Cebu is not by the sea

Once upon a time, I used to research a place before I visited it. Now I just make a bunch of bookings and hope for the best.

Sometimes this laissez-faire strategy works out – like Taipei, an amazing place and one of the most enjoyable city breaks I’ve had. And other times, I’m sidelined by something really simple, like geography.

So Cebu is not near the sea.

All the pictures of Cebu show it as an idyllic paradise, throbbing with resorts with ludicrously stunning options for diving.

It looks like the perfect place to spend three days turning into a sea lion on a sandy beach.

The city of Cebu is not the same as the region of Cebu.

I know I’m getting lax with my travel. It started gradually but has been getting worse. There was the time that C and I went to Marrakesh and literally did not know that it would be almost impossible to get booze there. We also had to queue for 40 minutes to get cash out of the ATM and then almost immediately – like the dumbest tourists in the world – ate bad food and got stomach bugs.

But those sorts of poor-planning-related mishaps are relatively rare.

These days, with data roaming being European-wide, I frequently just turn up at a city and then start figuring out how to get around. It’s a far cry from carefully poring over the pages (actual paper pages!!) of the Lonely Planet before arriving in a new town. With a phone and a debit card, you don’t need to do any preparation at all.

Still, did you know that Cebu is not near the sea? 

I had planned for a 3 day break by the seaside. Instead, I found myself in a city not unlike the one I had left behind, except, if possible, even further away from a nice beach.

“The nearest beach?” the receptionist said. “There’s a really nice one only 3 hours on the bus.”

FFS if I wanted to spend 3 hours on a bus, I wouldn’t have spent one hour on a plane first. I would have just gone to Subic.

Anyway, Cebu wound up being a city break instead of a sea lion one. I ate in nice restaurants, had two excellent massages, watched the latest Star Wars movie in 3D, accidentally got involved in some Chinese New Year celebrations, and wound up drinking in a heavy metal bar. I also caught up with a colleague, although I literally cannot remember anything about that evening, so perhaps the less said the better.

For a city break, Cebu is definitely less manic than Manila and offers some great entertainment and restaurants. I visited at least 4 malls. I know how awful that sounds to the sort of travellers that I usually identify with. But the Philippines is all about malls. I didn’t do any shopping, but that’s where the locals go and so that’s what I did, too.

Because I’m an absolute nutter, I wound up walking everywhere in Cebu. Like, everywhere. Mostly because I couldn’t get a Grab (Phillipine Uber) but also cos I just like to walk around. 

As usually happens here, Filipinos were appalled to see the white lady walking around in the back streets, patting stray dogs, dodging sewage, trying not to get run over by motorbikes, and just generally looking like the weirdest thing in the whole damn city. And certainly there were times when I didn’t feel entirely safe. My novelty has provided me with immunity so far, but I guess I shouldn’t push my luck.

Anyway, the fact remains that you can walk around Cebu and you’ll find that distances are much closer than you think. They’re certainly much closer than Filipinos think, who believe that anything longer than 100 metres requires a trike followed by a lie down.

I’ve never been the sort of blogger to list out a bunch of places you should go or whatever. I rather just uselessly give you a bunch of my feels. But sure, check out the monument, the Magellan’s cross, the fort, and all that stuff. If you can, wander over to the markets and take a peek around. If you aren’t self-catering, you probably won’t want to buy anything, but it’s always interesting to see how the local people get their daily sustenance.

Yes, Cebu is located on the seafront. It has a fort and a strong naval history. But under no circumstances should you be led to believe that is by the sea. There are many excellent diving and nature tours that depart Cebu, but they are day or even multi-day trips.

Cebu is definitely not by the sea.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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