Cebu’s coasts have dozens of vacation villas like these, available either on Airbnb or directly through their Facebook pages.
Three C’s in Cebu
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) - August 25, 2018 - 12:01am

Traveling through three towns along the coast — Compostela, Carmen and Catmon.

Last week’s long weekend was my wife’s excuse to organize one of our annual tours to unique Philippine destinations. We do this with a group of friends in a sort of informal traveling club. Unfortunately, the trip started badly.

The Xiamen Airlines jet that blocked NAIA’s runway caused delays from between a few hours to a whole day for us and our mates. We had booked with three different airlines. We had also booked land transfers. It was mayhem for us, as well as for the thousands travelling last weekend, but somehow we all made it to Cebu.

We have a travelling barkada of about half a dozen couples, all with similar tastes for adventure, food, and nights of wine and karaoke. Okay, so karaoke is not regular fare for us, although this trip we did indulge ourselves, singing along ’70s and ’80s fare.

Twink had planned the trip months in advance. We had taken our last sojourn up to the pine-filled northern village of Sagada late last year, so a southern destination was targeted. Mactan is everyone’s usual tourism choice but Twink had other ideas, opting for the northeastern coast of mainland Cebu, specifically three towns along the coast — Compostela, Carmen and Catmon.

We viewed the African savannah animals from open-sided safari trucks.

She found a seaside villa complex in the sleepy town of Compostela. It had enough rooms, an adequate kitchen and its own pool facing the Camotes Sea. It was a good jumping off point for the island province’s attractions to the north.

Compostela is a small town just north of Liloan, which is the urban fringe of metropolitan Cebu. The villa we rented was walking distance to the town market. We did our own cooking for the four-day stay. One of our group, Crissy, is a chef and I managed to contact a distant cousin, who also ran a similar seaside villa further up north, and she generously lent one of her cooks to assist Crissy.

The market provides basic ingredients but the group brings most everything else on all our trips. This always includes good cheese, ground coffee, chocolates and snacks, and Dindo’s favored chocolate croissants. The group had purchased our stock of wine at Tinderbox, on the first lunch stop in the city after arriving at the airport. We found very good carabao cheese at a newly opened shop nearby. The shop sold artisanal kesong puti, as well as various flavors of yummy carabao milk ice cream. Right beside this shop was another that sold local longganisa, also artisanal.

Our first foray out of Compostela was to the new Cebu Safari and Adventure Park (CSAP) in Carmen, a town about forty minutes north. The park is another 20-minutes inland and up the hills of the town. Unfortunately, again, because of the Xiamen Airline mayhem at Manila, only Twink and I made it to CSAP.

The park is huge, over a hundred hectares in area. Michel J. Lhuillier, the pawnshop magnate, developed the facility based on what obviously was a professionally prepared master plan. The park is still in a sort of soft opening phase, with what looked to be a little more than half of the animal habitats and few of the “adventure” facilities promised. This would eventually include zip lines, sky bikes, mega swings, obstacle courses, swimming pools and treks to the many waterfalls in the site.

Despite this, the park offered more than enough for a three-hour visit. We rode through the African Savannah loop on an open-sided safari truck. We walk the rest of the other open sections that included the tiger habitat, the water birds, smaller mammals and giraffe. The aviary was especially good. I loved the fact that the netting was supported by a geodesic dome. The lions, elephants and rhinos are reportedly still to come in the next year or so.

We enjoyed the trek through the new Cebu Safari and Adventure Park.

The CSAP is still rough around the edges, and the landscaping has to mature to complement the displays. The way-finding signage could be improved although there were dozens of staff always at the next corner to direct you to viewing options. Pedestrian crossings on the tramways need to be marked and food options enhanced. The bird show is entertaining, but the acoustics so bad that we could not understand the emcee.

The Cebu Safari and Adventure Park should mature into a really good destination not only for Cebu at for the entire Philippines. The town of Carmen itself should, however, work to identify and build up its other attractions, so that a trip to Carmen will not be a one trick pony.

The surrounding towns, in fact, do offer other attractions, albeit not as well developed as the CSAP. The rest of the group arrived the next day and we ventured off to the second high point in our itinerary, Esoy Hot Spring in Catmon, the town next to Carmen.

Esoy was also inland but took longer to reach from the main township compared to the Cebu Safari. The roads were narrow, dusty and zig-zagged up the hills. We arrived at the falls mid-morning and descended about two hundred steps or so into a ravine.

Before reaching the bottom, we stopped to find the hot sulfur pools. There were three of these of various sizes. The sulfur gave off a pungent odor but the waters were really soothing and therapeutic. We ended up soaking for over an hour before the more adventurous of us went down to the waterfalls. The falls itself was not that impressive but the trek was the challenge.

(Left) Esoy Hot Spring is a balneotherapeutic facility that was enjoyable but had only spartan amenities. (Right) The park has a great canopy walk through mature trees.

All in all, a visit to Esoy Hot Spring is worth it if you like roughing it. As it is, the attraction is more the type backpackers would go to rather than a draw for those looking for more refined destinations. Esoy, like hundreds of similar attractions off the beaten track in the Philippines, lacks standards for safe steps, railings, toilets, directional signs and the larger infrastructure to bring visitors safely to their doorstep. The DOT should look into setting standards and the local tourism offices need to understand the importance of identifying and improving these sites.

More on our Cebu trip next week as we visit a German restaurant in Catmon, along with a wealth of Spanish-era churches and colonial architecture in sites between and around the three C’s of Cebu.

* * *

Feedback is welcome. Please email me at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

CARMEN AND CATMON COMPOSTELA
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