April in The Philippines: Cebu City

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Visitors to Cebu City typically go to Fort San Pedro and the Cebu Cathedral. We started off at the Fort, a lovely little respite from the heat built in the time of the conquistadors.

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The gardens and old guns were rather nice to look at, though I wasn’t very good at appreciating the history involved.

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It was a very handsome fort nonetheless. I wish I could have done it slightly more justice than a place to poke around in and sit with a cold drink for a while.

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We headed on to the Cebu Cathedral. I loved the baroque architecture and how it seemed so sturdy and somehow unfussy compared to famous European cathedrals. We went to the neighbouring Basilica of Santo Niño to see the Santo Niño statue and ended up queuing for 15 minutes with the locals to go in. They brought their pleas to the statue, wiping the glass casing and then their faces with a handkerchief, then kissing a special glass window, and finally crossing themselves. Most of  them wiped away tears as they prayed. It was hard not to be moved by the scene. I walked out of there feeling the spiritual and emotional power of the place. As we left the area, we realised that tourists could view the statue from the main sanctuary instead of queuing to go inside. No regrets though, as being a part of the ritual made it a far more meaningful experience.

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Last stop was at Magellan’s Cross, which didn’t seem to actually be planted by Magellan. Seems like it was planted by order of Magellan. The big deal was more that it was a symbol of Cebu. I think I liked the paintings on the ceiling of the chapel more!

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April in The Philippines: Malapascua

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Malapascua is a beautiful little island north of Cebu. I met up with Omar at Cebu city’s northern bus terminal for the 4 hour bus ride up. Following that was a short 15 minute boat road across and then this idyllic sight met us.

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We spent a good few days diving with Sea Explorers, a very good scuba outfit that took really good care of us. The board below shows Malapascua (right below the tresher shark) and the types of wildlife you can see there. It’s most famous of course for the thresher shark, but there’s lots of other stuff to see there too, like mandarinfish (mating ones at that!), blue ring octopi (which I didn’t spot), lots of other types of sharks and unusual stuff like hairy frogfish and harlequin shrimp.

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It was pretty fun except for the early morning dives, the earliest of which requiring us to be awake at 4.30am. These were to catch the thresher sharks as they came out early to the cleaning stations when the water was cooler. Here’s one of me and the dive guides at sunrise. I look uncharacteristically cheerful in this picture.

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So did we see any threshers? Yup, just one for a couple of seconds out of maybe four hours underwater for the dives we were down there. It was a pity but the rest of the diving made up for it. Omar’s blogged about the trip here and I think he’s done a better (and far faster) job of it.

April in The Philippines: Ho Hum Diving

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It was time to get to the next main island. Not even considering a ferry ride now, I flew out of Coron on another one of those small propeller planes. The view was stunning as usual.

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It was my last propeller plane ride of the trip.

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My next stop was Moalboal in Cebu. The most interesting thing that happened was that I had tropical fruit pancakes for breakfast. I kid you not. Aside from the pancake place (very aptly called Last Filling Station), there wasn’t good food to be had in walking distance.

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The diving was boring, as I had a mediocre dive guide who couldn’t even take care of himself let alone me. He didn’t point out anything at all. Once he saw a whaleshark but didn’t even bother to signal me and upon surfacing asked me whether I saw it. (Obviously not.) When I spotted what looked like a blue-ring octopus (neon blue pulsing rings anyone?) he told me it was a fish.