Like the earlier trip, choosing our island for this trip went through a process after I booked the flight to Cebu.
The choice boiled down to Camotes, Malapascua and Bantayan. I would pit one with another when looking at the most recent reviews I can find (learning from the last trip). All things considered, I settled on Bantayan….. and this early, I will spoil the fun of discovering for yourself why you should too and tell straight out it was a heck of an island hop. Bantayan is a soft breeze that lifts listless souls and tames frayed nerves…..
Even on the day of the trip, everything came to be in sync even if our Grab car driver had to squeeze through tight traffic and a sudden downpour which felt more like a hailstorm. I think the heavy downpour was heaven-sent to delay the flight and buy MD, OS and me more time before the gates open. My friend V who joined us on this trip was giving a blow-by-blow account as we wove through flooded streets brought by the sudden downpour. There was a point I thought we’d miss the flight. When we arrived at the airport, there was just enough time before the plane left.
The flight was the last flight to Cebu giving enough time (even with the delay) to catch the bus at Hagnaya Port leaving at 12:00 midnight. Once we reached Cebu, we took an Uber car to Northern Bus Station and got into the Ceres bus. Bus fare is P200.
We all tried to catch sleep during the more than 3 hour bus ride alighting during pitstops for toilet breaks and leg stretching especially for the driver. We know it was a straight to Bantayan ride. Reaching Hagnaya Port, all passengers had to alight and pay barge fare P170 and terminal fee P10. We would be boarding soon. It took some time to leave due to wrong estimation of the space requirements for the vehicles to be loaded. After reconfiguration of the right combination, we cruise for a little more than an hour.
Dawn would give way to the morning light. The sun would be taking a peek as we near our destination and the quaint island will come into view….. Soon, I would see for myself why Bantayan makes it to the top 10 to 20 best island destinations.
Stepping Foot in Bantayan
Upon reaching Santa Fe Port, we were welcomed by the driver of Anika Beach Resort and brought to the resort. The room wasn’t ready yet when we go there so after checking in we were led to their waiting area where OS immediately commandered the sofa to sleep. We were still feeling the place and thinking about our day’s itinerary. We decided to have breakfast to clear our heads and fill our tummies and perhaps think better. I had their dried fish (can’t recall the name) , V and MD had chorizo and OS chose a continental breakfast of pancakes with a face, bacon. All meals go with eggs which look so fresh. We would learn that Bantayan is a producer of eggs because of its many poultry farms. We returned to the waiting room after our hearty breakfast.
Not wanting to waste time, I urged V to change and go with me to the beach. MD and OS were not yet in their element and went back to the couches to catch up on sleep. V and I left shortly and enjoyed the beach. In the morning, Anika’s beach front would reveal seaweeds on its banks. By the time, V and I returned to the beach, high tide was beginning to cover the once exposed shorelines. As I get a first taste of their beach, I got excited. I thought about Calaguas and I think it has a better beach than Anika’s which is near the port. Anika’s is white and somewhat creamy. It is still a far cry from most beaches. It’s clean and not crowded. I texted MD to follow but she didn’t. V and I cut our frolicking and went back to the front desk to follow up our room….. then, returned to the waiting area and tried to have a conversation with what seems like drunken kids…. not productive. We made plans to eat lunch somewhere and explore the area.
V, MD and I returned to the beach to while our time while waiting for our room to be ready. OS remained unperturbed in his sanctuary. When the room was ready, we got our stuff, settled a bit as we check out our nice, clean ocean view room and prepared to go out.
At resort’s entrance, tricycles lined up to service Anika’s guests. We rode the next tricycle available. As we traverse the road leading to the city center where most restos and resorts are located, our tricycle driver named Glen asked if we want to go to some spots. I was listening intently as he mentioned Ogtong Cave Resort, Paradise Island, Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park and Bantayan Island Nature Park. I asked how much and he said P800. I bargained a bit and after some haggling, he agreed on P700.
When we got to the city center, he brought us to a number of restos to choose from and we settled on Coucou Bar Hotel and Restaurant. We exchanged numbers and he went home to have lunch. We chose their Japanese style dining table sitting on cushion seats on a wooden flooring under a gazebo adorn with white drapes… so tropical. It seems a nice choice for four weary and hungry tourists. We ordered fish tinola, grilled squid, spicy shrimp, grilled fish and buko juice, perfect for a hot summer day.
Well, let’s just say that in the next few minutes, my initial assessment made a detour….let me count the ways…looooong waiting time, worst service, swarm of flies wanting to partake of our not so appetizing food. A lady food server even refused our request to apportion the fish tinola in serving bowls telling us she is serving other customers. What are we then!!?? How is that for customer service…. One or two lady servers (not sure if the one who served us was one of them) would later be heard laughing as some foreigners engaged them in conversation at the bar. All the time we were following up our orders. Then, what seemed like a nice dining place felt too hot, unsanitary and a bad choice for our first lunch.
Glen, our tricycle driver/tour guide would soon be fetching us…. we are thankful to finally leave the place. After travelling some distance, OS told me he left his phone in the resto. We hurriedly return to the place and OS and MD went inside and were luckily able to retrieve the phone. Btw, nobody cared that we got back. So I cannot credit their staff for honesty as it was simply that the table was still in the state we left it, untouched. We went our way and reached Ogtong Cave Resort. Glen admonished that we should be back in the city proper by 5:00pm…. don’t know why. Entrance fee is P100.
As we seemed pressed for time, we went straight to the Ogtong Cave. Its bushy entrance cannot be missed as it is within its pool area. There were a number of people at that time. We descended through its winding, rocky stairway and tried its cool, clear water which is refreshing on a hot day. I have not been inside a cave so I cannot tell if this one is for the books. I love the cool water and that’s about it. It’s a small cave. We were not too keen going further as we don’t know what lurks beneath 🙂 After cooling ourselves enough, we got out and explored the rest of the resort. OS decided to dip in their pool. MD, V and I went to see their beach. The water is way more clear and the view of the sea unobstructed than where we were staying…. sigh. Of course, we couldn’t resist not wading. As the tour was unplanned, V was not in proper gear and MD did not get sun protection and we didn’t bring any. I had the good sense of being in proper gear through the day since we are in an island. After getting enough visual pleasure, we left the place.
Next destination is Paradise Beach. We went through paved, rough, rocky, potholed roads to reach this place. After Glen stopped at some point, we were all clueless as to how a beach can exist through this forested area he referred to as the route to the beach. There was no signage saying that is the way. One can easily miss it. As he led us, MD and V would tell me later, they felt uncomfortable as we walked through the long trail with nothing or no one on both sides but shrubs and some trees. Glen said it is 400 meters away but it seems like eternity to us…… until we saw a clearing…..making us pace our steps faster. Upon reaching it, our jaws would literally dropped seeing an almost empty paradise except for the man collecting the fee and two foreign tourists sitting under one of the parasols. I don’t have words to describe the vast and wide postcard-perfect beach where the sea and the sky meet in perfect harmony. The clouds appears to hang so low like I could just touch them. Sans sunblock protection, we took to the beach like little kids let out after being held for mischief. We did not waste time enjoying the water as we are headed to two more destinations until we begrudgingly dragged ourselves to leave this paradise …… trailing after Glen ….. The P50 entrance fee is an injustice to this place…. However since there is limited facilities, visitors have to bring their food. There is also no area to take a shower.
With the bar set higher, we expected no less from the next destination. Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park. I curiously asked Glen what we will see there. He said mangroves…. How would we reach the mangroves…. He said there is a long hanging bridge….hmmmmm. He said, we can check it out and if we don’t like it, we can just skip it. He said it is better to go there when there is high tide. With that, we were bound to skip this place and maybe take some snap shots… exactly what we did when we got there as it was already low tide. OS wanted to go down to the waters because he was drawn to the crawling crabs ….. We were in a hurry so I told him to just go up…. We bid goodbye to the caretakers making a vague promise to return.
We headed to Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort, which was a great distance from Obo-ob. Along the way, Glen suddenly turned pensive and disclosed that he has another job as a security guard back at Santa Fe and his duty starts at 6:00 pm, the reason why he said we should be back at 5:00 pm. Knowing this, we had to really be concious of time once we get to the place. Entrance fee is P200 which covers use of pool, access to the Sto. Nino cave and fish spa. To get our money’s worth, we had to try everything. We got down to the cave which look a bit creepy upon entering it. A Sto. Nino statue would be perched on a rocky formation in the middle of the cave. Is this some kind of a sacred place? The Sto. Nino actually looks forlorn inside the cave. Glen descended first to show us the way…. Reaching the bottom, the water once again looked inviting but I was apprehensive about the depth as it was dark. Glen went first, diving into the cool water… and we all followed him. I was careful not to stray too far as the water would be uneven, deep in some portions. While wading in, Glen enthralls us with more interesting facets of his life. He told us he used to be a singer and would join contests and was close to being famous. He did not say why it did not happen… He also has one kid and a stay-in wife.
In a while, we got out the cave and tried the infinity pool. I immediately scampered to safety realizing it is deep specially for a non swimmer like me. MD would do a lap while OS took to the kiddie pool as V and I watched. We would check out its beach from the edge of the pool. There is no one there and it does not look appealing.
MD got out of the pool and joined V and me in going to the fish spa while OS stayed in the pool. We sat and soaked our legs in the water and the fishes would soon be feasting on our dead cells 🙂 It felt weird being eaten. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable. Concerned with Glen’s sked, we soon finished feeding the fishes with our legs’ debris, fetched OS from the pool and left.
It was few minutes after 5:00 pm when we headed back to Anika. Glen was in too much hurry, he ran over potholes and rocky paths without decelerating. He would apologize when admonished by V and MD as our butts suffered the tortuous route. We arrived at Anika around 6:00pm and paid Glen the full price, not the haggled one 🙂 He seemed happy and was so thankful.
We ordered dinner before going to our room to clean up. We all stayed in the ocean view room on our first day and would be transferring to 2 courtyard rooms on our second day. I wasn’t able to book 2 consecutive days in the same room because we were supposed to be booked at Kandugyap House by the Sea on our first day. When I was finalizing my booking, the place was suddenly fully booked….. which turned out to be a good thing as I would relate later in this post. I was already booked at Anika for our 2nd day when I called them again to inquire for a room for our 1st day….. the ocean view room was available. Lucky us. Anika is a beautiful resort… clean, gives good service and serves good food. They even açcept credit cards which was a good thing for us as we had limited cash at this time and the only ATM in is in Bantayan town proper which is 10 kms away.
After cleaning up, we went back to the resto and dinner was served. For dinner, we tried their pancit canton, a good choice because it was yummy. We also decided that it is best that we take our meals here because they serve good food and price is reasonable or comparable with those at the Santa Fe center where most of the restos are located…. We didn’t want more surprises like that we got from Cou Cou.
We talked about our plan for the next day as we assess our finances. It was a wrong move that we paid off our rooms in cash right after we checked in since they accept credit card. We tried to retrieve our payment offering to pay using a credit card but it’s too late as the payment has been credited. In an island with only one ATM that is miles away, limited cash means limited options. We wanted to go to Virgin Island which will cost us at least P2,200 to include boat ride and entrance fee. Our pooled cash can cover that but there might be other unexpected expenses and we also want to buy some pasalubong. We heard that danggit are aplenty in Bantayan.
After dinner, we headed back to our room. We brought hot water to drink hot choco and enjoy some goodies and the full moon in our balcony. OS retreated to the room after finishing his hot choco while the three of us lingered for awhile. Soon, we would also be getting inside the room to retire for the night.
Rise and Shine
I was the first to wake up to capture the sunrise. I went out and there were already people converging in front with the same intention. Since we got a beachfront room, there is no need to go further. V would also go out in a while. A woman on bicycle selling scallops would pass. I bought 3 packs of scallops for P100
Soon everyone was up and we would have our breakfast at the resto. Over breakfast, we firmed up our day’s itinerary. Given our financial condition, we decided to forego island hopping and just go back to Paradise Beach… yahoo…. and Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park where we would have lunch. As we are comfortable already with Glen, I called him if he can drive us. After we made arrangements, it’s time to enjoy our hearty breakfast. We had danggit which tastes good, not salty …
When we were done, we set out to order danggit and dilis from the dried fish producer . Luckily it was just a few steps from the resort. Being a fishing area, it’s the livelihood for most residents. We placed our orders of danggit and dilis and went back to the resort. We prepared and packed food items including the scallops bought earlier and beach stuff and went our way.
Second Chance at Paradise
Our steps were light as we head to paradise once again …..
We were glad to go back to this nature sanctuary, Oboob Mangrove Eco Park known as OMAGIECA which stands for Obo-ob Mangrove Garden Integrated Ecotourism and Conservation Association, a community-based eco-tourism initiative by the local government. It is one of the most famous tourist spot in the island of Bantayan. The day before it didn’t seem so appealing. As soon as we got back to the place, the people managing the place charmed us with their warmth and hospitality as we were welcomed into a hidden and mystic treasure. Entrance fee is P50/pax.
The eco park is a protected area and gets assistance from Oxfam and maybe other NGOs. We met missionaries and other visitors. Glen knew some of the missionaries. He said his brother who caught polio gets assistance from these missionaries.
We went to the resto first to order lunch and leave some of our stuff. Then, we walked through the bamboo bridge on stilts which spans kilometers through the mangrove forested area….. leading to a clearing that opens to the sea….. It was lovely, never seen anything like this. Debris from the mangrove float on the peaceful water. A confessed OC, OS did not want to wade in the water at first. Glen led the way as I was unsure of the depth. Then, one by one we descended through the stilt steps. The water felt nice ….. surrounded by mangroves, the place seemed to cast a spell as we are enveloped in its serenity. We saw lots of fishes and solid school of fishes which looked like a moving black mass under water. We did not tread through the mangroves so as not to disturb the fishes. Glen caught a crab and gave it to OS and MD. We took some pics of Mr. Crabby but had to leave him behind as it is best he stays with his family and friends 🙂
As high tide raised the water level, we ascended one by one ….. took more shots and walked back to the resto. Lunch is ready when we got there. Everyone had a hearty lunch as we and the staff engaged in a nice conversation They told us that the cast of Camp Sawi also had lunch there and autographed some plates hanging on their wall. I offered to do the same and was met with laughter…. I wonder why…. I can also sign 😉 Our lunch of native chicken tinola, pancit, grilled fish and the scallops was simply delish and it was a steal. As we are preparing to leave, V’s interest would be caught by their centerpiece, a fruit of the mangrove which makes for an interesting table piece. The staff gave us some to bring home.
After saying goodbye and promising we’d promote the eco park, off we went to Paradise Beach. Reaching its entrance, we went ahead of Glen since we already know the place. There was company this time, some cows and their shepherd. Upon reaching the beach, there was a couple enjoying paradise too. Their boatman said that they came from Virgin Island and there were a lot of people so the couple asked him to bring them in this secluded paradise.
So here we are again…. Glen certain that we’d take a long time enjoying the beach lie on the bench and slept the entire time. We explored the surrounding areas including the rocky formation…. enjoying every minute of being in paradise.
Playing with Ebony
We met a friendly black Jelly Fish whom I fondly call Ebony who seemed to relish playing with us that he was swimming around us….
After we got our fill, we left. I asked Glen to drop by Kandugyap House by the Sea to check it out. When we got there a wedding entourage was leaving … so this was the reason that suddenly they were fully booked. We were allowed to check the place and went to their beach which was rocky and small as described in some reviews. We couldn’t check out the rooms as these were occupied. There was also an ongoing construction of a swimming pool and I wasn’t informed about this when I initially inquired from the owner…. it’s a good thing we booked at Anika. Perhaps, we would try booking at this place too when we go back. It is near Paradise Beach and with the ongoing development, it might be worth going back to. After thanking the staff, we went back to Anika. We cleaned up and got ready to go to Bantayan proper primarily to withdraw money and check out the town a bit.
As suggested by Glen, we took the tricycle headed for Bantayan proper. Fare is P25/pax. Tricycles ply specific routes but they can also be contracted for special trips. On the way, we would talked about where to go… like the St. Peter and Paul Church built in the 1500s. The church is called a fortress church due to its extremely thick walls made of corrals, egg white, limestone and sap of local trees. .. and maybe some other places.
A co-ride, a kind stranger named Lita, would respond to some of our questions and would also tell us that the last trip to Santa Fe is at 6:00pm. It was past 5:00 pm and we were still traveling. She would negotiate with the driver of the tricycle to wait for us and drive us back to Santa Fe. A few haggling and the driver who was with his family and originally wasn’t going back to Santa Fe, agreed… Problem solved…. we can spend some time meandering….The driver’s family transferred to another tricycle. Lita would volunteer to be our guide since she would be waiting for her daughter attending college in a school in the town proper…. We find Bantayan locals really nice people… There isn’t much effort exerted (even without asking) in getting help they readily give in abundance.
Lita did just that as she served as our guide from the time we got off at the bank, to visiting St. Peter and Paul Church and even more… There was a wedding at the church … and you guess it…. the same couple and wedding entourage booked at the Kandugyap House by the Sea 🙂 They, who got our rooms 😉 Lita showed us the town plaza, the public market …. and best of all Bantayan hospitality. We would learn that she is a widower and was married to a British. Their only daughter is the one she would be waiting for. She would also share that her husband’s family and their friends are regular visitors of Bantayan. In fact, she went to Santa Fe to book a resort for friends of her husband’s kids.
We exchanged numbers before she dropped us off at the designated waiting area. Soon, we would be going back to Anika. Upon arriving, we proceeded to the resto and ordered dinner and went to the room to drop off our stuff. Then, we returned to the restaurant and had dinner. We lingered for a while to use their wifi which is strong in the resto but doesn’t function in the rooms. We were also transfixed in the Maalala mo Kaya episode starring Joey Marquez, Alma Moreno and Coleen Garcia that was on the resto’s tv that we continued watching back at our room:)
Like the first night, we had hot chocolate drink before retiring for the night.
It’s our last day and I had to have my early sunrise fix… I wasn’t quite satisfied with yesterday’s shots because the sun was way up. This time, it was still dark. We transferred to the courtyard rooms which weren’t ocean view anymore so I had to walk to the shore. I texted V to follow. I positioned myself on the bench… I was just snapping shots as the sun slowly rises…. until a group of kids with a pack of dogs pass by….. I began snapping simultaneous shots …. and got very beautiful silhouette pics 🙂 Soon, V joined me and took some pics as well. Then, we got back to the room to wake MD and OS.
We had breakfast trying out their dried pusit, tapa while OS and MD ordered waffles and pancakes. After breakfast, I told MD and OS to prepare while V and I head to the dried fish supplier to get our order…. When we got there, our orders weren’t ready yet even if we pre-ordered the day before with packing instructions. The lady would emerged from the house lugging a bag of dried fish and pack it before our eyes. Meantime, her laborers composed of local kids and elders would dutifully debone the fishes or spread them out on specially designed drying trays. A cat would be feeding on fish insides gathered near the fishes being deboned. Flies swarm as they work. I can’t help myself not telling the lady to construct a screened area for their processing. She said it’s additional expense. I said that it will make their business better. I comforted my self with the thought that the fish have been thoroughly dried. We paid and left.
Back at the rooms, we prepared and did our final packing, rearranging stuff to fit our newly bought pasalubong. V went to the front desk to settle our bills. A van would be bringing us to Santa Fe port. We paid our fare and terminal fee and would soon be cruising. As the boat sailed, I would looked longingly at a beautiful island.
After about an hour, we would reach Hagnaya port. With luggage in tow, we headed out to get transpo to go back to the city. Our flight back home is in the evening so we still have time to see a bit of Cebu since it was MD’s and OS’s first visit to the province. We planned to go to SM Cebu and if time still allows to Sutokil. As soon as we got out, barkers swarm like flies asking us where we are headed. When we said SM, we were told there is no straight routeand offered van rentals for P2,500. We passed on that and headed to the bus terminal. One of them ran after us and offer to bring the four of us to SM for P1,000 together with other passengers. Since there would be no more transfers, we thought it was good enough. However, when we got to the van, some passengers were already inside leaving us the back and middle seats. We had second thoughts because the legroom is small and for a 3-hour drive it would be uncomfortable. The barkers would be very persistent, taking our luggages and putting them at the back, leaving us no choice. When we were seated, a Ceres bus would pass by…. I wanted to run after it 😦 Well, you guess it, the ride was not comfortable especially at the back where MD and V were seated). It was a bumpy and windy ride. We would also learn that the we were charged differently. We paid P250/pax while those who got inside ahead of us were charged P170/pax.
The driver picked up a couple of passengers and when someone asked why. He said he was paid only P1,600 by the barkers … that is why he needed to add more passengers. He was ripped off and I think most of us pitied him that we just allowed him to pick up 2 more passengers..
Finally, we reached SM and V noticed a traveller’s lounge. We needed to deposit our bags so we can roam. Way cool. I’m not sure if we have something similar in Manila. I noticed a MyBus terminal right in front of the traveller’s lounge. So we went there and deposited our bags and I checked the bus routes and there was a route to the airport…. even better. I’d say Cebu is traveller- friendly. Imagine all these great facilities for travellers in a mall.
Let’s check out the staff of the traveller’s lounge. The baggage receiver and handler are ok. I approached the girl in their frontline to ask about the bus, she told me to go to the terminal to inquire. Thinking there isn’t any problem availing of the bus service, I answered, ok. We went our way…. had lunch of lechon in their fastfood, bought pastries in Leona’s (verdict in another post), killed time in CBTL……then, we went back to the TL to get our bags… no sweat. V approached the frontline lady to ask something. We decided we’d try MyBus in going to the airport. Lugging our luggages, we crossed the busy streets leading to the bus terminal. We approached the the ticket sellers and we were asked if we have an e-card. We said none. We were told to buy the e-card first valued at P200 before they can sell us ticket. After a few seconds mentally calculating our fare via Uber, the bus fare will turn our more expensive. So we left and arranged for an Uber ride…. The issue is that the traveller’s lounge can give compleat service by having trained staff who can readily give those information instead of just sitting there and conversing with her co-frontline staff. V likewise wasn’t able to get the information she was requesting. Are they some kind of decors because they don’t fit the requirements of the job. I will turn a blind eye on this and move on as I immensely enjoyed this vacation.
Soon we will be at the airport…. would be engrossed in social media, OS on a book or people watching while waiting for our flight which was delayed by more than 3 hours. In time, we would be boarding, would land so smoothly at NAIA….. and would be getting a Grab car for our ride home since Uber has a 1.6 surge when we were booking a ride. I sure am glad for this new mode of transpo and will make a separate post on this.
Finally, we were all home sweet home…… and the dogs are only too happy to wake up and welcome us 😉
On the whole, it was one wonderful getaway…… the sights and sounds of Bantayan are simply amazing.. There was one unpleasant experience like the service we got at Cou Cou Bar and Resto which can use some customer care orientation. But this should not ruin our impression of this beautiful island.
A few words on the rudiments of going places…..
Middlemen can be pesky and irritating and are hurting tourism and the transport business (like the experience of the van driver) by their different charging of fares, unprofessional conduct and appearance and actually raises the cost of transport or reduce the earnings of those in the transport business because of the added cost.
The most efficient, safe and acceptable transportation system is one that is standardized and managed by recognized or certified personnel, preferably identifiable through an I.D card they are wearing. A queuing system would make haggling and scrambling passe. Variety in the preferred mode of transportation can still be offered depending on the tourist’s budget and privacy preference.
As for the traveller’s lounge, I hope more areas especially Metro Manila will follow the lead of Cebu in being traveller-friendly if we want tourism to flourish. However, operators of these traveller’s lounge should ensure that they have properly-trained staff to handle different types of tourists and their needs.
There you have it…. enjoy Bantayan 🙂