Our wonderful island hopping experience in Cebu, the Philippines
A hot afternoon in a Chinese restaurant not far from the Tagbilaran port, we were taking late lunch while waiting for the ferry back to Cebu. My cell phone rang. It was Fernando Casquejo, or Andy, one of the Cebu boatmen with wide exposure in Hong Kong discussion boards. I text him a while ago for our island hopping tour the following day.
Andy's English was better than I expected, yet not well articulate at occasions. In order to avoid misunderstanding, I spoke loudly and recited the agreed price repeatedly. Later in the day, I text him a few more times to make sure everything was fine.
15 minutes before appointment time, the hotel reception informed us that Andy had arrived. We quickly grasped our gear and hop on the car, a pick-up truck converted passenger car, that Andy prepared for us. 5 minutes later we were at the pier waiting to go on board.
Andy could not come with us as he had got a bigger group that day. We got on a smaller boat with his wife Rosalina, two of his boys, and his nephews Antique and Michael. We had no complaint, as that's all we needed.
Well, afterall we are one of those city skeptics. Soon after set-off, I took out a simple map, showing it to Rosalina and tried to find out where we were going and if there was anything that she might charge us in addition. With her limited English, Rosalina told us which were the places we could consider, where were the fishes, and the entrance fees for each place respectively. Basically, within a reasonable distance, we could freely choose our itinery. She assured that there was no surcharges. "We are honest people," she said. Indeed they are. At the end of the day, we were not charged on anything we had not agreed upon in advance.
I saw some cakes with strawberry jam wrapped in clear film, which I thought were their lunch. But when we started snorkelling we found they are food for attracting fish, and absolutely free of charge. Their lunch, as what we had seen, were merely a couple of mangoes.
Our first stop was Gilutungan sanctuary. Visitors can find a lot of marine lives here. We had decided to come although Rosalina told us on our way that the entrance fee here is expensive - 200 pesoes per person.
As soon as our boat docked the island, a couple of Filippino men came up and invited us to follow them for snorkelling. We noticed that Rosalina avoided to participate in the conversation and had soon realized that the service of these men was not included in the 200 pesoes. For some reason Rosalina could not refuse to allow their solicitation. Although they explained that they were "volunteers" and payment was optional, we decided that we did not need the service. Moreover, nothing could be or should be free.
Actually Antique had stopped the boat somewhere already good for snorkelling. What do we need? All we had to do was to take off our T-shirt and shorts and jump into the emerald color, clear water. Michael and the children also plunged in. They took our arms and led us to see the big fishes.
There were quite a large variety of fishes and colorful coral. Some fish was bigger than a family-size pizza.
17-year-old Michael has a charming smile with dimple on his cheeks. He is a natural born diver, can stay under water for a long time and dash around out of nothing. I actually saw him flipping a rock bigger than his own body, 8 feet below the surface.
Back on the boat, the "volunteers" were still there. Having failed to become our snorkelling master, the men started showing us pearls, pendants made of shark tooth, and giant mantis shrimps which he could have them cooked immediately for our breakfast. We wanted none of them.
Next we set off for Caohagan, another small island. A Japanese bought it in the 80's and set up some facilities there. It has not much fish in its waters but is a good place for bathing. Our boat stopped outside the island and there was a vast bank of white sand spanning until the beach of the island, with swimming-pool-clear water up to our thighs.
Andy's boys played with us as if we were friends, not customers. To catch our attention, they did all sorts of acrobatics they could think of - standing upside down, jumping from Antique's shoulders... It was so funny.
We also chatted with Antique, which let us know a little more about him.
Antique told us that we can go up the beach by swimming, or precisely, walking there - then the 100 peso entrance fee would not be required. But we were feeling so good that we didn't want to leave the water. Rosalina suggested that the youngmen could go down the water and get us some sea urchin roe if we like. We gently turned down this idea also. We thought they were already doing a great job and such extra work was not really necessary.
We stayed until it's time for lunch, when we headed to one of the floating restaurants at Cao-Uy of Olango Island. The restaurant was almost empty, and so were their basins. Yet upon the arrival of customers the basins are instantly filled with catches - crab, lapu lapu, fan lobsters with ugly yellow shell, and lots of sea shells which we were the first time to see a living creature in it.
During our lunch Andy brought the other group in. He came over to greet us and we chatted for a short time. He had been receiving a lot of enquiries in mobile phone text, which he had difficulty to answer, both because of the cost and his English level. We think it would be a good idea for him to learn how to use e-mail. But of course, even in such a commercially active area, computer is still a luxury to many Philippino families.
We had plan for souvenir shopping in the city, so we only asked Rosalina to take us to one more spot after lunch, the Talima Marine Sanctuary. The entrance fee was only 100 pesoes per head and there were also quite a lot of fish, though in smaller size and variety comparing with Gilutungan. Again the Casquejo boys played with us as if we were their pals. They are chidren after all. For a few times they rode on our backs like riding horses while we were doing our snorkelling. They were heavy in the water! I would have sunken if not wearing a life jacket. All the way we were laughing though, and the joy was incomparable.
Rosalina took us back to the pier and found us a motor tricycle. They took a short ride with us together and we waved goodbye to this graceful lady and her lovely kids outside the local market.
The cost for 2 person was 2,500 pesoes (USD 55) only. This price should be good for up to 6 person, with reasonable adjustment thereafter. Lunch was not included, but it was not expensive. For us, Andy provided free life jackets, and we had our own masks. Make sure you are provided with sufficient equipment if you have a bigger group. Protective shoes are not absolutely necessary for the destinations mentioned.
Andy has got an e-mail address now. Mobile text may still be the best way to contact him, until he becomes familiar with e-mail and has his own computer and Internet access. His number has been changed to +63 (0)99933 63064 (from the old number +63 (0)90959 81871). If anybody has problem to connect or to communicate, leave a message here and I would try to help.