In all honesty, I had no interest in visiting Cebu City. When I first learnt that a typhoon was due to hit Malapuscua the day I was due to go I thought about staying there to wait it out, but decided against, and would take my chances at the Ferry port town of Maya.
After a surprisingly smooth landing I arrived in the Philippines (for the second time, I later found out) to a sunny, warm day. I was right to be cautiously optimistic as the driver handed me his phone to speak to the Manager at the Thresher Cove Dive Resort, telling me that there were no ferries that day, or the next, and advised me to stay in a hotel in Cebu City. Telling my driver Darwin I didn’t want an expensive hotel, he obliged. But, sat outside a very budget hotel I realized that if I was going to spend a couple of days at least doing nothing I need to be somewhere semi decent and I asked for somewhere with a pool. The next hotel was the opposite end of the spectrum, and thankfully they didn’t have a room, and so were more than happy to give me a wifi code to search online. I found a ‘cheap’ place (though two nights there were 1.5x the whole of my stay in Malapuscua) with a pool.
The apartment was about 3 times bigger than my studio in Hong Kong. On the 27th floor I had an incredibly view overlooking Cebu city. I spent the first evening walking around the very local area, buying food at Robinsons, and went night swimming. Experiencing wifi issues I went to the chain hotel next door to ask the concierge for suggestions of museums, or a good area to walk around the following day. The response of ‘fun’ activities in their hotel (shooting range, sky walk, bowling) or a temple an hours drive away, was not quite what I was after and thankfully my wifi started to work. Excitement appeared on finding a few places to go check out within walking distance, and a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Woop.
The following morning I rolled out of my massive bed, walked down the stairs onto the balcony to check out the weather, feeling like a princess. It was pouring outside, but whatever the weather, my plan was staying the same.I made myself and my things as waterproof as possible and stepped into the windy rain. Almost instantly my umbrella blew back in my face and I remembered why I rarely use them.
I made my way to the Museo Sugbo using screen shots of the route, and asking a few people on the way. I was constantly greeted by smiles, hellos and positive comments on my tattoos. I loved the architecture of the older buildings, finding beauty in their decay, yet conflicted with sadness at their state the same time. Some of the buildings had been painted in pastels, matching perfectly with the colourful small buses driving past them.
Many had been patched up by corrugated iron, others, looking unliveable, clearly were currently occupied. Many of the newer houses were made of wood and iron sheets. I passed an almost abandoned shanty town, that looked like it had been razed by some sort of natural disaster. I know in many other developing countries the government pulls down similar communities, though do not know here.
I was approached by a few street children, which always stirs up emotional turmoil. I know, and can understand the position to give them nothing, yet from human to human, older woman to child, I find it so hard to just say no, feeling like a heartless, privileged, ice queen. Ho Hum.
When I finally arrived, wet and windswept, I realized I had no idea what was actually in the museum. I passed through a gate into a large courtyard surrounded by old buildings. I later found out it was a prison complex built by the Spanish in 1898 and in use as one until 2004. I wandered through the first few rooms alone and was surprised to learn that the Philippines had been colonised by the USA, in fact, bought from the Spanish in 1898 at the Treaty of Paris for U$20 million, with the Philippines having no say or input in this.
Until the previous day I hadn’t known that the Philippines was under Spanish rule for 300 years. In fact, it wasn’t until I was en route that I realized I knew almost nothing about the country’s history. I became aware there must be some Spanish or Portuguese link whilst walking around on my first night hearing and seeing similar words in the language. Thinking back to the little I knew about some of the Filipino culture and names it made sense, and was looking forward to hopefully finding out more the next day. I was not disappointed. I learnt Filipino (Pilipino until 1987) and Tagalog are not interchangable terms (though they are very similar) and aside from the other official Language of English, there are 12 indigenous languages spoken, one being Cebuano.
The museum detailed the history of the Philippines starting from the pre-colonial era, life under Spanish rule( 1521- 1898), the American occupation (until 1946), the Japanese occupation (WW2: 1941/42 – 1945), and importantly, the resistant movements against each. They had some fascinating display objects, correspondence and publications. The variety of WWII newspapers that left me contemplating if we think the world is a mess now check out these headlines..
Piles of ‘guerrilla currency’ banknotes were stacked up, emphasizing the strong belief and determination to become a sovereign nation. More information was given about the resistence movements and each President had their own information board, of note, the authoritarian Ferdinand Marcos, who was overthrown and replaced by the Democratically elected first (but not only) female President, Corazon C. Aquino.
By this point I’d joined a free guided tour, seeing a large collection of artefacts donated in 2014 by a Cebuana women now living in the USA . The collection was split into two; the Kalinga, who live and work on the rice paddies in Northern Philippines. Isolated in the mountains, they managed to escape colonialization and were able to keep their traditions, including women being tattooed from a young age. The tattoos are made with charcoal using a needle made of bamboo and lemon thorns. You can read a more in-depth and interesting article about the Kalinga here: http://hauteculturefashion.com/kalinga-tattoos-philippines/
The second part of the collection consisted mainly of religious icons; not particularly of interest to me.
There was also an exhibition on media and journalism in the Philippines, documenting the history as well as showcasing old machines and printing presses. The exhibition stated the importance of a free press detailing stories of threats, violence and even murder against journalists. I was hoping to learn a little bit of history today, and couldn’t have been more impressed with the layout, artefacts, information given, and importantly the knowledge and enthusiasm of my guide, all for the tiny sum of 75PHP (£1.02)
After a wander around the courtyard I headed off to find some lunch at the Wellness Health Institute and Cafe. The menu was vast, and looked delicious, so I called on the waitress for recommendations. I also ordered a wrap for my lunch on my transfer the following day, as well as buying some vegan kimchi and some hot dogs in a can to bring home… Probably not the wisest idea, but I got over excited.
As a child I loved this purple ‘Ube’ ice cream. I never knew what ‘Ube’ was, and never saw it in England, but when I returned to veganism a part of me (a teeny part, it’s about the bigger picture) was sad I shall never taste Ube ice cream again. Not a flavour I thought I could re-create (I only found out it was purple sweet potato in my early 30s) or one that any ice cream maker would bother trying either. Turns out I was wrong, and I finished my lunch with a bowl of delicious Ube ice cream. ❤
I then headed down to the harbour to check out the Cross of Magellin, placed in 1521 by the Spanish & Portuguese explorers. I bought a magnet of this outside, but because it reminded me of the pastel pink houses I’d seen, rather than the religious hut. I walked around the Plaza Independencia (formally Plaza de Armas of course) admiring the colonial architecture and into San Pedro Fort. It was more than worth the 30PHP (£0.50!) entrance fee, and beautifully restored with an interesting collection of photos taken in Cebu City around the turn of the 19th Century.
I walked along the waterfront, fascinated by a seemingly abandonded building, from one angle looking similar to New York’s Flat Iron building. Inside on the first floor were some people sitting at a table, looking like they were playing a card game.
The rains started falling harder and my soggy clothes were finally starting to make me feel a little cold, so 17,000 steps later I decided to head back for a ridiculously good, and ridiculously cheap massage (250Php/£4!! for an hour.)
The streets were generally chaotic, but felt safe. Lined with people selling fruits and one type of item, always smiling at me, though sometimes prompted by a smile from me, when I caught them staring (at my tattoos generally.) I questioned to myself whether the teenage boy who said directly to me, ‘you are so cool’ was being sarcastic, but his English probably didn’t extend to that.
My mind went in circles seeing others so much less fortunate in terms of money and privilege than me, from rationalizing that I can’t save the world or help everyone, and I should be grateful for what I have (I am, very) and be a good, kind person (I try) but it still hurts my heart being faced with the unfairness of the huge distance in terms of the freedom of movement and the opportunities I have compared to others. In Cebu City, this divide was glaringly obvious.
I was gutted when I learnt of the typhoon coming to ruin my diving holiday. As I wrote this, I didn’t know if I would get to dive (I did.. and wow, everything about my time in Malapuscua was perfect – seperate post..) but all I knew then was that the ferries were scheduled to run the next day, and the forecast was cloudy-sun, 28*C for the next four days. Everything crossed.
But, not only did I make the most of Cebu City, I loved my day in Cebu City, and, begrudgingly have to admit I was incredibly glad I was forced to stop here. I started to fill a void of knowledge about this region, and learnt so much walking around this bustling city, trying to open my eyes to all the sights; the cracks in the buildings; wondering how they still stood, the tiny side streets, the people sleeping hidden under plastic sheets, the huge smile from the man selling stuffed toy dogs, the security guards with their huge guns more than happy to point me in the right direction and the countless number of people who just warmly wanted to say hello. Like my freezing cold day in Miyajima, I started out unsure, gathering all the posi I could muster, came home soaking wet, but warm and happy inside.