Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Travel to Cebu!

Roman orator Seneca once said that “travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” And indeed, this Christmas season break affords one the best time to fulfill that much-hoped for travel around the country as there is nothing like a new place to enliven work-weary bodies for the coming new year.
Cebu, for one, is a great start for a new traveler, Cebu being synonymous with the Magellan’s cross, the crispy lechon (which according to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is the best slow roasted lechon he had tasted), the Sinulog Festival, the nine-day fiesta celebration in honor of Sto. Nino falling on the third Sunday of January. Tagged as the Queen City of the South, Cebu is also a well-known trading center even prior to the coming of both Magellan and Legazpi in its shores. Cebu (Sugbo) is the name given to the city, the metropolis, the island, the province. This Visayan province is made up of 48 municipalities and five thriving cities: its capital Cebu, Toledo, Lapu-lapu, Danao, and Mandaue.

This writer, for one, happily had a chance to revisit Cebu anew during the 11th San Miguel Brewery Inc's National Beer Drinking Contest held at the Parkmall in Mandaue City last November 19.

On our first day, we headed out for a river cruise in Bgy. Bojo in Aloguinsan, the Cebu town, which is known for its Kinsan Festival or the annual festival held on the second Sunday of June celebrating the place’s harvest of the grayish-colored fish abundant only in its waters. The 1.3 km. long Bojo River, which is fed by the headwaters from Kawasan and the spring of Bojo, serves as the feeding and breeding ground for fishes in the town because of its thick mangrove cover. When overfishing plagued the river, eco-tourism saved the community with its fishermen afterwards trained on river cruise tourism and bird watching skills. Our group was welcomed with local songs by the members of the community, and served with welcome drinks of fresh buko juice while we listened to a short lecture on the river cruise, on the 71 species of local birds, and on the objectives of the 52-member Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association (BAETAS) (!/pages/Aloguinsan-River-Eco-Cultural-Tour/321967567122), which runs the tour. Afterwards, an interesting short local ritual called “palina,” involving an incense-smelling smoke wafting from dried coconut husks, was performed for all the guests as a way of requesting the river spirit to give the visitors a safe passage through the river. One rides a small banca for a P100 peso and the fishermen-turned boatmen inform its passenger on the different mangrove species in the area along with its bird population. One’s ride experience beautifully peaks as the boat nears the end of the river and is paddled further out into the Tañon Strait, which cinematically reminds one of a scene from Lord of the Rings.

Afterwards, our group had a hearty lunch of humba and tinolang manok at the nearby The Farmhouse, which is also the community’s model for natural farming, and waste management in the area.

For the night, our group headed out to Mango Avenue in Cebu City to get a taste of the area’s night life, first warming up with cold San Mig Light and Red Horse beers at Numero Doce bar before transferring to the very chic Z bar, the first full-scale organic architecture designed by design maven Kenneth Cobonpue, in Banilad, Cebu. Guests will always be amazed by its local interior, which is impressively defined by a latticework of bamboo twigs, and black-painted steel that warmly “cocoons” its guests.
On our second day, our group visited the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City, the very church that has housed the famous image of Sto.Niño since 1565. The icon is also the oldest Catholic relic in the country. History-wise, it was the Catholic Cebuano’s devotion to the Santo Niño de Cebu that started the long line of devotions to the Child Jesus in the country because the Augustinians from Cebu brought the devotion to Manila, Iloilo, Laguna and Tacloban. Now, no Catholic house’s altar in the country is without an image of the Sto. Niño or the child Christ.

Next, our group proceeded to Fort San Pedro or Fuerza de San Pedro, a military defence structure, built under the command of Miguel López de Legazpi in 1738. Located in the area now called Plaza Indepedencia, in the Pier Area of Cebu City, the fort is the smallest, oldest triangular fort in the country, and calls to mind Fort Santiago in Manila.

Our group then visited the Parian (one of several ones spread around the country) area, the old Chinese district of Cebu, which started out as a small community of Chinese traders in the 16th century until it grew into the residential headquarters of the most dynamic entrepreneurs of Cebu and also where the wealthiest families of the city resided. The Japanese occupation during World War II though left only a few houses and structures in the present Parian: a small chapel nearby dedicated to San Juan, which pales in comparison to the once grand church of San Juan Bautista, a fire station where the church's convent once was, and the Yap-San Diego ancestral house originally owned by Chinese merchant Juan Yap, and is currently under the name of San Diego descendant, and dance artist Val San Diego. The latest main attraction to the Parian area is the grand bronze tableau done by artist Eduardo Castrillo in 1997, which visually re-tells Cebu’s history from Rajah Humabon’s time to the beatification of Cebuano martyr Pedro Calungsod.

Lunch was mouth-watering as usual in one of the “dampa”-style seafood restaurants near the Lapu-Lapu shrine in Punta Engaño, Mactan. One, of course, should not miss ordering the delicious “saang” or spider conch here. After the lunch, we were able to finally see the 20-meter bronze statue of Lapu-lapu, the native chieftain of Mactan Island who defeated Ferdinand Magellan during the historic Battle of Mactan in 1521. Lapu-lapu is represented here dressed in loin cloth, with a sword on his right hand, and a shield on his left. Interestingly, the Lapu-Lapu Shrine is inside a plaza known as the Magellan Shrine Park that speaks volumes of the conciliatory nature of Cebuanos. Later, some of us even had a relaxing massage at Essence Spa along the highway on our way back to the city. Some even took to shopping in the Taboan market for the dried “danggits” (spinefoot fish), and squids as “pasalubongs” back home.

Perfectly capping our last night in Cebu was the 11th San Miguel Brewery Inc's National Beer Drinking Contest held at the Parkmall in Mandaue City. We witnessed how all the national finalists of this one-of-a-kind beer drinking event in the country psyched themselves up for what seemed to be the biggest contest of their lives, huddling quietly and praying intensely together before proceeding on stage, enduring last minute jitters, men of diverse economic background, staking their all in this night of nights to drink up the fastest for a chance to win an average of P100T per person. In the end, ”Team Naunsyame” (in English, Team Derailed) of Caloocan City prevailed by clocking a group beer drinking record of 53.8 seconds with no penalties. Team Naunsyame is composed of team members Ramil Asistio, Roberto Aban, Rommel Monzon, Rolando Monzon, and Paul Peregrino, prevailed. The team bagged the 500,000 grand cash prize. The looks on their faces, of course, were priceless!

As for me, with such memories to take back home, I definitely left Cebu feeling like I was half a million richer, too!