Every once in while you find a hidden gem, an island where there are not many tourists and you can experience the true island life.
I have traveled around a lot in the Philippines and have been to some pretty neat places but when I decided to visit Bantayan Island off the coast of Cebu I found a real gem.
There isn’t much here. Not a lot of tourists, no malls, no people asking you to buy condos or discos blaring dance music. There are only a couple of towns worth any size on the island, one being Bantayan town and the other Sante Fe. Bantayan city has the only ATM where foreign transactions are allowed and they only take a Visa card. They have a nice market a fabulous old church with lots of history, a few local restaurants and a couple of cock fighting arenas. I experienced my first cock fight in Bantayan and will post more on that later.
What you won’t find are McDonalds, Jollibee, Dunkin Donuts or any other fast food joint. However the people are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered. The Philippines in general is very hospitable but the people on Bantayan Island seem to be more friendly than most. And this a place where you can experience true island life.
I get a lot of looks when I am here. First I stand 6’1” and am a big boy. I get stares when I walk down the streets in Manila or anywhere else. On Bantayan island there are a lot of tricycle drivers, the non-motorized kind. So imagine their concern when I squeeze my big ass into a trike and tell them to peddle me to town. They sweat their ass off and I get lots of looks and giggles along the way. I also get people waving and saying hello and greeting me everywhere I go.
At least 4 times while walking around I have been asked to sit and have a drink. I walked past an older woman picking up coconuts in her yard the other day and when I waved she dropped everything, smiled and waved back. Little kids say hello and so far with the exception of one trike driver who said I was a too damn big no one has ever tried to take advantage of me. The truth be known if I was his size and saw me I wouldn’t have stopped to offer a ride anyway.
It’s quiet here, not a whole lot of vehicles. Things move a little slower.
There are no hot diving spots or people hawking snorkeling tours. There is island hopping which will take you to a couple of islands and the trike drivers will ask you if you want to go but no big pressure.
Sante Fe has a few restaurants owned by expats and the food is pretty good at most of them. On a Friday or Saturday night you might get a live band which is nothing to write home about but good. As I sit here now the only sounds I hear are kids playing and the occasional rooster crowing.
The place where I am currently staying is next to where the fishing boats go out every day. Between7 and 8am they return with whatever they caught and you can walk over and get fresh fish which the hotels will cook for you. Yes there is a post coming on just that, and it was great.
Except for holy week or extended weekends, when the island gets a lot of visitors, the island is pretty tranquil.
While it is not Boracay or Palawan, where there are hordes of tourists and nightlife, nor is it Puerto Galera where there is a dive shop at every resort and hotel, Bantayan Island has a charm of its own.