Cebu City and Bantayan Island, The Philippines, 2006
by Lee Marsh © 2006

Lee Marsh, of New Zealand, a frequent visitor to Southeast Asia, shares his recent visit to Cebu City and Bantayan Island, The Philippines

Just to introduce myself, I am a 50-year-old paraplegic from NZ who has been in a wheelchair since a motor vehicle accident at age 17.

I have travelled extensively around SE Asia, sometimes with my wife, and sometimes solo, and this was my second visit to the Philippines following a two x month holiday in Manila and northern Luzon 10 x years ago.

On this trip I spent over 3 x weeks on Bantayan Island, and a total of 5 x nights stopping over in Cebu City either side of that.

Singapore Airlines

I flew by myself on SA and they were a great service airline.

Just be careful when initially booking your fare that you explain to your travel agent your disability and flight needs.

This is part of the email message I got back from my agent AFTER booking:

“Could you please advise your exact requirements and the extent of your disability - If we do not advise the airline your exact requirements in advance they will deny you boarding.”

I explained everything to my agent, but she must have had trouble relaying the information, as sometime later a Singapore Airlines staff member phoned me and went through a series of pertinent details. It all worked out well.

The seats seem to be getting thinner and thinner every time I fly, but I was placed in 31D, which was an aisle seat directly in front of the bulkhead.

They were great getting on the plane, I was the first to board, took my own wheelchair to the airway bridge door, transferred to an aisle chair, and was transferred to my seat.

When I changed planes at Singapore to fly to Cebu City, I had about 1.5 hrs stopover and was looked after the whole time by a 70-year-old Airport staff member.

We get to the airway bridge for my Singapore/Cebu flight and no aisle chair turns up, so Ahamad,

grabs me under my armpits and lifts me up to drag me the 10 x metres to my seat……amid cries of “No my friend, you can not do it” and so on from all the other staff who just watched, as they were afraid to get involved.

Poor old Ahamad was pretty damp with effort by the time he got me to my seat!

The airline staff apologised after he left, but I was ok. He got the job done.

Warning

When I board an aircraft, I always take my cushion on board.

However, from now on, I am going to ensure I take my leg rests and side arms as well.

On the return flight back to NZ, both my leg rests were damaged enough that both require replacing. How the Baggage staff damaged them, I have no idea, as it took tremendous strength to try to straighten them enough to be serviceable so that I could get around for a few days until replacements were made.

If this happened at the start of my trip, it would have been a major problem as my leg rests were constantly being either swung out or taken off the chair during the month of my holiday.

I have made a claim as the replacement cost of the leg rests is estimated at $400.

Cebu City

I stayed at Fuente Pension just off Osmena Circle. $19 per night.

It very access able, a ramp up to an entrance level, then a step of about 80mm.

I was ok with that step by myself, but there is a guard on duty 24/7 to help if required.

One lift services five x floors, including the open-air restaurant on the 4th floor.

The lift IS small, I had to take my damaged leg rests off each time I rode it, but Flemming did not have to do that with his chair. (I am tall and have a long chair)

The staff are familiar with wheelchair users and are both friendly and helpful. The tiled aircon rooms have two double beds, a small TV with about 60 x channels, and the hot/cold water bathroom is clean and has a shower hose and a basin you can wheel under.

The bathroom is a little small, but with my leg rests removed, I was able to get in and around ok.

Caution: Many Asian toilets are small and low, this is fine…………if your build matches that description!!

There wasn’t much for me to do here in Cebu City. I went to a couple of malls, bought some bootleg DVD’s and software for $1.50, and wheeled around a few backstreets.

There were enough restaurants and Girly bars if you are interested (bar fine around $30) a few 400-year-old churches, and the remains of forts that the Spanish built.

Colon, the old section of Cebu City was quite interesting, but not recommended at night.

The footpaths I encountered were not really suitable for wheeling around. I didn’t enjoy it much at all as I was constantly looking down to avoid potholes or broken concrete, or searching 100 metres ahead to see if I would come to a dead end at an intersection where I was unable to cross.

I was pleased to get out of the city just so I could have increased wheeling freedom.

The taxis are cheap and plentiful though so that was great.

To get from Cebu City to Haganaya Port to catch my ferry across to Bantayan Island, I took a $40 Taxi for the two-hour trip north.

I took a $1.80 aircon bus for the 4 x hour return journey 4 x weeks later as I had more confidence by then and far less money to worry about protecting.

If you do take the bus, buy two tickets and place your suitcase in the other seat.

The guys manhandled me onto - and off - the bus ok (50 -100Peso tip) but they don’t know how to fold a chair, so if you have a travel companion that helps. Otherwise, try to show them how to do it before you are carted into the bus.

It is best to time your departure from Hagnanya Port to St Fe to coincide with the high tide.

That is because if the tide is high, the ferry can dock right up at the pier and you are wheeled up a huge vehicle ramp as opposed to being transferred by small boat if the tide is low.

The trip across takes about 1 hour and there is not much of a view for wheelchair users, as the seats, and therefore the views, are all up steep stairs.

St Bernard Beach Resort

I was met by three staff from the resort to escort me and carry my luggage and we had a 10 x minutes walk from the pier through hard sand paths to reach the resort.

St Bernard http://www.bantayan.dk is owned by Flemming (ex Danish) and his Filipina wife Eden and the whole resort is wheelchair friendly as Flemming is in a wheelchair himself.

The resort has concrete pathways and has only the slightest incline into any of the rooms or buildings.

They are a great couple and their marriage reminds me of that Economic term “synergy” where the sum of two and two make five. Their warmth and hospitality was the most enjoyable memory I took away with me from the island.

St Bernard is a small, homely, verdant, boutique oasis consisting of 8 x cottages and is located beachfront and in the middle of a village. The round cottages vary in price between approx $13 to $45 depending on size and whether it has aircon. The price for including aircon seems very steep, but electricity is very expensive on the island.

Flemming has built aviaries - filled with colourful native and exotic birds - attached to nearly all the cottages, so you wake up at sunrise with birds chirping away outside your window.

Do not accept a home brewed liquorice drink from Flemming either if he offers you one.

He claims it is a after dinner liquor, but it only masquerades as that, its real purpose is to serve as an all purpose boot polish!

He used to have a mischievous monkey as a pet that kept on looking up woman’s dresses, and it would have been enjoyable to have him for company, but Flemming released him back to the wild on another island.

I stayed in the smallest cottage with a fan room that had a Nipa balcony attached where I could have my morning coffee at my own table. Normally I would need a/c in my room, but I was comfortable most of the time because the resort is right on the beachfront and thus gets a mild breeze, and the resort has been planted with leafy shade and coconut trees.

The room was cold water with a basic double bed, shuttered windows, small bamboo table and stool, big bathroom with shower hose and a sink I could wheel under.

They can organise a tricikad or jeepney driver for you, a Banca boat or diving trip, or even organise the staff throw you into the warm sea for a swim!!

I use callipers to stand up and exercise in when at home, and I took a portable plastic set with me on holiday. When I spoke to Flemming about where I could possibly stand up in them, he built a temporary bar for me right outside my room so I could continue my exercise while staying there.

Although you don’t ever travel to the Philippines for the food on offer, the menu was pretty reasonable for such a small resort. Eden is an excellent cook, but she is not on kitchen duties all the time. My favourite meals at the resort were: ABF $2.75, then Chefs salad for lunch which included marinated garlic for $3, and for dinner roast pork with crispy crackling, rich gravy and Danish style potatoes with white sauce and pickled red cabbage $4.

A small bottle of San Miguel 330ml beer $0.80

There is no service charges added to any of your bills, and tipping is neither encouraged nor expected. There are 8 x staff to serve your needs, so there is always someone available to attend to you between 7.00am and 9.00pm. They were pretty good to me over the 3 x weeks I stayed there, so I left them something.

Other places of interest on Bantayan Island

St Fe Beach Club Resort.


A 5 x minute wheel from St Bernard, this makes an ideal alternative for lunch etc. the sand does get a little deep for the last few meters entering the resort, but once passed that, it all ramps and tile floors around the bar/restaurant area.

I go there for a change of scenery and food. The good news is access to the downstairs restaurant and bar is all ramped with tile flooring for easy wheeling.

They make Mango shakes with fresh ripe fruit and they only cost $1.

One of the beachfront cottages has no steps, just a grass incline that would make it accessible for a lone wheelchair user, but I didn’t see inside, so cannot comment on interior accessibility. The beach in front of St Fe is very good and the sand is white.

The menu is quite extensive, but the shellfish meal I ordered one day was not exactly fresh and was gritty!! I gave up trying to eat seafood at any restaurant.

Lots of young woman staff in the ubiquitous t-shirt and jeans, although they look a little bored, the service was quite satisfactory.

Marlin beach Resort

This is also right on a lovely beachfront, but the building is built on Eastern Europe model and is quite ugly. A steep ramp to enter the complex and the restaurant is upstairs.

St Fe Township

About 1.5 kilometres from St Bernard, I wheeled there several times. It is only a small town with basic shops, half a dozen ok restaurants, a few schools, churches and contains 3 other resorts, none that would be suitable for a wheelchair user.

Bantayan Town and Madridejos Town.

These two towns are worth a day visit. Both are hot and dusty, they have squares in the centre of town with the obligatory statue, markets for fish and vegetables, an old Spanish church in Bantayan Town that has been well maintained. Both townships are flat and easy enough to get around.

Note: All dollar prices quoted are US.

For any photos or more personal/ specific details, you are welcome to e-mail me at marshlee at the generic hotmail ad

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