The bustling metropolis of Cebu does little to hide the fact that there are island jewels just to its east. For many a Cebuano, the hassles of modern city life become comparably paltry when one plans an easy escape to the paradise islands. Here, the city dweller can lose himself in the glaring summer sun, turquoise beaches, and undersea life, without having to remove himself significantly away from the Cebu urban life.
Numerous islets to the east of Mactan Island and a few kilometers to the south of Olango Island sparkle amidst emerald waters, like ripe Visayan mangoes ready for plucking. A night before the hotly anticipated (pun intended) summer extravaganza, I bought my own goggles just to ward off a potentially unsatisfying day of not seeing those corals and other undersea phenoms. It turned out that this waterboy-of-a-writer was just a little bit too worried, as I had all the full mask-et-snorkeling pleasures the next day.
After being picked up by my fun-seeking comrades at SM Cebu and buying lunch goodies along the way, we arrived at the Boyla Diving Resort (boyladivingresort.net), apparently the diving outfit of choice in Mactan for many Koreans, Japanese, and some celebrities. (If you're there, take a look at their repertoire of star pictures; you'll know what I'm talking about.) It is here that Manny Pacquiao, the current pound-for-pound boxing king, also pakyawed (chartered) his diving exploits sometime ago.
We hauled our luggage to the white, outriggered banca called the Saint Mary, and then set off for the island of Hilutungan. While on course, we prepared the usual Filipino stomach fodder for beach outings: grilled fish, grilled pork chunks, roast chicken, kinilaw (raw fish cooked with vinegar), softdrinks and ice, and of course, the trusty Red Horse. While the food preparation on the boat whirled and swirled with spicy and pungent aromas (not to mention the smell of seawater), the islands loomed closer on the horizon.
We didn't plan on paying more dough for setting foot on a beach (so much for island "hopping" haha). What we did was to dock near Hilutungan Island and splurge on the green waters 'til we had our fill, or until we were sore from swimming against the currents. We also had our hearty lunch there. In the afternoon, we decided to go over an islet (I think it was Sulpa Island) and try out the beach there. The island's only open beach was also teeming with vacationers and foreigners, yet we docked there nonetheless and continued our water antics. My friends fortunately possess huge appetites as I have, and we did eat an "extended" lunch of sorts (which is totally normal).
The weather was not nearly as ideally sun-drenching as we had hoped it would be, sometimes alternating between driving rain and intense sunny heat. When we did have lighter skies that made the shores sparkle, we wasted no time frolicking in warm water and gathering a few exotic salawaki to consume.
The group punctuated the windy and briny trip with a last swim near Olango Island. To the relief of my associates, the waters were torso deep, freeing them from their worries of sinking and the hassles of wearing a life-jacket.
I, for my part, indulged in a dreamy, sunbathing episode. Which later made me think: do I look like I need a tan?
Two things have been reinforced as we were heading back to the diving resort. One was that nature's jewels that lay east of metropolitan Cebu are definitely accessible to those having the time and money to get out of the rat race once in a while. A day's worth of blue escape is indeed enough time for the business-weary, while the average yuppie does not need to fear covering a great distance to enjoy tropical fun. Two, these paradise islands remain a great tourism potential for Central Visayas and for the country. Whether or not the economic woes have taken their toll on Cebu's tourism industry, I still reckon that the dive and island safaris of Mactan will be going strong in the future.
The fun is all in our backyard.