The bakasi (saltwater eel) thrives abundantly in the town of Cordova, Mactan Island, a 45-minute drive from the city of Cebu. In taxonomic classification, eels belong to the Muranidae family which includes 200 species in 15 genera.
In Buwagsong, Cordova, a local fishing community; the bakasi is a prized catch. Because Cordova’s tidal flats are mostly muddy and grassy, the bakasi is caught in abundance. It has become a common but famous fixture in its local cuisine.
The most famous restaurant serving bakasi is Entoy’s Bakasihan. Entoy has been serving bakasi for over three decades now. He says it was his friends who liked his cooking and who advised him to open a restaurant. The rest is history.
He serves linarang nga bakasi which is eel sautéed and then stewed in soy sauce, black beans and sambag (tamarind). The dish is the equivalent of the Asian tom yum. It enjoys a huge following, mostly from men who think (and feel) that eels are a potent aphrodisiac. (The time I was there, the diners were mostly men: taxi drivers, salesmen, Korean and Vietnamese tourists. And it was Valentines Day!)
There is also the piniritong bakasi (fried eel). The eels are deep fried to make it crunchy and appealing to picky eaters. It is dipped in vinegar and soy sauce with lots of chili. There is a slight bitter aftertaste when you eat a fried eel because the eel remains ungutted. (It is a time-consuming process because a bakasi is only about 8-12 inches long, and the bile is supposed to have medicinal properties.) If you are a first-time eater, try the small ones first then gradually increase the size as you go.
And how are eels caught? Fishermen use a bantak, an eel trap fashioned from woven bamboo that looks like a small vase with a neck. Because eels by nature like to inhabit muddy flats with crevices, the bantak is just the perfect device. The opening allows the eel to crawl inside and since it doesn’t open from the inside, the eel is trapped.
A trip to Cordova is also a culinary delight for seafood lovers. There are shellfish, adobong nokos, piniritong nokos, guinamos, roe (bihod) from the suwaki, or sea urchin and sunlutan (sea cucumber).
It is alfresco dining at Buwagsong. You can order the bakasi from Entoy’s and bring it to the cottage set up by the barangay council. The view is remarkable, affording you to see Cordova’s local color unfold.
Philippine wireless leader Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) and Cebu-based website MyCebu.ph have partnered to deliver information on tourism and heritage sites to mobile phones and tablets through quick response or QR code scanning.
Smart and MyCebu.ph will place special markers on tourism and heritage sites all over Cebu. The markers will contain a snippet of information about the site and a QR code that, when scanned, will open an article about the landmark. To be able to load the information, users must be connected to the Internet and they must have a QR code reader in their devices. Most phone platforms offer free QR code scanners in their respective application markets.
It may look like any ordinary street but this crowded stretch overflowing with shops, stalls, sidewalk vendors, people, and passenger jeepneys is, believe it or not, the oldest in the Philippines.
This thoroughfare in downtown Cebu City known as Colon Street existed way back in time, since Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi commissioned its creation in 1565 as part of a settlement called “Villa de San Miguel (St. Michael’s Town)” that also had Fort San Pedro as its nucleus.
Cement, iron, and steel come together to form the towering Heritage of Cebu Monument built right on the original Plaza Parian in Cebu City.
Conceptualized by multi-awarded sculptor Eduardo Castrillo, the mammoth structure depicts significant moments in Cebu’s history beginning with that fateful fight of April 21, 1521 in the island of Mactan where native chieftain Lapu-Lapu killed Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
Cool and refreshing is how best to describe the emerald water of the Matutinao River that forms what is commonly known as Kawasan Falls as it follows its meandering course to the sea.
The river creates no less than eight waterfalls of varying heights but it is only in five that bathing is possible.
Kawasan Falls in the village of Matutinao in the Cebu town of Badian, a three-hour bus ride from Cebu City, are popular with locals and tourists.
They don’t mind the long walk along a rocky and uneven trail to the falls, the first one of which is 1.5 kilometers away from the main highway where the buses make their stop.
The first waterfall travelers come across from the road is the biggest and tallest and also the most popular. Visitors usually stop here to enjoy a dip in the clean water or just enjoy the sight and sound of the falling sheet of liquid from the open cottages built along the riverside.
More adventurous tourists take a ride on a raft to under the waterfall for a shower under the gushing water. Ten people can fit in the raft and need to pay only P300 plus another P50 each for the life vests they are required to wear.
Jumping from any of the falls has been prohibited starting in 2008 when a tourist was killed and a few others injured when a jumper landed on the raft they were on.
Visitors who intend to go up to the other waterfalls will have to climb steep steps carved on the mountainside and continue on a narrow trail that goes up or down in some areas and across dry riverbeds or makeshift bamboo bridges in others.
Dense vegetation grows by the side of the trail. The further upriver one goes, the fewer people and the more private the scene. At least two smaller waterfalls form a pool of shallow water that is safer for children.
The farthest waterfall is what locals call “the source.” Willie Lastimoso, who lives close, said beyond the source is the beginnings of the Matutinao River. The view is spectacular upriver but tourists will need a local to bring them there.
Lastimoso said he has been renting out huts at the source since 1989. Back then, overnight stay near this topmost waterfall is possible at the wooden house owned by a German national but the structure had long been demolished.
“Nabuang man to siya. Mogawas ra man to kalit maghubo, mangahadlok ang mangaligo diri,” said Lastimoso. (The German went crazy. He would go out of the house naked, scaring the bathers.)
It is a 2.3-kilometer walk to the topmost waterfall and the sight of the short and narrow gushing water that is the source could turn off visitors. Tourists who brave the slippery and difficult path to reach it though can take the comfort in the fact that water is cleanest there.
Rooms are available for overnight stays at areas near three waterfalls. Regular rooms for two range from P900 to P2,500 while bigger rooms that can fit five to 10 people cost P3,500.
Open cottages are also available for day use at only P300.
At Willy’s, which is built near the first waterfall, fan rooms are priced at P1,200 and P1,500 and air-con rooms are at P2,500, with two beds, and P3,500, which is good for 10. For inquiries, call 0927-5456061.
The Kawasan Nature Park Multi-Purpose Cooperative also has accommodations nearby. Call 032-5161781 or 0926-4057141 for bookings or reservations.
Rooms are also available at the waterfalls farther upriver at more or less the same rates.
A concerted effort by the immediate community and the local government of Badian has ensured a Kawasan free of trash and pollution. They were also able to preserve the river’s forest cover and dense vegetation.
Sore thumbs that stick out during my visit are people doing laundry in shallow parts and the concrete structures built near the falls.
A swim in the cool water or a shower under the falls is worth every second of the tedious three-hour journey to Badian.
Buses at the Cebu South Bus Terminal along N. Bacalso Avenue in Cebu City leave hourly for the town. The terminal is 20 minutes by cab from the uptown area, and drivers pass on to passengers the entry fee of P10.
Each terminal user is also charged a P5 fee.
At the terminal, ask for the Ceres bus to Badian. It is bigger and seats more comfortably than the other buses.
Tell the bus helpers to drop you at the church in Kawasan near the walkway to the waterfalls. The Badian town center is a good eight kilometres from Kawasan and you shouldn’t stop there.
It has impressive health benefits, but yogurt’s natural sourness can turn off some people. If you’re like me who can stand only a few mouthfuls of the regular stuff, you can get your daily dose of healthy from frozen yogurt.
Aside from frozen product being smoother in texture, it also only has a little of the sourness and tanginess of regular yogurt.
One of the establishments that I regularly go to for my frozen yogurt fix is the Tutti Frutti branch in SM City Cebu.
It sells the stuff in eight flavors: original (always available) and seven others. Yesterday, Tutti Frutti also had taro, strawberry, chocolate, coffee, grape, French vanilla, and pina colada. They change flavors every 15 days, though, so you might have a different selection when you do get to visit.
Plus, the establishment allows you to decide how much of the stuff you would like to eat by letting you dispense the frozen yogurt yourself and provides you access to a variety of toppings: fruits, jelly, chocolate, candy, crackers, cereal, syrup. You can have one or five flavors of yogurt on your cup and mix and match toppings, and the charge remains the same at 20 pesos per ounce.
In the hustle and bustle of Cebu City are houses so old, they’ve stood for about 300 years.
One of these structures is located between Calle Zulueta and the narrow side street of Binakayan in downtown Parian, the old Chinese district of Cebu.
It’s a two-storey house of cut coral stone walls, tugas hardwood floors and posts, and terracotta roof connected on its second floor by a walkway to a smaller house believed to have once functioned as the kitchen or an azotea.
On Friday nights, Sun.Star Cebu executive editor Michelle So works in running shorts. At 9 p.m. managing editor for news Isolde Amante and news editor Charmaine Rodriguez go through the last few news stories and prepare to close the remaining news pages before changing to their jogging pants or running shorts.
At that time, reporters Justin Vestil, Linette Ramos and Rene Martel have finished writing their stories and are now in running attire. Graphic artist Kent Ynot and Ariel Catubig of the Sun.Star Network Exchange are also ready to go.
Outside the newsroom, men in tights sit on the steps of the stairs talking to one another. Dr. Raymund “Reel Runner” Bontol accompanies a large group of runners, among them Jefferey Chua and Ralph Noval, from the Cebu Velez General Hospital, and gives tips on running. Aeda Mae Siao, meanwhile, accompanies a friend who is on her first night run.
Higher up the stairs, Eric Agaton of Nike Banilad Town Center leads a group of three men all wearing Nike running shoes.
In the newsroom, Teddy Espinueva and his wife Belle and cousin Bikik Besavilla stand waiting, the reflective patches stitched to their clothes and caps shimmering.
Cebu City Council candidate Joel Garganera, meanwhile, cracks jokes with So and The Freeman community editor Divine Ngujo near the central newsroom library.
On Fridays, you’d have gynecologists Eleanor Casquejo, Humility Igaña and Vilma Pesa fidgeting, waiting for the run to start while praying none of their patients suddenly go into labor.
Joe France Cañizares and Cadjing Pelicano of Waterfront Cebu City Hotel tower above everyone else while mingling with the runners. Rounding up the group are veteran runner and now race organizer Kenneth Casquejo, Ramie Igaña, Charles Su and 17-year-old student Anthony Gabriel Tuldanes.
A few minutes after 10 p.m., the group goes down to the Don Pedro Cui St. exit of the Sun.Star Cebu office and hams it up for the night’s designated photographer, usually Sun.Star Cebu chief of photographers Alex Badayos. Last week, we had Philippine Blog Awards winner Estan Cabigas, a newbie runner himself.
At the word “go,” the runners group themselves according to their running paces. Bontol, Igaña and Abby Ponce are typically in the lead pack. My wife, Marlen, would be in the middle and I’d typically run with her. But I usually sneak in a speed training by serving as running marshal, going from lead pack to the middle pack to the runners who choose to enjoy the scenery and go at a leisurely pace.
Like most people, we look forward to party on a Friday night, only ours is on the road.
Instead of laser lights setting the mood, we’d have the monotonous blinking of bicycle lights clipped to our waistbands. Instead of tequila, we down coffee.
We run in the rain.
We call ourselves ungo runners after that Bisaya word and its double meaning—the noun for that creature of superstition that comes out in the dark and the adjective to mean addict. We are running addicts who run at night.
The group started with just Marlen and me on our Friday night road dates. We later invited newsroom colleagues. The group later grew larger.
The names of places come out in a staccato, wheezing whisper barely heard through the disco music booming from large speakers at the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) track oval.
“Marawi-Iligan, Cagay-an, Davao, Cagay-an, Manila, Cebu…,” Ireneo “Rening” Ylaya recites like a mantra—in a strained asthmatic’s voice—the places where he ran marathons. He says the names in the order that he ran them, going back to “Marawi-Iligan” when he skips a place and slapping his forehead while apologizing for forgetting. “Tiguwang na lagi (I’m getting old),” he said with a sheepish smile.
Cagayan de Oro? I asked Rening on what was probably the 6th lap of our interview while jogging around the CCSC track oval, where he is a fixture.
“Cagay-an de Oro. Didn’t I tell you? It’s the best marathon route I’ve run and I did it in 4:26 (four hours and 26 minutes), my fastest marathon time,” Ylaya said in Bisaya, barely breaking a sweat while I slowed down to catch my breath.
A stocky jogger then passed us, catching Ylaya’s attention. “A couple of years back,” he told me in Bisaya, pointing at the jogger with his chin, “I wouldn’t have let that pass. I would have run him down. Not the top runners, I couldn’t keep up with them, but the regular joggers. I would have never allowed him to overtake.”
He then went ahead a few steps to tap the shoulder of a female brisk walker and tell her, “Lane 5, lane 5. Walkers use lane 5, 6, 7.”
That’s how most people encounter Ylaya—being told to use the outer lane as he leads a group of runners around the CCSC oval. That’s how I met him and the idea of being told to give way by someone who looked more than twice my age and half my size rankled.
“Believe it or not,” Meyrick Jacalan of the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) later told me when I recounted the encounter, “I had a hard time keeping pace with Rening in the oval.” I snickered, half-suspecting Jacalan, a model of physical fitness, of teasing me.
I only realized that when, boosted by the ecstasy of finding myself inexplicably ahead of broadcaster and regular runner Haide Acuña during the Run for Sight edition in July, I plunged into the agony of finding Ylaya 20 or 30 meters ahead. Acuña would later zoom past me in the last few kilometers to win in her division, but that was expected. What I didn’t expect was to see Ylaya 30 meters ahead, his distinctive stride mocking me.
Guards of a North Reclamation Area company watched us. One pointed animatedly at Ylaya before all three turned to me. I didn’t need a lip reader to decipher what they were talking about.
I ran faster, the insult egging me on, to cut the gap. But Ylaya wouldn’t budge. When I began to close in, he’d increase the gap with that annoyingly consistent stride of his that’s one part skating with invisible rollers and another part Happy Feet. Every time I’d get closer he’d break away.
It was at that point on the road at the back of Cebu Doctors’ University that I realized, with my heart straining to pump blood and my lungs barely able to provide my body with needed air, that it would kill me, a 33-year-old man, to try to overtake Ylaya, who will turn 74 in March.
But a weak bladder would do him in.
Minutes after I gave up trying to overtake him, I saw Ylaya slow down and go to the side of the road to urinate. “Hay salamat, ginoo ko, (Thank God! [note: this English translation doesn’t quite capture the desperation in the phrase ]),” the moan escaped my parched lips as I ran past him. Despair brings out piety.
I swear I could hear Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” playing as adrenalin pushed me to increase the distance. Ylaya did not give up and still tried to overtake me but I was on my way to win our encounter. Score one for the fat kid. Chariots of Fire was already playing.
He chuckled when I recounted the run during our interview. “I used to be very fast,” he said, “I was faster than Yong Larrazabal when he was still starting.”
Potenciano “Yong” Larrazabal III, one of those responsible for the sharp growth of running in Cebu, gave a sheepish laugh in confirming the fact. He said it was during the Queen City Run when he immediately entered the 10-kilometer event on his first try and finished in more than an hour.
“I observed him when he runs and he isn’t that fast, but he is consistent,” Larrazabal said.
Sun.Star Cebu columnist and sportsman John Pages said Ylaya’s lean frame—he weighs just 95 pounds—helps him run fast.
Larrazabal said Ylaya’s ability to run at his level at his age is astounding. It inspires younger people to take up the sport and improve their times, people at the CCSC told me.
“If an old man like me can do it, how much more young people like you?” Ylaya said.
Jacalan agrees that Ylaya inspires younger people to run, saying he is one of them.
“I’ve seen Rening join plenty of races and many of those he overtakes can’t believe that they’ve been outrun by a ‘grandpa.’ I also see some who are embarrassed. After Rening overtakes them, they’re stunned and try to catch up. But Rening is a seasoned runner and paces himself. In the end, he beats many of those half his age… myself included,” Pages said.
Ylaya said his fastest 10K, set when he was in his mid 60s, was 47 minutes. That is confirmed by Raffy Uytiepo, running columnist for The Freeman and one of the pillars of the sport in the country. In contrast, Pages said his fastest 10K was 51 minutes.
Larrazabal, who is planning to run 33 marathons in his lifetime, said he plans to run until he is Rening’s age or even older. You can’t doubt the doctor’s determination—not someone who runs 20 kilometers on a Sunday and then join a 10-kilometer run and record a decent finish.
That determination is reflected on Ylaya. He plans to run the Cebu City Marathon in January. Not the 10K or 21K races that will be held together with it but the actual marathon—the entire 42 kilometers around Metro Cebu. It’s running to Carcar from Cebu City.
“But can you still do it?” I asked Ylaya while slowing down as I strained to hear him answer.
“Sa akong estimate kaya pa kay murag wala man lang nako ang 10k. Basta maayo lang akong lawas, mudagan gyud ko (I think I can still do it because 10K is nothing to me. As long as I feel good, I will run),” Ylaya said. He said he now averages 50 laps at the CCSC oval. I had to stop mid-stride to ask him, “Singkwenta (fifty)?” Yes, fifty.
He reached into his running short’s waistband and took out an inhaler. He never goes out without one, he told me. He once collapsed at the CCSC during an asthma attack. He held out his hand to count with his fingers the days of his confinement. Two days after he left the hospital, he ran a 5K race, a week later he ran 10K.
“Kaning ako, talent na ni, asa man ka kita pareha nako ug edad nga gadagan. Pasalamat lang gyud ko sa ginoo (What I have is a gift and I thank God for it.)” Ylaya said.
He then pressed the inhaler to show me how it works in dealing with an asthma attack.
That is what worries Larrazabal, who helps Ylaya with his medications. He said Ylaya can run the marathon if he wants to but he should take a full medical checkup to make sure his body can take the toll.
Uytiepo thinks Ylaya should no longer attempt the marathon. “He has nothing to prove. I think he should slow down. Not stop, but slow down and just run for his health.”
He said Ylaya has a prostate ailment and should “take it easy.”
Rening, however, would have none of it, “ingon sila na-prostate ko. Naay mga doctor nga niingon silay mu-opera nako libre pero di ko, mamatay pa lang ko tiguwang na gud ko (doctors offered to treat me for free but I refused. I might die from the treatment).”
Uytiepo, who also directs races, said he was so concerned with Ylaya joining runs that at one point he stopped signing him up for free. “But he’s stubborn. Grabe iya pride,” Uytiepo said, “he told me he’d run anyway, with or without the race number. So I let him run.”
“Taas man ko ug pride, mao nang nilakaw ko diretso (I’m a proud man, that’s why I left her),” Ylaya said when our talk drifted to his domestic life. He became a widower in the 1990s and married again after a few years. He left his second wife but not before she organized what was to be Ylaya’s first ever competitive run—a 5K contest for senior citizens for their chapel’s organization in Toledo City.
He was 60 years old when he won that race, much to the surprise of his wife who thought he took a shortcut. After that, he said, he’d join races whenever he could, sometimes sleeping at the venue to make sure he’d be there when the starting gun is fired.
He went on to talk about how his pride led him to blow off thousands of pesos in the casino and shutter his small lending business “naglagot man ko kay daghan ko ug collectibles (I got angry because many debtors didn’t pay).”
We breezed through his life in the short span that it took to complete less than a dozen rounds in the oval—how he spent more than 30 years playing duckpin bowling all over the country, how he tries not to burden his son who drives a taxi, how brothers Rovie and Romeo Aguilon, Jr. and people like businessman Jonathan Guardo and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña give him money for his daily needs and races, how he was a Cebu City Charter Day awardee for senior citizens, how he also joined seven triathlons and nearly drowned in the last one.
I once asked him about a certain detail and he quickly offered to grab his bag, where, along with a change of clothes and his wallet, he keeps laminated clippings of certificates and news stories about him.
“Run at your pace, I’ll follow,” he told me in Bisaya as we concluded the interview. I had enough in me for a quarter of the oval, no more. I feigned a limp and excused myself.
He waved me off and went on in that annoyingly consistent stride of his.