Sunday, August 4, 2013

Drifting to Digos City

I’m fond of drifts, detours and diversions. Something about them does wonders to wretched minds, weary bodies and worn-out souls. Perhaps it’s their uncertainty that triggers a surge of adrenaline. Perhaps it’s the excitement of discovering roads less known and less traveled. Or perhaps it’s the quirkiness of the experience that makes them worth doing for this self-confessed drifter. 

Last month, the idea of drifting somewhere near but outside Davao kept pestering me again and again. It was an ordeal deciding between going and not going since I had promised myself to “behave”, that is, refrain from my nomadic pursuits for at least a couple of months. But the incorrigible bum in me reared its ugly head and won again. LOL!

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Downtown Digos

On impulse, I decided to break my self-imposed moratorium on weekend wanderings, making a drift somewhere if only to break the monotony of a hectic week and elude even for just a few hours the pandemonium associated with living in the big city. So, where did my detour-hungry feet take me over the weekend? Where else but the City of Sweet Mangoes—Digos!  

Why go there? The city occupies a special place in this drifter’s heart since I’ve spent a few good times in Digos, which was then a sleepy town when I was a teenager. In those days, Mother would send me to go and check on her better half who’s on assignment in Digos for a couple of years. It was one of the things I’d readily obey without a fuss since it meant “freedom” from the slavery of household chores. LOL! 

At a time when long distance calls were considered luxury while email, chatting, texting and social networking were unheard of, the best way to keep in touch with loved ones was to go and see them up close and personal. So, on weekends and semestral breaks, I’d pack my stuff and go there to be with Father. That I supposed was how my affection for Digos blossomed.

From what I’ve gathered, the capital of and lone city in Davao del Sur got its name from padigos, a local term which means “to take a bath”, used by lumads who inhabited that part of the region during pre-Spanish Philippines. Just an hour’s drive from Davao City, I thought of going there one gloomy afternoon—not necessarily to take a bath since I had one before I hit the road—to satisfy some insatiable craving for the sweet mangoes that it’s famous for.

Visiting Digos, I somewhat reconnected with the past during a quick but nostalgic trip down memory lane. First stop was the town plaza which brought back memories of my teenage years. Gazing at the young crowd assembled there, I remembered how I’d often rent a bike and ride to my heart’s content around the plaza until late afternoon. 

Biking thrilled me no end. No fuss, no flurry, just fun under the sun! How I wish life’s pleasures could be had through simple things like biking! After riding for hours, I’d then go to my father’s office. When he’s done with work, we’d head for the public market to buy some stuff for dinner. If he doesn’t like to cook, Father would just take me to a karinderia for dinner where we’d order barbecued chicken or grilled pork with puso (boiled rice packed in young coconut leaves).

Revisited after some time, Digos dazzled me with its sense of aggressiveness and determination these days. It has wider roads and taller buildings. The city has also joined the mall craze with its first-ever mall—Gaisano Grand. I didn’t exactly find it grand as the name suggests but it’s a big leap towards grandness for Digos, which is finally coming out into its own—an affluent, vibrant and progressive economy.

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Other than this new landmark, there aren’t too many places to explore in downtown Digos during free time. People who want to chill out troop to parks, go to Dawis Beach or head for those beach resorts dotting the fringes of the nearby town of Sta. Cruz. In the city’s outskirts, however, are some highland resorts where the crowds also gravitate on weekends and holidays, two of which I’ve visited on separate occasions: Ang Tribu Bagobo Woodlands (ATBW) and Camp Sabros.
Owned by a friend of mine who’s based in Australia, ATBW is a newly opened resort some 13 km away from downtown Digos. Found in the village of Binaton, the mountain haven is being marketed as an eco-tourism-adventure destination. After seeing it for the first time, ATBW struck me as a refreshing hideaway in the highlands that would surely captivate those seeking solace in the loving arms of Mother Nature. 

Snuggled within the Mt. Apo Natural Park, it provides a picture-perfect backdrop where family and friends can relax and spend quality time with each other up in the mountains. ATBW has open-air picnic huts, native-designed cottages and session halls that can accommodate just about every function: trainings, seminars, retreats, team building sessions, meetings and other corporate and/or family activities.

One of the resort’s most splendid attractions is a sprawling campsite equipped with modern camping conveniences. Guests are provided with sleeping bags, lamps and other equipment to make camping out one unforgettable highland experience. ATBW also boasts of three swimming pools whose waters emanate from a mountain spring that would surely do wonders to refresh bathers.  

Other than these amenities, it’s the cool climate that swathes ATBW all year round that is its most distinctive come-on, reminding people of Baguio’s pine-scented air. Like the famous city in the north, that part of Digos where the resort is located is blessed with rolling hills and flatlands, making it an ideal venue for outdoor activities.

Camp Sabros, on the other hand, is an outdoor adventure haven situated in the highlands of Kapatagan, one of Digos City’s upland villages lying in the foothills of Mt. Apo. Rising some 1,200 meters above sea level, it boasts of having some of the country’s most exciting aerial runways which treat “death sliders” to a thrill ride over a dazzling canopy of verdant conifers, trees, bushes and shrubs with the country’s highest peak looming at a distance. 

Three years ago, I’ve survived the two zip lines in Camp Sabros: the 400 meters which lasted about 30 seconds and the 380 meters which run for about 45 seconds. Like the other “zippers”, I was made to wear safety helmets and fastened to a harness that’s attached to a cable wire. I then fell into a lying position as I flew into the air. Unlike my previous experiences where I had a flying buddy, I was on my own there.

While waiting for my turn, I felt flighty knowing that it’s going to be a solo flight. But I told myself to just relax and enjoy every moment at the “death slide”. After all, I’ve flown above the amazing waterfalls of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato—at a much higher elevation at that. So before the crew released me into mid-air, I was already in a ready-for-take-off mode. 

In seconds, I was crossing over verdant conifers and dense vegetation. I can’t exactly describe what I felt during those few moments I was in mid-air. How I wanted to shout to the top of my lungs but no sound came out of my mouth; I was engulfed with amazement while gazing at the pulchritude of nature surrounding me. Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman must have felt the same way after discovering his gift of flight!

Visitors will be delighted to know that the resort has the following amenities to make their stay an enjoyable one: log cabins equipped with fire places, a billiard hall, open-air picnic tables, a dining hall, a convenience store, a souvenir shop, a bar and billiard tables. Camp Sabros also has no entrance fee and no corkage for any food or beverage brought. Grilling, dining facilities and implements are made available to overnight guests for a fee.

Digos also boasts of one more mountain resort: Camp@Tagan Lake Mirror and Hillside formerly known as the Mt. Apo Highland Resort. I haven’t been there yet but I heard that it’s another picturesque sanctuary for those seeking to commune with nature. Now, this gives me one good reason to stage another visit to Digos City if only to experience another magical high in the mountains. 

The mountain resort has two camp sites: one is called Lake Mirror, which is situated near a lake that provides a crystal clear reflection of Mt. Apo’s majestic peak and the other is known as Hillside, found at the hilly portion of Kapatagan near a civet farm where guests can savor Arabica blend and the intriguing civet coffee. 

Four hours down the road, I concluded the city tour because of the heavy downpour. Before heading home, I made sure to drop by Mers, the sought-after food and delicacy shop that’s a favorite stopover among travelers. What’s so special about Mers? Well, it happens to sell the best kakanin in town—bibingka, hopia, sapin-sapin, pilipit, suman, puto—as well as popcorn, candies, tarts, cupcakes and other take-out eats for pasalubong.

Mer's famous bibingka
From its humble beginnings as a tiny kitchenette in downtown Digos, Mers has done its part in making life sweeter not only for Digoseños but also for the city’s visitors. Catering even to AB consumers, it has upped its ante by moving to a bigger complex with ample parking space along the Davao-Cotabato Highway, making it more accessible for customers who are on the go.

As Digos continues its march towards economic growth, there’s no doubt that Mers will benefit from its trickle effects. I just wish that crass commercialism will not get in the way of its desire to provide quality products to its customers. And that it will strive to do more to keep them satisfied. That would be the sweetest thing that Mers could do to the throngs of loyal patrons. 

Likewise, the city best known for its sweet mangoes has truly come a long way from being a mere barrio of Sta. Cruz and much later as a sleepy municipality of Davao del Sur. Like a glowing bud in the foothills of majestic Mt. Apo, this boom town has started to blossom into a lovely wildflower that’s about to become one of the sweetest economic blooms of Southern Mindanao. :D

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