Our flight to Cebu was a perfect example of island time. Scheduled originally for 18.30, we received an email at 7am to say it would now leave at 15.30, but on arrival at the tiny airport an hour early as instructed and passing through the 5 minute security check during which we didn’t need to show anyone our liquids or provide any more information than ‘web check in’ we eventually boarded the plane some time after 16.30 and spent some time on the tarmac waiting for the game of overhead locker tetris to finish. It must have been gone 17.00 by the time we were in the air…Island time 😉
As we took off the cabin crew asked a series of Christmas quiz questions…Where was mum kissing Santa Claus? And on what day? What did my true love give me on the 5th day of Christmas? So far the attitude to Christmas here has been excellent! A trend continued when we reached Cebu, who had decked out arrivals in festive ukuleles, baubles and lights complete with carol singers!
Outside Cebu airport we had our first confusion…the white taxi line or the yellow. White taxi’s were cheapest, but there were so many people waiting it seemed we’d be spending Christmas at the airport, so we joined the far shorter yellow line and stood for almost an hour slowly watching those who had been just behind us in the white line edging ever closer and eventually securing a cab. Some 20 minutes after we’d have been in a white car the third yellow car arrived (that’s right, third!) and we were off. Tortoise: 1, Hare: 0.
London at rush hour has nothing on traffic out of Cebu airport on the Friday before Christmas. The airport is on an island, with two bridges on and off, both of which were at total grid lock. I was so envious of the mopeds zipping in and out of the lines of cars, jeepneys and tuk tuks. But at the same time it was nice to enjoy the aircon whilst watching the street vendors and general hustle and bustle as we crawled along. The first treat was definitely the number of Christmas lights, trees and general decorations on every corner. From Santa and running reindeer in white lights as you exit the airport to stars, snowmen and everything in between, the effort was set to rival regent street!
Our home for the night was The Tropical Hostel…that extra s is always a risk and alas on this occasion our horse did not come through as we were directed to a windowless room with rickety bunk beds…an apparent upgrade from the room we’d booked! At least it was only for 10 hours!! Before we set out from the UK Sven had discovered google travel, a seriously handy system which allows you to download a map of your location and save various points of interest to it for use on airplane mode later. This meant we could save the location of the hotel, and the various eateries etc our host had pointed out to us when we checked in. I’d previously stuck with TripAdvisor which offers all the same features but on a far more limited number of cities. Google had allowed us use even in tiny Legazpi and the surrounding towns, and was super useful in Cebu where we walked the 20 minutes in search of something to eat that wasn’t from a 7/11. Great Christmas decorations on the way…
The place we’d been sent was a mall, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in Asia before. Lights hung from every tree changing colour in sequence with songs played periodically around the complex. Outside the square were primarily eateries offering everything from sushi to Thai food and burgers to ice cream, but inside was every shop you can possibly imagine…including marks and spencer! What was going on?!
The following morning we were greeted by a very welcome sight as the sun flooded onto the balcony at the end of our corridor. Sven had woken up on the energetic side of the bed, and thought walking to the port was an excellent idea. Usually I’m all for walking to see a city, but not with an 8kilo backpack at 28degrees pre-breakfast. By the time we arrived at the ticket booth we were DRENCHED, and beyond glad to see a very air-conned coffee shop adjacent to the booth. The first boat was in an hour and a half, so we had a plan…get the tickets, get a coffee, get to the boat, done. Not so easy when a typhoon prevented all the boats yesterday from sailing. Our first option was the penultimate boat of the day, in 9 hours. But not to worry, there’s a luggage store at the boat! Fab! Plan b…have coffee, drop off luggage, explore Cebu city. Having not learned our lesson the first time we walked a further sweltering 20 minutes to terminal 3 and found chaos. Buses, jeepneys, tuk tuks and taxis were coming and going and hundreds of people either stood, sat or meandered around seemingly without purpose. What was the drill?! Perhaps there was ordinarily a luggage store (skeptical), but today the port was on a strict departure schedule, if your boat wasn’t leaving within the hour…sianara! Looks like our bags were joining the Cebu tour. Yay!
Luckily one of the main tourist attraction was a meer hop, skip and three minutes walk away. Fort San Pedro was built by the Spanish under the leadership of Miguel Legazpi (fitting!!), having served as a base camp, rebel stronghold, prison and city zoo the ruin is now open to the public offering history and much needed shade! There was also an photographic exhibition of historic Cebu, with both the original captions from any published photos and an actual definition of what the photo depicted. This was to show the power of cropping, editing and voice even back in the 1800’s! One example showed people waiting outside a large building, captioned that they were homeless and waiting for food. However in truth it was Sunday and they were waiting to enter church!
We spent the next few hours wondering around Cebu city, a crowded, noisy and eclectic city far removed from the mall we had visited yesterday. Street vendors lined every pavements selling clothing, watches, phone cases, shoes, fruits and vegetables and everything in between whilst the roads were filled with a diverse range of traffic…men sat atop trucks filled with rubble, rice sacks, coffee, rubbish and other cargos I couldn’t determine…mopeds weaved in and out of tricycles (they’re not the same as tuk tuks, I was calling them the wrong word!), taxis and jeepneys and in the midst of it all there were several horse and cart combos ferrying smaller goods and people. Knowing which way to look before crossing the road was a challenge!!
Cebu is the sort of city where everything seems to happen at once. Behind us in the picture above there was a bicycle shop, with workers lined up on the pavement outside fixing wheels, chains, frames and handlebars. Next to this was a general store selling packets of noodles, instant coffee and other treats, next again an Internet cafe of sorts and behind that a chicken shop. Chickens seemed to roam free or be tied by the foot on every corner, whilst dogs lounged in the sun or trotted along the paths quite at home.
Our next stop was Carbon market en route back to the port. Much the same as Camden really! Or Portobello Road, you can find everything and anything a chap can unload! From woks as big as an arm chair to all the daily stuff you could need. Here we acquired a shadow by the name Amelie who skipped along beside us for a few minutes chatting away in near perfect English and finding my attempts at Filipino hilarious. I always worry with little shadows that they follow us too long, far beyond the boundaries British children would be allowed to roam in a place this crowded. But perhaps that says more about our society than theirs, where communities still work together with far more harmony and neighbourlyness than I have ever seen at home. Or on the other hand perhaps they don’t have anyone to worry where the wander, but Amelie was well dressed with adorably bobbed hair and good shoes, something tells me she wasn’t a street kid.
Before long it was time to return to the port and join the craziness mascarading as organised chaos. Firstly you have to wait for check in to open for your particular boat, at that point the first security guards on the door will allow you entry into the building. From there you battle through the crowds to the desk relevant to your booking company…in our case Ocean Jet. Ticket stamped you then go through security, joining lines segregated by gender (though the first sign for this is after the point the line has split…that was fun!) where men are asked to pass bags through x ray machines and walk through scanners whilst women stroll through a gate with a smiling security guard. Foolproof. From there you high five Father Christmas and join the next queue to pay your 20peso port fee. From here the throng becomes single file. Imagine the chaos of the motorway going down to one lane, then times that by a few hundred people, many of whom are from cultures who do not value queuing. I have always travelled alone, and in these situations am happy to be carried along by the crowd at whatever pace is occurring around me, but here I learned that super-weapons can come in the form of tall Germans! It was like Moses parting the Red Sea, blooming marvellous!! Also impossible to lose him in the crowd, huzzah.
The sun was putting on a stunning final display of red and gold by the time we boarded, ahead of those still waiting for the 3.30 departure, poor sods. We’d opted to pay the extra £2 for airconned seats, and so found ourselves herded into the hull of the ship where there were no windows and a huge group of Chinese tourists. Thank goodness the trip was only due to last an hour. I did think it a bit odd that shortly into the trip a full length feature film started to play on the large television at the front, but didn’t think too much of it until the credits started rolling two hours later. We’ll call that an island hour then shall we?
Having been told several times to catch a tricycle from the airport at no more than 250pesos we exited the terminal and found ourselves in a 600peso mini bus. Ah well! The seats were comfy and drivers fun as we zoomed along roads lined with Christmas lights to our home for the next six nights; Alona Beach. After the craziness of Cebu this was pure paradise, and moments after checking in Sven and I were sat star gazing with our toes in the surf, astounded by the lack of people around us. The next week is going to be great!!