Beyond the Beach, Bantayan Beckons!
I didn’t sleep.
How could I? After years of not having visited the Island that became synonymous to the word “beach” in my mind, I’m finally able to go back and see Bantayan Island its beautiful beaches that do not disappoint. Even if I was only a little child when the family frequented Bantayan Island, my childhood was filled with memories of playing along the powdery white sands of the shorelines stretching for kilometers and kilometers across. It even came to a point when people talked to me about Boracay, I would scoff and say, “Wala ra na sa Bantayan!” (That’s nothing compared to Bantayan!)
Such was my love for the beautiful Island with Cebu’s longest flat coast. This was contradictory to Cebu famously known for reef drops just a few seconds from the shore. What it lacked in easy access dive drops, it greatly compensated with its amazingly beautiful, unspoiled beaches.
Expectation in mind, I thought that the beach was my first priority during the trip.
Bantayan Has 3 Towns!
As soon as we arrived in the Island after the 5 hour trip, we were finally brought to our Resorts. For most parts of my experience in Bantayan Island, we stayed around the Municipality of Sta. Fe, around the beach resorts fronting the sea pathway to Hagnaya. It was to my surprise that we went through the town of Sta. Fe and directly into the town of Bantayan.
For those who don’t know, Bantayan Island is divided into three municipalities: Sta. Fe (the port), Bantayan (central), and Madridejos (the northernmost edge of Cebu or “Lawis”).
Personal Paradise at Maia’s Resort
Far off from the town proper, in a rather isolated portion of Bantayan, we entered into this beautiful paradise-like resort where the plants were thriving and the structures around us complemented nature. We were welcomed by a very cheerful Maia, and her husband: Klaus. We were led to our very cozy cottage that could fit in four people comfortably. All cottages faced the open seas and therefore faced the glorious sunrise every morning. Good feng shui is what my grandmother would have said.
Because this resort was far away from the popular Sta. Fe beach resorts, when you stay here you really could seemingly own the place! It would be perfect for a small and intimate barkada get-away or possibly a paradise honeymoon experience where the resort, the pool (yes they have a pool!), the gardens, the beach and the view is for you and your loved ones alone! Truly a personal paradise!
Just a tip, best to experience the sun during sunrise where the resort faces the rising sun! Sun-lovers, this is your own place.
Have you.. Toured the Town? Like REALLY Toured the Town?
For those of you from Cebu City, just so you know, most of our egg supply comes from Bantayan Island! Word is that raw materials were coming easily into the island, and possibly the conditions in the island were best for Chickens, so Bantayan is actually the Egg basket of Cebu! I had the uncommon opportunity to visit a poultry farm and saw chickens laying eggs for the first time ever! The island produces about 400,000 eggs daily.
Locals have also, through the efforts of sustainable entrepreneurs (Bantayan Chamber of Commerce), started doing crafts that can help the locals earn their keep. Wonderful weaves from resued plastic, hand-made candles from the PCMA (Paraiso Candle-Makers Association), these locals are making the best of sustainable livelihoods for their families.
And if you’re feeling that air of altruism around you, why not volunteer for the Gawad-Kalinga house building, a project that aims to give a better living condition for the homeless in the island (after having gone through a terrible super typhoon).
At night head over to the town proper to join in one of those town dances called “Bayle” where you pay 5php to have your song played or 5php to dance to a song you like. You can dance to some “free” songs whenever the resident ‘dj’ says so. This feels all too much like Spotify’s freemium services. Just ask the locals when they have these kinds of dance events.
Finally, before heading home, do drop by the dried fish market where you have the best selection of dried seafood and more!
The Island Life
Though Bantayan is undeniably a beautiful beach-lover’s destination, there are so much to see more than just the pristine powdery white sand beaches around. Try visiting the Sto. Niño cave with spring water at Bantayan Nature Park resort. How about chilling around a lively stretch of Sta. Fe or having delicious pizza at the Cou cou’s.
However, the best experience in Bantayan will still be the island way of living. Here you can get the freshest ingredients for the most delicious meals. They boast of fresh fish catch, succulent and rich caluerpa salads, and for those who are into our crustacean selections: blue-swimming crabs! The island gives you the best of sunrise and sunset. Sun rises where Bantayan and Sta. Fe beaches are, and if you race to the northernmost edge (Lawis) of the island: Madridejos, you will be greeted with a majestic sunset that paints colours of the soul on the canvass of the sky.
At night, step out of your rooms! Look up! On this island where light pollution is minimal to none, the ancient beings that fill the dark mysteries of space will shine in their full glory! Stargazers, dreamers, and romantics will be in awe at this island’s view of the sky.
Having always been in the city, I can’t help but say, “I wish time would slow down!” In the island time does seem to slow down. Nobody is in a hurry, the fresh air surrounds us. Wild birds flutter by. The flora bends lazily in a dance with the wind. I sighed at the though: “I wish I could stay here longer.”
But what about Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan?
True, the island was badly hit during the super typhoon. Although it did not get the media attention Taclobon got, Bantayan was not without support. As soon as the typhoon was over, neighboring towns in Cebu took off the north with goods, supplies, and support. The local government was also quick to run restoration projects, relocation, and communication efforts to help the crippled town get back on its feet.
It has been a year since the super typhoon and yet when I was there, I could barely see any sign of the damage apart from the obviously gone coconut trees or the live ones that were severely bent out of shape.
The People, The Power and The Legacy
The people of Bantayan are known to be very generous. They are generous with their time, their resources, and their hospitality. Though it is common for Filipinos to be resilient, the Bantayanons are resilient at the same time generous even in times of trials, the generous heart does not seem to be lost in the tribulation. When we arrived in the town, we were greeted with no less than a royal treatment and a very sumptuous meal from a truly-proud Bantayanon: Sir Vince Escario.
Speaking of the Escarios, here is a name that is synonymous to leadership and guidance for the people. In the Philippines where government has allowed political dynasties to thrive negatively, here in Bantayan we see a different picture. Instead of power and control, I see a family line that has thrived to lead the people into prosperity and peace. This was no dynasty; this is a legacy! A sense of continuity for the long-term growth of the town. Seeing also firsthand how once political rivals have now become partners in establishing economic growth and ecological preservation of the island.
Here was a government chosen by the people, for the people and where the leaders are truly of the people. It’s no wonder why such a far-off isolated island-municpality like Bantayan is a first-class municipality.
Interesting note: hate the travel and several stops you need to make to get to the island? Did you know that there is now a one-way bus that takes you from the city all the way to Bantayan? Total trip will cost you around 400php one-way. Paradise is now just one bus-ride away 🙂
So what’s Next?
My time was short in such a dreamy location. I can’t help but feel that I have only done a tiny fraction of the possibilities of the island. I have yet to rent a motorcycle and visit all areas of the island. I have yet to meditate in one of the oldest parishes in the country! I have yet to walk the wide flat coasts at night when the waters have receded and the moon lights my way. I have yet to freedive the waters of Virgin Island where sightings of Reef sharks and rays (jumping out of the water!) have been confirmed. I have yet to conquer the skies as I have with the waters, by skydiving above the island! (the only skydiving I know of in Cebu). I have yet to see the rich flurry of species of birds that thrive the stretch of land which promise the explosions of wildlife thriving in the island.
But these are stories to tell when I do get to visit Bantayan again. Instead of my usual beach gear that I usually bring to places like Bantayan, I shall come prepared with more.
Bantayan! I’ll be back!
Beyond the beaches, Bantayan beckons!
And I shall answer to your beckoning… one day.