, APRIL 14, 2007 (STAR) BUSINESS & LEISURE By Ray Butch Gamboa - Itís still a glorious summer, despite the oppressive heat that even double air conditioning canít assuage. Our bedroom is like an oven, and lately weíve been doubling the a/c, something we donít dare do unless its summer, but 4.5 hp is still not making it. Perfect weather for the beach, though, and thatís exactly where we headed for.

Our leisure destination this summer was the ĎQueen City of the Southí, famed for its beaches and multiple islands perfect for snorkeling and boating and just cavorting on the sea shore.

Leaving on a Tuesday and back to Manila on a Saturday in time for an Easter Sunday commitment (and of course, the Saturday night poker game) seemed like a good schedule, but we found ourselves with a hectic schedule, because it was Holy Week, and we had to set aside the appropriate days in observance of the Lenten season. Still, we managed to squeeze in a day for island hopping and a full day at the hotel.

Wednesday was boating day, and though it was a feat to gather 11 people (two carloads) to get to the dock before noon, we still made good time, considering we were in Mactan and out at sea by 10:30 and enjoying the endless shoreline and the scenic view.

I had it from a good source (Tony San Diego who spent the Sinulog festival in Cebu a couple of months back) that the fish sanctuary is a sight to behold. Not too far from the Mactan shoreline, this spot is a good enough diving spot and declared a fish sanctuary by marine officials. Here, vacationers can go snorkeling and gape in awe at the enormous fishes teeming in this part of the ocean. Tony described his experience as once-in-a-lifetime, as they enjoyed the spectacular colors of various friendly fishes that glided alongside the swimmers. They brought along bread to feed the fishes, on the advice of the boatmen, and just swam along with these friendly creatures. Unfortunately, the ocean conditions when we were there that Wednesday were adversely dissimilar. The current was strong because it was unusually windy that week. It was also high tide when we got there, and there were only a few fishes to enjoy. A few minutes of snorkeling, and we had to get out of the water because the current was a little too strong for comfort. We opted to enjoy lunch instead in the boat (big enough to accommodate 30 people, and safe enough with its "katig". It was cheap at P2,300, and you could have it for a full day, with four expert boatmen in attendance).

Picnics in Cebu cannot be called such without the famous Cebu Lechon. We had a whole piece, the group enjoying the crackling skin and the salty underside of the pig stuffed with seasoned onion leeks. Only Cebu Lechon tastes like this and, no matter what, it will always have that distinctive flavor that sets it apart from all other lechons that each province tends to brag about as "the best". The other dishes ó adobo, chicken inasal Cebu-style (with spiced vinegar dip), succulent crabs and fat prawns were devoured in no time.

We decided to hie off to nearby Sta. Rosa Island, and this time, we had good snorkeling/swimming/sunbathing. The water was crystal clear, the white sand fine enough. The day wasnít wasted after all. With a little sun left, we had a good day of boating ahead of us as we enjoyed viewing the other nearby islands.

We were booked at the newly-opened Hilton Hotel at Mactan the following day. In the previous years, when we found ourselves in Cebu for our summer holiday, we would book at the Shangri-La Hotel, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This time, we thought we would try out the Hilton, on the advise of Cebu friends, the Morrell family, who was also booked at the Hilton then. Incidentally, the Morrells and the entire brood showed us typically warm Cebuano hospitality. Many thanks for the pleasant experience.

The Hilton has its own personality ó if the "Shang" has a famous lavish style, this new hotel at Mactan has a charm all its own. They put a lot of emphasis on their staff ó a really warm, service-oriented and friendly staff, from the front desk to the uniformed utility crew; there was not a single unsmiling face you would encounter.

We opted for a suite instead of two or three bedrooms, and we had a pleasant surprise. The tower where we were booked was where they had the Hilton Condo Suites. It was spacious, each unit equipped with three separate private terraces where you could lounge on comfortable chairs and enjoy the ocean view. It was a two-bedroom unit, each room reasonably sized, and the living room had two sofa beds, making it a 3rd bedroom. It was really a luxurious condo unit, stylish, spacious, and fully furnished. The kitchen was spacious too, with a medium-sized ref. There were three big TV sets for each area, and two well-appointed bathrooms complete with Jacuzzi. Needless to say, it made for a grand vacation.

That day was another beach day for the kids, as Hiltonís beach front had an exclusive pocket of white sand to enjoy. The whole beach front had precautionary breakwater, a safety measure that parents will surely appreciate. For the adults in the group, we opted for the cool waters of the hotel pool instead, as one day of sunburn was enough. What I donít quite appreciate though was that the hotel only had one pool.

Thursday evening, we enjoyed drinks at Manny Oís, and the bar was full of young people. It was nice to see quite a few foreigners enjoying the Hiltonís Manny Oís bar and chow.

Friday, of course, was reserved for our Lenten services. We visited some churches like the Redemptorist which my wife Baby remembers from her "Theresian" days, the Sacred Heart, and two other churches, the names of which I canít recall now.

Saturday it was back to the mayhem of the city.

Oh yes, I have to mention here that we flew Cebu Pacific for this trip, booking and paying in advance to enjoy their promo rates. Going to Cebu, they were ahead of schedule by 17 minutes, and going back to Manila, they were precisely on time. Way to go.

Mabuhay! Be proud to be a Filipino.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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