Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Cebu Day 2 - The Tour

Saturday morning arrived and oops, we’d forgotten to order breakfast the night before. Well, we thought we were supposed to order room service. We discovered Sunday at check-out that the buffet downstairs was our meal and would have been great, but we survived just fine with full meals delivered right to the room.

It might help the hotel a bit to either leave something in the room that says these helpful tidbits, or at least mention it on check-in. Oh well, no harm done, and we set out on our day long adventure with full stomachs.
The first stop with our guide, Litoy, was Beverly Hills. Barangay Beverly Hills was home to the Taoist Temple and it was a gorgeous structure. We climbed the moss covered steps, passed the replica of the Great Wall and took in the view from the terraces. The buildings themselves were true works of art and inside they were stunning as well. There was a turtle pond and a little cave that Litoy said housed a giant snake (but later admitted he was kidding). Inside, Katherine was interested in the kidney shaped wooden blocks used in prayer so we read the directions for their use. Once you are spiritually prepared, hold the blocks in front of you on flattened palms. Ask your question and drop the blocks. Depending on how they land (both on the curved side, both on the flat side, or one of each), there is your answer. Each position either means Yes (you asked a good question and that’s the answer), No (No, or you asked your questions poorly, or you need to go out and prepare better before asking the question again), or Maybe (your question is unclear, rephrase, clarify, simplify and ask again). If you’re like us, it’s reminiscent of using a Magic 8 Ball. Katherine really wanted to try them out, but while it may seem like Magic 8 Ball to us, to the Taoists this is their faith and we weren’t about to let the kids go and play with their religious tools. In order to help the kids understand when disappointment crossed their faces, I told them that while it wouldn’t do any true harm to handle the blocks, it could be offensive. Consider this, someone walks into our church, takes down a cross and begins playing with it like a sword. Is anyone going to get hurt? Most likely not, but you’re going to offend those who believe in the sacredness of that item. I think they understood.
We did allow each child to light a joss stick (aka incense) and place it in the ashes urn to burn down. The intense scent and curling smoke, hushed voices and cool breeze through the open doors enveloped us. Watched over by breathtaking painted and sculpted dragons it was easy to see how believers would find respite and peace in this amazing place.
When it was time to depart we hated to leave, but there was more to see in Cebu and the surrounding areas. We were off to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. Our guide had warned us that it would be quite a hike and we readily agreed without a clue of what we were getting into. He took us off the paved road into a village and at the end of the muddy strip, there was a set of stairs that led straight down into the valley. As we exited the car and stepped nimbly around the puddles, we were called back. Some of Litoy’s friends had appeared out of the woodwork and informed him that a new road was complete and could give directions. Four grown men piled into the front row seats and we backed our way out. Up and down, around twists and turns we drove for 10 minutes (what a walk this would have been) to a little shrine in the side of one of the hills. It was recently designed into an outdoor chapel, but the original shrine is in the cave where a relic was discovered ages ago. I wish I’d recorded the actual story to get the facts straight, but it went something like this. There was a relic in Spain. A copy was made and brought to the Philippines. During yet another battle between the Spanish and the locals, it was hidden in the cave to keep it from being destroyed. The relic was forgotten. Ages later, a wild chicken hunter was wandering the hills and came upon the cave and the relic within. Now the cave is considered a holy place and masses are held there. In fact, just as we arrived, they were preparing for the 9 a.m. Mass so we couldn’t wander in and take photos. It was a serene place and once the Mass began, it echoed with the deep sounds of Cebuano Catholic worship.
We escaped the twisty roads of the Cebu hills and arrived back in the city where we did a driving tour of the Provincial Capital building (with a quick stop to see the statues of LapuLapu and Osmena) and we drove down the oldest road in the Philippines, Colon Street. As we approached Katherine commented that yes, it must be the oldest “Because the street lines are so very faded.”
The Cebu Cathedral was our next stop. Being a Saturday, we couldn’t take pictures because of the wedding in progress. The girls really wanted to watch for a bit and it didn’t seem to offend anyone as a majority of the people in the church were dressed as we were. It later became apparent that we were all interlopers. The actual guests and wedding party were dressed beautifully with women on one side in cream colored gowns, men on the other in formal barongs and the wedding party on the sides. We didn’t stay very long and instead headed over to the Basilica Minore de Santo Nino, the oldest church in the Philippines, built by Legazpi (the guy who founded Manila) in 1565 and considered the seat of Christianity in the country. It’s named after the relic presented to Queen Juana and Rajah Humabon (who later converted to Christianity) by Magellan in 1562, a statue of the infant Jesus in full royal robes.
It was very dark inside both from lack of lights but also from the blackened walls. I can only imagine they came as a result from all the hundreds of candles lit for personal intentions each day. While one side of the courtyard was being lit up, on the other side men were working to scrape up huge gobs of melted wax for future candles. Several signs along the walls warned of pick-pockets and with the throngs of people, it was no surprise. There was also a spring within the walls where the faithful lined up to fill bottles with holy water.
Walking out the back gates, Magellan’s Cross. He planted the cross on the shore on 21 April 1521 and was killed 27 April 1521, but not before planting his cross, have Mass celebrated and getting 400 locals baptized. The cross was partially destroyed but restored 40 years later and is now encased in a protective cross and stored in a small open air gazebo. The ceiling is painted with images of Magellan’s landing.
All around the plaza were vendors or religious artifacts and handmade guitars. Cebu is known (at least on this side of the world) for the quality of their guitars, and Ian was swarmed with young and old as he pulled out his wallet to purchase an instrument of his own. He originally wanted a bright blue one, but I talked him out of it and now wish I hadn’t. Blue would certainly be a topic of conversation. We walked off with a new guitar and case, and a hoard of beggars. It’s so difficult explaining to kids why we can’t give out money to everyone without seeming heartless.
Fort San Pedro is the oldest and smallest riangular fort in the Philippines. While it wasn’t completed until 1738, ground was broken by Legazpi in 1565 and since its completion it has been used as a stronghold by every occupying force. There was a small museum with bits from the galleon San Diego and a guard/guide who was more than willing to expound on each display case as best he could. After, he was kind enough to take a family picture, the only one of our trip.
Next stop was the Family Park. What a wonderful break. No crowds to jostle, no telling the kids to hush and nothing for us to explain or worry about breaking. Just a huge open area with swings and slides and see-saws all around the perimeter, and the kids ran and played. Oddly enough, in the trees on one end of the playground, was a mini-zoo. Ian didn’t get to go with us to the Manila Zoo but I had explained what we saw. Now he saw it first hand. Monkeys kept in cages the size of end-tables. Birds with barely enough room to stretch their wings. Deer, civets, and other creatures all cramped. Lunch for all the animals was fried chicken. The kids thought it was fascinating.
After a good stretch of our legs, it was time to think about lunch. Actually, we’d been thinking about it for a good long while, so we crossed the Mactan Bridge to LapuLapu City and found the memorial to the local hero. This statue was even bigger and cooler than the first and he was Nicholas’s favorite for the whole trip with his gigantic sword. LapuLapu (Kolipulako) is the guy who led the first successful attempt to push back European domination. He was the Muslim leader from the area south of Cebu and had no intention of recognizing the sovereignty of Spain or the Christian faith. Read more about him at http://www.malapascua.de/Cebu/Mactan/map_mactan.html
Jonathon had fallen asleep as we were crossing the bridge and had stayed asleep in the sling at this stop, so we decided it was definitely time for food. Next door to LapuLapu was the chic restaurant Manna Sutukil. It’s the sort of place where you place your order from the piles of dead creatures in front of you, and then find a seat where food is delivered to the table. Being on an island, the fare was entirely seafood which really irked Rebecca. There was an option of calamari which didn’t offend her too badly, so we requested a plate to share along with some prawns the size of our hands. The meal was eaten off banana leaves and served with soup, piles of rice and a green vegetable we couldn’t quite pinpoint. It looked almost like seaweed but there were little gelatinous balls instead of leaves. I took a taste and pronounced it very “green” until our guide suggested we try it with the vinegar sauce provided and then it was downright tasty. Not something to have at every meal, but definitely worth it.
Jonathon woke part way through the meal and we enjoyed the view and the breeze and the live harp music. It was a relaxing, wonderful meal and both Ian and I were thrilled to have local Filipino fare that was delicious. I truly believe now that it is Manila’s food that has no direction. The food in the big city is confused. With so many influences working against each other, nothing tastes quite edible.
With no room for an immediate dessert, we departed for our last destination, The Top. The Top was, of course, the highest point on Cebu and we were literally in the clouds looking down on the city, the water and our hotel which appeared as a toy castle. The quiet, the cool breeze, no bugs, it was time for some ice cream. A perfect way to end our tour.
At the hotel we paid the car company the P2000 for the day along w/ an extra P500, just because. And we tipped our guide P500 which seemed like the least we could do for a full day tour. Total cost to us, $60. For this, he hugged Ian and kissed all the kids and left a very happy man.
If you can imagine it, all day long what the kids looked forward to most was swimming. So while mom and dad were completely exhausted, we changed into our suits and hit the pool along with all the kids from a 6 year old birthday party held in the same courtyard. Not only was there a little kid pool that Jonathon could be comfortable in, but the bigger kid pool had a water slide. The last of their energy was sapped. Finally! But still we trekked down to the Port restaurant and had ordered another seafood meal, this time with the distinctly Filipino flare of pancit and pineapple fried rice along side our salmon and lapu-lapu. None of the kids ate. We trekked back up to our room and everyone passed out.

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