Carbon, Colon and the Crown Regency: Day 1 in Cebu

(Tag.: Nagliwaliw sa Cebu; Eng.: Frolicked in Cebu)

Well, that’s the best translation I could think of.


I haven’t been to Cebu in around 14 years or so, and couldn’t have been any more excited to see the place again. Thanks to the fare wars of the local airlines, Cebu is now “nearer” for leisure travelers (by plane), than Baguio is (by bus), so as soon as PAL announced discounted fares, my wife and I grabbed tickets, and we were off to Rajah Humabon’s kingdom one very early Saturday morning.

Early morning flight to Cebu. We caught the sunrise up in the air.
Panganod - Cloudy skies over the Visayas. This was taken on our descent (notice the spoilers on the wing partially deployed), over one of the islands north of Cebu.

We arrived Cebu at around 6AM, took a taxi to our hotel – the Crown Regency near Fuente Osmena, left our stuff at the concierge and then headed out into the urban jungle. The day, as always, has to start with breakfast. I pretty much still remembered how Fuente Osmena looked, but 14 years has eroded any details of what food outlets are in there. All I remember is the Midtown Hotel where we used to stay and the Robinson’s below it.


I was pleasantly surprised to find Starbucks right on the ground floor of our hotel, and though the smell of roasted coffee was an instant magnet, we decided to walk further looking for other shops. We met Ronald McDonald not very far away, along Osmena Boulevard, and we gladly accepted his invitation. Finding a McDonalds anywhere should be a non-event, they’re everywhere…but then 14 years ago there was no such store on this street, and certainly no Starbucks either. In those days, having the first “McDo” store was still considered a “coming of age”, for a city. Imagining what that street looked like the last time I was here, I couldn’t help but think about what has changed in my long absence. Tall buildings for one. Back then the Cebu Plaza atop the hill (now the Marco Polo Cebu), stood majestically by its lonesome. Now it’s but one of the structures perpetually reaching for the skies.

Mr. McDonald calling for customers on the street. So this guy knows how to be a barker too? "Kaon ta bai!"
Osmena Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares in the city.
The Crown Regency Hotel. At 40 storeys, it is the tallest building in Cebu.

It was my wife’s first time in Cebu, and we wanted to start the trip with a little bit of history, so after breakfast we headed out in search of Magellan’s Cross, and the nearby Basilica of the Santo Nino. In the geometry of most large Philippine cities, the shortest distance between two points is called the “taxi”, but this time around we decided to travel in Cebu as the Cebuanos do…by open-air, colorful “jeep”. No travel experience is complete without having to take the same transportation that most locals do.

Here in the Philippines, the term “jeep” refers to the four-wheeled, road-going public transport that seats passengers on two parallel rows behind the driver’s cab. Any private owned vehicle resembling the original “jeep” that MacArthur used, is referred to as an”owner”.

A "jeep", speeding along Osmena Boulevard. Notice how it bears no resemblance at all to the original "jeep". In fact it looks like a bus afflicted with dwarfism, but in street jargon, this is very much still a "jeep".

One helpful feature in Cebu’s transport system is that they maintained (or revived?) numbered routes. To get from Fuente Osmena to the Santo Nino Basilica for example, you take jeeps on route 06B. This is totally nothing new for developed countries, where buses, trains and trams all follow numbered routes (and even spot-on schedules for some). For the Philippines though, this is an “innovation”, in our otherwise colorful yet utterly confusing mass transport system (if it can ever be called a system).

The ride to the cross took us through the Carbon area, Cebu’s largest public market, so named as it used to be a coal depot (I think?). The market is wet, muddy, smelly and holds no appeal (or may even be offensive) to one’s visual and olfactory senses, but if you want to know Cebu the way the locals do, it’s a must see.

I know black and white street photography, as popularized by Cartier-Bresson, is now so "cliche", but what the heck. This was taken in the Carbon area.
A jeep on the narrow streets surrounding Carbon.
Transporting goods to the market...the daily life of people around Carbon.

We hopped off the jeep right next to city hall, in the old part of town. The city hall, Magellan’s Cross and Basilica of the Santo Nino sit right next to each other  in the part of town that dates back to when the Spanish ruled the land. It was still early when we got there, and the weather was reasonably cool, but not wet.  Except for the slightly overcast skies, it was a good day to pause and take pictures.

The kiosk holding the remains of the cross that Fernando de Magallanes planted here upon the Christianization of Humabon's tribe. The building at the background is the Santo Nino College, which separates the cross and city hall, from the basilica.
A closer look at the kiosk.
What you see here, is not the actual cross, but just an outer, protective shell. The original cross is enclosed inside.
Cebu's city hall, adjacent to Magellan's Cross.
A closer look at the Roman-inspired fascia.
A fountain, on the grounds of the basilica
The facade of the Basilica of the Santo Nino, preserved since the Spanish colonial period.
Inside the basilica, which houses the original image of the child Jesus (the "Santo Nino" - Spanish for Holy Child), given by Magellan's group when they first arrived. The image survived a fire unscathed, earning it a miraculous reputation in the country.

Just a few blocks away, around 15 minutes walk from city hall, is the smallest military fortification in the country, Fort San Pedro. Built by the Spanish to protect Cebu from moro raiders coming from Mindanao, it used to sit right on the shores, facing the Mactan Strait. With the recent reclamations though, the shoreline has moved, making the fort look like it’s further inland than it used to be.

The walls of Fort San Pedro
The entrance to the citadel
Fort San Pedro, from the inside
The fort, as background to these flowers
The courtyard within the walls

We hired a cab to take us from Fort San Pedro to the Taoist Temple, since the latter is on a rather isolated residential location that is not served by public transport. Along the way, we passed by a rather recently developed landmark called the “Heritage of Cebu”. It commemorates the significant events in Cebu’s history, such as the Spanish arrival, the Christianization, the clash with Lapu-lapu, and so on. I’m not sure exactly when it was built, but for sure it wasn’t there 14 years ago.

The various faces of the Heritage of Cebu
The various faces of the Heritage of Cebu
The various faces of the Heritage of Cebu
The Heritage of Cebu
The Heritage of Cebu

The Taoist Temple, sitting on the hills around Cebu, gives a good view of the city and beyond, from the ongoing construction at the new business district up to as far away as Bohol. It is within a high end residential area though, so unless you have your own transport, it is adviseable to hire a taxi and make it wait for you. Of course, you’ll have to pay a little bit extra.

The temple itself is pretty much spartan by “temple” standards. But you don’t go to Cebu to temple-hop anyway…you have Thailand or the Indochina for that. You come here mainly for the view. 14 years ago you could also come here to enjoy a quiet moment, but not so now, with tourists swarming over it. It’s still a must for first time visitors to Cebu, but there’s no need to see it for a second time, unless you’re Taoist. They don’t allow visitors to take pictures of the temple too.


Stairway to Taoist heaven.
A sign on the hillside

Once we were done with the temple, we told the taxi driver to drop us off at Ayala Center Cebu, one of the two major malls. As a long time resident of Manila, it always amazes me how abundant time is in the rest of the country. The temple and the mall weren’t that close, but to me it felt like I just snapped my fingers, and there we were.

The Ayala Center has been in Cebu for quite some time already. It was still rather new 14 years ago, and I remember the business park where it sits at used to be a wide open space. Apart from the mall, the only other structures I remembered were the Marriot, and the Keppel building. Now, it’s a growing jungle of concrete and glass. The mall itself has also been expanded, with a new “open space” area called the Terraces.


The Terraces @ Ayala Center Cebu
Interesting canopy at the Terraces

We had lunch at the Laguna Garden Cafe in the Terraces (more on that in a future post), and then took some time to stroll around the mall and buy some “pasalubong” at the Gaisano supermarket within. It was getting close to mid-afternoon by then so with grocery bags in hand we went back to the hotel for our check-in.


We booked a room at the Crown Regency through the internet, and unfortunately, they immediately demonstrated that they weren’t ready for the new generation of clientelle who book entire trips from their PCs or laptops. Their website shows the types of rooms available and the capacity for each (2 pax, 4 pax, etc.). However, it does not allow you to indicate the exact number occupants. You may then be led to think that if you book a room marked for two occupants, the hotel will automatically assume there are two of you. Apparently not. We were told at the front desk that the booking only applied for one occupant. We then asked them if there was anywhere in their website where we could have indicated the number of occupants, and we got blank stares. They did not know what their website looked like.

The matter was brought to their manager, who promptly scratched his head, and turned his face into one big question mark. He did not know what to do about the situation either. The end result was that though we were not made to pay the double occupancy rate, they only gave us one free complimentary breakfast pass. Big boooo for them! How much is the additional cost of one more person sharing the buffet, compared to the value of satisfying your customer to make them come back again next time? Clueless Mr. Manager apparently couldn’t figure out the logic in that. Well ok, enough ranting.

The room we got was new, clean and quite large for a standard one. It featured, apart from the usual amenities,  a 32-inch flat screen TV with cable, a sofa and center table, and a separate bath tub and shower closet. Apart from that though, it was quite spartan. Functional, comfortable, but not fancy. It didn’t even have a mini-bar. The lobby downstairs wasn’t anything to write home about either. Though clean and amply decorated, it was too small and easily got crowded during the check-in/check-out time. For the price, it also isn’t exactly the best bang for the buck in Cebu. The name Crown Regency might give an impression of a 5-star hotel, but I would only give it a 3 at most. It wasn’t grand by any means. I think the best adjective for it is the word “decent”. I did like their infinity pool though.


The pool at night

The literal and figurative crown in Crown Regency’s head though would have to be the Sky Experience Adventure at the top of the first tower in its Fuente Osmena property. It features two attractions designed to scare the wits out of wandering acrophobics like myself. The Edge Coaster will take you for a ride on the edges of the roofdeck, and the seat will tilt downwards, just in case the riders are not having enough fun yet. The Skywalk is nothing but a leisurely walk…on a meter-wide ledge hanging out on all sides of the building, 38 storeys high. All walkers are harnessed of course, to prevent their physical bodies from falling, but it doesn’t prevent your soul from being sucked to the earth at the sight of the ground far far away below. We went for the Skywalk that evening and completed it, with a lot mind conditioning and a little push from the crew manning the attraction. To top that off, it was also a wet and windy evening, adding a little more RPM to our already revved up heartbeats.

The Sky Experience Adventure lobby, at the roofdeck
The viewing area at the roofdeck
More of the viewing area, overlooking the city. An Edge coaster passed by during the exposure, bringing those blue and green light streaks in the photo.
The Skybar, also at the roofdeck. Looks like they no longer serve drinks here. The tracks of the Edge Coaster is visible beyond the glass.
The road to the Capitol. Fuente Osmena (at the bottom), and the provincial capitol (upper right), seen from the roofdeck in the evening.

We ended our first day with a buffet dinner, one floor below the Skywalk.

Day Two coming up next…


* all photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.6-5.6

We visited Cebu last July 2010



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