OLANGO ISLAND, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu – Olango Island in Lapu-Lapu City is known for its bird sanctuary and marine sanctuary.
While some island residents worked in mainland Lapu-Lapu City and other cities in Cebu, the majority of them depend on tourism and fishing for a living.
When the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down the tourism industry, residents were hardest hit.
Then Super Typhoon Odette hit Cebu in December 2021, leaving devastation and destruction in its wake, particularly on the island of Olango, where the strong winds destroyed most homes there.
It was a double whammy for residents who had lost their livelihoods to COVID-19 and their homes were now literally roofless as Odette’s anger blew off most of the roofs on Olango residents’ homes and even destroyed several of those homes.
That being said, the floating restaurants that had employed many residents prior to the pandemic, specifically in Barangay Caw-oy on the island, were all destroyed or swept away at the height of Odette’s anger.
The floating restaurants were among the island’s tourist destinations, and these structures were anchored at sea, scattering the area near the coast of Barangay Caw-oy on the east side of the island.
These empty restaurants are a symbol of hope for residents of better days to come, when the pandemic will be over or when the country’s tourism industry will be open to visitors again.
And after two years, and just when residents were looking better to get back to work and earning money on the floating restaurants, as the tourism industry began to recover, Odette came along and dashed that hope.
And what was once an area of sea off Barangay Caw-oy dotted with floating restaurants is now just empty open sea.
Luckily for residents, few owners of the wrecked floating restaurants are willing to invest and rebuild their businesses.
One of the few who have started rebuilding their floating restaurant business in the area is Topie Boloc-Boloc, owner of Topie and Dinah floating restaurant.
Topie said starting over has been one of the hardest things he’s done since the impact of the pandemic and typhoon hit the business really hard.
He said he could not prepare for both crises.
The restaurant hasn’t made any money in the past two years because the floating restaurants were closed due to the pandemic.
But he still believed things would take a turn for the better after the pandemic passed, so he took care of the vacant floating restaurant and maintained it so it would be ready for business when tourists returned to the island .
Then came Odette.
And since he didn’t expect Typhoon Odette to be so strong, he left everything he needed for business on his floating restaurant and sought shelter on land.
And just like that, the floating restaurant he had spent 16 years building and maintaining was gone within hours amid Odette’s anger.
Still, he believed in the deal that the foreign tourists, which were his main market before the pandemic, would return.
So he reinvests in the floating restaurant business, despite the likelihood of more typhoons that could destroy the floating restaurant again.
“Olango is known for tourism and fresh seafood,” said Topie, who believed that was more than enough motivation to rebuild his business.
And because the restaurant had been closed for the past two years, he really didn’t have the financial resources to rebuild it.
So he needs to borrow money, apply for loans and sell some properties to raise the 3 million pesos needed to restore the business.
But now he also learned that it would be better to have a restaurant on land and not just at sea, so that when a super typhoon like Odette comes along and destroys the floating restaurant, he can still find a way to make money.
“Dili gyud diay ta kasalig aning negosyuha. Maayo sad diay nga maghinay og negosyo nga dili sa dagat kay labi na og naay bagyo, dili ta ka opera,” Topie said.
(We can’t always count on this business. It’s also good to have a shore business slowly, because if there’s a typhoon, I can still work and earn.)
Meanwhile, Henry Apa, assistant manager at the Armira Cabana floating restaurant, is hoping the restaurant owner will rebuild the business so he and the others can get jobs back.
Apa said they were also unable to prepare for the typhoon.
In fact, the restaurant’s manager, a Chinese national, stayed in the floating restaurant, confident that the structure was large and reliable.
Apa said they tried to convince him to evacuate the place but he just ignored them.
The Chinese was one of the people killed in the typhoon in Lapu-Lapu City. The floating restaurant was rented by a Chinese for 20 years.
Apa said Kuya Nik, the restaurant’s original owner, told them he would start restoring the floating restaurant within a year.
“Lipay kay para naa nami trabaho kay mao gyud to amo gisaligan,” Apa said of the restaurant owner’s plan to rebuild the business.
(We are happy because we will have jobs for us that we depended on for a living.)
He said after the typhoon and when the floating restaurant was swept away and destroyed, he would go out to sea and fish to make money and have food on the table.
His working children also helped out.
Apa said one of the things he learned from the crises is to save even a little money in preparation for a disaster.
Apa and the owners of the floating restaurants hope that more tourists will visit the island again.
In preparation for the expected visitors, the owners and their staff are already vaccinated.
Topie also said his restaurant opened as early as April 8 and began accommodating diners, offering them fresh seafood with a refreshing and relaxing view of the sun, sea and sky, or perhaps the moon, sea and starry sky to serve adorned heaven.
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