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An island getaway in Northern Cebu (1/2)
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: -
Date: 2005-05-14
People say that the charm of Cebu lies not only in its beautiful beaches and clear seawaters but also in the way the past blends with the present. If you go on a tour of the many scenic attractions of the island province, you not only see its natural wonders, experience the warm reception and way of life of the townspeople, but you are also drawn into the roots of this oldest Spanish settlement in the country.

The interesting mix of the colorful past and the "provincial warmth and charm" is what the 2nd weekend tour of the Suroy Suroy Sugbu 2005, dubbed as the Northern Island Escapade, intends to highlight on May 21 and 22. This is a tourism activity spearheaded by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) in partnership with the Province of Cebu. The participants will stop in the most of the northern towns and stay overnight in Bantayan Island.

Going up north, just 18 kilometers north of Cebu City, is the municipality of Liloan which was already known for its pristine beaches long before other towns were "discovered" as tourist spots. Along its coastline, there is a spot called "Silot" where, "bathers are told not to swim to a certain point because of a whirlpool caused by the ebb and tide of the waters which flow from an inland lake." This phenomenon is called "lilo" in Cebuano, thus the name Liloan. Tiny whirling waters or "lilo" can be found in Silot bay where several old ships are docked by the bridge.

An interesting feature in Liloan is the San Fernando Rey Parish Church which was reportedly constructed bigger than most churches in nearby areas. Built in 1847, the church is "facing the mountains" (the west) unlike other churches which usually "face the sea" (the east). Some townsfolk believe that the position of the church has something to do with the native rituals. However, it can also be explained that church rites, especially masses, are usually celebrated in the morning, therefore churchgoers are spared from the sun’s rays.

Liloan is also home to the Parola or lighthouse located in Bagacay, Barangay Catarman. It was built in 1904 on top of a hill, overlooking the sea. Records also show that some of the liberation forces of American troops who were dispersed to light the Japanese in the northern towns landed along the beaches of Barrio Bagacay. It is interesting to note that a much older watchtower close to the edge of the Mactan Channel stands in ruins – a remnant of the Spanish era.

A 34-kilometer ride north of Cebu city takes you to Danao city which has an attractive city square at the center of which is an old cathedral, Sto. Tomas de Villanueva church. It is also famous for its cottage industries like ceramics, fiber crafts, shell crafts, woodcrafts and metal crafts. Pot making in the city dates back several hundred years and has been handed down to many generations. Danao is also home to a legitimate gun making industry that continues to thrive after a controversial past. The city also has several makeshift sugarmills or intosan used by the locals before large sugarmills were put up in the area. Guests of the city oftentimes drop by the house of Mayor Ramon Durano III to see the antique collections from religious icons to furnitures) of his wife Elizabeth. A oneand-a-half hour drive north from Cebu city along the east coast is the pleasant farming and fishing area of Sogod. This town which beckons with its crystal clear waters and extensive natural cave network with subterranean rivers is said to be the spawning ground of giant marine turtles. Local residents call certain public beach or white beach near the town center which shows a demarcation between the black sand to the north and white sand to the south. It is said that this the junction where the white sand "begins" or "sogod" in Cebuano to the north.

Sogod is also a host to other natural wonders like the Spring which is said to have healing powers and the Bagatayam Falls. An international observatory was also reportedly set up at the back of Sogod Central School in 1929 to witness a total solar eclipse. Just after the town center is the world-renowned Alegre Beach Resort and luxurious Club Pacific Beach Resort, both famous for their long stretch of white sandy beach and clear sea.

Traversing to the west side of the island is San Remegio which also boasts of fine white sand beaches. Hagnaya, one of its barangays offers a barge and ferry facility to cross over to Bantayan Island and other small islands in between.

Bantayan is a three-town island off the northern tip of Cebu fringed with fine white sand beaches sheltering coves and lagoons, shoals and reefs with "good coral cover," Sol Jose Vanzi wrote this in his article "Discovering Bantayan Island" while almost everyone has heard about the beaches of Boracay, Palawan and Bohol, not many have heard of Bantayan Island where nature’s blessings are complemented by the people’s rich culture and progressive economy."

Vanzi said that even before World War II, Bantayan’s fine beaches especially in Sta. Fe were already favorite hideways. Here the waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Boats can be chartered for trips to dive spots such as the uninhabited Gato Island with several caves that can be entered at depths of 12 meters.

History says that during the early Spanish regime, the Visayas area was continually attacked by the Moros of Mindanao. Watchtowers were constructed all over the island to serve as lookout stations to warn residents of raids. Forts with high walls were erected to protect the people. These towers are called "Bantayan sa Hari" or Watchtowers of the King (the king of Spain) where the name Bantayan was derived.

In the town proper, well-preserved ancestral houses stand side by side with modern establishments, a testament to the rich heritage of this old Hispanic settlement. Bantayan town also has a four centuries old parish church the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish church, the first to be built by the Spaniards outside Cebu reportedly very much earlier than the parish of San Nicolas, Cebu Metropolitan and Basilica del Sto. Niño.

The church in the center, the plaza in front of it and houses and other establishments around the plaza are examples of an architectural style prominent during the Spanish Period. Some Spanish time traditions are being practiced by the people in the island like the Semana Santa sa Bantayan or Holy Week in Bantayan highlighted by processions of life-size statues showing the life of Christ from birth to resurrection.

Other than the grand procession Bantayan is probably the only town in the Philippines today that has an indult ( a special ecclesiastical dispensation to eat meat on days of extreme fasting and abstinence). According to Southwall Magazine Editor-in-Chief Boboi Costas on his interview with local historian Trizer Mansueto, this indult was reportedly obtained in 1840 by Fr. Doroteo Andrade del Rosario from the Office of the Holy Inquisition in Spain. This was granted to Bantayanons because they believe that fishing during Holy Week will bring tragedy. The fishermen at this "take a break to join the processions" in thanks for the sea’s bounty. This "forced" the islanders to eat meat since fish was not available.

Bantayan is also "an important food source for neighboring islands." In fact, it is known as the "Egg Basket of the Visayas," producing more than 100 tons of eggs everyday, distributed throughout the whole region. Acording to Bantayan Mayor Genalyn Escario Cañares, the town is also one of the highest producers of yellow corn among municipalities in the Visayas. Fishing is important as well. Fringed with reefs and shoals, Bantayan and Sta. Fe are important fishing centers supplying Metro Cebu. The Palawod (going to the sea) Festival in Bantayan and the Kadagaya (productivity) Festival in Madridejos depict the bounties of their catch and harvest.

to be continue....

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