Cebu & Oslob: Pictures from Our Very Short Trip
We’ve been planning to visit the Philippines for years, however, little did we know that it’s my father who will be the reason for us to visit the country. Cebu wasn’t on the plan, but since I spoke with an aunt who lives there, we included it in our itinerary. It was a quick three-day trip which, quite frankly, feels like a dream. My youngest sister, Sonia, Masood and I were still coping from our recent loss. This made the trip feel dreamlike and surreal. I’ll share the few photographs from our quick trip to Cebu and Oslob, which I’d taken with a smart phone.
What is Cebu like for someone who only eats halal food but does not like seafood?
Sonia and I have been to Cebu before: 1 year ago for her and 15 years ago for me. It’s Masood’s first time, though. The February weather was dry and cool. I’m just glad it didn’t rain much when we visited. I’m impressed by the new buildings and better roads.
Masood thinks Cebu is much cleaner, peaceful and relaxed as compared to Manila. Both Sonia and I agree with him. Nothing personal against Manila, but I feel people’s smiles are more genuine in Cebu.
However, the main issue was food. There are very few halal places in Cebu. Our first stop was a restaurant called Seafood Island in Island Central Mall, Mactan. This is where we were whisked away for lunch by my aunt and uncle when we landed in the city.
The Philippines, like any other tropical country, is the place to enjoy freshly-squeezed juice. We ordered Fresh Buko (or coconut) juice, calamansi (a small, round citrus fruit found in Southeast Asia), watermelon, and orange juice. These refreshing juices cost less than $2 each!
The picture in the middle is what they call, Magellan’s Landing. Do you know who Ferdinand Magellan was? Anyway, we requested them to cook our food separately, using only vegetable oil and to skip the chicken. Masood wouldn’t touch the food because, according to him, he can’t recognize half of the ingredients! Magellan’s Landing good for 3 people costs P965 ($19).
We end up ordering grilled Tuna belly for Masood. It tasted really good: fresh and delicious! Seaweeds were served on the side. Masood tried the seaweed for the first time and, quite surprisingly, he liked it! What he didn’t enjoy was Philippines’ slightly soft and sticky rice. He prefers basmati rice. Yes, food had been a major issue with him.
Staying overnight at the Dakong Bato Beach & Leisure Resort.
We had absolutely no idea where we were headed to. We just climbed into my aunt & uncle’s brand-new pickup, felt relaxed, and let them take us on a long drive. My aunt thoughtfully packed snacks, fruits and drinks for us. In fact, there was so much food that I thought we were going away for a week! Therefore, imagine our surprise when we parked at a resort in the evening. “I hope their kitchen is still open,” says aunt.
The gentle sounds of waves crashing could be heard outside our balcony, but it was too dark to see the view when we arrived. It wasn’t until Faj’r time the next morning when we were greeted by the spectacular view of the ocean! Similarly, we were clueless about how nice and close to the ocean the resort was.
This was a much-needed break, specially after wrapping up matters with my father back in Manila. I needed the peace, quiet and tranquility. The diversion was welcome.
We did not anticipate this detour, which meant that none of us came prepared with swimwear. Therefore, we just spent the morning sitting in the balcony and soaking up the view.
We had to make do with simply dipping our toes in the cool water. I couldn’t see any other guests out and about the property that day, therefore it felt like we had the entire resort to ourselves. There were fisherman out in the ocean doing their job, casting the nets into the water and pulling them back out as they become laden with fish. The scene and atmosphere felt extremely peaceful and relaxed.
The main attraction in Oslob is swimming with the whale sharks. So why did we skip it?
Swimming with the whale sharks is an activity that draws thousands of local and international tourists to Oslob. In 2014, whale sharks attracted over 110,000 tourists to Oslob, according to the Department of Tourism for Central Visayas, the islands of which Oslob is a part.
Many people believe that there are no negative impact to the whale shark interaction, or that there is a dedicated organization helping in their conservation. The whale shark is a protected species in the Philippines and Under Republic Act 9147—an Act for the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and habitats in the Philippines—it is illegal to harass them. Visitors have to go through a brief “orientation”, where they are basically told not to wear perfume or touch the whale sharks. The thing is, it seemed as if tourists who do breach the guidelines given during the “orientation” are not really penalized.
Julian Hatfield suggests that tourists swim with turtles on Apo Island instead, which is only a couple of hours south of Oslob. This activity actually supports marine conservation and provides alternative income for the old turtle fishermen who now work as guides.
These whale sharks are huge creatures, yet notice how the boats are so close to the shore! The locals lure the poor whale sharks with food so they stick around and entertain tourists who break the rules and touch them anyway. We stopped at the ticket counter and noticed that it’s temporarily closed. Turned out that there were only two whale sharks and that the folks in-charge were “waiting” for the other whales sharks to swim in. In the meantime, they have stopped issuing tickets.
We turned around, walked to a nearby restaurant, and enjoyed a good, hearty breakfast instead.
Dinner at The Beach House. Getting there was an adventure.
The kitchen of the resort we were staying at closes at 8 pm. There was no room service. Fortunately, the friendly guy at the reception was kind enough to inform us that there was a Japanese restaurant that opens until midnight. “Just head back on the highway and turn left. Drive straight until you see the restaurant on the left.”
Oslo is a remote place where people appeared to be safely ensconced in their respective homes by dusk. The highway was dark and empty. A few kilometers later, we came upon a small town with a few open shops. We spotted a guy and asked about the restaurant. “Keep driving and you’ll find a cemetery. The restaurant is there.”
Wait. Did he just say cemetery? I had to be sure because they were speaking the local language and his sentence actually included simenteryo. And yes, I was right. My sister, Masood and I panicked. Why would someone in their right mind have their restaurant in a cemetery? What are they even serving there? Bulalo? Paaye?
Did we find the restaurant?
Yes! Finally, we spotted the cemetery. But there was no restaurant in sight. We drove further ahead and saw another man walking down the dark road. We asked him. “Oh! You need to drive all the way back to the cemetery. You’ll find the restaurant there.”
“Can’t we just have those cup noodles for dinner?” suggested my sister.
Actually, The Beach House is located in front of a cemetery. There was a signage but it was barely noticeable. We walked in to an empty restaurant. A couple we saw at the same resort as ours was sitting in a corner waiting for their food. A loud, fast-beat music blared from the speakers high on the wall. I noticed a bar on my right and immediately felt out-of-place. There was sand, darkness, and cool breeze beyond the table and chairs. I assumed that was the beach.
We were famished, it was late, and there was no other choice.
Nothing on the menu seemed halal so we asked the very young lady serving our table. She had no idea what halal was. She excused herself and promptly dashed off to call the chef. A few minutes later, a cheerful and friendly-looking guy with an Australian accent walked over to our table with paper and pen. He introduced himself as the chef and promised to tailor our meals however we wanted them. Thankfully, he knew what halal meant and promised to cook our meals alcohol and pork-free.
The food was pricy but definitely worth it, specially since the chef prepared it carefully for us, respecting our requests. The staff was incredibly friendly. A Harley Davidson that belonged to the owner was parked at the entrance. Sonia and our uncle took turns taking pictures on it. Everything was delicious and we returned to the resort sated and happy.
Oslob was, overall, an extremely short but fun trip.
The drive on the way back to Cebu was beautiful. I know that my father would have absolutely loved visiting this place. I would have taken endless photographs to document the trip had it been a happier time. But on this trip I sat back, relaxed and just enjoyed the ride and the company of people I love.
Have you ever been to Oslob or Cebu?