Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dazzled by Davao’s Diverse Delights

How do you write something about a place you’re so familiar with? Familiarity, as the cliché goes, breeds contempt. So, maybe I should start with something contemptuous about Davao? But how can I feel contempt for this city where I grew up?  

Really, most of the things I have in mind are all about Davao’s wonderful feats, which not too many places have managed to achieve.  Indeed, very few metropolises in the world can claim to have successfully crossed the great divide that separates the unlivable and the livable. And Davao, which is considered as the Philippines’ Most Livable City, happens to be one of them. 

Some twenty something years ago, this place was no man’s land. Time was when nary a day passed without news of salvaging, massacre, hostage-taking, kidnapping, torture or other forms of senseless violence happening along Davao’s main streets even in broad daylight, which were perpetrated by communist rebels who have turned the city into their laboratory for urban guerilla warfare. The seemingly endless killing spree turned the place into the country’s local version of Cambodia’s killing fields, thus, earning the reputation of being the Murder Capital of the Philippines.

In the mid-1980s, however, the spate of daily killings waned when anti-communist vigilantes, backed by military and civilian defense forces, got rid of the dreaded assassins. A few years later, incumbent City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who gained wide acceptance by almost every group in the political spectrum, won the mayoralty race, which started his long-term ascendancy to power.  

It was during his regime when Davao took the rigorous but rewarding journey of transforming itself into what it is now. Today, the city, which is considered Mindanao’s premier urban center, has outgrown the horrors of its chaotic past, metamorphosing into a bustling metropolis that serves as the country’s southern gateway to its Asian neighbors and vital link to the East ASEAN Region and the rest of the world. 

Davao has remained a vibrant melting pot of diverse cultures from all over the Philippines who’ve migrated into this “land of promise” in search for greener pastures. Home to about 1.4 million Davaoeños, it’s one of the country’s hubs of polyethnic vibrancy, where migrants from other provinces—Batangueños, Bicolanos,  Boholanos, Cebuanos, Ilocanos, Ilonggos, Kapampangans, Pangasinenses, Warays and Tagalogs, to name a few— are living in peaceful co-existence with each other as well as with indigenous tribal groups known as lumads and the Muslim Filipinos. In recent years, there’s also a growing influx of foreigners such as Japanese, Koreans, Americans and some Europeans who have chosen Davao to be their home base. 

So, let me take you to an armchair tour of this city I’ve been calling home for years now. Like me, I’m sure you’ll be dazzled by the diversity of delights that are in abundance in this once dreaded part of Mindanao. Truly, there’s a hodgepodge of sights, savors and scents in the bustling metropolis that’s waiting to seize the attention of first-timers and frequenters, something of everything to make your stay a memorable one.  

pic courtesy of R.A.M Ouano
Sun-worshippers, swimmers and beachcombers can get a load of sun, sea and sand at any of Davao’s alluring beaches. Or you may cross over to nearby Island Garden City of Samal and relish the pleasures offered by the numerous pristine resorts there. You can also marvel at the wonders of nature, admire the indigenous flora and wild fauna and experience pure mountain magic at any of its nature resorts: Eden Nature, Loleng’s, Seagull in the Sky, among others. 

Golf aficionados shouldn’t forget to bring along their clubs and display their clubbing skills at any of the city’s finest golf courses, which are towered by Mt. Apo’s majestic presence amidst the putting greens. And while you’re here, sample some of the exotic bounties the city is known for. Dare taste the durian, the king of tropical fruits, and get a thumbs-up for overcoming that musky smell.  And to make your voyage complete, pay homage to the famous Philippine eagle that has been successfully bred in captivity. 

Finding a place to stay here in my city isn’t a problem. Get yourself billeted at any of the hotels offering world-class amenities: Marco Polo, Apo View, Royal Mandaya, among others. Located mostly within the heart of the city, these hotels have swimming pools, bars, discos, health clubs, business centers and restaurants to meet the demands of travelers going to the city for both business and pleasure. Or you can opt to stay at Waterfront Insular or Grand Regal. When hotels are not exactly what you want, a number of inns, motels and pension houses are also available.

After a heady day roaming the city, there’s no better way for the weary to relax than to head for the city’s dining and drinking hubs. A good place to start would be any of the restaurants and eateries at F. Torres St., the city’s popular food and beverage strip, where visitors can savor a variety of freshly cooked and delectable cuisine from the row of establishments there, all waiting to satisfy even the most discriminating palates. There are also numerous restaurants and bars dotting the city where you can feast on your favorite Chinese, Japanese, Korean, American, European and Filipino dishes. Baked, boiled, broiled, fried, grilled, sautéed, simmered, or raw — you name it, they got it.  

Your next stop might be Matina Town Square—MTS to its throngs of habitués—a popular hang-out among yuppies, students, the business and social set and those who lead alternative lifestyles.  Loud, cavernous and bursting with activity, it boasts of an open bar called Taboan, meeting place in the vernacular, which features live band performances. 

Cloistered within its periphery are an array of small bars, restaurants, pizzerias, lounges and cafés, offering not only gustatory delights but also great fun for those who prefer a quieter night.  Want to cap the night with some hot thrills? You can always head for any of those girlie bars that add vibrancy to Davao’s exciting nightlife. There are quite a number of them all over the city, offering great music, shows, booze and fun until the wee hours of the morning.

Experience a little more of life’s pleasures by visiting any of the malls and shopping centers that have made Davao some sort of a shopping mecca in this part of the country.  Not only is the city home to malls like Victoria Plaza, Gaisano South, NCCC, and Gaisano Davao, but it’s also the site of SM City Davao, the very first branch built in Mindanao, if I’m not mistaken. These all-in-one shopping centers boast of different stores and booths carrying ready-to-wear items and products, many of which are internationally known brands. 

Davaoeños, like most Filipinos, have an incurable fondness for festivities even in the midst of so many difficulties plaguing the country. There are at least two, however, that have caught the attention of curious tourists who flock to Davao to join the celebrations. Every March 16, the city gears up for a display of pomp and pageantry as it celebrates Araw ng Dabaw, which commemorates the founding of the city way back in the 1930s. 

Then there’s Kadayawan, an annual festival usually held on the third week of August. This weeklong celebration and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest showcases the city’s artistic, historical, and cultural heritage. Highlights of the festivities include a street party (hudyakaan), convergence of Davao’s various tribes (panagtagbo), floral float parade and competition (pamulak kadayawan), street dancing competition (indak-indak sa kadalanan), trade fairs and exhibits showcasing the Davao region and the rest of Mindanao’s homegrown fruits, flowers, food, and other fancy stuff, among others. 

Because of the many amenities it offers, Davao has emerged in recent years as the most favored convention site in the country, serving as venue of various national and international gatherings, trade expos, conventions, seminars, sports competitions and other crowd-drawing events. Tourist arrivals have been increasing as more people get to discover and explore the exotic charms of Davao’s rare orchids, mountain trails and festivals. Come to Davao and delight in the many dazzling treats that it offers. Come and discover for yourself why many have opted to stay and call this city their home. :D

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