what is being constructed is a water basin/pond.
At the center of the complex is the actual church where the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary is housed. The interiors of the church is as grand as its exteriors with the altar as its main attraction. Atop the altar is the miraculous image that devotees can access through a maze of hallways that leads you to the back of the altar.
Adjacent to the church is a prayer room, a museum, prayer areas, and a hallway of testimonies from devotees. Interestingly, the hallway exhibits memorabilias from devotees whose lives were transformed by the Blessed Virgin Mary. They give their testimonies of miracles that was done to them from healing to passing of examinations.
Simala Church was a profession of Marian faith. The church was built to its grandeur through the devotion of its followers. It is also evident with the continuous flow of devotees, from all walks of life, to the church.
Pre-Titit: A Habal-Habal Experience
As we were heading back to the highway aboard a habal-habal and in pitch darkness from Simala Church, I simply enjoyed the cold evening breeze. Heck… it was my first time to hop on board a habal-habal and it was such a cheap thrill. I guess our pre-Sinulog trip was somewhat like that… chill and exciting. I enjoyed squeezing in a hike to the top of Osmena Peak, chilling like a boss by the beach, and watching the faithful in Simala, not to mention the quick city stops from our first day.
That is what I enjoy the most with unplanned trips. It gives you that thrill of a new experience while challenging you… parang sumakay ka lang sa habal-habal.
Getting There: Cebu is an hour away from Manila by air. All major airlines ply the Cebu route daily. You can get to Cebu Taoist Temple and Cebu Tops Overlooking by hiring a cab but expect it to be pricey. A cheaper alternative is taking the habal-habal from JY Square in Lahug.
Dalaguete is about 3 hours away from Cebu City. Regular bus trips to Dalaguete is available at the South Bus Terminal. From Dalaguete, you can take a habal-habal to the drop off point of Osmena Peak. Local transport can bring you to Dalaguete Beach Park.
From the highway, you can take a bus heading to the city and asked to be dropped off at Sibonga, where you can take a habal-habal to Simala Church. Quick tip – Simala Church closes at 5pm and you have to dress appropriately if you are visiting the church.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.