Cebu, South of the City

Though I’ve been to Cebu a couple of times in the last three years, I haven’t been anywhere outside of the city in more than a decade. And so when we visited family south of the city recently, we took it as a chance to see what the southern half of the province has been up to lately.

The Pedro Calungsod Chapel, and the SRP

The city and the southern part of the province used to be connected by a single highway, which if I remember correctly, was already getting clogged even as far back a decade and a half ago.

The city’s growth brought with it an appetite for new roads, and new land to build it on, and those familiar with the place would known that a large part of the city already sits on reclaimed land – but they’re not just about done yet. The most recent project extended the reclamation even further to the south, bringing even more room for commercial and residential expansion.

Along this reclaimed land extends a new highway that bypasses the traffic on the old one, and along this stretch lies one of the most architecturaly interesting places of worship I’ve seen anywhere. Named after the country’s most recently canonized saint, and one of Cebu’s very own, the Pedro Calungsod Chapel embraces modernity and religion. Designed to look more like a modern European art museum than a traditional church, the chapel combines solemnity with openess, dynamism and the willingness to embrace instead of fear change, much like what the current pope wants.

Though still pretty inaccessible at this time, unless you rent a car or hire a taxi and make it wait, this is one interesting place that is a must see for the eyes as it is for the soul.

The Town of Carcar

Further down south is the town of Carcar, one on the busiest municipalities south of the metropolitan area. Like many old towns, Carcar is dominated by its church, which stands proudly like a small castle at the top of a hill, overlooking the rest of the town below it. Now seemingly unassuming from the outside, the church’s interior speaks of the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”, or in this case – don’t judge an old structure by its exterior paint. The interior, especially the altar and the ornately painted ceiling, gives a glimpse of its old grandeur, like a vintage car out of Cuba – rusty but pretty nonetheless.

Right next to the church is an old house that had been converted into the city’s museum. Quaint and humble by any means, you’d have to applaud the city for keeping a piece of its heritage intact, no matter how small. There are very few old cities in this country that have successfully done the same. By mere coincidence, our visit to the town also happened to be the eve of their “fiesta”, and anyone who’s spent some time in the provinces would know how “fiestas” are like – it’s a feast like there’s no tomorrow – and so the whole town had a very jovial atmosphere.

The Simala Shrine

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this Shrine in the hills of Sibonga attracts both curious tourists and devotees alike. Said to be a site of miracles, many of the faithful flock to the shrine with pleas for divine intercession – some looking for cures for illness, some looking for a way out of life’s problems, and some asking for things such as to pass exams.

The place is not exclusive for devotees though. While not quite a scenic spot, although ideally perched on a hill, the shrine is like an amalgamation of a church and a fairy tale castle, though not quite complete yet. I wouldn’t say it looks awesome, but I would call it as “interesting to look at”. Still, regardless of your faith, it’s still worth a stop if you’re looking for things to do in the south of Cebu.

The Little Old Town of Argao

Now here’s a hidden gem. Argao used to be known, decades ago, for the Argao beach club, an upscale beach resort. That was long since gone, and Argao no longer gets advertised much, upstaged by the newer, swankier resort towns. But what’s left of Argao is a lovely little town. It’s got what is perhaps the most beautiful town plaza I’ve seen anywhere. Centered around the town church and the provincial government buildings, the well manicured and well maintained plaza is a very pretty sight to look at, and makes you wish all the other towns in the country did what Argao does.

The Theotokos Shrine

Also in Carcar is the Theotokos Shrine, another shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Said to be the site of the “dancing sun” phenomenon, the place has become a pilgrimage site. Also sitting atop a hill, the shrine gives a good sweeping view of the coast of Carcar, and one can even see Bohol on the horizon.

The City of Naga

On the way back to the city, we dropped by the coastal city of Naga, the southernmost city of the Cebu Metropolitan Area. Naga has its own version of the “baywalk”. Featuring several restaurants and a row of shops and food stalls, it’s a good spot to rest and feel the sea breeze after a day of going around.

*All photos taken last November 2013, using an Olympus EPM-2 and M. Zuiko 14-42mm IIR, with Art Filters.

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