Meandering in Marvelous Mactan
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Separated from the island province of Cebu by a narrow channel, Mactan is home to one of the Philippines' largest export processing zones, which employs several thousands of workers. It also houses the country's second biggest international airport, which serves as one of the entry points to Cebu and take-off point to other local and foreign destinations.
When I first went to Cebu, there was only one span, the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge I, linking Mactan to the province. The other bridge, which was named after one of the province's most illustrious sons, Marcelo Fernan, the former Supreme Court Chief Justice and Senate President, became accessible to traffic a few months after my first visit.
The magnificent island, which is divided into Lapu-Lapu City and the municipality of Cordova, boasts of several rows of world-class resorts on its east coast, largely catering to the middle to upper income markets: Maribago Blue Water Beach Club, Costabella Tropical Beach Hotel, Coral Reef Hotel, Tambuli Beach Club and Villa, Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa, and Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, to name a few. Of these, I had the chance to gatecrash into two upscale resorts twice on two separate occasions: Plantation Bay Resort and Spa and Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa.
When I saw Plantation Bay for the first time, it struck me as a hybrid of a theme park and a beach resort. At the time, the award-winning resort had just been opened to the public. Created by human ingenuity, the resort delights guests and visitors with its three man-made attractions: a saltwater lagoon, a waterfall and two giant water slides built over a site consisting of barren rock.
It also boasts of a white-sand artificial beach, with the sand made of mountain stone crushed into fine grains that stay cool any time of the day even under the scorching heat of the sun. Interspersed among these waterways are a number of pricey, well-appointed rooms and villas, which my companions and I visited for a look-see.
From Plantation Bay, we proceeded to the other end of the island to take a peek at Shangri-La Hotel where a day trip alone costs a fortune. But I considered it reasonable given its luxurious ambience plus all the perks that go with the hefty rate, particularly the sumptuous buffet lunch. Besides, I didn't foot the bill so this gatecrasher didn't feel the crunch.
With immaculate grains said to have been hauled from nearby Bohol, Shangri-la Hotel's white-sand beach counts among its prime attractions. We had a grand time walking barefoot on the powdery sand and snapping ourselves every now and then with the emerald waters of Cebu Strait at the backdrop.
Just a short walk away from Shangri-la Hotel, there's a monument in Punta Engaņo that's dedicated in honor of Lapu-Lapu, the island's fearless tribal chief who openly resisted the efforts of Magellan to convert his people to Christianity and become subjects of the Spanish throne. Such resistance angered Magellan, which eventually led to the historic Battle of Mactan that cost him his life. The first Filipino freedom fighter's statue has been erected right smack on the spot where the battle took place.
From the hotel, we went straight to the shrine for a photo op with Lapu-Lapu. Cast in larger-than-life bronze, the Cebuano chieftain, holding a kampilan (sword) with his right hand and a shield with his left, looked formidable on top of a stone pedestal and ready to quell any invader who dares to step into his kingdom's shores.
Near Lapu-Lapu's statue is an obelisk known as Magellan's Marker, which was built by the Spanish government in 1866 in honor of the Portuguese explorer. From the obelisk, we went to a small structure that houses a stone plinth with the plaques of the two main protagonists of the celebrated event. Behind the plinth is a mural of the historic battle.
If there's one thing I missed doing during those two trips, it's savoring the renowned sutukil, a Cebuano contraction for the three ways fish is prepared by Mactan's eateries: sugba (grilled), towa (stewed) and kilaw (turned into raw fish salad). The term also refers to restaurants serving these seafood dishes.
In the meantime, I think I'll have to create my own version of sutukil while waiting for my next trip to the island. Here's hoping it'll turn out as delectable as the ones sold in Mactan.
Where I stayed
Mayflower Pension House, Cebu City