Bantayan bliss

The plan started out as a simple one: fly straight to Cebu from Singapore, then hop on a bus and a ferry to Bantayan. After the last two beach destinations being the highly developed (but still gorgeous) Boracay and Bohol, I was in the mood for a rustic getaway and was totally up for three hours on a bus and an hour and a half on the ro-ro.

Then this whole brouhaha with the Dutch work visa requirements happened, and we suddenly had to fly off to Manila to careening around in various taxis for the greater part of a week. Bantayan became a place to while away time while the Dutch embassy took their sweet three days rubber-stamping our documents. And so by the time we hauled our tired asses to Cebu, I had had just about enough of public transport, city-hopping, and adventure.

So imagine my relief upon arriving at Bantayan and beholding the rustic luxury of our room at the Bamboo Oriental. I consider myself fairly low maintenance (no stranger to the kubo and kulambo here), but after a week of running ourselves ragged, I gave myself a huge pat on the back for deciding not to go the backpacker route with our accommodations this time around.

As my friend Susie would say: “Sah-weet Jeeeesus!”

I knew Bantayan was a little bit out of the way (even Kate’s sweet grandma living in Cebu asked us, “Why are you going all the way there?”) but I was more than a little surprised at how deserted it was. After Boracay and Bohol, it seemed positively desolate.

Little town, it’s a quiet village…
Bantayan is a long and narrow island, and we were too harrowed by the aforementioned careening to go and explore further than we needed to go for food, water and the occasional bag of V-Cut. (Imagine our surprise when one of the store owners told us to wait for the ro-ro to arrive with the V-Cut and mangoes.) Our tip of the isle, near the Santa Fe port, had one sleepy but impressively clean main thoroughfare with a handful of restaurants and bars (the most colorfully named being the Hard Kock Kafe) and a small market. We tourists were far outnumbered by the locals for sure. 
But hitting the beach I stopped being unnerved by the lack of humanity. You realize you have this tranquil stretch of golden sand and turquoise shallows pretty much all to yourself, and you just melt. 
Some of the most blissful parts of it all were the two mornings we got up at daybreak to take photos. There was something hypnotic about the reflection of the sunrise on the shallows, in the contrast of silken waters with rough sands.

Even if it rained on two out of the three afternoons we were there, I’d still say the weather was perfect. Having baked in the sun all morning and well past lunchtime, we’d cool off on the veranda watching the storm clouds roll in from the ocean. It was wonderful to just feast my eyes on the wide expanses of dove grays and navy blues, to actually see rich, mesmerizingly moody colors occurring somewhere other than a retail environment and labeled the latest fall/winter “must-have.”

On the one afternoon it didn’t rain, we just holed up in the room when it got too hot, watching the sunlight stream in through the cheesecloth curtains and painting everything with a light liquid sheen of gold.

Nights were cool with a stiff breeze, and we spent hours just watching the clouds swirl, the stars move and the moon set the ocean on fire with silvery light.

And on our last morning, Bantayan bid us a very memorable farewell with not just one massive rainbow slicing through the sky and plunging into the horizon. As in I looked up from my book and almost dropped my book, it was so huge. 

Of course, just one rainbow wouldn’t be special enough to remember Bantayan by; it had to reflect faintly against the clouds, so that it looked like there were two or three rainbows in the sky at any given time. And though my camera didn’t capture the three rainbows distinctly, my mind will always remember them. 
Thank you, Bantayan, for the break we so very badly needed!
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A case of the woollies

The number of packed suitcases parked in Marlon’s and my already cluttered bedroom speaks volumes about how our lives are going to go for the next few months. The aforementioned case of the woollies was the first to come into existence: we quite literally filled a suitcase with woolly, warm winter wear the weekend Marlon decided that he would take the job in Amsterdam. 
Buying winter wear was one of the things we were both so excited to do; we unleashed our pent-up consumer lust upon Timberland for boots, Uniqlo for unbelievably cheap but otherwise excellent quality cashmere, angora and wool tops, plus down jackets and Heattech innerwear, Zara and Winter Time for a few sweaters and a long coat for Marlon, and Muji for a few basics for me. 

One suitcase multiplied into two as we started dredging up all our existing cold-weather wear, although I am still in need of good woolen trousers, maybe a new pair of jeans, at least one more pair of closed flats and a coat. I just have to be careful that in my excitement to be fashionable (as Jonathan puts it, the “pang-mayaman” look), I buy things that will actually keep me warm.

The other suitcase is packed with clothes for an emergency trip home to Manila, which we hastily booked when we found out from the relocation agency (very, very late in the game—obviously they don’t know what it’s like to relocate Filipinos) about the requirements for our Dutch work permits. 
That suitcase holds grotty clothes for the day when Marlon and I have to line up to get our NSO-certified birth and marriage certificates authenticated at the Department of Foreign Affairs (I fault Singapore for many things, but the fact na pwede kang umoutfit habang naglalakad ng papeles is not one of them) and a nice dress for the day when we have to take those NSO-certified then DFA-authenticated papers to the Dutch embassy for legalization. Don’t you just love being a Philippine passport holder?
Thank goodness we booked a beach getaway to Bantayan, Cebu over a month ago. That trip gives us something to do to decompress from the stress of engaging with all that bureaucracy, and while waiting for all the papers to be stamped, legalized, processed and whatever else. And that’s what suitcase number four is for.
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Chomping through Cebu

Whew! Finally managed to finish uploading all the photos from my Chinese New Year trip. Now I can start blogging.

So Chinese New Year this year was spent in Cebu and Bohol. Marlon and had originally not planned to take any days off apart from the Monday and Tuesday public holidays, so we figured somewhere with a direct flight from Singapore and minimum land travel was our best bet. Thus, Cebu and its ferry-able neighbor, Bohol. But then both my clients and design team decided to disappear for the rest of the week, prompting me to do the same. So a four-day holiday stretched out into a full week, which we discovered, was just about right.

Kate generously offered us a place at her house in Talamban, which was like staying at a boutique hotel or b&b for free. (Check out the guest house, on the left.) Oh, and her family fed us like pigs for slaughter. Her stepdad is an amazing cook, and it was a particularly sore regret we couldn’t stay for his homemade lechon since we had to go off to Bohol the next day.

It was at Kate’s family’s table that I had my first taste of Cebu lechon. We woke up at noon on Saturday to find that Kate’s mom had ordered Rico’s Lechon for us.

Now, pork is my second least favorite animal product to eat, after eggs. I’ve only had lechon twice in my life, and those were forgettable affairs where I had to eat it or starve, because it was one of only a few items on a buffet. When I tried it, I didn’t get what was so great about it, so I’ve stayed away from lechon since then.

My taste buds must have known what they were doing, because apparently they’ve been saving themselves for Cebu lechon all along. Like innocent young maidens saving themselves for The One, my taste buds turned into complete whores who couldn’t get enough after the first taste. That first encounter with the salty, savory sinfulness of Cebu lechon set the tone for the rest of our stay in Cebu.

If it had been humanly possible to eat for 36 hours straight, until we finally set off for Tagbilaran, I’m sure we would have found a way to do it. As it turned out, sightseeing and shopping were only stop-gap activities meant to kill time until the next meal. It was definitely a disservice to Cebu to see only the Santo Nino Basilica, the Cebu Cathedral, and Ayala Center — one we eagerly attempted to make amends for by sampling as much of its culinary delights as we could in only four mealtimes.

Kinilaw is one of my three favorite Pinoy dishes of all time (it’s right up there with adobo and salpicao), and Cebu is its home. In honor of this glorious fact, I had kinilaw twice in as many days — once at Jo’s Inato (a Cebuano version of  chicken inasal), and another time at Chika-an, two fantastic Filipino restaurants on Salinas Drive in Lahug. For me, big, pink tender chunks of tanigue with the jaw-clenching sweet-sourness of coconut vinegar are a combination that’s tough to beat.

Speaking of Jo’s Inato, that’s where I met up with Gids for dinner. He was in town to conduct a performance with an orchestra (his first!). I can’t put my finger on what was so special about Jo’s chicken inato, but I couldn’t stop eating! I am not normally a bottomless rice kinda gal, but I swear I must have had about three helpings of rice that evening! It was Gids who recommended Chika-an (over the Cebu classic, Golden Cowrie) and we were not disappointed at all when we went there for lunch on Sunday.

Anthony Bourdain’s anointed “Best. Pig. Ever” was a must on our list, and we managed to get a bit of Marketman’s acupunctured Zubuchon on Sunday. There was barely anyone at Banilad Town Center, so the staff even gave us bits of crunchy skin for free! We snuck our package of lechon into Chika-an for lunch and had it with their bottomless rice. Sarap! I am not a pig lover but I ate so much of it sumakit ang batok ko pagkatapos. To be fair to Chika-an, we ordered a host of other stuff — their monggo soup in particular is creamy and rich, something the miserably thin monggo soups of your childhood could only dream of becoming after seven lifetimes of settling karmic debt. I suspect it’s cooked like Indian dal, with cream and butter.

We also tried out Oh Georg! at Ayala Center, and it was a struggle to make space for this wonderfully sticky toffee pudding. But for this dense, moist cake with its smoky sweetness of ever-so-slightly burnt toffee, the “struggle” was worth it.

After 36 hours of such frenetic eating, I was afraid of stepping onto the Supercat to Tagbilaran lest I single-handedly sink it with my weight. But to paraphrase the old adage: those who eat and sail away, return to eat another day…

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