Tag Archives: explore

The Philippines – Cebu City

En route – Singapore Airport’s Butterfly House

It was my first holiday alone and I was nervous. Would I be safe?

I’d survived the 20 hour flight, thanks to a Singapore Airlines voucher giving me a free shower, like the relief of a wash after a festival.

Cebu City is a bustling, chaotic, hot, noisy, dusty city of around 100,000 people packed into a small space.

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My Grab app would not give me an option to hail a taxi so I got a metered one. “Make sure the meter is running when you get in” Lonely Planet advised, so I checked.

The driver, Marlin, had a side business as a tour guide. He put the price up by 200 pesos (about £3). When I asked why he said “I haven’t changed the sign yet.” He had two children, a girl of 4 and a boy age 14. The girl had been a surprise and he was still paying off the emergency caesarian.

Rows of cars trailed as far as the eye could see until the early hours. My tour guide dropped me off at 5pm and didn’t get home at midnight, on Valentines Day.

He was back to pick me up at 9am “no problem with traffic this morning, I come straight here!”.

It was cheaper than official tours and more flexible. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I could have lunch with him at McDonalds or nothing, as we didn’t have enough time, so I passed. After the 20 hour plane journey I still couldn’t stomach a burger.

Grey oblong concrete blocks rose into the sky, but they weren’t very high. It was an urban jungle.

There were only some skyscrapers in the Central Business District, and a mall which only took cash. Fortunately the restaurants outside it took card payments, as you got charged for withdrawals unless you used the HSBC ATM kiosk at the back round the corner.

There were no lanes on the roads and scooters, bikes and rickshaws were weaving around and jeepneys which are open air vans, their buses.

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We drove first to the Taoist temple, built in 1967 in one of the wealthiest areas, the gated hilltop community of Beverly Hills. Surrounded by the first bit of greenery I saw, skyscraper fingers framed the horizon. There were pagodas, dragons on the roofs and fountains. I admired the painted ceilings in the tranquillity.

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We then went to the city’s museum, a former American jail. It explained the history of Cebu and the islands, from the original bamboo and flax huts and reliance on fishing, to a failed invasion of Cebu by the Portuguese who were beaten by machetes, and then the Spanish in 1521, who decided to have an artillery attack from the boat before coming ashore and taking over with the famous Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese national, as their captain.

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They brought Catholicism and they are said to have found a figure of the baby Jesus, the “Santo Nino” and that this kept them safe. The five walled watch tower on Panglao and the fort of San Pedro did as well. Eventually the Philippines wanted independence from Spain and there were frequent uprisings. In this climate the Americans came and conquered the islands with the help of the rebels, in 1901 after a two year war. But hopes of independence were dashed as the Americans took over. 

The island nation then fell to the Japanese in December 1941, who established strict military rule in which anyone carrying local banned currency was killed. But the money continued to be used in the black market. Notices were put up everywhere warning of heavy physical punishment for any disobedience. Some locals were put in Prisoner Of War camps and there was a shirt there from someone that had worked in it for five months without being given another. They were beaten regularly by the fearsome Kempe-tei, the prison guards. The Americans helped the guerilla Filipinos once more, and this time The Philippines were granted independence, in 1946.

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There was a chronological trail of artefacts, from Japanese guns to a ceremonial Afghan sword bought from merchants.

I realised I’d been about two hours and felt guilty, it must be hot waiting in that car. The driver was cross, “you take too much time, we late now, you must go faster”.

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We stopped at the Basilica, a church with a piece of cross in it apparently from Magellan’s voyage, but I couldn’t find it! I saw the replica, which was enclosed in a stone dome with a nice painted ceiling. Then I queued up to see the holy relic, the Santo Nino, said to be found by the Spanish when they first landed and which brought good luck to the locals, as they all kissed and touched the glass, muttering and crossing themselves. There was a prayer area outside with stone carvings of what I had just seen and the arrival of the Spanish.

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I then visited a recent towering monument built in the 1990s, showing the settlement story, mostly with figures and with some boats and buildings. The Santo Nino was there as it is in every historical depiction.

Down the road on the right was the oldest house. We had been by the oldest street, a wide road with grey concrete blocks on either side. It was one of the ugliest cities I had seen, but the pleasant kind people I met made up for it. I got approached repeatedly by the same man to buy plastic pearls. Once in the house I was given a tour in English. It had been bought from the Filipinos by Chinese merchants in the 1600s. They had decorated the house with jade ornaments and intricately patterned blue and white vases. It had then stayed in the family for generations. The house was made of thick wooden beams and it was cooler than outside but still warm and airless.

Outside a father and son were playing a duet on a small harp and ukelele. The boy was about four and had obviously had a lot of practice.

I went to another old house, Casa Gorado. I am not sure how old as I was concentrating on the animation on the board in front, which showed how the Spanish had moved the Cebuanos up the hill away from the fishing by the coast, to land that they could not farm because the soil was unsuitable. They could grow corn though. The Spanish arrived in 1565, setting fire to a village and blasting another with cannons. Then Chinese merchants began to settle in the 1600s and they were allocated a part of town near the Cebuanos, but they were only allowed to trade if the changed their surname to a Spanish one and converted to Catholicism.

We finished the tour with the San Pedro fort. It looked grand from the outside but once in it was just the wall and nothing much was left. It isn’t worth visiting, but it is a good stop if you want to be near the port, as you go up the drive and right and it is down the road a short distance on foot.

My taxi driver decided to be honest and stick to his original price, so I paid him the inflated amount he first quoted in appreciation. I navigated the poorly signed full port and off I went over a smooth sea to Tagbilaran…

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My First “Airbnb” Experience

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For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

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The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

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The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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