Some 118 kilometers away from the bustling metropolis of Cebu is a town known as the home of the whalesharks. Since whaleshark watching in Oslob first got its 15 minutes of fame after the news went viral in 2011, the once sleepy town has transformed into a busy tourism hub. Tourists of varying nationalities have flocked to the town by the thousands. Numerous beach resorts and lodging houses have popped up like the proverbial mushrooms after the rain.
The town has undergone a metamorphosis from the quaint “tabo-on-a-Sunday” routine to an all-day-everyday-7-Eleven lifestyle. Some may find this quite drastic a change but even the strictest purist of us all cannot deny the fact that it has been a fantastic ride so far. Employment has gone up. Literacy has gone up. The townsfolks’ standard of living has been raised for several bars from where it used to be. After all, all is well that ends well and, so far, things are turning out to be, uhm, well.
When people talk of Oslob, they talk of the whalesharks. One can even be forgiven to think there is nothing else to see in Oslob but the gentle giants that placed the town on the map. But, before Oslob became the tourism superstar that it is now, it was a placid and quaint town along the southeastern seaboard of Cebu lined with white sand beaches, stone forts and old houses that told us stories of old. Oslob was and always has been a town full of history, color and drama.
In addition to the whaleshark watching in Tan-awan, here are a few more things full-fleged wanderers should not miss in Oslob.
Come on. Let’s face it. We, Oslobanons, speak funny. No matter how polite people try to be by stifling those chuckles, we know people are doubling in laughter in their minds upon hearing us speak. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Oslobanons are proud of their accents and even claim we are speaking the “right way” — whatever this means. The truth is we can’t even agree among ourselves which is exactly the “right way” simply because the townspeople speak with different accents. Each barrio has its own unique accent.
People from Gawi speak a little more like the neighboring town, Boljoon, but just differently enough to make it a separate accent altogether. Caceresnons have their own lilts and intonation and usually end their sentences in “mo” — which other Oslobanons laugh at, by the way. Our folks from Poblacion have the standard Oslobanon singsong that gives the town the “southern reputation”. Our friends from Calumpang have this fondness of omitting a letter or a syllable (e.g. “ala” instead of “wala”) while retaining the singsongy rhythm. People from Alo and Luka seem to stretch it further by “cutting off” a moment of breath at the last syllable of the sentence, which adds a unique charm to an already charming conversation.
If you are a bit on the adventurous side of the wanderer spectrum, try our food. No, I am not talking about the delicious humba and menudo simmering in crock pots in your favorite restaurants in town. No. Those are tourist food. Live a little and risk a rumbling stomach for once.
Oslob is basically a fishing town. Our sea is teeming with a good number of species of fish (including the whalesharks) and other seafood such as shrimps, sea cucumbers, crabs and sea urchins. I dare you to partake in some of the local cuisines. Prepare your taste buds. You are in for an experience!
My personal favorite is the salawaki (swaki). It is type of sea urchin but it mustn’t be mistaken for tuyom and siyok. Salawaki is the brownish cousin of the dreaded black sea urchin (tuyom) with the long needle-like spines. Salawaki has shorter spines and has sweeter taste. (Yes, tuyom can be eaten but picking it is more tedious. I tried it and it’s delicious, too.)
Salawaki is best eaten raw, in the sea and with some cold leftover rice. We used to spend some afternoons sharing some bahaw (leftover rice) from lunch dipped in the salawaki’s orange goodness. Just a word of caution: the spines may still sting even when they’re broken. It may cause redness and some swelling in the mouth if you accidentally eat even a speck.
Oslobanons are generally hospitable and friendly. Many belong to a conservative family and religion remains to be the strongest influence in town. So, it may be wise to veer away from topics about religion to avoid offending anybody. We are also pious to a fault. We celebrate colorful fiestas and we look forward to Christmas every year. We mourn on Holy Friday and rejoice on Easter.
We are big fans of superstition. We throw clumps of hibiscus at pregnant women during eclipses. We break plates and throw rice at weddings. We jump on New Year’s eve hoping to grow a couple of inches more despite genetics (which doesn’t work — believe me). Despite the apparent advancement in technology, we still believe in flying coffins, half-bodied monsters and pigs in wooden sandals.
We value family. Firstborns, after graduating from school, are often saddled with the burden to help parents in sending the younger kids to school. The younger siblings, in return, are asked to pay unconditional respect to their Ates and Kuyas. On account of this, many firstborns remain single — which is kind of sad and depressing but, hey, family is first. We usually live in extended households like many Filipinos do. We consider a member’s achievement as the whole family’s and we often wage fights against anybody who does wrong against one of ours. We are both proud and close-knit that way.
Oslobanons are a hopeful bunch. We are a fishing village and fishing is basically a game of chance. For fishermen, everyday is a roll of the dice. We don’t know what we get but we roll it anyway.
Legends tell us that the name “Oslob” came from “toslob” which means “to dip”. Stories have it that a group of Spaniards came to town asking for its name. The locals, who were eating at that time and were dipping rice balls into salted anchovies – ginamos (bananas into sugar in other versions of the story), thought the visitors were asking what they were doing and answered “toslob”. The story is kind of cute but it has never been proven.
The town was originally called Bolocboloc after a natural spring near the shore. The town center, Poblacion, was moved to where it is now and the place where the spring was, is now called Daanglungsod, which translates to “old town”.
Oslobanons had a history of fighting against the Moros back when kidnapping campaigns were rampant. Townsfolks warded off the Moros with the help of the Augustinian friars who came to the town and established the parish of the Immaculate Conception in 1848. Stoneforts lined the town’s shore serving as garrisons. Many of these forts still stand today. The most popular, perhaps, is the Cuartel de España which stands near the town church. For several years, Cuartel stood in ruins, left alone to deterioration as it slowly shed its glory brick by brick. Thankfully, the town got the funding to restore it and made it part of its tourism drive.
Poblacion, the town proper, was designed like a typical old Hispanic town should be. At the heart was the town plaza with the main church, the town council building and other important establishments such as the cemetery, the garrison, among others. Streets were laid at right angles like a grid radiating from the town center. Some of these streets are still passable today. Calle Aragones is the town’s oldest street and it leads to the Cuartel ruins. Calle Eternidad still runs along the coastline. Calle Camposanto leads to the cemetery.
It is interesting to note that, according to some accounts, main civil and religious officials and other personages were asked to live near the town plaza. There were old Spanish laws that required the settlement to be patterned according to social status. This might be the case in Oslob where many of the town’s prominent families still live near the town plaza.
A day may not be enough to wander around town. Oslob’s tourism drive, though has been extensive, simply cannot include everything there is to see for obvious reasons. There are still several amazing places unknown to many tourists in town and we would love to show you more of them in our next story. So, stay tuned and see you around.