Wednesday, January 11, 2012

72 Hours in Cebu for non-virgins

Sitting here, choosing words, letter by letter, on the keyboard with explicit intention of telling you about something I did or something I ate and making you as hungry and miserable as I can—surely that’s wrong. But fuck it. Who doesn’t want a good wank now and then?
--Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw

Ten secret places to eat, sleep and do everything else in between.  Information (probably) only the locals know or hear about.

For the uninitiated, Cebu is Magellan’s Cross, Sto. Nino, Taoist Temple, Lapu-lapu shrine, utap, su-tu-kil, mangoes and guitars—icons that define my hometown located in the heart of the Philippine archipelago. If you’ve been to the island more than once, you have pretty much covered a healthy dose of good finds, good food and gargantuan tourist traps. To complete the picture, throw in Moalboal, Malapascua, Kawasan, Bantayan and Badian Island and you will have an idyllic island complete with blue sea and sky and swaying coconut leaves reaching for the sky. Cebu was once referred to as an Island in the Pacific which created the impression that it was an island outside the Philippines. As such, it funneled volumes of tourist even during the turbulent Martial Law years.

Let all guidebooks and a whole nine yards of blogs written thus far take care of the usual information. In this “not the usual” edition, I will bring you to the hidden and well-guarded secrets (well, some) of the Cebu I know.

First 3 hours
After you have freshened up and have your appetite fighting tooth and nail for lunch, get ready to soak up some sun first and embrace the island vibe! Chill. After all, you did not come this far just to sleep, get a massage or go on a shopping frenzy, didn’t you? You could do that at the tail-end of your stay.

Assuming that you arrive in the morning and it’s a Sunday, don’t miss the tastiest, the best lechon there is in Cebu. It’s supposed to be a secret and only a few local foodies know about it. Now, I’m telling you, it’s not in Talisay or elsewhere and yes, the pig doesn’t fly. It’s up North. Be sure you get there in time for lunch because arriving there later than that is arriving in a porn set after a shoot! For complete information, click here.

First 12 waking hours
SEE| MUSEUM of Beautiful Accidents
Hidden behind a mountain of steel bars, soot and planks of wood, I have never expected for a moment to see before me a gem in the rough. Quite literally, the rough edges which is the neighborhood won’t give anyone a clue what rare and beautiful treasures the unassuming construction store warehouse holds. The only dead giveaway clue is the signage that reads Museo Parian that hangs on its gate.

It was business as usual when I arrived. Admin office phoned somebody presumably to tour me around the museum. I could sense the boss was on the other line. Unfortunately, the boss was somewhere else for lunch. It would have been awesome to hear backstories about the house—the discovery that it’s actually a heritage house (a national treasure at that), the restoration process and ahem, the paranormal experiences (in the course of the tour, I learned that the owners actually lived in the house during the early years of their marriage).     

After I walked past the industrial noise blanketing the warehouse, I was led to a nondescript stairway. It was the azotea. Breaking traditions, I was actually getting inside the museum in a fashionable back entry which makes the tour sneaky at its best while it unravels layers after beautiful layers of close to 300 years of history that left me mouthing all the ooohs and aaaahs I could muster in a day.   

The tour continued to the dining hall and organically flowed toward the bridge that connects the main house with the bedrooms, sala and comidor and snakes down to the centuries-old main gate fortified with steel. It rightfully ended in the restored basement which now hosts Sugbu Gallery—a collection of artifacts found during the restoration process and some other memorabilia found in Cebu.

The structural and design integrity of the house remain as it was in the 1700s. A few furniture were added simply to create an ambience replete with an Eduardo Ah Tay four-poster bed (Ah Tay was a very famous Binondo furniture maker in the 19th century).

There are more than a dozen of museums scattered in the city. Casa Gorordo, University of San Carlos Museum, Cathedral Museum, Fort San Pedro and San Diego-Yap Museum to name a few but none of them had me dropped my jaw in amazement like the Jesuit House of 1730. Thank you Venus for the guided tour!

In a hushed tone, I tell you, visit this “secret museum” before everyone else does.

JOIN| the group tour of Cebu’s master story teller Balbino Guererro also known as Ka Bino. I am not really a fan of group tours but I’d like to believe that there are information better left to the experts rather putting matters into your hands, I mean the D.I.Y. kind of thing.

It’s a skill to beautifully marry history and fun. To make it entertaining is sheer talent. Ka Bino must be doing an awfully awesome job to be called Carlos Celdran of Cebu.

The tour will bring you to downtown Cebu. Don’t miss the story about the controversial rivalry between the Augustinians and the Jesuits that leveled a fledgling church to the ground.  Contact or call +63.916.667.3402 for rates and schedules.

EAT| PLAY, LOVE Spanish Dishes
Complete the day with an authentic Spanish dinner of gambas, paella negra, callos and lengua prepared by the master hands in Senor Arano’s kitchen.  The location, tucked in a quiet neighborhood in Guadalupe is hard to find. Getting there is half the fun. Look for the wooden door with vines that seem to shroud it. Call (032)256.1934 for reservations.
SLEEP| As the night wears on, have another glass of fine Spanish wine while you can still walk straight with one eye covered. But make sure you’ve arranged a bed for the night already. It’s a dizzying selection of the world’s finest 5-star hotels: from Shangri-la in Mactan, Raddisson Blu beside SM, Movenpick in Punta Engano and Marco Polo in Nivel Hills. But wait, you’re on a budget. There’s Tunes Hotel (set to open soon) across Ayala or Islands Stay Hotel next block. And if you are really, really tightening your belt, get a bunk bed in Sugbutel or Cebu Guesthouse.     

Day 2 swim, swing, and drink

SWIM| Set your alarm at 3:00AM because you will be swimming early with the gentle giants of the ocean—whale sharks or butanding! It’s a long drive but it’s all worth the hassle. What used to be a secret attraction down south is now out in the open with all the media attention it’s getting. By now, expect busloads of tourists when you get there. Got questions? Click here.

SWING BY| Argao town is home to the tastiest torta in Cebu. I’m sure you’ve heard about that already. My favorite, if you cared to know is OJ’s. Head out to Alex Kafe near Argao Church and sample old-time favorites torta and sikwate (cocoa drink) or the other Pinoy comfort food in the menu. Check out the town center, too.  Argao Church’s retablo, though has gone overboard with the splash of gold, has merits I do not want to mention here. Want to post pictures on facebook? The town center offers free wi-fi.

MEET UP |If meet-ups with a local or expat (who by this time has more knowledge of the scene than any of the average locals) to discover more about the city, check out the Cebu group in Nobody mixes good fun, good vibes and good poison like the awesome guys do at couchsurfing! If you are one lucky bastard, you might hop in the epic booze cruise!

Day 3 hangover + larang

By this time, you could be nursing a nasty hangover. Get some antidote called larang—the drunkard’s wife greatest gift to mankind (just kidding). It’s soup with a healthy amount of fish fat on it, perfect cure to a hangover. Tell the taxi driver to bring you to the larang place. Chances are, he will take you to the seedy Pasil Market or somewhere along Osmena Boulevard.  You know the other nasty purpose of ice pick, don’t you? That is why I recommend the latter for safety.

After you’ve sweat out the demon, get yourself ready for brunch or sandwich perhaps in Dove Street—an off the beaten pastry shop inside a ritzy, gated community in Banilad. Getting there is part of the adventure. Or have Filipino comfort food (raised a notch higher) at CafĂ© Elysa in Parian District. The owner is a sommelier so expect a fine selection of wine whose names you can barely pronounce. Food and of course wine are rather hefty.

Last 8 hours
After you have shoved the last of the dessert, you can now do all the shopping you want. For pasalubong, nothing beats Kultura Filipina in SM City Northwing for its wide selection and good price. If you are adventurous enough, Taboan Market is the best place to get dried squid and danggit.

I assume you are taking a red eye flight back home. It’s a city too good to pass up for its whimsical energy, island verve and cosmopolitan flavor all rolled into one. I know. For that, you deserve a pat on the back, no, a good massage would be apt. A massage excruciatingly good you can feel your eyes roll up into your head.  Massage clinics are all over the city.

Final Hour
Stepping into the tarmac with your head still spinning a little is a foreboding that you missed out more days to enjoy the island. Three days aren’t enough. Come back for more and stumble upon amazing discoveries! It’s not called gateway to a thousand journeys for nothing.

Mental Note: Come back to Cebu on the last Saturday of the month to see live the Dancing Inmates of Cebu inside the maximum security prison! And if food porn is your thing, the original Balamban liempo, Johnnas Liempo Haus (0910.596.5709), is less than an hour drive through the scenic Transcentral Highway.

More cash than time to see The Philippines? 


  1. holy crap the dancing inmates! I haaaaave to do that - with 8 straight days in cebu this year - it has to be done! :D
    greeeeaaaaat post! i need to get this kind of cherry popped - honestly, theyre all new to me!
    (sorry sa dami ng exclamation points, i think the caffeine has gone straight to my nervous system na)

    1. thanks very much Eileeen! hope to see you in Cebu! happy travels :D

  2. The title is really catchy!
    Nice one! :)
    I love your pics!

  3. I was supposed to go to Oslob this week but I cancelled my trip :(( I'm worried about their sustainability: There are so many reports about the whale sharks being injured. Will they still be there kaya when I'm finally able to visit them?

    1. hi aleah! a couple of days ago, the local papers ran a story about an injured whaleshark. no idea yet if they are stopping the operations...


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