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Everything you need to know about Couchsurfing

With hotels and Airbnb listings fast filling up for Sinulog, we explore the world of Couchsurfing and set the record straight on its myths and misconceptions.

With Sinulog right around the corner, hotels and Airbnb listings are rapidly getting filled with travelers from all over the country and the world who are coming to Cebu to celebrate the festival.

Ideally, booking accommodations should have been done half a year ago (we’re not exaggerating), but in the spirit of YOLO and last-minute plans, there’s no reason one couldn’t find a place to stay in the Queen City—one option being Couchsurfing. While gaining popularity in recent years, the idea remains shrouded with a lot of myths and misconceptions.

Zee Lifestyle turns to travel guide and Couchsurfer host extraordinaire Mayan Benedicto to set the record straight and promote a concept that not only will get you a place to stay any time of the year, but make friends while you’re at it, too!

What is couchsurfing?

Couchsurfers on a trip to Gringo Falls, Bacolod after the Masskara Festival 2012 (Contributed Photo)

Couchsurfers on a trip to Gringo Falls, Bacolod after the Masskara Festival 2012 (Contributed Photo)

It is a travel community aimed to connect people to share travel and cultural experiences together. Yes, you get to “surf” couches. In other words, stay in a member’s home… or not. You can opt to just meet up with people over coffee, a drink, a meal or a tour around! Every major city in the world usually has a solid community and hosts regular meet-ups to entertain traveling guests in town, or to simply catch up with local members. The goal is to have a more local experience through meeting locals or visiting non-touristy areas.

My experiences in over five years now have brought me nothing short of fond memories and introduced me to lifetime friends.It excited me – getting to know people from all over the world and learn more about them and their countries. Every time I introduce couchsurfing to others, there are usually a lot of questions, which is totally different from when I first heard this concept. But, hey, you might now be asking questions yourself! Let’s give this a shot if I can answer most of them…

First ever host Alan Kerroux (far right) with fellow surfers in his apartment in Kota Kinabalu (Contributed Photo)

First ever host Alan Kerroux (far right) with fellow surfers in his apartment in Kota Kinabalu (Contributed Photo)

Is it actually safe?

Totally! There’s a reference system in which people leave positive or negative notes based on their experiences with the person so you can have an idea on what the person is like. The more references the better. But fewer references don’t always mean a bad thing either. Maybe he’s just starting out! And much like how you should be in any situation unknown to an extent, be vigilant and know how to review profiles. Interact online as well and you can get the feel of the person. Follow your gut!

I came to Cebu several times and they were all great. The people make you feel very welcome. They invited me to different parties and I attended two Sinulog festivals, all of which were great and had super positive vibes! – DIEGO BORTOLAMEOTTI

But isn’t it a dating site?

Oh, hell no! A lot of people are now using this site as a way to meet with other people to date, especially foreigners. Big no-no. It’s highly discouraged and frowned upon. There are other sites and apps for that, so shoo. This is a site for like-minded people in terms of travel. Sure, love can form in these connections but it shouldn’t be the goal!

I think CS is a great way to meet new friends, particularly when you are new to a place. I moved to Cebu and was able to meet some of the most interesting and fun people I’d ever met from all over the world. – – NATHAN MARK

With my first ever surfer Jessica Cheung in Cebu (Contributed Photo)

With my first ever surfer Jessica Cheung in Cebu (Contributed Photo)

Is it really free?

This part is a bit tricky. It’s a yes and a no. It’s a yes because money should never be involved in the exchange. If you are offered to stay in a home, you shouldn’t be charged at all! You can, however, gift something in return for the favor–bring something from your home country as a gift, treat your host out to dinner or even better, cook for your host! It’s really up to you. Spend time with your host and don’t just take advantage of a free couch! Totally defeats the purpose of it all.

I love to travel, but due to work and commitments i can’t travel as much as I want. Hosting travelers from around the world is like bringing the world to your home. Hearing their experiences, challenges and marvelous adventures make me feel that I’ve traveled. Meeting travelers from all over here in Cebu also makes me appreciate my city more, even as a local. – DR. XAVIER SOLIS

Can I join events?

Of course! Couchsurfing events are never exclusive. We’re open to introducing more people to it all the time. It’s a great way to encourage people to go out, explore and learn.

Couchsurfers' Sinulog House Party in 2016. (Contributed Photo)

Couchsurfers’ Sinulog House Party in 2016. (Contributed Photo)

A 2017 Sinulog House Party will take place on Sinulog Sunday, January 15. Details here.

How do I start couchsurfing?

  1. Sign up on their website.
  2. Complete your profile.
  3. Check out and join travel plans and meet ups in your area.
  4. If you want to take it a step further, host a Couch Surfer!
  5. Surf when you travel by sending out requests to local hosts of your destination. Be as personal as possible. Don’t be generic so you have better chances of being accepted.
  6. Host your own meet-ups or events, or invite people to join your trips.

Feeling shy? Couchsurfers in Cebu usually meet up Thursday evenings at the Politics Cafe in Escario Central for Trivia Night. They play under the team name Pirates.


Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise


Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.

by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder

Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.

The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.


Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”

The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.

The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.

In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!

For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com


(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)

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THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard


With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt

The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.

“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”

All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.

Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”

The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.

The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.

Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.

And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.

(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)

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Experience authentic Korean Barbeque at Da-In Restaurant

Filipinos are crazy for Korean barbecue. As such, there are a lot of places that are offering Korean barbecue. But Da-In restaurant isn’t just one of those restaurants.

Located in Salinas Drive in Lahug, Cebu, Da-in restaurant is a joint project between the Creative Cuisine Group and Da-Won restaurant. With state-of-the-art grilling stations in each table and various Korean cuisines ready to be served, Da-In would surely sate your Korean barbecue cravings without any hassle.

Visit Da-In restaurant today!

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