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Cebu: Fun, Friendly and Affordable Island Life in the Philippines

Cebu: Fun, Friendly and Affordable Island Life in the Philippines

Wala’y problima! “No problem” is the answer to everything here. Filipinos are known for their unnerving optimism and ready smiles. I’m finding that they simply refuse to get upset. And they have a hard time understanding why anyone would lose their cool over anything that’s not life or death. In the Philippines, any day you’re alive is a good day. And the days are especially good in Cebu.

After a while here, my more American tendencies—to huff if my tour guide is late or the fare is $1 more than expected—have begun to fall away. I’m taking a page out of the Filipino handbook (something I highly recommend). As a result, I’m less stressed, smiling more, and truly taking in my surroundings.

Today, evening finds me “working” Filipino-style. I have a cold San Miguel beer (a pale pilsner that cost me under a dollar), a strong WiFi connection, and a rooftop view of the island…a modern city dotted with patches of deep, rainforest green. In the soft evening light all this is ringed by a most fetching shade of cornflower blue…the Camotes Sea.

Below, locals stroll past, most with a gaggle of beautiful children in tow. I can hear laughter and singing (the national pastime, I think). If I lean over the rooftop railing, I can see red-tinged palms, bamboo, and yellow roses around the ground-level patio.

The weather (today in the low 80s F) is perfect…it’s siesta-in-a-swimsuit weather. In this climate, you’ll never have dry skin. Maybe that’s why the 50- and 60-year-old Filipinos I meet have no discernable wrinkles. And why just about anyone in Cebu can belt out a tune worthy of Gloria Gaynor.

Cebu City, on Cebu Island, is known as the “Queen City of the South.” I call it Asia’s best-kept secret. Postcards of the Philippines show Manila’s shopping district or the powdery, white sands of Boracay…never Cebu. Chances are, you’ve never heard of it.

The expats who have discovered Cebu, however, find that it offers the nation’s best overall value. In a country where your dollar stretches (and stretches and stretches), that is saying something. Locate Cebu on a map and it looks tiny. But don’t let that fool you—this place has hundreds of beaches, in addition to rocky mountains, limestone plateaus, and coastal plains.

Cebu’s spic-and-span airport, Mactan-Cebu International, is the second-busiest airport in the Philippines. Cebu itself is the nation’s second-largest city. Bottom line, here you have all the modern infrastructure of Manila. But you have it on a smaller, safer, friendlier, and more manageable scale. Hence the “Queen City” designation.

It’s hard to really wrap your head around how easy life is here until you’ve actually been. The first thing that hit me was the language barrier—or the lack thereof. Spain ruled the Philippines for centuries and the U.S. was here for decades after that. Both made a lasting imprint on the language and culture.

English is mandatory in schools. When speaking the local lingo (which you’ll hear referred to as Binisaya, Bisaya, and Cebuano), people pepper their phrases with English words. With a little practice, Spanish speakers will recognize a great many words derived from that language, too.

I had prepared myself for an exotic adventure involving many games of charades and mispronounced Tagalog (which, it turns out, is spoken in and around Manila, but not in Cebu). Cebuanos speak varying levels of English, from ultra-basic to completely fluent. But I was able to converse with everyone I met…no miming required.

I also arrived here humming the song Ring of Fire. But locals tell me Cebu Island is blessed by its geography. Cebu is at the southern edge of the typhoon belt, and it is surrounded (on all sides) by other islands. So most years there are typhoons that lash Manila to the north…earthquakes in Negros to the west…sometimes even volcano eruptions to the south. But in Cebu…wala’y problima.

The people here also help make life easy. Cebuanos are fun loving and friendly—they actually want to know you. Foreigners are welcomed into every level of society, as they’re appreciated for their differentness rather than held apart. The large expat community here is also welcoming. Most of the expats you’ll meet are male and married to Filipinas, but there are also some expat couples and singles. It’s an active community, with all kinds of groups, events, and opportunities to make friends.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the Philippines and other countries from around the world in IL’s daily postcard e-letter. Sign up for these free daily postcards here and we’ll send you a FREE Asia Report – The Best Islands, Beaches and Cities – South East Asia’s Top 6 Retirement & Vacation Destinations

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