There is nothing more honest than a map. It shows the shapes and sizes of the islands of this archipelagic country. It shows that some provinces are landlocked, while some are coastal.
There is nothing more deceiving than a map. What looks small can actually take two days or even a week to navigate.
On the map, there are only few islands that look like long strips of bacon: Zamboanga, Palawan, and, yes, Cebu: purportedly my home. With their elongated shape, their roads sporadicallyâ€”if not constantlyâ€”hug the coastline.
In Cebu, I travel north to go home and south to remember home. Unlike northern Cebu, down south has a road loyal to its coast. From the bus window, the scenes can be varying yet similar: locals scouring the rocky shore, waves lapping the cliff, trees perched on the roadâ€™s edge and tilting towards the sea, fishermen sailing asea or ashore, and kids abandoning their weight to the welcoming deepness.
Southern Cebu presents its travelers with crystallized saltiness that cakes the arms, legs, and face. You’ll notice this once you are aboard the busâ€”that moment when you unconsciously rub your arm, and it feels rough. Or that moment you lick your upper lip and it tastes salty like southern Cebu.
1. Tingko Beach, AlcoyÂ
â€śIâ€™ve never seen water this clear!â€ť said a seasoned Japanese wanderlust whom I tagged along with for a town-hopping escapade last January.Â It takes two hours and a half to reach Tingko from the city. It is the first Southern town that has a wide stretch of the sought-after sand.
What I love about Tingko is not its white-sand coast and crystal watersâ€”which can be a clichĂ© when you go beaching all the time in Cebuâ€”rather its communal act of fishing. Locals gather and exchange banter as they drag their net ashore and laugh regardless of their catch.
2. Seaside Park, Boljoon
From Tingko, it roughly takes fifteen minutes to reach Boljoon.Â What distinguishes Boljoon from other Cebu towns is its boulevard. It is squeezed between a rocky hill and the sea. It is a sexy curve that forces the bus to slow down and provides the passengers an unrestricted view of its plaza and Nuestra SeĂ±ora de Patrocino Parishâ€”one of the oldest churches in Cebu.
True, Boljoon does not have the pristine-looking sand, but it is the place to take swimming and plunging seriously. There used to be two diving boards perched on the seawallâ€™s edge before Pablo (Bopha) wrecked half of the park. And yes, the memory of diving and frolicking one dusky day with local kids still rings in my head.
3. Pebble Beach, Santander
Coincidence brought me to this beach. It was one of those moments when Iâ€”together with a friendâ€”randomly hopped on a bus without a specific destination in mind. Such longing brought us to Cebuâ€™s tail: Liloan, Santander.
â€śPag-amping mos tubig ha! (Watch out for the sea!),â€ťwarned a fisherman. Santanderâ€™s waters pass through a narrow strait that separates Cebu from Dumaguete: a strait that can be boated in fifteen minutes. Due to the strong current, it is said that lilo (whirlpool) sometimes forms and can suck anyone in who is not cautious enough.
It is one of the beaches where I snorkeled and swam for hours without entertaining thoughts of SPF, sunburn, and whirlpools with locals who thought a heartbreak brought us in Liloan. No, it was love: the love to wander.
4. Public Beaches, SamboanÂ
It was the fallsâ€”not the seaâ€”that brought me to Samboan. This southern town has three of the most refreshing yet unknown falls to many in the province.
We trailed a fall down, and it unsurprisingly led us to a sea blanketed with white pebbles. Not far from the shore, a fellow wanderer who had been there shared that Samboan has a rich marine paradise for the curious. Too bad, I forgot to bring my goggles.
During our short visit, it was rather quite. Nobody was around except my fellow climbers and an angling local boy. Thatâ€™s one of the rewards of dipping in an untouristed sea: it becomes momentarily yours.
5. Palanas Beach, GinatilanÂ
When I look for beach stories, I travel on weekends. But when I long for momentary solitude, I wander on weekdays. Palanas falls on the latter.Â It greeted us with similar Santander waters There were no locals in sight except for a passing frozen fruit salad vendor who shared the beachâ€™s name.
While my companion shed her clothes and confidently took a dip in her bikini, I read Pico Iyerâ€™s Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World.
With the wavesâ€™ endless voyage to the shore and the sun setting, Palanas sounds and looks solitary, not lonely.
6. Lambug Beach, BadianÂ
Kawasan Fallsâ€”the river I found the most adorable in Cebuâ€”makes Badian popular. Aside from this lively river, there is Lambug, a kilometer-long stretch of natural marvel.
Low tide transforms this place into a seashell and swaki (sea urchin) hunting feast. I concluded my 2012 travels here with a book and with a conversation with a local lad.
Though relatively popular, Lambug still has the kindred spirit, not marred by tourism and touts, where a kid waved good-bye to me with â€śAmping, ate! Balik nya!â€ť (Take care, Ate! Come back soon!)
7. Bas Dako, MoalboalÂ
â€śHave you tried snorkeling? The corals are not the same anymore. Theyâ€™re dying. But the sea is still beautiful,â€ť mused a Cebuana traveler.
Moalboal, aside from Kawasan, makes southern Cebu a household name.Â Indeed, Bas Dako has the crowd, sea, sand, and activities that any beach lover desires. I particularly love the way Pescador Islandâ€”a famous diving spotâ€”dots the depths of TaĂ±on Strait. But I could not contend my fellow travelerâ€™s words: the corals are on the verge of dying. Itâ€™s my earnest hope that the other towns will not suffer the same fate.
So, fellow nomads, let us travel responsibly. Snorkel without touching the corals. Wander beaches with trash tucked in the bagâ€™s side pockets. Go home without any guilt. Leave no trace. Trace memories instead.