Saturday, May 4, 2013

Taken with Tagum City (Part 1)

I’ve been raring to go on a road trip to some nearby destination all by myself as part of my dry run for any future long distance travel in certain parts of Mindanao. All these years, I’ve been used to being driven around. But being dependent on another just to get me to places I want to be has started annoying me of late.

Recently, I decided it was time to take up the dare and drive somewhere alone. Destination: Tagum City, capital of Davao del Norte or DavNor, for short. I could have gone further up north but I opted for something closer to home so I settled for Tagum, which happens to be one of Davao City’s nearest neighbors.  

Banana Beach reception area
Once a part of the undivided Davao, DavNor was originally made up of 13 towns during its formation in 1967, with the number rising to 19 in later years and then to 22 by the early 1990s. When Republic Act 8470 was passed in 1998, this dwindled to only eight as many of its towns were integrated with the province of Compostela Valley.

In that same year, the Island Garden City of Samal, which is composed of the former DavNor towns of Babak, Kaputian and Samal, was created by virtue of Republic Act 8471. Tagum, the provincial capital, also became a city with the passage of Republic Act 8472. A few years later, Republic Act 9015 converted the port town of Panabo into a city.

Tagum's palm tree-line highway

Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Holy Rosary
At present, DavNor is made up of eight municipalities—Asuncion, Dujali, Carmen, Kapalong, New Corella, San Isidro, Sto. Tomas and Talaingod—and the cities of Tagum, Panabo and Samal. The province has been dubbed as the “Banana Capital of the Philippines” because of the presence of several plantations owned by multinational firms there. Tourism is also a major part of the DavNor’s economy. In Samal, for instance, there are a number of fine beach resorts dotting its coastlines, including the world-renowned Pearl Farm Beach Resort.
One major reason why I chose to be in DavNor is Tagum City, which is just an hour’s drive away from my place. The road condition going there is relatively better than other nearby cities, making it a perfect destination for a one-man joyride. Also, it has a number of interesting attractions worth exploring. I’m also quite familiar with Tagum since I’ve been there on numerous occasions in the past either by commuting or by having someone else drive me. 

Perhaps one of the first things that first-timers would take notice are the palm trees lining both sides of its wide, well-paved highway, which have earned for Davao del Norte's capital a novel title—City of Palm Trees. But there’s definitely more to Tagum than its swaying palms. Revisited after some time, I was quite taken by the unmistakable signs of progress strewn all over this boom town about 55 kilometers north of Davao City.

From a largely rural, laidback municipality called Magugpo, Tagum has grown to become one of the fastest-growing urban centers that form part of the so-called Metro Davao area, which includes the cities of Davao, Digos, Panabo, Samal and the municipalities of Carmen and Sta. Cruz, all of which belong to Davao Region. In 2008, the city also became the second first-class city in the region next to Davao.
Penny Lane Hotel and Casino

It’s also amazing to see that it has managed to turn itself into a booming market economy. Key to this is Tagum’s emergence as a “gateway” to the northern provinces of Mindanao, providing a land transportation node, which draws the movers and shakers of the agri-industrial, manufacturing and services sectors in the Davao Region as well as its neighbors. This role has not been diminished even with the political changes spawned by the split and integration of some Davao del Norte towns with Compostela Valley.

Tagum's new amphitheater and arena

Obviously, the economic turnabout that Tagum experienced in the past few decades has re-shaped much of its landscape.  Real estate developments and private construction investments have flourished. Residential and commercial construction has also been on the rise. Seeing the potentials of Tagum, a number of real estate developers like Camella and Sta., Lucia, to name some, have already poured millions to build new communities in various parts of the city. 

Big 8, one of the nicest hotels in town
Accommodations for transients and tourists have likewise sprouted all over town. The choices are now vast and varied. In the downtown area, you can find a number of hotels, inns and lodging houses bearing such disparate names as Big 8, Penny Lane, Grand Palace, Molave, Prime, Captain’s Deck, Daniela’s, RV Travellers, Eagle’s View, Lakan, to name a few.

For foodies like me, I must say that Tagum is the place to be. Arman’s—the  long-time favorite stopover of almost every motorist going to Davao del Norte and beyond—continues to serve sumptuous Pinoy fare such as kaldereta, humba, tinola, nilagang baka, dinuguan, kinilaw, kilawin, etc. They’re all mouth-watering all right but be careful with these eats since almost all of them are cholesterol-laden! LOL!

Gaisano Mall of Tagum
Cashing in on Tagum’s economic boom, fast food chains like Jollibee, Chowking, Goldilocks and McDonald’s, have also put up their branches in Tagum.  Mall rats going to Tagum also now have lots of nooks and crannies to explore since the city’s shopping centers have also grown in number—NCCC Mall, Gaisano Mall of Tagum, Gaisano Grand Mall, Central Warehouse, among others.

Punong Resto
Not known to many, there are some interesting hideaways that those yearning for some thrill and adventure can find in the city. One of these is a private beach resort located just fifteen minutes away from downtown Tagum—Banana Beach, touted as “the world’s only beach inside a banana plantation.” 

Infinity pool at Banana Beach
Owned by Hijo Resources Corporation, Banana Beach offers a variety of activities that tourists can indulge in. Those interested to know the science behind growing bananas would be fascinated to find out that the resort offers a tour around the vast estate of Hijo’s Twin Rivers plantation. At the end of the day tour, guests will go home with enriched knowledge on the meticulous processes that go into the production of the banana firm’s world-class goods.

Then there’s the forest tour where guests are treated to a unique experience of walking on hanging bridges and seeing wild pigs and monkeys (Philippine macaques) freely moving around the woods. Adventure junkies can also take the cruise along Madaum River which offers a glimpse of Davao del Norte’s different tribes and the stretch of rich mangrove forests along the riverbanks. At dusk, night owls can explore Hijo’s forest, in search for wild boars roaming around. 

Initially, I wanted to go on a river cruise along Madaum River. To my dismay, however, the receptionist at Hijo Tourist Center said I had to pay more for it (that is, on top of the day tour package). I really wanted to do it because it would have given me a front-seat view of the birds nesting along the hundred year-old mangrove forest and, at the same time, learn about the ecosystem and livelihood of the lumads living there.

But the cruise’s steep price kept me from going ahead with my plan. So, I eventually settled for the forest tour instead. It turned out to be a good decision because of the unexpected thrills I experienced during that great escape into the woods. And who wouldn’t get excited walking on hanging bridges and having a close encounter with wild animals?

I really thought my Tagum escapade would be a solo adventure that day. Little did I know that I’d bump into a familiar face right there at Banana Beach—who else but banker-friend Baby! Together with some officemates, she had also taken advantage of the one-day holiday by driving into the heart of Banana Country for a quick vacay. 

All four of us ended up embarking on a 45-minute journey deep into the woods of Madaum after walking through not just one but nine spans of 200-meter high hanging bridges! Inside the forest, we were treated to a magnificent view of the woods' inner sanctum—centuries-old trees, rare vines and shrubs, serene creeks and wooden bridges and much, much more.

Staying for the night at the resort? Finding a place to sleep in at Banana Beach isn’t a problem since there are a number of accommodations consisting of casitas, native-inspired, aircon and non-aircon rooms for day use and overnight stay. The rates though are quite pricey. 

Meanwhile, Tagum is also emerging as some sort of a pilgrim’s paradise this side of region. It is the home to the largest Roman Catholic church in Mindanao—Christ the King Cathedral—which is located in the southern part of the city. What makes this church a standout from the rest is its castle-like architecture, a combination of ancient and modern art design that usually draws ohs and ahs from first-time visitors.

Christ the King Cathedral, the largest in Mindanao

At the cathedral’s entrance, your attention will be immediately grabbed by several fascinating structures, particularly the huge fountain statues of children (or are they angels?) and fishes said to be inspired by the Gospel account of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish, which were elaborately interpreted by prolific Davao artist Kublai Millan. Geez, this prolific sculptor’s works seem to be popping up all over the region!

Inside the church’s premises, you can find what’s considered as the world’s largest and longest rosary. Measuring 85.5 meters long, it weighs about 2,815 kilos and is made of iron wood. At the back of the cathedral, there’s also the shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is just a stone’s throw away from the rosary. As usual, I headed for this church to thank God for the blessings that have been coming my way.

Perhaps the most tangible testament of Tagum’s emerging prominence in this part of Mindanao is its yet-to-be finished, futuristic-designed city hall. Located in Apokon, the billion-peso massive structure best exemplifies the wonders that good governance can do even to a once sleepy town like Tagum which, despite the stiff competition it faces from Davao City, has managed to attract a growing number of investors.

I’m quite certain that with all the many changes shaping up there, it would only be a matter of time for Tagum to catapult itself into one of the premier metropolises not only in Mindanao but the entire country as well. This may augur well for regional development but Davao could be in for a big surprise.

Tagum's new City Hall
If Tagum’s growth continues to accelerate in the next decade, it could give Mindanao’s premier city a run for investors’ money. So, the City of Durian should watch out because at the rate things are going, the City of Palm Trees is dead set on moving towards the fast lane of progress. :D

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