If you’re someone who likes to explore both the land and the sea within a short span of time, then you’re looking at one of the best municipalities to visit within the city.
The rich etymology of the place brings about a turn at history as the name literally translates to “where it blooms” from the Visayan word ‘Bunga’ which is a signal for the agricultural harvest season.
The 26 barangays might intimidate a person when it comes to exploring, but the town’s center place caters both the sea and the mountainous areas, as parallel to its municipal town hall stands a park which offers a public beach for everyone to enjoy.
Furthermore, this ensures that the market place’s meat products are fresh as local fishermen can be seen fishing as early as 4 o’clock in the morning with their bangkas (small fishing boat that can accommodate two people) and their bugsays (paddle sticks). The church, elementary school and its cemetery lay adjacent to each other and can be visited by foot.
What started out as a humble town is now home to various resorts and businesses as entrepreneurs have seen its pristine potential in attracting more visitors to the area. Here are four places that one may visit:
Visitors may easily access the place as it is only ten minutes away from the mainland, Barangay Tajao. The seascape, which is open to the public, is also protected by the government in efforts to maintain its beauty. The fine sand and the shoreline stretches up to a hectare during the low tides, which is perfect for those who wants to capture the beauty of the islet.
Lamac Hidden Valley Mountain and Beach Resort
The first wave pool in the city lies within the heart of mountains, giving visitors a complete experience with three different pools to enjoy, namely: Wave Pool (which requires at least ten people for its generator to be switched on), Infinity Pool and a Mountain Pool. Take note that there are different rates should one choose to enjoy one or all of the aforementioned pools above. It also has other amenities such as an amphitheater, function rooms, a gym and spa to give visitors the full package of relaxation.
Getting to the area requires patience, perseverance and an adventurous spirit as it requires a long hike which includes an overview of the whole town. What’s the catch? Emerald waters flowing from one end to the other and a gateway to another Falls called ‘Liki’. Be sure to wear a hat, your sunscreen and a rash guard to protect your arms from nearby prickly plants as well as your trekking shoes. Since there are no eateries around, be sure to stay hydrated by bringing your own food and water as you take nothing but photos and memories.
Bugsay Resto Grill
Visitors may enjoy the sunset as they dine in a floating cottage which offers popular seafood cuisine such as Calamares (fried squid) and a cold beer in hand to complete the trip. At night, bands starts to play which in turn completes the island vibes that the small town brings.
Whether one wants to have a romantic getaway or spend time with their loved ones then Pinamungajan is definitely one of the places to visit.
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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