Bantayan Island, Cebu: Beyond the White Sand and the Blue Sea

Bantayan Island is indubitably a must-go. Anybody with a day or two (and the money) to spare should take some time to experience the laid-back and carefree island life in Bantayan. Blue sea. White sand. Fresh air. Dried fish. Fresh scallops. Reggae nights. You name it. Bantayan Island is definitely a world apart from our own.

While the blue-sea and white-sand Facebook picture (with the little bikini and some cleavage here and there) we may have of Bantayan Island is what gives us the most number of likes for obvious reasons, it is quite saddening to note that it gives us not but a myopic view of its grandeur as an island. Life in the island is more than what we see from the terraces of the RoRo we are on board. There is more to see when we go beyond the manicured beach resorts and their white fences.

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Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against lounging on a lazy chair, drinking buko juice all day, flipping from one side to another to distribute the tan equally on both sides. It is a life I won’t say no to. Definitely. But, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at what “island life” really is in Bantayan Island.

Some friends and I decided to end summer with a quick visit to that place where everybody wants to go (or, at least, pretend they’ve gone to). We booked a one-day stay in Anika Island Resort (Phone Number: 09228439517) in Santa Fe. We were all excited. Who wouldn’t? We did a thorough research on what to see and what to expect on the internet several days before the booked date. That was when we decided to take a tour around the whole island of Bantayan to give the usual beach-and-sea routine a twist.

The Road Trip 

Our getaway started as early as three in the morning. We went to the North Bus Terminal to get a van that would take us to Hagnaya Port in San Remigio. The road trip took roughly two hours which wasn’t bad at all. We then got on board a RoRo (small ship) in Hagnaya to Santa Fe.

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For those who don’t know yet, Bantayan Island comprises the towns Santa Fe, Bantayan and Madridejos. Santa Fe is where the port connecting Cebu and the island is in. It is also where the many beautiful beach resorts are located. I call it the resorts town. Meanwhile, Bantayan is what people usually dub as the main town. It is where the old church of Saints Peter and Paul stands. It is said to be the oldest parish in Cebu. It was first a satellite parish to the Archdiocese of Mexico in the 1800’s. I love to call it the historical town. Madridejos at the other end of the island is where the Kota was built. It was known as Lawis referring to the peninsula where the Kota is standing. I call it the fort town.

The Resort 

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Arriving in Santa Fe was a relief. We were all not wont to travelling the seas and we were not used to the subtle swinging of the ship from one side to the other — not counting the nauseous thoughts of sinking and drowning which we’re all scared of, considering none of us knew how to swim. We were never more grateful to step on solid ground after an hour and a half of praying and thinking of happy thoughts on board the ship. A van from the resort was waiting for us (VIP‘s, weren’t we?). Anika Island Resort was merely a five-minute drive from the port. We checked in at eight in the morning with fresh cold glasses of water melon juice waiting for us plus the customary small wooden necklaces with the small coconut shell pendant courtesy of the resort. Mister, it was not bad at all.

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We booked the Sunset View rooms in Anika. These were rooms made of refurbished container vans cut and trimmed into the beautiful rooms that they are. They were air-conditioned and furnished with TV and cable. And, the bathrooms were immaculate.

Bantayan, Cebu

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At nine in the morning, we began our trip around the island. A tricycle took us to where the tricycles for Bantayan were parked since he (the tricycle driver) could not take us directly to the town as his permit wouldn’t allow him to do so, which we understood. Tricycles were the most common means of transportation in the island. We then hailed another tricycle from the drop-off to Bantayan. The tricycles, however, were of different structural design for some reasons. They looked like a cross between a small jeepney and a helicopter resembling the motorized rickshaws in Thailand. Cool! The road to Bantayan was surprisingly well paved. We were travelling for fifteen minutes or so before reaching the arch welcoming us to the town of Bantayan.

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Our first task was to look for a place to eat. We asked some locals where to eat cheap but good lunch in Bantayan. They told us to try Abohan. We wondered if it was a branch to the popular diner in the city (Sosy!). As it turned out, it was not connected in any way to the diner. The restaurant’s full name was Abohan Ni Paulin Restaurant. Its name was a mouthful, yes, and so were the mouth-watering dishes they served — which did not disappoint.

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We were so full we had to take some time to recover from the sumptuous meal we partook in for lunch. Our next stop: the town plaza and the church of Saints Peter and Paul. The church was recently restored but it retained most of its original structure. We were not able to take a tour in the museum since renovation was still ongoing. We saw an old, but restored, house near the town plaza. I was told that this house was reconstructed and was leased for commercial purposes.

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The Parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Bantayan is said to be the oldest parish in Cebu. It was built in 1850 and it was one of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Mexico.

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An old house reconstructed and leased for commercial purposes

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Bantayan Town Hall

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One interesting thing about Bantayan is they are allowed to eat meat during the Lenten season despite the general tradition of abstinence observed by Catholics all throughout the Philippines. This exemption was credited to the Papal Indult issued by Pope Leo VII in 1843. You see, the people in the island are primarily fishermen. However, they are encouraged to join the religious activities during the Holy Week and not to fish. Thus, the Indult was issued.

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Bantayan Public Market

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We then dropped by the market for a quick visit to the dried fish section. Bantayan is famous for its dried goodies: fish, squids, among others. In the market, we asked for some directions to Madridejos, our next stop. We had to walk lost for some time before finally getting the right directions to where the jeepneys for Madridejos were parked. We had a bit of trouble understanding the locals. They could understand us alright but we were having difficulty understanding some of the words they used. Primarily, they spoke in Bisaya but with a hint of Ilonggo and, perhaps, Waray, mixed in. I was told that due to the geographic location of the island, it should not be surprising when several dialects were used.

Madridejos, Cebu 

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Hanging tight!

We took a jeepney from the terminal in Bantayan to Madridejos. I had to give my seat to a mother with a child, and so I had to hang on tight standing by the door of the jeepney. It was only for a short while but I had fun alright. The road from Bantayan to Madridejos was not exactly a smooth one. Constructions were going on and the road was temporarily filled with lime forcing us to literally eat dust on our way to Madridejos. One local quipped, “Ingon-ani gyud ni ‘dong. Hapit na man gud ang eleksyon”.

After the bumpy ride, we took a trisikad to Kota Park. I weighed 78 kilograms myself plus my three other friends. I wondered if Manong could pedal us all to Kota Park. Obviously, there was more to how these people looked for Manong was, with great strength, able to drag all four of us to where we would like to go: the Kota Park.

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Kota Park in Lawis

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This is the 187-meter baywalk in Lawis.

The park stood around an old stone fort used as a garrison by the locals against the invasion of the Moros back in the 1700’s. Several hundred years after, the Kota was then converted into a public cemetery. It was near the sea, and a baywalk was built there. I saw several kids beating summer by frolicking in the water.

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Manong Driver from Sagay

We hired a chopper-jeepney hybrid for a tricycle to take us straight from Madridejos to Santa Fe. The driver agreed saying he would take us to a shorter road traversing Madridejos straight to Bantayan, and then to Santa Fe (but without passing through Bantayan proper). The road was made of asphalt but was riddled with potholes. It was impossible to not mind the sad state of the road when the tricycle driver cruised the road as if it was the smoothest and straightest highway in the world at more or less 60 kph. I tried engaging Manong Driver in a conversation hoping he would take it easy a little bit. I don’t think he slowed down but the conversation surely took my mind off the road and the battered piece of metal we were on. Manong Driver told me that he was from Sagay City in Negros Occidental. He settled in Bantayan after marriage and it was where he spent the last five years with his wife and kids surviving through fishing and driving his cool tricycle around. After more or less two hours, we finally hit the smooth road to Santa Fe. Manong‘s tricycle could surely take a beating.

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Bantayan Island is dubbed as the Egg Basket of Cebu. Amazingly, approximately 90% of the total number of eggs in the mainland come from the island.

Santa Fe, Cebu 

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We reached Anika tired. We rested for an hour before we looked for bicycles to rent. We planned on biking our way around Santa Fe. We rented the bicycles from the locals hanging out just outside of the resort. We rented the bicycles for a hundred and fifty each for a whole day (24 hours) use, which was a good deal.  The bikes were what the locals called “Korean Bikes”. They were “cute” bikes (perhaps this was why they were called Koreans) complete with baskets and little bells. A friend told me the bikes were cruisers. They were best suited for smooth roads and they rode like cotton candy — which was not the case for us as the road near Anika seemed like the long lost twin brother to the pothole-riddled road we took from Madridejos to Santa Fe. We still had fun though. We rode our bikes to our hearts’ content.

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We had our dinner outside of the resort again. This time we went on exploring the busier parts of Santa Fe. We went food-hunting on our bikes which was dangerous since it was already past six in the evening and our bikes didn’t have lights. We used our phones to light the way and to signal other vehicles we were on the road too. We found a small barbecue stand by the road, and we ate our dinner there. The couple who tended the barbecue stand gaily engaged us in a conversation. They talked about who’s who in the coming elections, about the abundant supply of water in the island and the beating they took during Typhoon Yolanda.

We went home to rest. We then decided to kill some time by the beach. We drank some beer while waiting for sleep to takeover. Surprisingly, the fresh island air seemed to rejuvenate our tired souls and we talked for hours until the alcohol did its job. We called it a night at around ten.

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Breakfast at Anika’s Dining Hall
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Anika Island Resort’s Dining Hall

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I woke up early. I took a quick visit to the beach to take a snap of the sunrise. I love the sunrise. I totally do. I always make sure to capture the sunrise wherever I go. After taking several snaps, I went back to the room to find the girlfriend awake. We all wanted to go swimming today. Unfortunately, the sea was not at its highest tide yet. So, we resumed biking instead. Biking in the morning was amazing. You would see people rushing to church (it was Sunday) while others were busy hustling their bustles. I saw some washing their tricycles clean. I saw one taking his Korean bike to a stroll with a kid sitting snugly in the basket (I didn’t know it was built for that but, yeah… why not?).

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At nine in the morning, we ate our breakfast and hurried to the beach. The white stretch of sand lining the clear blue waters of Santa Fe was a sight to behold. Several tourists were already there basking in the joy only the sea could give even directly under the unforgiving summer sun above. I saw several local kids by the shore playing. It looked like football (soccer) to me, but I was once a kid too so I could only guess the version of the game they were whipping up.

Another group of kids were doing somersaults from the bow of a boat docked nearby. These kids were burnt obviously from too much exposure to the sun but I could see real joy while they flipped upside down in the air one after the other.

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We packed our bags and waited for the van which would take us to the port. It was hard to say goodbye to the place we learned to love despite the briefness of our stay. We would miss the island a lot. We would definitely miss the blue sea, the white sand, the beautiful beach houses and the great food. But, we would also miss the warm hospitality we received from the staffers of Anika Island Resort, from the tricycle drivers we had the opportunity to share a good laugh or two with, from the good couple grilling barbecue by the road, and from the little kids with their simplistic view on happiness and living. It was a vacation I would gladly tell my grandkids about when age soon catches up with me.

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Santa Fe Port
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These little divers eked a living catching silver coins from tourists.

As we sat idly waiting for the RoRo to drop anchors in Hagnaya, we could not help but think of how fleeting time could be. But, it was definitely worth it. We took with us memories and lessons we would never forget. We hoped that we would become better persons than we were before our jaunt to the island. After all, that is why people wander. We sometimes have to get lost to find our better selves.  

Special thanks to Dax for sharing with us some photos.

Helpful Tidbits: 

Itinerary Bantayan

Sched of Expenses

 

 

marjodegoro

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