I admit, I’m a Bantayan newbie.
I’ve only been to the island three years ago. I’ve been back at least once a year since. Last year, we took my then three-year-old for his first out-of-town trip to Bantayan. I seriously never heard of Bantayan until we moved to Cebu from Mindanao. In a way, I think Cebuanos try their best to keep the virgin paradise hidden, like their own secret treasure. I don’t blame them for being a bit selfish–Bantayan is beautiful.
Still, I can’t say I know so much about Bantayan, it’s still mysterious to me. I have tons of friends who are from there (Nath, Cecille), and they’re very proud about their island roots.
It’s easy to fall in love with the island. It may be very tempting to stay by their pristine white sand beaches all day, but what else is there to do in Bantayan aside from getting some vitamin sea?
Explore the Laidback Island
The easiest way to explore the island is to rent a motorbike. Bantayan is only 11km wide so you can easily go around the island via motorbike in half a day. For only P300, you can have the motorbike for the whole day. We explored the island’s three municipalities (Santa Fe, Madridejos, Bantayan) the whole afternoon with as many stopovers as we could. Take your time.
Ejay and I both love the freedom a motorbike provides when we’re out on the province. We toss the map away and try to find our way back (or try to recreate a map on our own!). Sometimes I feel like we’re MMORPG characters obsessed with the need to explore every square inch of the magical realm in search for cool monsters to fight with awesome treasure and discover secret side quests. In the real world, we only find occasional carabao dung hidden beneath the long grass. Sigh. But that’s okay, it’s still fun.
Appreciate Bantayan’s Forts
A little trivia about the island’s name. Folklore says that Bantayan was home to 18 watchtowers, to look over incoming moro pirate vessels. During the watchmen’s vigil, they would say ‘Bantayan! Bantayan!’ or ‘Keep watch! Keep watch!‘, which is how the island got its name.
Many of the watchtowers no longer survive, but some relics remain. The best surviving one is the fort in Kota Park, Madridejos. It might look like just a bunch of stones to most people, but they served an important purpose centuries ago.
The old Spanish forts and churches were built so sturdily to protect the natives from kidnapping. Moro raiders and pirates used to come at night and steal girls and boys to be sold off to slavery. Slavery was the biggest and most profitable industry during its hay days. If it weren’t for these forts our folks might have ended up in Slaver’s Bay and be one of Khaleesi’s Unsullied. (I had to mention that because GOT is showing again soon!)
It is amazing how Spanish walls and forts, made from stone or quicklime with egg whites as mortar still survive centuries after, despite constant visits from typhoons and earthquakes. Many of our modern buildings (like the CICC) weren’t as lucky.
Appreciate the old Spanish Houses
I marvel at the old Spanish plazas you can only find in out-of-the-way provincial towns. It’s amazing to see how Spanish colonial urban planning is like, how buildings and streets were organized into grid, and how it’s still being used centuries after the first plan was drawn out by order of the Spanish king.
The municipality of Bantayan is laid out in a colonial Spanish layout. Typically, there is a central plaza and heart of the city is the iglesia or church, the town council building, the residences of main religious and political officials, the residences of the city wealthy and VIPs, and the principal businesses were also stationed around the central plan. The less important people live further out of the grid.
The houses are typical 19th century Spanish colonial architecture known as ‘bahay na bato’. I like exploring ancestral homes and how similar they are in elements–typical two storey house, a mosquito net in the bedroom, a big heavy piano in the sala, massive door made of hardwood, and religious idols and crucifixes adorned in every room of the house.
‘Bahay na bato’ are modeled after the pre-hispanic ‘bahay kubo’, but bigger and made of more concrete materials. It is built to be suited to the tropics, with good ventilation, high ceiling, enough openings to let air and light in but at the same time provide enough protection from rain and heat of the sun.
This makes you wonder though, if the old Spanish houses were a symbol of Filipino identity and ingenuity, why don’t we build houses in this tradition to keep our heritage? Why do we allow the last of our ‘endangered’ houses to be destroyed and replaced by ‘modern Asian’ or minimalist building styles, when these houses were perfectly built for the tropical climate?
The Best Sunsets. Ever.
While I am the most un-sentimental person who cannot appreciate fireworks and babies and puppies, I swoon at the beauty of Bantayan sunsets; the pink cotton balls wrapped within the velvet blanket sky, the last of warm hues kissing the horizon, promising another tomorrow (eek. #langleav will be proud). Seriously, Bantayan sunsets are so possessing they made me poetic for a second there. I hope that won’t happen again hahaha.
Every time I’m in Bantayan there’s always something new to discover. What are some things I missed and places you can recommend for a Bantayan Newbie like me?