Davao

Lazy in Davao

I was in Davao last weekend and apart from working (if you could call teaching Zumba at the Davao Marathon work; more like play) on Friday afternoon, I did nothing but eat and sleep.  It’s a first really as I would normally be out looking for an adventure perhaps in a quiet spot on a beach in Kaputian or hanging from a zipline.  But either I must have been really tired from the work week or Davao had lost all its allure to me.  If I just had loads of moolah I would have probably spent a good part of the day at Omar’s Antique Store in Aldevinco scouring its dusty shelves and corners for musical instruments.  There was a nice intricately-carved lute from Lanao that cost a whopping Php 12,000!  The large antique “kulintang” that I like so much cost Php 50,000 up per set.  I did snag a good deal for a set of new “kulintang” and a “saronay” for Php 9,000.  At another store, I got a frame drum for Php 1,500 which was so much less than the Php 5,500 they were asking for it.  I told them that nobody would ever buy it so they might as well sell it to me.  They weren’t sure though where the drum came from.  The metal frame was that of a Western-type drum but the membrane is of goat skin.

An interesting tidbit I got from the shopkeepers is that during December, indigenous groups come down from the highlands and roam the city streets playing the music and asking for donations.  At the end of the month, they sell all their stuff rather than bring them back home.

So there I was in my room at the Hotel Galleria in Davao, a/c at full blast and watching television, something I have not done in a long time.  Maybe the next time I go on a trip I should set aside an entire day just relaxing at the hotel or hostel and watching television, that is if my budget accommodation has a television set inside the room.

I had lunch at Garden Buffet which was just a short walk from the hotel.  It was a Saturday so it was pretty crowded with families occupying entire tables.  The Chinese spread featured roast chicken, sotanghon, inihaw na liempo, yang chow fried rice, steamed fish, mixed vegetables, and a whole lot more.  It was very cheap at only Php 128 and the food tasted quite good! It seems the buffet fad has also spread to Davao as walking around the streets I saw lots of restaurants breakfast, merienda, and lunch and dinner buffets.

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Flying the Xcelerator

With almost an entire day to kill before heading to the airport for my 7pm flight back to Manila, I decided to try out the Xcelerator, reputedly Asia’s longest zipline beating out the one set-up in Ko Samui in Thailand.  That it is located in Davao is not surprising as the city, with its expansive forested areas and and nature-themed parks is filled with zip lines. The only zipline I tried was at Macahambus in Cagayan de Oro which came part of our white-water rafting package.  The canopy walk led us to the wooden platform from where we would zip down to the park entrance.  It was a short line and I think it lasted only about less than 10 minutes.  The Xcelerator was almost a kilometer long and though not the highest in Davao (that reputation belongs to the one in Zip City), it was also supposed to be the fastest at 100k/hour.

Run by Outland Adventure, the facility is about 20 minutes outside the city proper and since transport options is difficult, I opted to hire a cab to bring me there, wait for me, and bring me back to my hotel.  Since the park opens at 1pm on Sundays, I opted to be there at exactly 1 to beat the crowd. The driver mistakenly took me to Zip City which was empty.  We finally found the small side road near the GAP Farm that led to Outland.  “It looks abandoned,” the cabbie said.  Then 2 guys emerged from a trail carrying some equipment.  I was the first customer of the day which means first on the zipline.  I paid 300 bucks and was given a number. Two others arrived and three of us were put in harnesses (I chose the seated position while the other two chose the superman position) and briefed.  We were told of its safety features and that we should not be alarmed when we hear three popping noises as that would be the break system slowing us down.  Then we were off to the short trail to the river.

We pulled ourselves on a raft across the river to the trail head. This is probably the most difficult part of the experience.  Depending on your fitness level, the steep hike could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.  If you’re feeling jittery about zipping, by the time you get to the top you’d be so tired to even think about getting nervous.  I reached the platform and rested a few minutes then the guy hooked me to the cable.  Everything seemed to professionally done with people communicating to the stations via short-wave radio, checking and double-checking on straps and carabiners.  I was asked to sit on the platform and when ready just count down to three.

Up Up and Away

I had a tablet of Xenor in my pocket in case I get an anxiety attack. But I was cool.  Besides, I figured, with only about 20 seconds zipping time, by the time my Xenor acts, I would be back at the starting point anyway.  So with my  water bottle  looped through my cable and my camera  in video mode, I was ready to fly.   “Count to 3 then go,” commanded the guide. I laughed nervously  then counted “3 – 2  – 1!.”  Nothing happened.  The guys laughed.  I  was expecting to be pushed just liked in  Macahambus.  I was supposed to slide of fthe platform.  So I did and away I went.  It was awesome!  In the middle  of the zip, I turned so my back was towards the end of the line.  Three popping noises later and I was on the platform with a guy guiding me how to get down safely.  It was over too soon.  I rushed back to the registration booth, paid 150 bucks for a second ride and this time, was harnessed up for  the superman position.  Three other people were waiting on the raft for me.  I quickly hiked up to the trail to be them so I could go ahead.  It was even more awesome!  I came barreling down the line screaming “Superman!” I wanted another one but that would be another 150.  If only I had known it would be really fun and there wouldn’t be any waiting time due to low traffic, I would have paid the Php 500 unlimited package which includes the cable line walk.

Back at the starting point, I paid for some pictures (100 bucks per pic; buy 3 pics and you get to have soft copies saved but you have to bring your own usb disks or memory card) and bought a souvenir t-shirt.

The Xcelerator is definitely worth the time to visit.  Never at any point did I feel unsafe or not taken-cared of.  The staff were really very friendly and nice and acted very professionally.  The girl at the registration booth said that most people come in around 3pm.  Next time, I’m gonna take the unlimited package.  The only downside of course is going up the trail but as the girl said, “it helps you burn calories.”  At least if you’re in a big group and there are people before you, you can always make a quick dash up to the platform and while everyone is catching their breath you can go ahead and be the first one to zip 🙂

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Kaputian: The Beach at the End of the Road

“There’s the bus to Kaputian!” someone shouted.  I rushed to the bus and snagged a front seat:) I had no idea where I was heading to and where I would need to get off.  All I knew was I was in search of a beautiful beach away from the tourist trail.  About an hour later, the bus finally reached the end of its route.  I got off together with the others.  I followed a couple of people and when I turned the corner, I found myself on a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters.  I had reached my destination.

I had originally intended to go to Talikud Island.  Interestingly, the girl at the front desk of the hotel I was staying in, on learning that I was heading to Talikud, told me to be careful as the place is supposedly like Siquijor—teeming with black magic.  That actually excited me more.  But I had planned on a day trip which meant choosing a place that would have a lot of options for a return trip to Davao. That meant heading to Kaputian.  Besides, a Dabawenyo I met said that Kaputian was nicer.

I arrived at the Sta. Ana wharf  few minutes past 7 in search of a motorized launch that would bring me to Kaputian.   The wharf was quite devoid of people except for a small crowd waiting at the entrance gate. I went to the M/V Isla Reta which was waiting for passengers and I was told it was bound for Talikud and that the Kaputian boat was not due until 12 noon.  Further afield were some launches that seemed to be waiting to fill but the guys there said they were private hires.  No wonder the group in the boat all seemed so happy and there was even a whole lechon on the table.  I was advised to just take the bus instead.  So I was back at the entrance gate and I understood why there was a crowd there.  About 10 minutes later an Island Express bus arrived and someone shouted that it was the bus to Kaputian.  I climbed aboard.

The bus was comfortable enough even though it didn’t have any air-conditioning.  It proceeded to Sasa which was some kilometers away where it boarded a barge for the 10-minute crossing to Samal Island.  I had no idea where Kaputian was, not even what to look out for.  All I knew was I was headed for the beach.  The bus wound its way around the island on a good sealed road with the bus stopping every now and then to let-off or load a passenger.  From my window seat, I would catch glimpses of the sea and signboards announcing resorts. Except for about a few young couples who based on how they looked—shades, knapsacks, shorts, and slippers— seemed headed to the beach too, everyone seemed to be residents of the island.  I decided that if those beach-looking couples got off, I would to.  For what seemed forever, the bus finally stopped on what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  There was a grassy field and some huts on the side of the road.  I would learn later on the trip back, that it was the town plaza.  Guys in motorbikes (locally called “habal-habal”) swarmed the bus shouting out destinations.  I looked behind me and everyone was getting off.  So I did.  I followed the beach-bound looking couples cross the grassy space to a side road.  Less than a hundred meters was the Kaputian Beach Resort.  I had made it!  I had found my beach 🙂

The resort was very basic and is typical of the low-budget resorts you find in the provinces.  There were a a few cottages, open huts, and even tents.  A few stores sold food, drinks, and souvenirs.  I paid Php 15 entrance, Php 50 for a plastic table, and Php 5 for a plastic chair.  There wasn’t much of a crowd and the small groups that were there weren’t rowdy which made it a peaceful enough place.  Surprisingly there wasn’t any videoke or maybe because it was only about 10 in the morning.  With my plastic chair and table on the shade between some trees near the beach, I was ready for some quiet time.  Looking at the water lapping up the shore while Talikud beckoned on the other side was simply relaxing.   The sand wasn’t very white and there were stones and pebbles which weren’t easy for the feet but the water was very clean and clear and cool.  Maybe because everyone and everything just seemed so ordinary with none of the pretentious beach god/goddess attitude; I felt so utterly relaxed and comfortable. This was a beach where people didn’t seem to mind  your body fat percentage.

I remember someone telling me that we have a natural affinity to water because it brings back our primordial feeling of safety when we were in our mom’s womb.  Floating on my back with just my face on the water’s surface, I felt really good.

Lunch was my packed breakfast of a tail of fried bangus and rice wrapped in banana leaves from the hotel, a bag of Nova, and halo-halo.  Past noontime, people started arriving and the lack of accommodations meant tents rented from the resort were being pitched.  Among the arrivals were three young Caucasian women who rented a tent, a table, and some chairs.  It was good to see foreigners getting to this part of Samal.  With more people coming-in, I figured my quiet moment was about to end. My trekking shorts which I had worn in the water had dried by now so  I packed my stuff and checked-out.

Back on the main road, thinking that the bus was taking a circular route around the island, I waited at the same side of the road where we got-off earlier.  On the opposite side was a waiting bus.  When it left, I crossed the road to wait at one of the huts.  It was then I decided to ask in which direction the bus to Davao was headed to.  Turns out, I just missed the bus.  They actually saw me waiting and were indeed wondering what I was doing there.  Apparently, were were really at the end of the bus route.  The bus simply backs-up and backtracks the route.  At about 2:15, another bus arrived and finally I got on board on the trip back to Davao.

I was back in the city past 3:30 and from the wharf went to Chinatown for a quick stroll.  Being a Saturday, there was a vibrant street scene with vendors peddling everything, street stalls of fried squid, orange-colored eggs, pancakes, fruits, and crowded shops seling  just about anything and everything was being sold.  Before heading back to the hotel, I bought some durian, pomelo, mangosteen and some durian sweets at the stalls near Magsaysay Park.

I really liked Kaputian for its rusticness and non-tourist vibe.  I’m sure on a weekday you could have the place all to yourself.  For people whose idea of solitude is communing with sun, sea, and sky, the place is perfect. If you tire-out of the scene, you can always  hire a “habal-habal” to visit  the different resorts and go to Hagimit Falls.

The locals I chatted with  marveled about me being alone in the trip.  Even the nice lady who was at the check-in stall at the resort was surprised that I was alone and knew no one in the area.  Same thing with the bus dispatcher.  I guess Filipinos, especially those in the rural area where sense of community is stronger, being alone, especially on vacation is totally unheard of and unthinkable.  After all, being on vacation means sharing the fun and experience with others, notably with friends and family.  I must have seemed really strange to them.

Kaputian was breath of fresh air away from the city fumes of Davao.  It’s a place that’s near enough to the city but far enough to be paradise.

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Davao in a Day

I arrived this morning around 9:30.  The flight was on time and my bag was the first one on the carousel! My bosses were still to waiting for their bags so they let me go ahead as we were staying in different hotels anyway.   Enroute to Royal House Hotel where I made telephone reservations a few days before, I asked the driver if Sampaguita Inn (which seems quite popular in the internet) was any good and he said it was.  The location was also nearer to Rizal Promenade than Royal House and much cheaper. A quick call confirmed it— 450 for single compared to Royal’s 650—however, rooms were booked so back to my original reservation.   It wasn’t a bad choice either with its easy-access to location the Rizal Promenade, Rizal St., Aldevinco and Marco Polo Hotel where my bosses were staying.  The hotel was large but the single room was smallish but clean and the aircon was cold.  There was free wifi too though only in the lobby.  The room came with free breakfast.

Marco Polo, where I was to meet my bosses,  was just a 15 minute walk from the hotel so I took the chance to acquaint myself with the surrounding streets.  Past trips have mostly been centered around specific activities so it would be my first time to really be able to explore the city even if it meant just a weekend.  The searing sun didn’t deter from walking, I simply docked underneath the porches of the buildings lining CM Recto.  Passing by a couple of local run-down cinemas, the Davao Theater and Odeon, I remembered the movie “Serbis.” Odeon was closed while Davao Theater was running soft-porn flicks.  I was tempted to go inside just to see and feel the atmosphere.

I had lunch at Jai Tan Food Center at the corner of Bonifacio and Recto.  It seemed quite popular with the locals.  For Php 114, I had a cup of rice, pinakbet which was made more tasty with taro, and a crispy pancake of small dilis.  Dessert was ube which wasn’t very good.  At least, the Durian Cheesecake I had at Bo’s Coffeein the afternoon more than made up for it.  This was top in my to-do list as an avowed durian lover, I just had to have this wonderful dessert ever since I first tried it a couple of years ago.  It was sweetened and flavored just right with none of the overpowering aftertaste that durian has sometimes.  I saved the dollop of durian preserve for last 🙂

With business over and done with, I had the rest of the weekend to do Davao.

When in Davao, I head straight to Aldevinco for shopping.  This rabbit warren of stalls sells mostly souvenir shirts and stuff made from batik imported from Malaysia and Indonesia.   But the real finds are in a couple of shops that sell  old and antique items ranging from brassware to textiles to musical instruments and everything else in between. My favorite has always been Omar Souvenir Shop.  It stands out from all the shops because it’s the only that sells really authentic items. Like a shop of curiosities, there are so many items to discover.   Of course there are the newer more tourist-oriented items like bead necklaces and purses.  But the real finds are in the textiles such as the different malong (tubular cloth worn by both men and women) with the older ones costing thousands of pesos.  I like to run my hands on the smooth royal malong which only royalty could wear.   I could spend hours just browsing the dusty items stacked in shelves and dusty corners.  I remember one of my early trips in that shop years ago, rummaging in one corner, I pulled-out a dust-covered gabbang (xylophone) with an intricately carved stand that hadn’t seen the light of day from the dark recess in the shop where it had probably lain for years.  I offered to buy it for Php 1,500 telling the shopkeeper that no one would buy it anyway and if they really were keen on selling it, why was it hidden and forgotten in some corner.  That was a really good bargain.  There seemed to be more musical instruments now as I saw  saronays, gabbangs and a couple of large intricately carved lutes with rounded sounding boards from Lanao.  They looked so graceful and  so beautiful like Middle Eastern lutes.  The tag price was hefty too—Php 18,000.  Thank goodness, my credit card hadn’t cleared yet or I would have run amuck and gone home with one of those Lanao lutes, a saronay, a double-headed drum, and a kulintang set.  Before evil thoughts could enter my mind and lead me to the ATM, I skeddadled out of the store and made my way to People’s Park.

This domed ceiling above an elevated platform reminded me of the domed ceiling near the entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood

Following CM Recto, I turned to the corner on the direction of the Royal Mandaya Hotel. I passed by an outdoor shop that was selling mostly Conquer products.  The circular park seemed more concrete playground rather than green park; but at least the intention to provide a recreational space was laudable. Entrance was free and there was hardly anyone there being a weekday.  There were pockets of greenery which were man-made efforts to recreate  a rainforest. I followed a very short dusty path to the “forest” which led me to a cabana where two lovers seemed to be enjoying themselves, a little concrete pond where one of the park’s cleaners was cooking a pot of rice.  Maybe she imagined she was camping in the rainforest.  On my way out, I saw a sign that said Australian Rainforest.  Other attractions was a mini library, a sunken garden which looked more like an empty swimming pool with pots of plants and some spooky life-size sculptures.  If touring around the park makes you hungry, Tsuru and Hanoi Restaurant, which I heard are very good, are just a stone’s throw away.

Spooky kids

Love ko 'to!

An advantage of staying at downtown is the proximity to Rizal Street for its dining and drinking options.  Walking the length of the street, I passed by Mandarin Tea House which was just across Merco’s, two restaurants that came highly recommended.  Merco’s is also near Aljem’s InnIron Horse seemed more like a drinking place so I passed it up.  I also passed  Claude’s, written about in LP and in some blogs as having very good French food. I peered inside and saw cloth-covered tables, water goblets, and aproned waiters.  Maybe I should try it.  It will be a blast.  Very good French food (if it is) in downtown Davao. It will be just like this almost fine-dining Italian resto Annie and Jet brought me in Cebu that can put most Italian restos in Manila to shame.    I tried a brownie at Brownies AA which claimed to be “the tastiest brownies.”  It was good but nothing to really crave for. I reached  Rizal Promenade but it was still too early in the evening for it to bustling.  Re-tracking my route, I had dinner at Taps, a semi-open air eatery with counter-top tables and specializing in that Pinoy fast food invention of  “silog” (“sinangag” and “itlog”).  The  hulongsilog (a local chorizo) and patikul, a salad of carrots, turnips, onions, and ampalaya in a sweetish vinaigrette dressing were delicious and satisfying.   Before heading home, I dropped by an ice-cream parlor and had a durian tart.  Delicious.

Hulongsilong and Patikul at Taps

It looks unappetizing but this durian tart is good enough for a durian dessert craving.

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A View From My Plane Window

Cebu Pacific flight 5J 936 was technically on time.  Only the take-off cueing delayed it as we were third in line.  The flight was pleasant all throughout and I managed to even doze off.  Or maybe because I was under medication.  The best part of the flight really was the Captain who was gracious enough to explain why we were remained on the tarmac after taxiing to the runway.  He spoke clearly and audibly; none of the usual “ldsh nd gntlmn ths iz ur cptn spkng we are (mumble mumble) on (mumble) flyt tme . . .” that you often hear.  It’s as if he really wanted to talk to us, his passengers.  When he came again about 15 minutes after take-off to explain our flight and the weather, he spoke clearly again.  as someone who rides planes with fear, I always listen earnestly to the Captain whenever he goes over the PA system.  It is reassuring to hear that someone is actually there in the cockpit looking 0ut at the weather, the air route and flying the machine. When he announced that the “there was mostly fair weather to Davao and visibility was high,” it was like listening to the Angel Gabriel announcing the Immaculate Conception.  In fact, even the flight attendants spoke just as well.  I’ve always thought that part of the FA training was learning to mumble while announcing pre-departure procedures.  I hope future Cebu Pacific flights have staff that as just as articulate.

I reserved seat 1F which meant front row window seat.  I took these shots from my window.   The Captain said our route would take us southeast passing through the Bondoc Peninsula, Masbate, and Agusan.  I wouldn’t really know which part of the Philippines these were but they were beautiful.  It was a clear day so visibility offered spectacular views of undulating mountain ranges and isles on emerald seas.  It made me realize how beautiful the Philippine archipelago really is.

Majestic Mt. Apo in the distance

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