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The mountains and the West coast of Cebu

Another scooter road trip yet again. We just could’t help ourselves! This time, instead of the usual national highway—in the East coast—we journeyed along the opposite route, starting from San Remigio, through the West coast of Cebu, and then crossing the mountains via the transcentral highway and into Cebu City.

About Cebu

Cebu Island is a long and narrow island. It stretches 225km from North to South. Its widest point is only 45km from West to East. The island is also called a fishbone because it has mountains that go all along from North to South like a spine.

Even though we live in the West coast, we always drive along the East coast southbound. This is because the island’s national highway is there, making it the “shortest” way to Cebu City, but by no means necessarily the fastest. Almost all the buses in the North use this highway to Cebu City; commercial trucks use this highway to Cebu City; private vehicles use this highway to Cebu City—that’s why it has way much more traffic.

We’ve always been curious about the West coast of Cebu. Arthur said it used to be that the roads were unpaved and that there was no way to cross from the West coast to Cebu other than going through the South of Cebu. But it turned out that there was so much development happening in the last few decades. Roads are 99% paved and most of all, they built the Cebu-Balamban Transcentral Highway, its sole purpose, to cut travel time from the West coast to Cebu City by a really wide margin. Early morning at the rice fields in Cebu West coast

Early bird catches the worm

In order to reach Cebu City before the noontime heat, we left earlier than usual, at 4:30am. We had no idea how many hours it would take for us to reach our destination. The only thing we knew was that the distance would be much farther and we’d have to cross mountains as high as 1000 meters. How little did we know that the duration would be exactly as long as it takes for us to go along the East coast anyway—around 4 hours. That even includes an average speed of around 50kph, many photo stops, and a 20min breakfast stopover in Balamban. Early morning scene along the roads of West coast CebuThe West coast of Cebu is different; but it’s beautiful, stunning even. I had no idea Cebu Island still had so many untouched nature. There were only a few small towns and one industrial town along the way. The road cuts through rice fields, mangroves, rivers, and high mountains. The sunrise and morning mist accompanied us on the first part towards Balamban.

Driving through small towns

I really loved the authenticity of the small towns, mostly unspoiled from tourism and “westernisation”. Watching the people as we zipped by; starting their day, starting their morning activities—everybody looked genuinely happy and laid back. From the reaction on people’s faces —a genuine and friendly expression— when they noticed me on the backseat of the scooter, I assume not too many foreigners pass by too often. Many people, especially children greeted me with a joyful “Hi Ma’am!”.

Street and traffic conditions

The condition of the streets were good, just like the East coast of Cebu. It was asphalted/cemented all the way from San Remigio to Cebu City, but, minus the intense, chaotic, and stressful traffic (unlike that in the East coast). Many times we were even the only vehicle on the road. What a relaxing drive that was. We were able to enjoy nature and the surroundings slowly whizzing by.

We’re wondering why anybody would prefer the East coast over the West coast. Sure, the former is a little shorter—distance-wise, but if you take into account the delay caused by traffic (which eats up half of the total travel time), travel duration would exactly be the same. But I guess we’re applying a different goal than the typical travellers in this route which is: the choice between economy or ease. Everybody else places more importance on savings in fuel consumption. We prefer a relaxed trip.

Mountain crossing

After a hearty breakfast at an eatery in Balamban (how nice it would be if also our town’s eateries would serve breakfast. Jollibee doesn’t count), we started the mountain crossing, and it was spectacular. We were driving along serpentine roads, going up and down, enjoying the views from the mountain tops, and even driving through the clouds. This tour was unforgettable.

This was our first scooter trip where instead of the usual sweating, we actually felt a little chilly (especially up there at above 1000 meters). This was a first for us.

Up there, the nature was very different. The trees and the climate reminded us of Finnish summer. There weren’t even any banana or coconut trees, but instead, a variety of trees I had never seen before in Cebu. Such a totally different world.

We did see some remnants of landslides that probably happened recently. So in the rainy seasons one must be diligent before crossing the mountains and be extra vigilant when crossing the mountains, especially when there are rains in the area.

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Red Coca-Colas along the road

I’ve noticed these kinds of things many times before: Coca-Cola bottles filled with some kind of red liquid displayed on the side of the road from some small Sari-Sari stores. I always assumed that they were some homemade lemonade or some exotic fruit juice. Oh how wrong I was. Gasoline vendors along the transcentral highway It turned out, these small Sari-Sari stores selling some red bottled thing were actually selling gasoline! How convenient is that?

So when Arthur suddenly stopped up there in the mountains with an almost empty tank, I realised quickly that it wasn’t for a lemonade break. A few pesos more expensive (per liter) than those sold at petrol stations, we bought one of the cherry “Coca-Colas” and filled our scooter’s gasoline tank with it. Another first time for me. One of many.

Fiestas and processions

So many things we saw and experience during this road trip. We passed right through a fiesta celebration of a small-town-in-the-mountains. And I mean literally right through it. At some point it almost felt like we were part of the procession ourselves. Since we had to drive very slow due to the throng of people at the procession. I even had time to greet the people, take photos, and feel some of the fiesta excitement. These in-your-face things you don’t get to experience in a car or in a bus.

Arriving in Cebu City

After 4 hours on the road, we arrived in Cebu City. One thing nice about this route in the transcentral highway is that you just find yourself in the city all of a sudden. One minute you’re enjoying the mountain sceneries and how cool the temperature is, then suddenly, urban Cebu City. You get to see the overlooking view of Cebu City in the distance as you get nearer and nearer though. First you pass by Cebu’s famous mountaintop viewing platform—Tops and then the Marco Polo Hotel. Instant urban.

Compared this to the East coast where a good 1.5 to 2 hours, or so, is spent just driving through the intense traffic of Mandaue and Cebu City. Oh and the heat. And the dust. And the vehicle exhausts. But not up there in the mountains, the air was so clear and the temperature was just chill—just the way we like our scooter trips to be.

18 comments

  1. Thanks so much for your blog and photos. I’m writing a book about my parents’ experiences during WWII in the Philippines. My mother and her family (my grandfather was an auditor who was assigned to work in Cebu around the time WWII arrived in the Philippines) were forced to hide in the mountains above Toledo City. They walked up the mountains following a footpath.

    It was very helpful that you mentioned the MORNING MIST — my mom (she was just a child back then) wasn’t sure that there was mist, it being a tropical country. So now I’ll write in the morning mist in my book, and the clouds rolling in over the mountaintops. Looking at your photos gave me goose bumps. I can just imagine what it must’ve been like to walk through all that dense forest … with the enemy not far behind. (There wasn’t the highway yet, then.)

    Thanks again. Not sure yet what my book’s title will be, but I can’t wait to get it published (fall 2015?), and to share with the world the stories of one 9-year-old during the year-and-a-half that she and her family sought refuge in Cebu’s mountains while the war bulldozed its way all over the country.

    Celeste P.

    1. Hi Celeste! So sorry for the very late reply. Arthur tells me that his grandma used to tell them stories of her experience during WWII as a young child in the mountains of Leyte. It sounds quite similar to what your mother has experienced in Cebu.
      Your book sounds very interesting. Can you let us know when it’s published?

  2. Thanks for writing about my beautiful island of Cebu. Hope that youll stay longer and enjoy more. Come and visit sometimes camotes island via danao. Thanks to SSC Cebu for sharing your blog.

    1. Hi Bhing, it’s always a pleasure writing about Cebu Island as it has so much to offer, especially for a fresh pair of eyes.

      Actually we pass by Danao’s port almost on a weekly basis. I always wonder where those ferries go. It turns out they go to Camotes Island. Hopefully one day I’ll hop on one of those and see Camotes Island for myself.

      By the way, what’s SSC Cebu?

  3. Annika,

    Too bad, I am guilty on being too self-critical/negative about my country. 😀

    I shared your blogsite to my friends.

    After your stay in Philippines, please keep on coming back. Who knows, someday, you will be coming to Cebu using the new Mactan Airport Terminal 2 (approved and awaiting for bidding), Bus Rapid Transit for Cebu City/Metro Cebu (approved and awaiting for bidding) and Cebu Trans-axial Highway (feasibility study stage)… 😀

    1. Thanks for sharing our blog to your friends. We appreciate it.

      And about returning to Cebu. First of all, we’ll still be here until December. And after that: Of course we will return. It is after all the country where Arthur’s family lives.

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for this blog.

    I know you had some frustrations about my country, but you chose to write the positive experience you had while staying in Cebu.

    We Filipinos, are optimistic and hopeful in our individual lives or within our immediate circle of friends and family.

    But when it comes to our trust in our government, majority of us, already lost it a long time ago. Our leaders just failed us big time which is very obvious by just looking at our infrastructures, educational and health services and others.

    That is why, collectively as people, Filipinos tend to be negative and self-critical of our country and a sincere positive view coming from visitors/foreigners is so refreshing for us.

    Your blog is highly appreciated, because it let us see the good things we still have in our country despite the poverty, frustrating infrastructures and self-serving politicians.

    1. Thanks so much Kulafu. I appreciate your honest thoughts and I’m glad you shared them here.

      My aim for this blog is not to criticise the government, the politicians, nor the church. This is a travel blog, and that is its whole purpose and will always be the main angle, which is, to introduce this beautiful country as a destination to others and show them that this country has more to offer than what most Westerners hear about the Philippines in the news (e.g., typhoons, poverty, corruption, earthquakes, etc.)

      But as an author/blogger you have to decide in which light you’d like to write about a particular country or culture. Since my positive experiences easily win over my negative experiences (and yes, you’re right, I’ve had negative experiences) it was an easy decision for me. While I enjoy writing positive posts about this culturally diverse and scenic country, I don’t exclude some few honest and critical opinions once in a while (in appropriate settings).

      I have an example to your statement about how some Filipinos tend to think negatively about their own country. Countless of times I have been asked “Why?”. Why from all countries in the world I decided to move to the Philippines. Why for an entire year and not just a short stay? Why leave Europe? In those situations I sometimes feel like saying: Come on guys, please think a little higher of your country.
      But in the end, I always have the same answer that brings a smile to people’s faces: because of love. 🙂

  5. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never been to the northwestern part Cebu, ever. So it’s nice to see some glimpses of it through your eyes. Haha the “cherry coca-cola”! They’re pretty ubiquitous on the rural parts of the country where a gas station is nowhere to be seen. Did you try the famous Balamban Liempo? They’re supposed to be the best in Cebu, and they even spur countless imitations.

    1. No I haven’t tried it. We only stopped for a quick breakfast in Balamban and had some sunny side ups and fish soup. But thanks for the tip, maybe I’ll try them next time we’ll go through that town.

  6. I remember the traffic in Southeast Asia to be very crazy. But it seems like there are also calm streets. If ever i will visit the philippines,maybe i should try a road trip. What about helmets? do you need them?

    1. By law, you have to wear a helmet and wear covered footwear (i.e, shoes) when driving a motorcycle in Cebu Island. But quite frankly, it’s only in Cebu City that the police are strict with enforcing this law. Anywhere else, especially in the rural areas, you barely see anybody wearing helmets.

      As for us, we wear helmets (driver and passenger) every time we ride the scooter. I don’t understand why people don’t wear helmets. It seems convenience is much more important to them than their safety, or life even.

  7. i enjoyed reading your travel to the city via west coast. the way you describe your trip, was so enticing. haven’t been to this side of Cebu Island at all. thank you for sharing your wonderful experience and the nice photos 🙂

    1. From what I understand there are quite many people that haven’t been to the West coast yet. That’s why it was also exciting for Arthur to experience it for the first time. And we fell in love with it, especially with the mountains.

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