Moalboal: Cebu’s Hidden Gem
By Apolinario Villalobos
For a strange sounding place like Moalboal which most Filipinos do not even know where such can be found, a shrug is the usual reaction. But if Europeans and Japanese divers have liked it so much that they come back year after year, then, it must be something extraordinary for a place. It is far from Cebu and the road is semi-rugged but still this exotic-sounding southwestern town of Cebu draws the interest of most foreign sea lovers.
According to a folktale, the name Moalboal came from the word “bukal-bukal”, mispronounced by a woman with a cleft palate, when she thought that a Spaniard for the name of the place, but thinking that she was being asked here where she fetched her water. Because of her impairment in speech, she told the Spaniard that that the water came from “moal-moal”.
The folk hero of the Moalboalnons was Laguno Sabanal, a warrior from Bohol who came to settle in the village with his family. It was alleged that he was protected by a prayer which in the dialect is called “yamyam”, that could deter enemies from harming him. It was tested when the village was invaded by Moros from Mindanao. He told the men of the village to throw coconut husks into the sea and with a prayer, he made the invaders perceive them as warriors swimming towards them. In haste, the Moros left and did not bother the village anymore. When he died, it was said that he was buried beside a spring near the beach. They used a tree trunk as a marker that bleeds every time someone tried to cut it.
To be exact, Moalboal is 89 kilometers southwest of Cebu City and travel time is about two and a half to three hours over semi-rugged road that winds through quaint uptowns and fishing villages. It is between the towns of Alcantara and Badian. One actually traverses the width of the island, with a chance to see coralline cliffs several hundred feet above sea level and undulating coco plantations. Along the way, there’s also the chance to mingle with villagers during a “tiyangge” or “tabo” (village market day) which is held on Thursdays and Sundays during which makeshift stalls mushroom along the road. At Barili, which is also along the way, one can have a glimpse of Mantayupan Falls.
There are seven towns that precede Moalboal. They vary from sleepy to bustling and antiquated to highly-developed. Moalboal, is itself a quiet town with an unassuming market where most of the activities of its inhabitants are centered. The concrete municipal building faces the big Catholic Church which is flanked by high school buildings fronting the Tanon Strait. Wooden houses line the roads that comprise the town’s crisscrossing streets which may be unimpressive to discriminating intruders. But the scene does not picture Moalboal in totality.
Today, the main road fronting the municipal building is named Laguno, after the folk hero.
One has to take a road westward to Basdiot where Panagsama Beach is located, to see more or rather, the “real” Moalboal. Panagsama is just a small community of fishermen who live in clusters of cottages along the white beach which is also pockmarked with resorts, most of which also offer dive packages. It Divers and snorkelers need not go far from the beach to enjoy colorful coral gardens. But the more adventurous has the option to rent a pumpboat that could bring him farther out. North of the town is White Beach (Bas Dako) at Barangay Saavedra, which is also frequented by sea lovers.
A mere forty five minutes away on a pumpboat is Pescador Island ringed by cavernous drop-offs, replete with marine life and corals. A veritable dive area, this speck of rock with a thin layer of soil is also the locals’ fishing ground.
The ‘70s which was considered as the golden years of the tourism industry in the country, also saw the rise to popularity of Moalboal whose pioneering habitués were backpackers from Europe. Simple native huts comprised the early “resorts” without electrical fixtures. Some of backpackers preferred to pitch their tents along the beach which the locals tolerated.
Today, resorts with modern facilities such as bar and restaurant, some even with swimming pool, dot the beaches of Panagsama and Bas Dako (White Beach). Arrangement can be made with their management regarding the renting of boats and dive or snorkeling facilities.
A Philippine town or village comes to zesty life during fiestas. For Moalboal, it’s the Kagasangan Festival that revolves around the corals, celebrated during the 15th and 16th of May.
Unlike Boracay, Moalboal is serenely laid back, where peace and quiet moments can be enjoyed – a deserved destination at the end of the 89-kilometer travel over semi-rugged roads. This veritable hidden getaway can be reached on buses with regular daily schedule from Cebu City. Commuters should take note that the bus they take for Moalboal is via Barili. These buses can be taken at the Cebu South bus station. Those who are in a hurry may take a taxi at the airport, for which assistance from tourism personnel is necessary. Within the locality and in going to nearby towns, tri-sikad (tricycles), pedicabs and multi-cabs are available for the commute.