Thursday, March 3, 2011

Making it to Mactan

Not a few summers ago, I saw historic Mactan for the first time—in transit on the way to Cebu City for my first trip to Central Visayas—but I hadn’t the faintest idea I’d have a great time exploring the island years later. The sight of several pockets of urban blight along its shores from the car I was riding that time somewhat turned me off, clueless as I was about its numerous scenic attractions. 

Mactan-Cebu International Airport
Separated from the island province of Cebu by a narrow channel, the island is home to one of the Philippines’ largest export processing zones, which employs thousands of workers. Mactan also houses the country’s second biggest international airport, which serves as one of the entry points to the island province of Cebu and take-off point to other local and foreign destinations.

Mactan-Mandaue Bridge II

When I first made it to Mactan, there was only one span, Mactan-Mandaue Bridge I, linking it to the mainland. The other bridge, Mactan-Mandaue Bridge II, which was named after one of Cebu’s most illustrious sons, Marcelo Fernan, the former Supreme Court Chief Justice and Senate President, became accessible to traffic a few years after that first visit to the Queen City of the South.

Divided into Lapu-Lapu City and the municipality of Cordova, the island boasts of several world-class resorts dotting its east coast, catering mostly to the A and B crowd: Maribago Blue Water Beach Club, Costabella Tropical Beach Hotel, Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa, and Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, to name a few.

pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name

(pic courtesy of Plantation Bay)
So far, I had the chance to “gatecrash” into two upscale resorts twice on two separate occasions years ago: Plantation Bay Resort and Spa and Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa.  I guess I was just lucky to have been able to march into these high-end destinations through the kindness of colleagues and friends who were more than willing to foot the bill there. 

At Plantation Bay
After seeing Plantation Bay or PB for the first time, it struck me as a hybrid of a theme park and a beach resort. At the time, the award-winning resort had just been opened to the public. Created by human ingenuity, PB delights guests and visitors with its man-made attractions: a saltwater lagoon, a waterfall and two giant water slides built over a site consisting of barren rock. 

(pic courtesy of Plantation Bay)
PB also boasts of a white-sand artificial beach, with the sand made of mountain stone crushed into fine white grains that stay cool any time of the day even under the sweltering heat of the sun. Interspersed among these waterways are a number of pricey, well-appointed rooms, cottages and villas, which my companions and I had visited for a look-see.

(pic courtesy of Shangri-la Mactan)

(pic courtesy of Shangri-la Mactan)
From PB, we proceeded to the other end of the island to take a peek at Shangri-La Hotel where a day trip alone costs a fortune. But I considered it reasonable given its luxurious ambience plus all the perks that go with the hefty rate, particularly the sumptuous buffet lunch. Besides, I didn’t foot the bill so this gatecrasher didn’t feel the crunch. LOL!

With white grains said to have been hauled in from nearby Bohol, Shangri-la Hotel’s powdery stretch counts among its prime attractions. We had a grand time walking barefoot on the immaculate sand and snapping ourselves every now and then with the emerald waters of Cebu Strait at the backdrop. Why, you need not be rich and famous to be able to stroll around Shangri-la!

Lapu-Lapu's Monument
If you intend to embark on a unique historical safari into the Philippines’ glorious past, then the historic island would be a marvelous choice. Recently, I had the chance to go once again to a frequently visited landmark just a short walk from Shangri-la—Mactan Shrine. Two hours before my flight back home, the thought of spending some time there hit me out of the blue.

Right after checking in my luggage, I sneaked out of the airport and went to the shrine which is barely twenty minutes away. Located on the northern tip of Mactan, the complex isn’t that big to cover; I was done with my tour in less than an hour. Open to the public, I always find it a great place to relax. Short as it was, the revisit—the sixth one—thrilled this history buff anew.
One of the shrine’s prominent features is a monument dedicated to Lapu-Lapu, the island’s fearless tribal chief who resisted the efforts of Magellan to convert his people to Christianity and become subjects of the Spanish throne. Such resistance angered Magellan, which led to the famous Battle of Mactan that cost him his life and made a hero out of Lapu-Lapu.

To commemorate that event, the first Filipino freedom fighter’s statue has been erected near the spot where the battle took place. I’ve been there several times in the past but I always look forward to seeing the site anew. One of my most memorable visit was the one I had with fellow participants of a training as part of our island tour around downtown Cebu and nearby places.

Magellan's Marker

From the hotel where we had our training, we went straight to the complex for a photo op with the Pride of Mactan. Cast in larger-than-life bronze, the Cebuano chieftain, holding a kampilan (sword) with his right hand and a shield with his left, looked formidable on top of a stone pedestal, ready to quell any invader that dare steps into the shores of his mighty kingdom.

A few steps away from Lapu-Lapu’s statue is an obelisk known as Magellan’s Marker, which was built by the Spanish government in 1866 in honor of the Portuguese explorer. From the obelisk, we went to a roofed structure which houses a stone plinth containing the plaques of the two main protagonists of the celebrated event. Behind the plinth is a mural of the historic battle.

pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name

Cebu-made guitars

Want to bring home a piece of Mactan to make your visit memorable? Inside the complex is a row of souvenir stalls where tourists can buy mementos they can give to friends and loved ones as pasalubong. The items sold include bags, tees, blouses, key chains, sandals, chimes, decors bracelets, earrings and other trinkets made of indigenous materials from Cebu and nearby islands.

If there’s one thing I missed doing during my recent sortie to Mactan, it’s savoring the mouth-watering sutukil, the Cebuano portmanteau for the three ways fish is prepared by Mactan’s restos: sugba (grilled), towa (stewed) and kilaw (dipped in vinegar, lemon, soy sauce and spices, similar to South America’s ceviche). It also refers to those small eateries outside the shrine offering such dishes.

It’s been a while since I’ve last tasted the homegrown delicacies of the island and thinking about those savory dishes leaves me drooling. LOL!  While writing this, I was struck by the idea of concocting my own version of sutukil since my next trip to the island is still uncertain. Well, here’s wishing it’ll end up as delectable as the one that Mactan’s restos are offering to visitors. Good luck to me! :D