Posted by: hoz49 | April 19, 2008

Bantigue Cove, Malapascua Island

Michael, Fe’s son, comes from the US for a short visit and Dr. Lito decides to take us on an overnight trip to Malapascua Island. Malapascua, off the northern tip of Cebu, is graced with white sand beaches and an extensive reef system. Thresher sharks and manta rays are seen regularly. Scuba divers around the world make their way there. It has also become a popular spot with vacationers.

Most of the resorts and dive facilities are located on “Bounty Beach” along the southern end of the island. We are to spend the evening at Bantigue Cove, a new resort located at the extreme NE corner of the island, far away from the noise, hustle and bustle.

View from our cottage

The trip north, is uneventful and quick despite the driver becoming confused at a couple of crossroads. Road signs in the Philippines? A non-event. At a major intersection it is best to roll down the window and ask. A head nod, quick hand gesture or pursed lips usually point the way. A short time from Cebu City and we roll into Maya, the end of the road and the ferryport to Malapascua Island.

Maya LOOKS like an endo town, dry, dusty and slightly unkempt. The sari sari store is thin on supplies. A stringy haired Frenchman in a flowered shirt sits outside, chair leaning against the wall. He smokes a dark colored cigarette and stares across the sea towards Malapascua.

We locate the boat sent by Gilbert Woolbright, owner of Bantigue Cove. A shaky all aboard, climbing over large riprap. Slipping could mean a sprained ankle, or worse. Soon we are on the water heading for the north side of the island. A 40 minute ride through calm blue seas. We round a point and see Bantigue. Two boats are anchored offshore, scuba divers and snorkelers exploring the reef. We are greeted by friendly staff who take our bags, showing us to our rooms and cottages.

Coming into Bantigue Cove

The first thing noticed is the quiet. No loud karaoke, radios or motorbikes. Just sounds of wind and waves. The quiet side of Malapascua, oh yeah…

Fe and I are assigned a detached aircon cottage on the small ridge overlooking the beach. Power is by generator and available from 6pm to 6am only. We don’t mind. Sea breezes keep the cool and we enjoy a full 360 view, sunrise, sunset, beach, ocean and mountain behind. THIS is living.

The Pavilion

In a short time we are called to the open air, thatched roof Pavilion for lunch of pancit, fresh grilled fish, pork adobo, crispy pata and rice. The Woolbright family have owned and operated restaurants and hotels in Cebu City for several decades. The offerings at Bantigue reflect their commitment to excellence.

Enjoying the ocean beauty with our meal we breathe in clean fresh onshore breezes. Leyte, Masbate, and other smaller islands lie in the distance, puffy cumulus clouds hang over their landforms. It feels like a scene out of Michener’s ‘South Pacific”. “Wait a minute”, I remind myself, this IS the South Pacific!

Afterward all I want is to take a nap. Fe goes to the cottage but I prefer a snooze on the beach. I find a bamboo recliner in shade and start “chillaxin”.

The sun climbs, and descends westward, the tide comes in, the wind rises, waves build and crash ashore and I sleep, eventually abandoning the recliner for a spot on the sand in the shade of a small palm tree. And the Zen of the beach irons the wrinkles from my soul.

Later I find Fe sitting on the cottage veranda with serenity before her. A fisherman’s village lies to the west. I ask if she’d like to go exploring. “I’m too lazy to go”, declining the invitation. Putting on my walking shoes I start to hike. The tide is high but I see a couple of spots where a trail leads up and over coral outcroppings.

In short time I cross over the coral and find myself on the village beach, covered with colorful banka boats waiting for their owners. Many have small motors but several are paddle and sail propelled. A few large bankas are pulled high on the beach or anchored just offshore.

People in the village are friendly and don’t seem to mind this fat Kano peering around their homes. Respectful of their privacy, I take no pictures of the huts or the villagers. The boats are another matter. I am a canoe builder and interested in construction techniques. The small banka is a variation on the Polynesian “three log canoe”. They are colorfully painted and whimsically named, names like Loloys Dream, Merly, Janie, Juns Steed.

I come upon the remains of a banka stored close by a hut. The skeleton has nice lines and an impressive bowsprit. Perhaps the owner intends to restore it one day. I’d like to think so.

The village has a spirited basketball game in progress, full teams contesting for championship of the court. Filipinos are exuberant b-ball players, with spins, fakes, and behind the back passes and shots. They may not score, but they look spectacular.

Reaching the far end of the island I cross a small isthmus and find a group of young children swimming in the quiet cove. They are friendly, “Hello!, what’s your name?’ “Where you from”?. A woman is swimming slightly farther out, around an anchored boat. She tows a pail in an innertube. Once in a while she surfaces with a small fish to put in the pail. Is she is catching them by hand? I see no line, hook, gig or spear

The sun setting lower I want to watch it with Fe and so return the same way I came. A pretty young girl stands next to a small hut. She wears a flowered sarong and smiles, watching me. I smile and wave and she does likewise. After a couple awkward waves and smiles I walk over and say it’s been a beautiful day, “magandan”, motioning towards the sea. She’s surprised I know the word. “So, you speak Tagalog?” She asks. I explain I know only a few words. We talk in English about her village and the island. Her name is “Janie”. I ask if the boat on the shore is named for her and she laughs, saying it belongs to her uncle, who is painting several wooden boards in the yard, repairing the hut that is the family home.

She is very surprised when I say I am Fil/Am, she and her uncle thought I was Japanese! I laugh and remove my glasses to show my round eyes. :”Do these eyes look Japanese? ” We laugh. “But you don’t look Filipino”. I get that a lot here. In America not “white”, and in the Philippines not Filipino. Guess I’m just screwed on ethnicity…

We talk about the name of the island, Malapascua, which means “Bad Christmas”, referring either to a Spanish shipwreck that occurred in the 1500’s at Christmas or Magellan, landing here looking for fresh water and food and finding none, nameing it after the season. A third prospect is during WWII a Japanese ship hit the reef at Christmas. When it’s crew landed they were all killed by the locals. I ask if she has bad Christmases here. With a giggle she says there are good Christmases and that when she becomes Mayor they will change the name to “Buenapascua”.

She volunteers the locals do not use “Malapascua”, preferring to call the island its original name, “Logon”. She said Logon comes from “Ilogon” which means “take” and in the past many people have come to take the island. (Like the plethora of resorts along Bounty Beach?) But the locals have always remained.

I say “mabuhay” and continue walking back, taking more pictures of the boats. Crews are preparing to motor the large bankas out. The wind and waves have built, the boats rocking. The crews seem young, yet are old pros getting on the boats, timing the waves to run out when the sand is clear and the bow is low. They grab and climb aboard, to start the engine, prepare the nets, get everything ready for a night at sea…

Back at Bantigue Fe and I walk to the dive shack to view the sunset. It doesn’t disappoint, multiple red, orange and purple hues illuminating a cloud streaked sky. Fishermen in their solo canoes head to the offshore reef.

Idyllic, pristine, beautiful.



  1. Gill, Last I knew you were in Arab, Al.

    Can you update the family as to any missing dates and placed of births deaths, marriages and new kids, spouses, etc. Also occupation, Military service and higher degrees of ed.

    I have included a chart of what I have and can date the family back to 1200 in England.

    I have a lot of information on your forebearers that came from Oconee Co. S. C. and originally from Va.

    Col. Jim Woolbright. Ret. USAF. Last duty station was Mongomery Ala.

  2. Col. Woolbright, I have forwarded your comment to my bro in law in Cebu City with the request to forward it on to Gilbert.

  3. my trip to bantigue cove was really memorable. the place was so damn captivating, i even painted a picture of it. =D

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