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December 21st 2016
Published: December 23rd 2016
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Cebu City - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!Cebu City - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!Cebu City - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!

Taken in a big department store in the Ayala Mall, we were ably assisted by a security guard (who gave us permission) and a shop assistant (who took the photo)
David here...

We arrived at the Cebu North bus terminal later than anticipated due to the excessive traffic all around the city. It was so bad that we contemplated tackling the 1 hour walk to our hotel however that would've been stupid in the heat, even though it was early evening. We got off the bus and joined the queue for the white metered taxi's and it was not long until we were near the front. When second in the queue, we were ushered forward by the attendant and given the taxi that had just pulled in. We didn't think much of it at the time but we were behind 2 local women and we wished we had insisted that they took the taxi regardless of what the driver wanted, but we weren't that on the ball after a long days travelling.

Getting the taxi was the right decision as it cost us 120 pesos and we avoided the worst traffic so were at our hotel in 30 minutes. The Gran Tierra Suites was a little better than our last hotel with aircon and a decent shower pressure but still a world away from some of the hotels in Thailand, both in quality but then also in price. We dumped our bags and headed straight out to the nearby Robinsons shopping centre as we knew there was a ticket agent for the ferry companies that go to Bohol there. We'd been trying to book tickets online for months and months for the ferry over to Bohol as without them, our plans for Christmas would be scuppered. It was nearly 18.00 by the time we got there however the travel place was still open and we managed to get tickets for the 13.45 Supercat ferry on the 22nd, leaving from pier 1 (there are 4 piers at Cebu, with the Supercat head quarters on pier 4 but with ferries leaving from pier 1, which caused some confusion and concern).

Before leaving the centre we did buy some essential supplies; conditioner, chocolate orange biscuits and a bottle of red wine. After returning to the hotel we showered and headed out for food. There were 3 options nearby that caught our attention; a local barbeque place, a burger joint and a rib place. We walked past the barbeque place, Yaksi, first as it was just up the road from our hotel. It looked very local, with no menu, and we both felt a little intimidated if I'm honest but our Mandalay experience reminded us of what can happen if you just go for it so it wasn't long until we were sat down with 2 beers with a pile of meat on the way. The food was tasty and filling, especially with a rice each and the spicy sauce they give out was lovely. After a second beer each we decided to walk the route to the other restaurants just to see what they were like, and in the hope of finding a decent bar.

Well we found no bar on the route so, unlike us, we decided to check out a highly rated Irish bar nearby. We found it easily but we could see from the outside that it was full of old, greying expat men with their young Filipino girlfriends. We didn't go in! It did leave us with a dilemma though, do we keep wandering round in the hope we find somewhere or just go back to the hotel? We decided to head back to the hotel. On the way our route took us past the Fuente Osmena Circle, a big traffic island. We'd noticed earlier that there was a big Christmas tree there and some stalls set up but nothing happening. As we got there we found a talent show going on and loads of people milling about the food stalls. Using my logic, that many people in one place must mean a beer stall, we wandered in, braving the manic traffic crossing the road to get to the middle.

The very first stall we saw was...a Mexican food stall, handy to know. The second stall was indeed a beer stall selling 1 litre pitchers of San Mig Beer for 99 pesos. We settled down at a table with our pitcher of beer. However it wasn't long before it started to rain a little, fearing the worst we, with a number of locals, moved to an undercover area and it wasn't long until it was hammering it down. This went on long enough for us to get through a further 2 pitchers of beer standing up with the locals until the rain stopped. We then made our way back to our hotel, via a 7-11 for a final couple of beers each before settling down to sleep.

Our second and final day in Cebu City was spent mainly in the Ayala shopping centre. This was for a number of reasons. First, it is supposed to have the best array of food in the city. Second, we needed a corkscrew for the wine we bought as we forgot to pack one. Thirdly, my walking shoes are wearing out and I would like some more. We walked the 30 minutes to the centre with no problems and had a coffee (and slice of cake between us) before walking the entirety of the centre looking for walking shoes (failed, did find some but not in my size). We did find an 88 peso shop and bought a corkscrew, and had a nice burrito lunch at the Army Navy Burger and Burrito chain. We also found a branch of the ferry company office who confirmed the pier number for us for our ferry trip. We then walked back to our hotel, picking up some soft drink for the room where we relaxed and freshened up for the evening journey out.

We decided to try the local dish of Lechon for our evening meal, basically slow roasted pork, what's not to like? We did some research and decided to go to the Cebu Original Lechon Belly as it was 24hr and near to our hotel. We asked at the counter how much was enough for 2 people and were told 1/4kg would be enough. We ordered that size of the original lechon and sat down and about 10 minutes later were presented with a small plate of roast pork and skin. There was also a soy sauce and vinegar dip on the table. It was tasty, really tasty, but nowhere near enough for 2 people. So we ordered another 1/4 kg, this time of the spicy version. This was alright but a little fattier than the original with the spiciness taking some of the roast pork flavour away. It was still not filling enough but we decided to move on as we'd had enough pork. It only came to 350 pesos (£5.70) including 2 bottles of water. We now know to stick to the original and to go for 3/4kg next time, and there will be a next time.

We had decided that today was going to be a dry day however it was still early so decided that if there was any activity at the circle we would treat ourselves to a couple of pitchers of beer. We arrived and it was just as busy as the previous night so we got a pitcher of beer and ordered a plate of Quesadillas to share. It turns out that the event is Pasko sa Sugbo, a month long free program of events around Christmas. We were quite good, 2 pitchers turned into 3, but we did then head back to the room, this time without any further alcohol from the 7-11. We were on a ferry the next day after all.

The next morning was a lazy start to the day, we didn't get up until gone 09.00 though were both awake much earlier. Our ferry wasn't until the afternoon so we made sure that we made the most of the air-con in the room and did some research on our ferry crossing and next destination, Bohol and Taglibaran City. We read about a potential scam when boarding the ferry where the staff will insist that you need to pay extra for your bags and that they only target tourists and try to charge more if they look vulnerable. The company themselves state that you are allowed to take bags of up to 15kg with you free of charge. With this knowledge we left the hotel at 11.45 and flagged down a taxi. The 18 minute journey on Google Maps took closer to 30 mins in the Cebu traffic. We had to pay the 10 pesos (16p) for the taxi to drive into the drop off area of the pier, though if we didn't have tickets, we would've been dropped off outside this zone. We then had to pay a 25 peso terminal fee each, which was unexpected but understandable as we imagine this goes towards the terminal running costs and staff. We then went over to the 2Go check-in desk where we picked seats and were directed to check our luggage in. This was weighed and we were told that we must pay 120 pesos for the porter fee to carry our luggage onto the boat. So much for free 15kg of luggage.

Now, one of the reasons for travelling is to face difficult, challenging situations and building up your confidence. One thing I hate is people attempting to scam us. If they had said that the 120 pesos (£2 roughly) was optional, we might have taken them up on it. As they insisted it was compulsory and pointed to a badly photocopied sheet of paper that basically said check your bags to stop congestion on the boat (not even letter headed paper) we refused. It was obvious that they were targetting only tourists and this just made me more stubborn. After about 30 seconds of them saying yes and me saying no, I insisted on speaking with a manager. I have no idea where this confidence suddenly came from but I felt so completely in the right and pleased to be standing up for ourselves. As soon as I mentioned speaking to a manager, that was it, we could take our own bags on, no problems. It was not to do with the amount of money in the slightest. As I said, if they told the truth and said it was an optional service, we may have actually done it to save the faff of carrying our bags. It was the underhandedness of it all. Even when we checked with another desk the gate number, they tried to point us back to check our bags in. This situation actually made me very angry and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. It took a large cappuccino and a salted caramel cupcake in the terminal to calm me down...and very nice they were too. Apart from that, the journey to Bohol was hot, but perfectly fine.

The above blog details what we did but doesn't say much about what we have seen or our opinion of the Philippines. It is very difficult to describe actually. The people have been friendly and as English is the second language, it has been easy so far. The Philippines seems almost as western as Malaysia in some ways however also has a very obvious divide between the affluent and the poverty stricken, more in comparison with Cambodia. We've seen people wandering round tables collecting leftovers in a bag in the pouring rain, kids out begging barefoot day and at night. We witnessed 2 vans full of police pull up in front of us, separating a child from his father, much to the whole family's obvious distress, and a man lying unconcious on the ground with a group of people round him, some calling for an ambulance. We did not know what was going on with both of these situations and stayed well out of it, but we've never seen anything like this before. It is obvious that the country has many problems that need sorting out, issues with crime, poverty and drug use. But the biggest thing to me seems to be the divide between the rich and poor which is more obvious and in your face than any place we've been before.

We've avoided giving money to children begging on the streets, as this is not going to help the situation. But we are finding it hard and distressing to turn these kids away, many of them orphans. We feel a responsibility to do something to help, but currently feel powerless to do anything useful. We have resolved that when we get back home next year we will investigate some of the charity's that work in the Philippines with the street kids to see what we can do to help, even if that is just a small donation. It might not be much, but is something I guess.


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