Exploring Cebu’s Bantayan and Virgin Islands
Fare on a regular non-airconditioned bus from Cebu City to the Hagnaya port costs less than P100, but prepare yourself for the constant stopping (it is a city bus, after all) which can turn the perkiest tourist into a cranky grouch. A boat ride from Hagnaya to Bantayan Island goes for less than P200.
An airconditioned hotel room starts at P1,600 a night, which can be shared by two people. With a 400-peso budget per day for food and drinks, one can already live like a king. Tours are negotiable, but should not go more than P1,000 per person a day (for a group of 4 to 8).
Crystal-clear waters fronted our home for the weekend, complemented by the powder-fine sand surrounding us. The beach was beauty in a nutshell, and we gorged on this vision until the final streaks of light faded into the night.
We dined on danggit, the local dried fish delicacy, and batter-fried squid before we retired for the night. The crashing waves lulled us gently as we prepared ourselves for the coming day.
We found ourselves in the middle of a bustling marketplace the next morning, picking out delicious treats to enjoy during the day. Cebuano staples like mangoes and dried fish were in abundance, prompting us to exercise enormous restraint from completely emptying our wallets. We bought a few things, and then we were off.
Our guide, who also happened to be our pedicab driver, pedaled through the tiny streets of the island to bring us to a waiting fishing boat. The tiny vessel, which can hold eight people at most, was to bring us to Virgin Island, approximately 30 minutes away from the Santa Fe shore.
Our guide steered us first toward a small cove, while his companion passed out snorkels and goggles. We were looking out onto a beautiful scene as we sat on our boat, but nothing could have prepared us for the splendor beneath the rolling waves.
Fishes and corals of all colors and shapes greeted us as we peered through our plastic lenses. Their graceful dance with the water contrasted with our frantic flailing as we fought the same current, stressing that we were but visitors of their rich locale.
After several minutes, we docked on Virgin Island, its white sand blinding us despite the overcast sky. As its name suggests, the island is rather undeveloped, save for three small houses where caretakers lived. A few huts were also scattered on one side of the beach, providing tourists with relative comfort during their preferably brief visit.
The milky sand and clear blue water provided a beautiful backdrop to our simple yet sumptuous meal of barbecued chicken and puso, which is rice cooked in woven banana leaves. Our meal was accompanied by locally-grown coconut juice, which our guide was kind enough to harvest from trees in the area.
We set out as soon as we finished eating, eager to explore the beach. The pristine shores were irresistible, the clear water inviting. We spent hours enjoying the beauty before we finally headed back to Santa Fe.
The sun was setting as we alighted from our rented bangka, filling the sky with brilliant colors. The marriage of pink and purple clouds provided a perfect finale to a weekend of basking in natural wonders. - FVI, GMANews.TV
Photos by Melissa De Los Santos