"So, are you feeling adventurous?", Woody asked my friend and I during brunch at his apartment Saturday morning. "Yes!", I replied a little too loudly, almost spilling my tea in the process, "Why, what's the plan?". "Let's go to Bantayan", he replied.
Two hours later we were on the road heading towards the northern tip of Cebu Island to take the last ferry across to Santa Fe. I road shotgun and played the role of navigator, wrestling with the huge map The roads were good and the countryside was beautiful. Every so often, I caught a glimpse of the sea through the coconut trees outside my window.
We reached the Hagnaya Port at San Remigio with time to spare, parked the car in a secured lot then proceeded to the booth to purchase our ferry tickets, and shared our scraps of lunch with a poor dog. We bought tickets for first-class, nothing more than a small stuffy air conditioned cabin. A Jackie Chan movie was playing on television, my brother was trying to sleep within the combined noise of the TV, the boat's engine, the drone of the ancient air conditioning unit and a screaming baby. I stayed on deck, taking pictures of passing fishing boats, watching the setting sun cast pretty colors across the sky.
It was dark when we docked at Santa Fe. Walking along the catwalk of the pier, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of karaoke in the distance, a sound that would later become familiar dining in the island's restaurants. A long-limbed foreign man sat on the sidewalk and watched the influx of arriving passengers, lifting his Gold Eagle Beer mucho at us in salutation.
Because Woody had previously stayed at Yooneek Resort and had remained in touch with Juan, the Japanese-Peruvian owner and his Filipina wife, this is where we opted to be. We hired two pedicabs and made our way to the resort. The farther away we were from the port, the quieter and darker it got. The terrible karaoke singing faded away.
I counted six big and clean rooms: three on each floor and a private space on the third. The balcony, walls and interiors, including the furniture, were made of bamboo. It was rustic and charming, just how I like it. We were given the room with the view of the ocean on the second floor. It had a small television, a refrigerator and a private balcony that opened up to the coconut grove where we could hang our towels and wet clothes. My favorite part of the resort was the beach bar: waitresses served tropical drinks as Latin and reggae beats played day and night. The mornings were the best – dreamlike, waking slowly to the sound of waves lapping on the shore, trees rustling in the breeze and the salty-fishy smell in the air to coax our senses.
Sante Fe is a small fishing village located on the southeast coast of Bantayan Island, a place time seemed to have momentarily forgotten. The beaches are beautiful and unspoilt, and perhaps because it was low season, the only other life on the shores were fisher folk and stray dogs. The beach at dusk was surreal. Everything turned a deep blue, you could barely make out the horizon. One evening, as we walked the stretch of the beach, there was a dark rain cloud moving towards us which only added drama to the sky.
One afternoon after a boat ride to nearby Virgin Island for some snorkeling, we rented a motorcycle and set out to explore inland. The town was idyllic and charming. Our half hour brought us to old colonial homes, a Thai massage place, an elderly man selling "tempura" (stretched fish balls) outside a European Deli, two small girls playing on the side of the road amidst coconut trees and a cemetery. The people we passed waved at us, smiling.
At a Portuguese restaurant, two foreigners greeted us: "God lives here. I don't know what He does elsewhere, but He lives here." I agree.