Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Magnetized by Mati City (Part 1)

The seascape unfolding before our eyes is spellbinding to say the least. Nearly three hours down the road, my car, chock-full with a jolly bunch of weekend wanderers, emerges from a lush forest after passing a number of quaint coastal villages. With quiet aplomb, it snakes its way through the well-paved zigzag road that slithers up and down a cliff overlooking the deep blue sea. 

In minutes, we reach Badas Point, a scenic viewing deck along the highway that’s the perfect spot for capturing the magnificent vista, where we pulled over for a shoot before proceeding to our ultimate destination. Armed with DSLRs, digicams and smartphones, we hop out of the vehicle, all raring to capture the view:  

The road in Badas
Stretch out before us is breathtaking Pujada Bay—the U-shaped body of water that’s frequented by tourists who like to go swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing and skimboarding in its emerald waters. Looming at the horizon are the rugged contours of enchanting Pujada   Island, the largest of the three islands found in the bay. Too bad, we couldn’t make out Waniban and Oak Islands.  

To our right is a strip of land that resembles a humungous plesiosaur slumbering on its belly—the Sleeping Dinosaur Island, one of the region’s fast-rising tourist magnets; to our left is a hazy sketch of the poblacion whose immaculate coastlines are dotted with many beach resorts. This is the picture-perfect panorama that greets motorists bound for Mati, the capital of Davao Oriental.

Truly a sight to behold, the picturesque scenery is one of Mother Nature’s bests that I’ve been hankering to see for the longest time—and finally did so. Snapping out of my trance, I start shooting here, there, and everywhere—afraid such natural mise en scène would no longer be there during my next visit to Mati. 

From a sleepy municipality decades ago, Mati, one of the newly-created cities in the country, has managed to transform itself into a boom town, capitalizing on its agricultural, agro-industrial and mining activities as well as its tourist magnets—white-sand beaches, wondrous waterfalls, pristine islands and the like—scattered  all over its entire land area.

Now 110 years old, Mati, which is made up of 26 barangays, became the capital town of Davao Oriental following the splitting up of the undivided Davao into three provinces and one city in 1967. From what I’ve gathered, it got its name from “maa-ti”, the Mandayan word for the town's creek that easily dries up even after a heavy downpour. The Mandayas of Davao Oriental are the dominant tribal group inhabiting the ten towns and one city that make up the southeasternmost province of Davao Region.

A few years ago, Mati, along with fifteen other newly-created cities, got entangled in a long-drawn legal battle when the Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the League of Cities of the Philippines, and declared as unconstitutional the various cityhood laws, including Republic Act 9408 which enabled it to acquire its cityhood. After a series of reversals, however, the High Court ruled that the cityhood laws of all the sixteen towns were valid after all. Since then, Mati has continued to forge ahead as a full-fledged city.  

Downtown Mati
I have faint recollections of my few visits to the new city. As a young boy, I used to accompany one of my maternal grandmothers who’d occasionally visit Mati to see her son, a soldier who had settled with his family there. As a newbie researcher, I came back to town for a brief stint several years ago. But it was a brief sojourn that took me to Mati’s outskirts, robbing me the chance to re-acquaint myself with the poblacion. Had I stayed, however, my relatives were no longer around to show me the place since they have all moved out of Mati.

For a long time, I’d been harboring an intense desire to invade the city once again. Making it to Mati is part and parcel of my protracted plan to visit and revisit the towns belonging to Davao Oriental. There’s something about it that seems to have magnetized a part of me. Even after the devastation that Typhoon Pablo wrought on that side of Mindanao, I was bent on going on with my sojourns to the province. Having visited Banaybanay, Lupon and San Isidro and even faraway Cateel and Governor Generoso, I was determined to revisit the capital.

During a recent mini-reunion with high school classmates, I broached the idea of going there. Right there and then, everyone agreed to hold another gathering in Mati. I was thrilled to the max! The group was also unanimous in choosing the pristine Dahican Beach as our abode for an overnight weekend wandering. Facing Mayo Bay, the white-sand beach, which is being groomed as the “Skimboarding Capital of Southern Philippines”, is frequented by beach enthusiasts who love to surf and skimboard in its inviting waters.

Dahican Beach
Awkward as it may seem, I wanted to kiss the ground the moment my feet touched the sands of that beach bum’s paradise in the village of Dahican! Once a secret known only to locals, this sought-after tourist magnet in Mati City is blessed with a seven-kilometer white-sand stretch that’s caressed by the turquoise waters of the country’s south seas. Geez, Dahican’s sands have probably one of the purest and  finest grains I’ve seen so far, which are comparable to those in Boracay and Glan!

Skimboarder at Dahican

Less than thirty minutes away from downtown Mati, the beach, which is being groomed as one of the surfing turfs in the country, is found along a crescent-shaped immaculate cove, with swaying coconut trees scattered along the shores, touched by the sparkling waters that emanate all the way from the Pacific Ocean. Only a few resorts dot the shores of Dahican. All of us agreed to seek refuge in one of the pioneering ones in the area, Botona Dahican Beach Resort, a privately-owned hideaway lying along the shores of Mayo Bay facing the high seas. 
Sunrise at Dahican Beach
Well-known for its quiet and relaxing ambiance, the resort was opened to the public sometime in 2002. It has a number of huts replete with seats and tables where guests can bask in the beauty of the sea. Those who prefer to spend the night there can stay at the cottages that form part of Botona’s reasonably-priced accommo-dations. The cottages have their own private terraces where you can savor your favorite seafood, sip your drinks, schmooze with your companions, or spend time with your loved ones. After billeting ourselves at the resort, we roamed around the beach before exploring downtown Mati. 

Popular among beach bums, Dahican, which means “to come in from the sea” in the vernacular, has also become famous because of the so-called Amihan Boys, a group of young kids engaged skimboarding and surfing. Named after the local term for the northeast monsoon, the skimboarders train under the tutelage of George “Botchok” Plaza, whom we chanced upon while strolling along the beach.

Better known as Kuya Jun among his mentees, he struck us as someone who’s amiable, articulate and accommodating during our brief conversation with him. Not only does this kind-hearted man teach the boys the art and science of these water sports, he also mentors them to become disciplined and responsible community members. Their daily chores—to be completed first before they can skim and surf all day—include washing dishes, cooking their meals and cleaning the beach.

Amihan Boys in action
Carrying their skimboards of different designs and sizes, we watched the young skimboarders, who are mostly children of families living in or near the fishing village, as they took instructions from their mentor.  One of those we met is Jun’s 19-year old protégé, Sonny Boy Aporbo, who has tasted his first international victory in 2012, emerging as champion (for the 18-28 years old category) of the 6th Penang International Skimboarding Competition in Penang, Malaysia. For more about Jun and the Amihan boys, just visit: http://www.amihanteam.com/home.php.

Aside from skimboarding and other water sports, Dahican is also fast becoming a destination of choice among environmental experts, researchers and advocates since it’s the home of Guang-Guang Mangrove Park and Nursery. Spanning 21,000 hectares, this protected mangrove forest serves as a sanctuary for about eighteen of the rarest and endangered mangrove species in the Philippines, providing a marine habitat for various species, including sea turtles locally known as pawikan.  

Guang-Guang Mangrove Park

Before going back to Davao, we went to see the place where we spent half an hour exploring the dense forest of mangroves. At that time, the marine sanctuary was full of people, young and old, who were swimming, eating, bonding and enjoying themselves while immersed in the brackish waters surrounding the forest. Wasting no time, my companions and I waded in the shallow waters and went around the sanctuary, shooting anything that fancied us while basking in the beauty of the verdant surroundings.  

During our brief stay, we also made it a point to savor some of Mati’s mouth-watering seafood delicacies, which, I believe, are a must-try for all tourists. One of the most popular restos in the city offering seafood dishes is Seaside Grill and Restaurant, which is just a stone’s throw away from the city plaza and seawall (where we also killed time shooting the awesome seascape). The eatery offers the freshest bounty from the sea: tuna, crabs, shrimps, mussels, clams, etc., cooked any way you want it. 

Famished, we ordered a feast and devoured everything in minutes—shrimp sautéed in garlic and tomato sauce, tuna belly soup, inihaw na panga (grilled tuna jaw), and of course, kinilaw (raw tuna dipped in vinegar and soy sauce). Not only was the food palatable, it was also priced within our reach! Truly, the hearty lunch at Seaside was one of the best I’ve ever had in years. How I wish I could just go there to feast on the delicious offerings every weekend! 

All told, Mati’s tourist magnets may not yet be that developed but I’d prefer it that way because that’s precisely where the allure of this newly-created city lies—the raw, rustic and refreshing natural attractions. Crass commercialism, which is rampant in many of the country’s more established tourist hotspots, hasn’t reared its ugly head in Mati—yet. I can only wish it would stay that way for a long, long time.

As my car speeds its way back home, I threw one more glance back at the distant outlines of Davao Oriental’s capital, whispering a prayer of thanks for all the wonderful things that unfolded during that weekend wandering in that side of the region.  A short but sweet one, the sojourn not only offered me the chance to revisit the old Mati I used to know but also enabled me to relish the new Mati I came to know.

Adieu for now, Mati. I’ll be seeing you again…soon. :D

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