ALMOST THREE years of pandemic grounding – last flight to Kaohsiung in December 2019 yet – turned me into a travel tyro all over again. You know that “promdi” feel upon setting foot on an airport for the first time: of excitement and trepidation, of awe at the swirl of the surrounding – this time all the more magnified by the magnificence of the CRK New Terminal. Truly, awed.
Only, to be jolted to the harsh reality that we – passengers of Cebu Pacific’s flight 5J157 to Cebu that early morning of June 3 – could not avail ourselves of the “welcoming and inclusive spaces…at the heart of CRK” as promised by then-BCDA chief Vince Dizon in one of the pre-opening media sorties at the airport, “where we embrace a positive atmosphere and treat everyone with utmost respect.”
Yes, herded as we were at the waiting area of Gate 9, prevented from crossing over to the aforementioned spaces, depriving us of the promised “sense of place” evoked with a view of majestic Mount Arayat at sunrise while lounging on those sinuous sofas of rattan and wood crafted by Betis artisans.
Reduced to marveling at the ceiling “reminiscent of the Zambales mountains” rendered in wavy massive glued laminated timber, instantly drawn to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was I to post on FB a photo captioned: “CRK. So world-class that even Spiderman came over and left his web.” Or maybe CRK is just planning a
Halloween theme this early, hence the accumulation of clouds of cobwebs at the rafters.
All pre-flight bitterness turned all-too sweet upon boarding 5J157, starting with the sunny disposition and welcoming smiles of the flight attendants, to the fine service onboard.
And yes, my past – both remotely and immediately pre-pandemic – experiences with the airline hold: CebPac is never on time, it is always ahead of time. Be it in Narita or Chek Lap Kok, Itami or Suvarnabhumi, Macao or Changi, in Davao, Iloilo, and Cebu, but of course.
It’s the nth time I came to the Queen City of the South, but the feeling was no different from my first in the 1980s. In Cebu, never did I succumb to that been-there-done-that ennui of the jaded traveler.
Foregoing the usual must-see sites of Magellan’s Cross and the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu, Fort San Pedro and the Mactan Shrine, the 17th century Yap-San Diego Ancestral House and the Osmena Residence, our itinerary, courtesy of the Department of Tourism-Region 7, took us to the city’s newest destination – its highlands. Yea, Cebu is not all beaches and cultural heritage, it has mountains too.
Taking the pre-eminent spot is Buwakan ni Alejandra, a 700-square-meter expanse of rolling hills blanketed with plants and flowers – “buwak” in Cebuano, hence the name – of all hues found in the LGBTQ+ kaleidoscopic flag, and more. The garden lies along the Cebu Transcentral Highway, about an hour from the city center.
Second is the Adlawon Vacation Farm in its eponymous mountain barangay that offers staycation of “buhay probinsya” right within the bounds of the metropolis.
Unfortunately, ours was not even a stay overnight but a quick look-feel of 15 hectares of forest green of mighty mahogany and majestic acacia trees, a sprinkling of other forest and fruit-bearing trees, flower gardens and vegetable patches, as well as plant nurseries and animal pens. The Lodge is the main structure at the farm, housing guest and function rooms, a library and lounge, an entertainment center and a viewing deck. A Chapel of the Resurrection stands at the farm too.
The “buhay probinsya” vibe found in the Payag, the Visayan version of the traditional Filipino bahay kubo, and the Farmers Market, a “talipapa” of produce straight from AVF’s vegetable patches and trellises.
All-organic, all farm-sourced was the sumptuous lunch served us at the Kusina Luche by hands-on owners Atty. Danilo Ortiz and Dra. Melinda Ortiz themselves.
Really wished we had stayed overnight, if only to witness the farm’s claims of spectacular sunsets and magical moonrises.
Speaking of Dreamland, Summit Galeria Cebu more than fits the bill. The Sinulog Premier Room where I nested for two nights provided not your usual starred-hotel amenities but customized luxuries – a king bed, finest linens, ultra-soft non-allergenic pillows, a living room tastefully decorated with art pieces.
Why, Summit Galleria Cebu even indulged the mallrat in me with a direct access to Robinsons Galleria, and most pleasurably at that, via Café Summit, the hotel’s all-day restaurant serving diverse dishes ranging from the classic to the exotic. A
letdown though – no “danggit” for breakfast in the two mornings I was there.
At the mall, we indulged in a feast of the senses of sight, smell and taste at The Chocolate Chamber Café, with Cebu’s Chocolate Queen herself, Ms. Raquel Choa, raising to the level of performance art the preparation of “tablea” into a “sikwate” for all of us to drink. So remarkable was her performance that it merited a separate short feature published as a sidebar story.
A food trip this coming to Cebu did turn out, indeed. Contrary to my wont in my usual travels, I did not have to dispense with my innate Capampangan culinary conceit this time to enjoy whatever the table offered.
Dinner at all-day buffet CAFÉ bai with its multiple live cooking stations dishing out the best of East and West cuisines was no simple gastronomic experience but a gluttonous excess. Made superbly wonderful by the presence of bai Hotel’s GM Alfred Reyes, a dear friend dating back to his days at Widus Hotel in Clark. The night view of Mandaue City from the hotel’s Twilight Roofdeck Lounge + Bar capped the evening’s delight.
Next night’s dinner at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu made an almost perfect duplication. The evening tryst though starting not ending with cocktails at Blu Bar & Grill overlooking the city with GM Roel Constantino. A brief look-see at selected rooms and facilities of the hotel led to a feast at the Café Marco – easily proving its claim as “Cebu City’s favorite international buffet.” Native grilled salmon head, in all its tasty simplicity, easily became my favorite dish there though.
Regional, read: Southern Chinese and Southeast Asian, culinary delights we had our fill too with lunch at Xin Tian Di (New heaven and earth, in Chinese), one of three restaurants – Il Primo Steakhouse and Fina, the other two – currently operating at Nustar Resort and Casino located at South Road Properties. Mott 32, that award-winning Chinese restaurant is coming to Nustar soon.
We were given a sneak peek of the complex’s Fili, the five-star brand of Robinsons Hotels Resorts, now nearing completion. Two other hotels are in various stages of construction at the same site of Nustar Resort and Casino, the flagship project of Universal Hotels and Resorts, a privately owned corporation of the Gokongwei Group focused on gaming and integrated resort developments across the Philippines, so the collaterals say.
So how big is Cebu’s premier five-star integrated resort?
Charles Lim, president of our host Selrahco PR, easily pulled our legs when, on the way to Nustar, he referenced it as “a small version” of the Clark Freeport’s flagship Hann Casino Resort. Nustar is Hann four times, with more to spare.
While Nustar, still a work in progress, is blurbed as “redefining luxury,” I experienced the full meaning of the word at the Crimson Resort and Spa-Mactan. A private beach, arguably the most magnificent infinity pool in the whole of Cebu, cocktails at the Azure Beach Club right at the water’s edge, food, glorious food at the Enye restaurant, a deluxe garden villa all my own – if only for a night – ah, the pesante took a bite, albeit a small one, of the life exclusive to the rich and famous.
A wonder too how the resort hardly showed any remnant of the battering inflicted upon it and the rest of the city by Supertyphoon Odette only last December.
Recovered, even renewed, from disasters meteorological and pestilential. Yes, both boon and boom are back in the city. So delighted to take this first foray into post-pandemic travel nowhere else but Cebu.
(Cebu Pacific flies Cebu-Clark-Cebu daily from the CRK)