When I divided my post about the short trip to Myanmar into two parts, it was because of the Ngapali beach. This beach is so spectacular that it deserved a separate post. By the same token, I am writing separately about Cebu city since it’s such a spectacular dump that it deserves an individual post too. But don’t expect overtly ugly photos here either. You see, I’m an optimist, glass is half full, that kind of thing, so if something is ugly, I won’t take a photo. Why would I want to litter my blog with unappealing photos, right? So the ugliest of all the ugly won’t be visually presented here, but I’m sure you will get a pretty good idea from the photos and the text anyway. So let’s get down to it folks.
The feature image of this post, showing the road from El Nido to the airport in Puerto Princesa in Palawan, is probably the last pretty thing you will see before reaching Cebu. I was racking my brain, thinking how to put it mildly as I don’t want to offend anyone, really. But after you see all the beauty of Boracay and Palawan and then come to this, one indeed struggles to find a softer expression. So let me reiterate, it’s a dump but you might still need or even want to make a visit here so it’s better to come prepared.
The bad – The city
Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu
Let’s not get too disappointed though by the ugly hotel room view and do some serious sightseeing here. It can’t be that bad after all! Excited about exploring the city on foot I ran down to the front desk to verify the direction to the main city points of interest. The guy at the reception, at my telling him I wanted to walk to the Basilica, looked at me as if I was a lunatic and immediately cut me off. ‘Madam, just do not walk in this area, please,’ he firmly replied. I didn’t like him for calling me ‘madam’, which always makes me feel old, and then for forcing me to do things another way.
However, he looked so serious that I didn’t dare go against his advice. Once I sat in the taxi and the ride started, I could clearly see why he didn’t recommend walking. For the whole time I sank into the back seat of the car, depression creeping on me. I remember asking myself ‘Is this for real?’, shaking my head in disbelief. I knew it wasn’t a charming city when I transited here for Boracay, but this was really too much. Holy mishmash!
Finally after a drive that seemed like an eternity, the driver dropped me by the basilica. I got off the taxi slightly puzzled, looked around hesitantly and attempted a small walk around first. My depression suddenly deepened. I got stared at in a way that I didn’t like, as if I was an intruder, not belonging there at all. The place was heavy with a vibe that I couldn’t describe but certainly miles away from a welcoming one. ‘That’s it,’ I told myself and rushed to see the basilica. I took quick shots and hailed a taxi at the speed of light. My mind was bogged down, my spirits were choking, surprisingly the only place I wanted to be was my hotel room. This was definitely the shortest ever sightseeing of my life.
The worst – The tour
To crown it all, the next day I also took the worst island hopping tour of my life. You see, the thing is that Cebu and its surrounding islets and beaches are often advertised as pristine, almost divine go-to diving and snorkeling spots. Well, I might have gone to wrong places but all I saw was badly managed mass tourism run by extremely confused and blatantly dishonest people who took us places I would downright call slums. Holy mishmash!
The tour was such a disaster that I will devote it one post too in the Stories section on my blog. You see, I wrote an exhaustive, raw and duly sarcastic review of it online which you can view here. But Tripadvisor don’t like raw nor sarcastic nor too honest. They asked me multiple times to edit it. In the end, since I accused them of boycotting my honest review, my account on Tripadvisor, with almost 190 honest reviews from travels, was suspended. I could still post reviews after a short hiatus, but would never receive any points or emails. So, if you like raw, wait for it. It’s coming soon.
The take away
If you come to Cebu, be very vigilant with booking any tours as a lot of them are indeed scams. You can find other pretty honest reviews online. Some of them openly sell tours which involve animal abuse (e.g. swimming with whale sharks), so my advice is stay away.
The better – Another side of the city
To be fair, it was not all that gloomy. On the Silvester night I ventured to the other side of the city on a hunt for a good bite. I found the food fix I needed and a lovely church and nicer people. My impressions of Cebu slightly improved that night but only slightly really.
If you are fond of Mexican food like me, then are in for a treat in Cebu. Maya brought a huge smile to my face and made my tummy more than happy. I certainly didn’t expect this to happen and the evening in the restaurant remained the highlight of my Cebu escapades. True, it’s a bit on the higher end when it comes to prices, but it’s totally worth it, especially if you know that it could perfectly cure your Cebu coma.
This church certainly offered a brief respite from the whole weirdness. I lingered for quite some time. Left the place rejuvenated and calmer. Life is to be accepted the way it comes. Bad experiences are here for us to appreciate and cherish the good ones. After all, it’s always about striking a balance, isn’t it?
Overall, I think the student I spoke to before my holiday was right. To me Philippines are a weird country. Again, no offence to anyone but that’s how I felt. Throughout the whole trip, and I know I only scratched the surface within the three weeks, I felt absolutely no vibe at all or a weird vibe to say the least. No genuine smiles, no genuine politeness so famous in other South East Asian countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia or Indonesia.
Of course there were exceptions, as you can see in some of the photos here, but they were scarce and certainly couldn’t make up for my generally gloomy impression of the country and its people. I observed a certain degree of pride in Filipinos, pride I couldn’t find the source of. There were times I felt like an intruder honestly, or even worse a bank if you see what I mean. As if Filipinos kept a distance for some serious reasons, similar to what certain nations have towards Germans due to the WWII atrocities. Of course this is my subjective view while other travellers may rave about the country. After all, it’s all about who you meet and how you spend your time. I guess I have had better holidays but am still very much grateful as the country’s natural beauty is nothing short of spectacular.
To sum up, we all get to choose what and who to trust. After all, certain experiences are not transferable, and sometimes it’s best to see for yourself, even if, or especially if someone tells you not do so. God knows, maybe you would have the time of your life in Cebu… Thanks for reading folks, and good luck with your travels. Stay tuned:)