It’s funny how I went to Dumaguete City like I was only going to Alabang: hop on an early 5:25 am flight that took me only 55 minutes, and come back the day after. Short as my stay was, it was event-filled and I felt like Dumaguete could be my home forever.
I fell in love with the place as soon as I checked in at the South Sea Resort Hotel. The resort had spacious grounds lined with coconut trees and rooms overlooking the ocean. The receptionist said those two mountains dotting the horizon were Cebu and Siquijor islands which was barely an hour’s ride away by boat. After plunking down my bag in the assigned accommodation, I settled for breakfast in the open-air cafe which was beside the swimming pool. I sampled the native delicacy budbud which was Negros Oriental’s answer to the churros con chocolate: budbud is their word for suman which could be dipped in either a cup of native chocolate or matamis na bao (molasses). Capping this off was a slice of ripe mango which- when taken with the customary steaming cup of coffee – made my morning complete.
I and a group of Manilans were invited by Gov. George Arnaiz to witness the province-wide fiesta called the Buglasan Festival. Locals are especially proud of the fact that their mother of all festivals emerged the best in a nationwide competition sponsored by the Department of Tourism last year, edging out usual favorites like Cebu’s Sinulog or Aklan’s ati-atihan. Watching the festivities at the city’s cavernous sports center, our group was duly-impressed by the talents of the participating teams. The costumes attracted the eye with their full use of colors and indigenous materials while the choreography could not be considered amateur with their precise movements. Filipino festivals pay tribute to native religiosity and our Catholic spirituality while heralding the pomp and pageantry of the islands. The Buglasan fest was no exception.
In the afternoon, we checked out Dumaguete’s famed Rizal Boulevard which is their counterpart of Manila’s Baywalk. I liked the cosmopolitan feel of this place with its row of cozy restaurants facing the sea. Coconut trees and old-fashioned lamps lined the boulevard and if you walked further up, you could reach the port where the ships were docked. We had delicious pasta at Mamia’s Bar & Resto , a Mediterranean-style bistro owned by Tincho Perdices, the affable son of the Dumaguete mayor. For dessert, we hopped over to Sans Rival Cafe which is famous for its heavenly pastries,notably its sans rival and sylvannas. The owners of these two places are incidentally Spanish mestizos and we presume they migrated to the city from the sugar centrals of Negros. Dumaguete has a thriving foreign community composed of students, educators and retirees who must have been enamored by its superb educational system, its friendly people and of course its spectacular scenery which offers nature-lovers the twin enchantment of the mountains and the seas.
First-time visitors to Dumaguete will not miss Silliman University which sits on a 35-hectare campus lined with centuries old acacia trees. It is one of the oldest educational institutions in Asia. Christine and I checked out their marine laboratory and museum which has the second largest collection of marine mammal bone skeletons in the world, after Japan. On our way out of the campus, we passed by Dr. Absin’s legendary Christmas House which was bedecked in all its Yuletide glory. We never knew who Dr. Absin was but we had our pictures taken outside his stately gates just the same.
From Fred Dael we learned that Dumaguete and the adjoining towns of Negros Oriental pioneered the fiber-optic technology in the country. In fact, their system is more sophisticated than Manila in terms of wireless and wi-fi applications. As a result, the city – with its pool of capable students – is now gearing itself to be the next haven of call centers and business process outsourcers in the Philippines.
For the remaining hours of my stay, I indulged in two of my favorite pastimes: shopping and food. I fondly recalled my childhood in Southern Leyte as I feasted on kinilaw – raw fish marinated in vinegar – which is common in these parts. Likewise, there was inihaw meat and seafood galore. I can’t believe that I only stayed in Dumaguete for less than 48 hours and that I have so many native bags (cheaply bought) to show for it.
This trip gave me a high and at the same time made me nostalgic. Experiencing Dumaguete, with its leisurely lifestyle and the profusion of seas and trees, calmed my spirits. But at the same time, it made me realize how irrelevant my city life has become with its beggars, traffic, smog and dog-eat-dog pace. I definitely want a full serving of the Dumaguete life in the future.