Around 33 kilometers farther north of Cebu City, past Mandaue and Compostela on the island’s eastern coast, is Danao City. Its name is taken from the Cebuano word danawan meaning “a small pond where carabaos wallow,” which marked its location during the Spanish period.
Danao is most picturesque when approached from the sea, giving one a sweeping view of its old coralstone Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church and Plaza Rizal. Its wharf is the jump-off point for ferries plying to nearby Camotes Island; private vehicles can also go on the roro (roll on-roll off) ferry from here. The city’s busy fish port is the landing site of the morning’s freshest catch from the surrounding waters.
The coastal city was a booming industrial center in the 70s where a cement factory, a sugar mill and a kraft paper mill were in full operations. Later expansions were an ice plant, a dry dock and inter-island lighterage, oxygen and acetylene plants, a foundry shop and coal mines. The city’s progress was largely shaped through the handiwork of Danao’s business and political legend, the late Ramon Durano, Sr., that the place came to be known as “Durano Country.”
These days Danao’s biggest plant is the Japanese-owned Cebu Mitsumi, Inc., an electronics company that manufactures micro motors, medical devices, modules for cameras and a host of other metal press and plastic injected parts, employing over 18,000 workers from and around the city.
Over the decades, its industrial landscape has changed significantly but Danao has historically been associated with gunmaking – specifically paltik, the local term for a homemade (and illegal) gun. The industry started as early as 1906 when gunsmiths produced firearms made mostly of bronze. During World War II, their operations went underground as they supplied weapons for the resistance movement against the Japanese, using scavenged metal from local junk yards. Drawing on the experience of nearly a century of gun-making, Danao’s craftsmen have acquired the skills and ingenuity to fashion powerful weapons that are almost as good as their imported counterparts, but at a fraction of the price. Efforts to legitimize the industry were done by forming a cooperative, but the low returns soon had the thousands of self-taught gunmakers back at their little home work sheds hidden up in the hills.
About 27 kilometers from Danao’s City Hall is the Danasan Eco Adventure Park. The mountain playground offers the thrill of a 440-meter zip line over a 50-foot cliff and a range of outdoor activities such as wakeboarding, horseback riding, and ATV driving. The 135-hectare recreational park has caves and waterfalls for adventure junkies to go spelunking and waterfall rappelling. Comfortable accommodations are available for overnight stays.
A unique attraction that would draw interest with better maintenance is at the Ramon Durano Foundation compound where the cement busts of over 260 popes are lined up at its park. Visitors to this quiet seaside city may while away their time at any of the beach resorts or play golf at the 18-hole Club Filipino de Cebu course.
Check out the other things you can do when visiting Danao City:
DURANO FOUNDATION. An interesting attraction at the Ramon Durano Foundation Complex are the cement busts of the past 260 popes that line up the expansive compound.
STO. TOMAS DE VILLANUEVA. Intricately carved wooden doors and pews adorn the interior of the Santo Tomas de Villanueva church. Partially damaged during World War II, the centuries-old coral stone church built in 1755 was reconstructed through the philanthropy of the late Ramon Durano, Sr.
CITY HALL. The Danao City Hall with its sleek and modern lines stands starkly in contrast to the nearby old stone parish church.
BOARDWALK. A pleasant place to enjoy a leisurely afternoon stroll is the Durano-Macapagal Boardwalk, the city’s 13,000 square meter seaside promenade.
ADVENTURE PARK. Danasan Eco Adventure Park offers the thrill of wakeboarding over their man-made lake.
Boljoon: A Treasure Trove of History
Your Boljoon experiences starts once you catch sight of Ili Rock, the distinctive landmark mountain that overlooks this beguiling coastal town 103 kilometers south of Cebu City. Jutting out and facing Bohol Strait, the limestone rock formation shelters the town from the north, like the natural fortress it was against invaders before and during the Spanish era. Now it serves as a towering backdrop to some of Boljoon’s heritage sites.
Coming around the bend brings the postcard-pretty town into full view. Nestled in a cove looking over the placid azure waters is the serene Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria church. Listed as a National Historical Landmark, it is the only church in Cebu declared as a National Cultural Treasure – the highest honor given to a heritage structure by the National Museum of the Philippines.
Established as a visita in 1599, the Boljoon church is the oldest remaining original stone church in the country. Built of coral bricks with clay tile roofing in 1783, its walls are two-meters thick, as massive as the 26 pillars that support them. Behind the austere facade with bas-reliefs of biblical characters, the interior features gilded relief sculptures and colorful scenes painted on its vaulted ceiling. Constructed as a place of worship, the simple structure also had defense in mind to give the townspeople a safe refuge from the constant and merciless Moro raids.
Father Julian Bermejo, the Augustinian priest finally completed the church in 1841. Hailed as “el padre capitan,” he fortified the church perimeter with stone walls and started a watchtower defense strategy to alert the town of impending pirate attacks. Signaling with flags and gas lamps at night, the warning system was effectively carried out across the network of baluartes or watchtowers he initiated to be built along the coastal towns from Carcar to the southernmost Santander, a stretch of 96 kilometers. El Gran Baluarte, the largest of Boljoon’s four watchtowers, is a solid two-level structure which was both a weapons and ammunition storeroom and a prison. Standing today as the church belfry, the old mounted cannons have been silenced and replaced by cast iron church bells.
Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria Church was built as a fortress church with two meter-thick walls, giving the townsfolk a place of refuge against Moro raids. The only remaining original stone church in the country, it has been declared a National Cultural Treasure.
The nearby Escuela Catolica was a school erected in 1940 for religious teachings. At times serving as a dormitory, girls and boys who were required to stay overnight before taking their first Holy Communion entered the school separately through a pair of concrete staircases. The old wooden building still remains in use today as a meeting center for the parish’s religious groups.
Recent excavations around the church grounds unearthed skeletons, gold jewelry and artifacts including antique Japanese plates, confirming that Boljoon was a thriving trade settlement in pre-Spanish times. The archeological finds are on display at the Boljoon Museum at the church complex. In spite of pillaging and repeated looting in the past – a communion rail with ornate silver works was even stolen from the church – the parish museum is a treasure trove of old church records, religious icons and historic ornaments.
Guided tours around the church complex and museum are handled by the community-based Asosasyon sa mga Boljoanon nga Magpakabana sa Turismo (ASBOMATU). Its Bygone Boljoon Tours package includes lunch at the historic bell tower. A chunk of the scenic Ili Rock was lost to a slope benching project following Cebu’s 2013 earthquake. The necessary, albeit painful, measure was an engineering remedy to prevent further landslides and to ensure public safety. All is not lost, however, as the quaint town of Boljoon still delivers as being a priceless heritage gem.
Originally published in Postcards from Cebu
Bantayan: A Pilgrim’s Paradise
Vacationers are drawn to Bantayan like pilgrims to a holy land – a blessed island actually, with blinding white beaches and sparkling aquamarine waters that beckon. Indeed, pilgrims do come for its time-honored observance of semana santa or Holy Week. The Maundy Thursday and Good Friday processions draw thousands of pious devotees as grandiose family-owned carrozas (carriages) bearing life-size religious statues, some handed down the generations, make their annual appearance around town.
Bantayan’s Holy Week is like no other in the country, an almost festive atmosphere pervades across the island. While faithful Catholics abstain from eating meat, expect lechon as part of the feasting among families and friends who made it to the island bearing the 3-hour long drive from Cebu City to San Remigio town up north, then an hour’s ferry ride to the Santa Fe port in Bantayan.
It is told that when their fishermen refused to launch out to sea and toil during the most religious time of the year, their families had nothing to eat. An indulto was then issued to Bantayan’s parish priest in 1840 allowing the townspeople to eat meat on Good Friday, and they have been doing so ever since. Whether this applied to Bantayan visitors is unclear but the special dispensation has most likely long expired. If you’re interested in seeing one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the 15th century Saints Peter and Paul Church was built with walls of coral stone.
Jutting out to the sea, Kota Park’s footbridge allows an expansive view of the surrounding waters and offers an ideal spot to watch Bantayan’s magnificent sunsets. The ruins of the old fort (kota in Spanish) built in 1790 to protect the townspeople from pirates are now part of Kota Park.
During this peak season, inter-island ferries are busy shuttling the overwhelming number of visitors who show up at San Remigio’s Hagnaya Wharf, all of them in a mad rush to make the crossing and start their long Easter weekend on the tropical isle. Accommodations in Bantayan are unpretentious and pitching a tent on the beach is an option when rooms are hard to come by.
The laid-back lifestyle resumes once the Holy Week frenzy dies down as islanders around the 3 main towns return to their fishing nets and poultry farms. Bantayan, also the name of the biggest town, is where 80% of the eggs in the province come from, while Madridejos is Cebu’s main supplier of dried fish. The friendly resort town of Santa Fe is the perfect island getaway that tourists dream about. Its endless white-sand beaches remain nothing short of spectacular, and the best spot to bask in the sun, or watch it retreat gloriously beyond the horizon.
Bountiful harvests from the sea around Bantayan Island find their way to the local town market; seafood couldn’t be any fresher than here.
Originally published in Postcards from CebuMotorbikes can be rented to check out some of the island’s interesting sites like the Ogtong Cave. There’s also the little known Virgin Island for those who just can’t get enough of the beach. After super-storm Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan) brutally lashed across the island – and other parts of northern Cebu – in 2013 and rendered people homeless, Bantayan has pretty much well recovered. With generous humanitarian and financial aid from around the world, and the commendable hard work, resourcefulness and community spirit of the local population, the islanders are back on their feet again with rebuilt homes, revived livelihoods and renewed energy.
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