Travel Gone Wrong: Cebu, Philippines

Updated: Mar 10

The three teenagers emerged from the throng of humanity around us. “Pit Señor!” they yelled in unison before taking turns to rub brightly coloured paints onto my face and clothing; given the lack of other westerners, and my 6’5 height, I had quickly become a prime target for these colourful attacks. The 24 hours prior to this wonderful event had been quite stressful to say the least.


Things are often delayed in the Philippines, any kind of timetable should be viewed as a rough guide rather than gospel. Despite knowing this, our frustration levels rose gradually through each of the five hours we spent waiting for our ferry from Bohol to Cebu. We had been keen to locate our accommodation and spend some time exploring the city prior to the festival the following day, this delay meant it would be bedtime when we arrived. Our mood wasn't helped by watching every other ferry depart on time but, with so many people heading to the festival, they were all sold out. We had no option but to wait.

One job.

I had just one task for this holiday, book a hotel for the festival. Due to the popularity of Sinulog things book up well in advance and I was left with only 2 options: a hotel located several kilometers away from the action with good reviews, or a centrally located, privately owned, flat with no reviews whatsoever. Obviously, I went with the flat.

Arriving late at night, tired and grumpy, we discovered that the city restricts WIFI and mobile signals throughout the festival to impede potential terrorist activity. Sadly, this also meant we had great difficulty calling the number provided for our accommodation and, other than a vague street address we had no further instructions. It was helpfully pointed out several times I'd done a poor job as we began scouring the city for an alternative place to stay.

Our Swiss savior.

It was a relief when we somehow got through to our booking provider and, having also been unable to contact our host, they somehow succeeded in locating and securing alternative accommodation for us. Albeit with great difficulty.

We arrived at our new place fifteen minutes later; sure, it was a little further from the action than hoped but I wasn't in a position to complain. Our new host, an aging Swiss man in questionable sports attire, looked sheepish as he greeted us. The flat was double booked. His wife had just let it to a Dutch couple an hour earlier without his knowledge. I couldn't believe it.

He told us not to worry as we could stay with him and his family for the night, the Dutch couple would vacate early the next day. Given the late hour and our near exhaustion, we decided to go along with it. Thirty minutes later, after being introduced to his family, we lay in a small bed in a windowless box room, simply relieved to be off the streets.

A different attitude.

As promised we were driven back to the flat early in the morning where, after a brief tour of the facilities, his attitude changed. He wanted payment in cash there and them which was a surprise to us because he had already agreed to receive payment from our booking provider. He was also demanding a far higher rate than the one he had agreed with them.

Clearly, he had not anticipated our levels of stubbornness or tiredness. We held firm for a good thirty minutes before he finally accepted that we had no cash and no intention of paying. He left but promised to return the next morning for payment. We'll never know if he did because, with an early flight to catch, we were on our way to Palawan while he was still fast asleep.

Sinulog Festival - a must-do.

Should you ever have an opportunity to attend the Sinulog festival, do it - but book far in advance. I have never experienced anything like it, the press of happy humanity all around will live long in my memory. If you're a westerner or tall, be prepared to become a target because you're a rare sight and you will find yourself being covered in bright paints, and being photographed, by a great many people!

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