Olango Island, bird sanctuary


Olango Island, viewed from a boat leaving the wharf beside the Hilton

Olango Island is accessed from a wharf at the side of the Hilton in Mactan, Cebu. A boat ride costs P15, plus a terminal fee of P1.

the terminal going to Olango, and Bohol, and Pasil etc

I bought my ticket and immediately, “agents” gathered around me offering their services as guide, or offering to arrange for lunch in the many floating restaurants in Cao-uy, or offering boat rental at P3,000 with the boat taking us to Olango, waiting for us while having lunch, and to take us back to the pier beside the Hilton. I fended them all off, decided on doing it on my own.

The regular boat wasn’t ready to depart. One of the boats, anchored on the pier but unsuccessful in getting a tourist group, was going back to Olango. One of the crew members asked if we would rather take the boat that leaves now, at P30 per person. Deal.

a boat this big at a bargain price of P30 per head for me and mom

Cebu Hilton, from the Olango-bound boat

The boat ride was short, Olango is just 4-5 kms away. We landed in a place called Paring, nearer Cao-uy, where the floating restaurants are.

diseambarking in Paring, Olango Island

We took a tricycle to Cao-uy, paying P60. And then we had to board still another boat to take us to the floating restaurant.

one of many floating restaurants

We went to Topie and Dinah. Because it was just my mom and I, I picked the smallest lapulapu to be steamed, 6 small prawns and a  squid to be grilled, and a few shells for broth. I was shocked to be told that the lunch bill will be P1,800. I felt like I was being held up face to face in broad daylight. But what the heck, I did not want to take the journey back on an empty stomach, with my diabetic mom who can not afford to be hungry. And so can’t I.

The restaurant where they do broad daylight, face-to-face hold up by charging excessive food and drinks costs

The restaurant was built on the water, with 4 or 5 others nearby. Apparently, the owners rent out their boats to tourists who snorkel around Olango, at a “discount”, with the agreement that lunch will be in their restaurant. I wondered how much discount that was, or maybe their lunch bill will be even more expensive on a per person basis.

We ordered a bottle of Coke and a bottle of Sprite, plus two small bottles of mineral water. I nearly fell off my chair when I found out that the drinks were P50 each. Yes, in a small, makeshift restaurant on the water.

I wouldn’t recommend the experience to friends, except to those who are ready to pay a huge price for this experience. And will tell them to bring their bottled water. And advise them not to order those clam-like shells for broth – – – the meat was so tough. The broth tasted good, though.

access to the floating restaurant

old man gathering small crabs right in the vicinity

Saving Grace : the Bird Sanctuary

From Cao-uy, I rode a tricycle to the Bird Sanctuary in San Vicente, past the “ciudad” of Sta Rosa. No, it is not a city, but locals call it ciudad being the island’s trade center. Not much trading here though.

My small digital camera couldn’t focus and photograph the birds. But birdwatchers and photo enthusiasts will fall in love with this place.

a shed within the walkway

birdwatching deck past the shed on the walkway

mangroves as bird habitat

my CANON ixus can't capture the birds ! (sigh)

I checked with Boy, one of the caretakers about possible overnight accommodations, thinking of a return to enjoy the tranquility. Tents can be rented at P250 overnight, with each tent good for 2 or 3. Toilet facilities can be used at a small fee, and food can be bought from the stores in Sta Rosa. The charges within the reserve are as follows:

fees at the bird sanctuary

There are resorts with accommodations in Olango. But I will be camping at the Bird Sanctuary when I go back.

Returning to Mactan, we took the boat from the pier in Sta Rosa. And I was happy to be allowed to use our unused ticket for the return journey.

Olango is bird sanctuary, not the floating restaurants !

Carcar, shoe capital of the Visayas


Carcar is an hour and a half away from Cebu City, and is the turn off to the famous Moalboal dive sites.

Unlike in most towns and cities, the Carcar City Hall and church are not seen from the main highway, but tucked somewhere near the city center. A beautiful building sits between the city hall and the church that serves as a Museum.

one of the oldest in the country

the convent

Carcar Museum - - a beautiful structure

The ampaw shops are concentrated on the rotunda. Go around and you will see several stores selling ampaw and chicharon.

the Carcar roundabout - - - turn right to Moalboal. And go around for ampaw and chicharon.

chicharon and ampaw

ampaw and chicharon

Carcar has a robust shoemaking industry. A trade expo seems like a permanent set up on the grounds of the Acacia Grill restaurant.

major Carcar shoemakers are showcased here

Other than the restaurant, visitors can get refreshments at the end section of the trade expo building. Popsicles, sandwiches, and softdrinks are available. It is also at this end where bags and items other than shoes are available.

bags, too

Try shopping in Carcar. My mom, an avid shoe shopper, says prices are very cheap. Step-ins are as cheap as P120, shoes can be as cheap as P150. I took photos from the different stalls for everyone to see the variety of styles, in the event you should pass by Carcar.

my 78-year old mom bought 3 pairs in 20 minutes

Cebu: 1-day City Tour


Cebu is the hub of the Visayan region, with Cebu City as the capital. In school, we learn that Cebu is the oldest city in the Philippines, older than Manila, the seat of the national government. In fact, it was in Cebu where the “discoverer” of the Philippines for the western world planted the cross to symbolize the Christianization of the Philippines.

Magellan’s Cross. This is necessarily the first stop, from where the next must-visit places can follow. On a concrete gazebo stands a huge cross which represents the cross planted by Magellan. But they are careful to clarify that the “tindalo” wood in effect serves as cover for the original cross. There is a glass mosaic on the dome that shows that bit of history when Magellan came to this part of the world.

Right beside the cross is the gate that leads to the the Basilica Minore de Sto Nino. This church is probably one of the most visited churches in the country, and the seat of all religious activities honoring the much venerated Sto Nino.  A museum is across from the church, within the basilica compound.

Basilica Minore de Sto Nino

Fort San Pedro is Cebu’s version of Fort Santiago, and the walk among the ruins is a lesson in history. Cannons in strategic positions are a sight to behold and, with the thick walls surrounding the whole area, remind visitors of the then impregnability of the Fort.

Fort San Pedro

Blind man and a girl singing for donations

Keep out of here!

Gorordo Mansion completes the visitor’s trip down memory lane. The Mansion makes visitors imagine a glorious past. Big, old house in a rather spacious block of land. A wide, open, second floor azotea. The house has been bought by the Aboitiz Foundation and remains open to the public except on Mondays when maintenance work is scheduled.

Casa Gorordo, viewed from the street

Casa Gorordo

the azotea

The Taoist Temple is another must-visit spot in Cebu, right inside Cebu’s premiere address, the gated Beverly Hills. Visitors are allowed, but taking photos of the saints is prohibited. Senior citizens can be driven all the way to the road that leads to the temple itself. However, I have almost always stopped at the lower gate, and take the steps, gasping, all the way up. Silence is observed in this holy place.

the temple as viewed from the altar level walkway

an imposing view at street level

Carbon Market is the next stop, but make sure you don’t have valuables with you, and your mobile phones are safely tucked in your pockets, all jewelry left behind where you are staying. This is like a back street alley and thugs can cause harm. If you are alert, then you can survive the market experience, and maybe even enjoy the hunt for bargains. They literally have everything here, including ukay ukay.

Carbon market, the biggest market in Cebu

what do you see : chaos or bargain?

Walk along Fuente Osmena to the end of the road where the Provincial Capitol stands. It is an awesome structure. Imposing and venerable.

Cap the day tour with a drive up the roof of Cebu City, called the Tops Lookout. This is in the direction of Nivel Hills, past Marco Polo Hotel (the former Cebu Plaza Hotel). Go there and be sure you are there before 6:30 pm to see Cebu slowly being lit from late afternoon to early evening. The view when it gets dark is breathtaking. Whenever I am at Tops, I get myself a San Mig light and dried squid bbq. A bottle of SMB light, a Coke zero, plus 4 pcs of daing na pusit bbq cost me only P225. Entrance fee to this fortress-like sky garden is P100 per person.

You can spend the rest of the evening at the Ayala Center, and maybe pick a resto-bar for dinner, before calling it a day.

My favorite hotels in the city:

Marco Polo Hotel at Nivel Hills. This is a better version of the old Cebu Plaza Hotel. I am, however, terribly missing Lantaw, the restaurant by the poolside in front of the hotel that offered a good view of the city, over coolers.

Marco Polo Cebu

Waterfront Hotel, Lahug. Probably the biggest in the city, with a convention center big enough to accommodate the 2,500+ delegates we have had in two editions of the Philippine Advertising Congress. A PAGCOR casino operates from the 2nd level of the hotel.

the famous meet-up lobby of the Waterfront Hotel. Huge.

a cake and...

and a capuccino

I always get myself a cake and a capuccino at the cake shop by the lobby, and have it at the tables outside the lobby-level flower shop.

Marriot Hotel has the most convenient location, being right at the Ayala Center. It is also the hotel I most recently checked into, having with me my 78-year old mom and, therefore,  location was a top consideration.

2 queen size beds, for me and mom

the refreshing pool at the Marriot Hotel, Ayala Center

Rizal Towns : Laguna de Bay Loop Part 2

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My previous blog covered half of the loop, the towns in Laguna. Ascent to the winding roads will lead travelers to the town of Pililla, the first Rizal town coming from Laguna.

the mountain to cross – shared by Mabitac in Laguna and Pililla in Rizal

The Long and Winding Road

… that leads (not to your door) to Pililla is a trip where one makes at least 2 stops to enjoy the vista of Laguna de Bay below. Along the way, you can stop for rattan furniture, assuming you are driving a pick up. Or you can buy a rattan hammock that you can stow away in the trunk. There are also a couple of small carinderias facing the bay where you can stop for soda, or even for turo-turo lunch.

Pililla is a quaint provincial town. I detoured a little bit in the direction of Quisao and Jalajala, to visit friends. On the way, there were a couple of fishponds where you can buy tilapya, or tilapya fingerlings if you want to start a small pond in your property.

An Amorsolo scene in Quisao, Pililla

Then I want back to the main road. A popular resort is found near the intersection, named Villa Lorenza Resort and Hotel. In a previous visit, I checked out their rooms, which I found to be decent. A good enough place to stay if you need to cut your trip in portions.

From Pililla, the next town is Tanay, made more famous by President Estrada’s “rest house arrest”. Did not get the chance to visit his place, said to be in Barangay Sampaloc. This  trip also did not allow me time to go to the famous Daranak Falls and Batlag Falls. I shall return and capture them in photos, and make a separate blog entry. I am confining this post to easy destinations within the loop.

Along kms 55-56, there are several bonsai gardens, one of which grabbed my attention. How about “Bansot Garden” to clearly communicate that they sell only bansot (little) trees?

km 55 to km 56, on the diversion road

Amorsolo must have loved the Rizal towns country side

A must see in Morong is the St. Jerome Church, said to be the best example of Baroque architecture in the Philippines. It looks magnificent, and the moss covered steps lend it a more serene aura.

Next town is Cardona, a fishing town. You can stop at the Cardona fish port to bring home some fresh catch from the bay. But in all of my trips around the bay, I always look forward to that part of the Cardona road that goes up a hill, with the bay on the other side. This time, I stopped and took some photos, with the hazard lights on so we don’t get hit by oncoming traffic.

Cardona’s hill side road, with the bay to the left

the bay, from Cardona

Binangonan is next, where a shrine for artist Vicente Manansala can be found. This normally forms part of an art tour, starting from the Artist Village in the next town of Angono.

I have had beautiful memories of my stay in Lake Island Resort, so I went to check it out again. The place was damaged by Ondoy, but they have essentially brought it back to normal. The tree house is still there. The view of the pool at the bay’s edge is still lovely. I asked why there seemed to be no guests, and was told that they have since converted into a business resort, catering only to groups of at least 15. Walk-ins not accepted. Maybe I can gather friends another day so we can once again enjoy the serenity of this resort.

tree house at Lake Island Resort

picture-pretty pool by the bay

bay side house, with rooms and living areas plus an al fresco setting

lovely, breezy spot at night for group cocktails

balcony of the room where I stayed the last time, with the houses on stilt at the background

Angono is the next town, where we stopped at our usual restaurant, the super famous Balaw Balaw. I ordered pancit bijon for merienda, and ginumis for drinks. The pancit bijon serving was huge, and was actually good for 4. Food prices at Balaw Balaw are very reasonable, if not exactly cheap. The glorious ginumis, a concoction of gulaman etc in coconut milk (gata) is only p65.

Balaw Balaw

sign your name in one of these masks, or buy one as souvenir

a humble restaurant visted by presidents, dignitaries, celebrity, and people like you and me

my ginumis, unmindful of my diabetes !(may gamot naman eh)

Do you know what Balaw Balaw actually means? It is a dish I ordered once before, made up of talong and baboy, with a dash of bagoong. No, it is not the same as “binagoongan”. Now they sell bottled balaw balaw. You can also buy a papier mache mask, famous in Angono, especially during the Higantes Festival every November 22-23.

I first went to Balaw Balaw ages ago when the owner, popular artist Perdigon, was still alive. Guests can view his paintings displayed in the restaurant, all the way to his 2nd floor studio, and buy a piece or two of his works. No, they are not cheap – – he was a famous painter in his time.

The Angono Artist Village tour includes the workshops of Nemiranda, Blanco, and Tiamson, among others.

From Angono, the feel changes a bit, moving closer to Metro Manila. Taytay has a huge SM Mall. Cainta has Robinson’s Place, and then there is the first mall in this side of town, Ever Gotesco within the Cainta and Pasig boundaries.

leaving the “Amorsolo road tour”

The Loop tour ends here, and those on a road trip will eventually be along either EDSA or C5.

Alternative Route: via Antipolo

From Tanay, you may opt to drive up to Teresa and onwards to Antipolo. This is a shorter route, avoiding the traffic within the town centers on the bay side towns. Travelers to Antipolo can visit, among others, the now-dirty-but-being-revived Hinulugang Taktak or go to the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Church, the most famous Antipolo landmark. You wouldn’t need directions, it is hard to miss. I remember I went there to have my first ever car “blessed”, complete with holy water being sprinkled on the car, hood open, and candles lit held by my friends who acted as “sponsors” in this ritual.the provincial capitol was recently moved to Antipolo, from Pasig which has long ceased to be part of the rpovince

You may want to refer to the first half of this tour, covering Laguna, highlighting Pagsanjan “shooting the rapids”, in case you have missed it.