Cebu City was fascinating but exhausting, and for our second day we headed for the hills. Tops Lookout is a popular tourist attraction, albeit one that’s entertainingly tricky to get to. However nearby is another place that hasn’t yet made most of the “Things to Do in Cebu” lists, yet is one of the oddest sights I’ve seen on my travels.
It is of course possible just to flag down a taxi and ask to be taken to Tops Lookout. Taxis will often drive slowly alongside tourists, beeping their horns and yelling cheery greetings, but when we were lost in the city nobody would stop for us and we had to use (and pay) a middleman to hail a cab for us. So instead we opted to travel halfway in a “jeepney”.
These brightly-painted buses are so called because they were originally made from jeeps left behind when the US armed forces left after the Second World War. They’re a cheap and cheerful way of getting around, if you can work out which one goes where, and don’t mind squeezing in with everyone else.
However, they don’t go all the way to Tops Lookout. The jeepneys stop at JY Mall in Lahug, where we were immediately pounced on by motorbike riders eager to take us to the top. We brushed them off and wandered around in the hope of finding an alternative, but in the end, under the blazing midday sunshine, decided to brave the bikes. It was a hairy but hilarious ride to the top of the mountain, two of us and a rider on each motorcycle.
Tops Lookout itself is no more than a broad concreted area with views of the city, ringed by small shops and cafes. The views were impressive, and it was interesting to see the urban sprawl all along the coast which we had driven through on the way to Moalboal. Most of all it was pleasant to be out of the craziness of Cebu City.
Our riders had offered to wait for us, and there was a little awkwardness when they asked to be paid waiting time which we hadn’t agreed previously. The subsequent haggling at one point involved us walking away saying we’d make our own way back, after which we speedily reached an agreement.
I was glad we had too, as the road down to our next destination was long and twisty, with cars speeding round blind corners. But the trip was well worth it.
I had spotted the Temple of Leah on the maps, rather than discovering it online. Construction began in 2012, and is still ongoing, so it’s little known as yet. “Leah” was Leah Albino-Adarna, wife of a wealthy local businessman. When she died, he began planning for her monument, a vast pseudo-classical shrine in her memory.
It’s a testament to the extraordinary power of love, money, and bad taste. In the main hall there is a gilded statue of Leah, enthroned like a Roman goddess. Most of the temple can only be seen through the windows, as her collections of ceramics, paintings, and knick-knacks are moved in and unpacked. There’s even a dusty bar, with rows of bottles destined never to be opened.
It’s hard to picture what the finished Temple will look like. But if you visit Cebu, you shouldn’t miss it. I can only hope though my wife doesn’t start getting ideas. The best I could manage would be a shed…
Photos: Andrew Killeen, Karen Killeen