Last week was my post-birthday and my son's graduation celebration and I've made the right choice going to Bantayan Island, Cebu over my usual fave getaways El Nido and Boracay. I thought of giving a heads up to my foreign friends where best to visit the Philippines and I've gained more than just friendship, it's the beauty of the people and the island that left me wanting to go back again. Tuesday April 15, 2014: We arrived before lunch without hotel accommodation and when the van of Marlin's Beach Resort in Talisay, Sta. Fe, Bantayan Island offered a free ride, my son and I did not hesitate to ask for room availability. The reception said they were fully booked because of the peak season/Holy Week reservations. A few chat here and there, a guest checked out and I was given a room for only one night with a very handsome discount and free breakfast. The staff was smiling and helpful seeing my difficulty to walk and I was able to get a room (good for 3) with aircon in the ground floor. It was a hazy and rainy afternoon and since the flight was just too early, we spend the first day sleeping and enjoying the view of the beach from my own veranda.
Scouting for another accommodation, I did not hesitate going to the most favorite pizza place, Tristan Resort and Restaurant just a few blocks away from Marlin's. I was surprised at it's real beachfront and the friendly Ms. Arlene Rigillo who solved my problem in an instant. She managed to give me an aircon room with free breakfast despite her bookings from Agoda. It was between the beautiful chat about the pizza and recipes of the resto and the recovery of Bantayan Island from Yolanda typhoon (Haiyan) that I felt I had to stay longer. That first night motivated me to talk to more locals about how they feel about living in Bantayan Island and the efforts of fellow Filipinos. The guard from Marlin's Resort told me the island was named because of the watch towers all over guarding the kings during the Spanish period ( he even mentioned Pope Pius VI). When I told him what my History Prof MC Guerrero in UPDiliman asked me (why Spain had to go to Manila when they first landed in Cebu), he became interested and reflected how the Badjaos of the region became insignificant to the province through the years.
The following day, Holy Tuesday greeted me with such a beautiful sunrise and serenity that left me speechless and grateful to God's creations. Tristan's Resort and Restaurant gave me a view in the morning that took my breath away. The day was filled with meeting independent foreign volunteers some from YPDR (Young Pioneer Disaster Response) and some solo local travelers from Makati and Las Pinas who also became involved with the advocacy. In between the chat with the foreigners and the locals were such awe at the great extent of progress on optimism of those who lost houses and livelihood from the typhoon. I swam when I want to in such clear, pristine waters and enjoyed the white soft sand stretching more than 400 meters still shallow with freedom. No moss, no trash and more importantly, no urban tourists partying which I hated in Boracay. I found peace and I stayed longer with the help of the staff from Tristan's Resort and Restaurant.
I loved that Tristan's dishes were so huge at almost fastfood prices, I got to share meals with my son and friends every time. I miss Ate Baby's Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce and Sisig Pizza at Tristan's. I also miss her beautiful breakfast in the mornings with such sweet smiles and warm greetings. I've also fallen in love with Arlene and Bob's pet dogs Max and Joe. They may be nasty at bad street sellers but they're so adorable and affectionate. I've heard of stories about their families during the typhoon, how the relief goods were changed from corned beef to sardines, how appreciative were locals to OXFAM, Islamic Community and YPDR in coordination with the local government rebuilding their houses with temporary tents and livelihood projects and how they have such individual distinct stories to share about their Yolanda experience. The people in Bantayan Island knew of local foreigners who lived and bought resorts and took advantage of their grief snatching donations to their pockets and became rich yet they all took each day with such smile and moved on.
By the third day, each guest from Tristan's became a friend and became more involved with the thought of helping Bantayan Island tourism back on its feet after Yolanda. Some offered partnerships and some simply recommended this resort to their families and friends back home. I've started the cause from which I believe every Filipino should help promote. Bantayan Island needs the same amount of tourism promotion like Boracay and Palawan, regardless of the local government support and circumstances.
During my last days in Bantayan Island, I did not miss enjoying the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset, ate each Filipino delicacy endemic of the place without thinking of Holy Week customs due to time constraints. I loved their rice wrapped in leaves ("puso") and delicacies Chorizo and Budbud like it would be my last night to live. I laughed to my heart's content that got everyone laughing like the usual me in Manila and I felt like they became my instant family.
I left Bantayan Island Sunday morning and headed to Cebu City to catch some sleep and Cebu lechon (roasted pork). Zubuchon's Duhat Shake (at One Mango Place along Maxilom Ave)was unforgettable and CNT's lechon skin (in front of SM City Cebu)may not be as crispy as Zubuchon's but their meat is softer and more flavorful.
I even managed to meet my (UST-EHS Batch 89)high school classmates Rhodora Maderazo and Louie Cirilo in an impromptu reunion in the city on my last night. 11 years after since I went to Cebu with my fave student (now a GMA News Reporter, Bam Alegre) for NSPC contest, I've realized, I have more places to discover and more significant learnings to gain. I left my heart in Bantayan Island and I will definitely be back next year to relax, rejuvenate and rediscover my country's hidden gem. I love you Cebu and see you again next summer! Travel with a cause this time and choose Bantayan Island for your summer getaway. Don't miss staying in the real beachfront in the island at Tristan's Resort and Restaurant. Book them at Agoda or visit http://tristansresort.blogspot.com/. Like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tristanresortandrestaurant and follow @tristansresort on Twitter for promos and updates.