LOS ANGELES — With a lot of “fun fare” PAL, Asia’s first airline, marked its 75th year in business by opening its 40th route – the Cebu-Los Angeles-Cebu direct flight, flying in Fil-Am and U.S. media reps on a familiarization tour of Cebu and Los Angeles and a press conference and gala on March 18 at a premier hotel, the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.
On March 15 at six in the evening, the first direct Cebu-Los Angeles route touched down at the Tom Bradley International Airport. On board were Philippine media, and PAL senior officers led by Harry Inoferio.
Waiting on deck at the LAX boarding gate were a select group Filipino and U.S. journalists excitedly awaiting their turn to board the inaugural Los Angeles-Cebu direct flight.
The journalists were four travel bloggers: Valerie Wilson of www.trustedtravelgirl, James Wallington, “Travel YouTuber/Vlogger – @Wheres Wallington” ; Will Jardell, www.willjardell.com, Andrew Kamphey @kampheyapproved; and James Adkins of Manila Mail, Susan Delos Santos, Filipino Press, Roger Oriel, Asian Journal, Jocelyn Marino of Balita Media, Irwin Chee, Kalesa Magazine, and this reporter, of INQUIRER.net.
PAL in collaboration with the Philippine Department of Tourism and Shangrila Hotels, flew journalists both ways for a familiarization tour of the wonders awaiting Filipinos in glitzy Los Angeles and Cebu where some 1,000 islands are just a short ferry or plane ride away.
PAL officers, Ryan Uy, VP for Sales; Marila Revilla, Country Manager; Maricel Wall, Senior Sales Representative, and Los Angeles based Director of Tourism, Richmond Jimenez were on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon inaugurating the flight.
At the helm of the historic flight was Capt. Leo Puzon; Flight Officer Jalino Atupan; S/O Ryan Principe; S/O Patrick Gonzalez; Flight Purser Ma. Cristina Lobregat; F/S Joseph Faltiel; Edward Barreda; Norman Mira; F/A Chelvy Tinoco, Christine Reyes, Van Hallaine Duay, Charina Niduaza, Katrina Ilano, Precious Palacol and Felleonor Lazaro.
1941 maiden flight
PAL’s journey began in March 1941 with its first domestic flight from Manila to Baguio on a five-seater Beech Model 18 aircraft. It took off from Nielsen Airfield, located at a portion of Hacienda San Pedro owned by Enrique Zobel de Ayala, in the sparsely populated town of Makati. The historic Nielsen Airfield Tower has now been converted to a stylish restaurant called Blackbird at the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues in the heart Makati’s financial district.
PAL’S first international flight flew 40 American military personnel from Manila to Oakland, California on July 31, 1946. It took 41 hours, with refueling stops in Guam, Wake Island, Kwajelein and Honolulu.
This maiden flight to Cebu from Los Angeles was on an Air Bus 340-300 with over a hundred passengers and took all of 17 hours with a stop over in Guam for refueling due to strong headwinds and tons of Balikbayan boxes, perhaps.
The flight was full of enthusiastic passengers, mostly Filipinos with roots in Cebu, the Visayan Islands and Mindanao. Gel Morales was accompanying her elderly parents who were on their final journey to set up home in Cebu. She said the direct flight was good for older people. Skipping the busy Manila terminal is a better alternative.
Anna Haour from Honolulu flew to Los Angeles, excited to be one of the first Cebuanos to fly the direct Los Angeles to Cebu route. Several other passengers were looking for places to buy and settle in. There were 19 wheelchairs requested upon arrival at Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
Department of Tourism
From the get-go DOT unfurled its more than usual warm and fun welcome to the travelers. Los Angeles-based Director of Tourism Richmond Jimenez, together with PAL staff in Filipiniana attire, welcomed passengers with leis and warm smiles. Jimenez said that the LAX-Cebu flight opens an alternative flight to one of the Philippines’ tourist hubs, a jump off point to the region’s dive sites, beaches and world the renowned Cebu lechon, among others.
Upon arrival in Cebu passengers were greeted with handcrafted leis, sounds of the Sinulog drum corps and riveting dancers in flashy gold costumes doing homage to Pit Senor (Child Jesus). It was a very uplifting sight and sound show, a worthy reward after a long flight home.
First stop was at the five-star Shangrila Resort and Spa at Mactan Island, a seaside resort on some 13 hectares providing a slew of activities from snorkeling, fish feeding, jet skiing to ziplining, jogging, etc. It also has several venues for all types of occasions from a Full Moon Romantic Dinner to a children’s playroom two floors high. Shangri-la Mactan is rated the #1 family friendly hotel in the country and #11 in Asia. Shangrila Sentosa is #1. Who can resist a stay at Shangri-la? The name alone speaks a thousand words.
Cassandra Cuevas, communications director, proudly announced that this property was recently cited as #1 in corporate social responsibility–an annual environmental initiative score card that ranks all resorts. It has its own bottling plant, desalination plant and sewage treatment plant. It has a marine sanctuary that nurtures damselfish and the like as well as rescued turtles. It has been given stewardship rights by the City of Cebu for its conservation efforts.
Shangri-la Hotels’ LA based Director of Sales Eldridge Mayor Perry made sure the first encounter with Shangri-la properties went off to a disarming start with welcome leis, music and buffet tables laden with famous Cebu lechon, sweet golden ripe mangoes and pineapple, one as sweet as the other, and of course, seafood.
In the heart of Cebu City, historic and heritage sights intermingle with modern edifices. There’s the iconic landmark Magellan’s Cross, believed to be planted by Magellan in 1521 when he baptized the first Christian Filipinos.
The Cebu Heritage Monument is a tableau composed of bigger than life size historical figures and events related to Cebu and the Philippines. Created by Eduardo Castrillo, it is made of concrete, brass, bronze and steel.
A stone’s throw away is a 17th century Filipino Chinese residence kept intact by its 8th generation son, Val Santiago. The Yap-Santiago ancestral home is maintained as a museum filled with antique santos and century old furniture. Chinese lanterns outside the windows adorn the Spanish-type middle class wooden home in deference to the recent Chinese New Year celebration.
The Basilica de Sto. Nino was built in the 16th century. While sporting a restored belfry that crumbled during a 6.2 earthquake, the rest of the church remains intact and maintains its rustic features. Its quaint façade is a blend of Muslim, Romanesque and neo-classical styles.
Fort San Pedro, built in 1738, quaint with its triangular shape, is the oldest and smallest fort in the country. It was built to repel Muslim attackers and later served as a stronghold for the Filipino revolutionaries in the 19th century.
Amid the ancient landmarks stands the Radisson Blu Cebu hotel with the Kenneth Cobonpue Showroom of modernist furniture by the design master. Built in 2010 the hotel serves business and tourist clientele. Its style is a fusion of contemporary and Asian art and is a welcome sight for travelers familiar with this international chain and its brand of service.
Cebu’s latest darling is internationally acclaimed furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue. The recently concluded 2015 ASEAN conference all but showcased his innovative chairs and fixtures made of bamboo and other natural materials. His Chiquita chair, made of rattan pegs “unexpectedly recede into a seat for a pleasant sitting experience.” True. Very comfy.
A two-hour ride via catamaran from Cebu port brought us to Tagbilaran City where a DOT tour bus awaited. Surprising were the newly opened clean bathrooms available to the public. Bohol once of a bucolic existence, is now teeming with tourists from all over the world who flock to see the Chocolate Hills and the tarsier sanctuary,
where government agencies help preserve the endangered tarsier, one of the world’s smallest mammals. Sometimes they are called the “world’s smallest monkey” but that is not so. They are not anthropoids like monkeys and apes.
One of Bohol’s charming offerings is the Loboc River Lunch Cruise. Converted barges are pushed by a smaller motorized boat and plies up and down the river that ends at a low lying waterfall. Passengers are entertained by a singer and keyboard duo that can definitely perform in any world-class cruise ship. Loboc is also known for its world famous Loboc Children’s Choir.
Chocolate Hills of Bohol
Needless to say, in Bohol, one has to visit and see the baffling “Chocolate Hills,” some 1,268 rounded hills made of limestone that dot the surrounding towns. In the town of Carmen is a viewing deck with 214 steps up and provides a 360° view of the hills as far as the eyes can see. Their colors vary from verdant green to brown depending on how much rain has fallen. During dry season they are all chocolaty brown. Their heights vary from a small 30 meters (322.9 sq. feet) to 120 meters (1291.6 feet) high, and they are scattered over an area of 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles). The Chocolate Hills have been declared the country’s 3rd National Geological Monument.
On to Manila
Shangri-la at the Fort. This stunning 21-day old five-star luxury hotel in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) seems like the grand dame of all five Shangri-la Hotels in the country. Exquisite chandeliers from the Czech Republic adorn its entrance hall while behind the front desk hangs Bea Valdes’ beaded and bejeweled tapestry sewn painstakingly by 40 women. The heart of this gorgeous property is a post-less 1,800 square meter Grand Ballroom. Its theme is said to be that of an (elegant) woman’s jewel box. The chandeliers are in the form of a woman’s evening purse or necklace. On its wall panels hang more of Bea Valdes’ beaded artwork in hues of gray and pearl.
This Kuok property is a veritable art museum gallery with an enchanting singing chandelier in the wing going up to the ballroom, and the gold and silver installations of Jinggoy Buensuceso on the ground floor. Art pieces of Raul Isidro, Eman Santos, Mars Buaoan, Noel El Farol and Anton Mallari among others accent walls in reception areas and venue sites.
Shangri-la at the Fort boasts its Kerry Sport Manila gym, which occupies 8,000 square meters of space. It includes an NBA configured indoor basketball court complete with a gallery. It also has a tennis and squash court to boot.
The multipurpose complex consists of 40 retail stores on the ground floor, 576 hotel rooms, 97 Shangri-la serviced residences for extended stays, and above it all, Horizon Homes, an exclusive collection of highly customized homes situated on the highest floors.
Of course, no tour would be complete without an out of town excursion, and DOT boarded us on a fun “stretch jeepney” converted to a tourist bus complete with a Karaoke machine. There was no cat fight for the mic, and the singing compensated for the jolts of what seemed like the original WWII shock absorbers. Tagaytay is just a two hour-ride and offers interesting hideaways, hidden treasures, fresh picked fruits, delicacies, Barako Coffee and the quiet yet volatile Taal Volcano.
Along the meandering road mushroom every kind of restaurant serving local fare, stalls overflowing with papaya, watermelon and veggies, café’s and “pasalubong” places like Rowena’s where one can find childhood favorites like pastillas de leche, buko pie, mango tarts, butong pakwan and so many other delicacies that are simply of good quality.
Not to miss is “Bag of Beans” Café and Restaurant. This unassuming café has the best Barako coffee this side of town and raisin bread to die for. Save some space for its kare-kare at its colorful resto next door.
Hidden away down the valley is one of Tagaytay’s surprise treasures – the Puzzle Museum – which holds the 2012 Guinness World Record for the most number of jigsaw puzzles in the world. It’s owner, the late Giorgina Gil-Lacuna, worked on 1,028 puzzles of all sizes and themes since 1986 and beat a South American contender.
Known to work in the evenings – Gil-Lacuna burned the midnight oil and put together from as little as hundred pieces to 32,000 puzzle pieces. Truly an awesome fete. Love for her son brought her to this nocturnal hobby. Her first ever was the Donald Duck Racing team portrait.
come the usual pampering Tagaytay is also known for. Nurture Wellness Village offers holistic services and treatments for rejuvenating body, mind and spirit using traditional Filipino methods. It boasts an internationally certified staff and massage therapists, and we were not disappointed. It is an eco-friendly establishment and a member of the Zero Carbon Resorts.
To cap a full day trip nothing beats dinner at Sonya’s Garden and its rustic ambiance. Enjoy freshly cooked veggies from its plots then later get lost in the mesmerizing English garden with its dancing multicolored lights and wisps of lavender floating in the cool evening air. Sonya’s Garden is the best-kept secret of Tagaytay.