Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sedated by Secdea’s Serenity

Serene hideaways are like sedatives to me. Quite a number of them have helped resuscitate me when I’m at my worst. Something in these places settles the nerves in the same way that a pill does. Life at the workplace can be mighty tough for you and me. That’s why we need to lose ourselves in these sanctuaries once in a while if we want to find balance in our lives.

If time and circumstance permit me, I head for these destinations to rejuvenate myself. The nature of my work necessitates that I engage in occasional breaks or else I’ll run the risk of losing my grip on things. By finding time to hibernate in havens with serene sceneries, I’ve noticed that I’ve become more productive, effective and satisfied with what I’m doing.

Map of Samal
Taking time off from work doesn’t necessarily mean going faraway for a vacay. Doing so can be stressful sometimes. I should know. I’ve been through the fuss, the fury and the flurry of long-distance travels. Why go through all that stress? That’s why I’ve been settling for quick fixes in neighboring destinations offering the same creature comforts like the far-flung ones. 

Jetty at Secdea

A part of Babak
Good thing, I can always avail of some rest and recreation in the nearby Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS). What’s in store for you there? Crystal clear waters. A picturesque panorama of the surrounding seascape. Succulent seafood and much, much more. And what are some of the stuff that you can do in the island? Scuba-diving, swimming, trekking, biking, spelunking and the like.

Whenever I want to unwind, I’d run away to IGACOS to relax my listless body, refresh my lethargic mind and regain my lost energies. For some time now, I’ve been wanting to step into another picture-perfect paradise there. The place? Secdea. Opened to the public last year, it’s one of the latest additions to the array of world-class resorts in the island whose scenic charms sedated me.

Barge bound for Babak in IGACOS

The idea of exploring Secdea was floated during one of the meetings I attended for one of the big-ticket projects we’re pursuing. After several weeks of intense negotiations and mind-boggling discussions, the project team felt the extreme need for a sweet escape to IGACOS. Everyone also agreed to hold the next meeting and stay overnight at Secdea.

From Davao City, our group took a ten-minute cruise aboard a barge bound for Babak, one of the island’s old towns. Arriving at the port, we proceeded to the resort, passing through a well-paved road, which I thought lead up to the resort. To my dismay, however, it ended at the entry point to the village of San Isidro in Babak where the resort is found.  

For the next thirty minutes or so, my car had to negotiate through a rough dirt road that seemed to stretch infinitely. Good thing, I was able to maneuver it safely through the tough trail! Minutes later, we reached the resort. Entering Secdea for the first time, I was thrilled to explore its sprawling expanse—something like 53 hectares, a big part of which is still being developed. 

After parking our vehicles, we hopped into golf carts that shuttled us into the resort. I readily felt an ineffable sense of alleviation after being greeted by the swaying coconut and fruit trees, the salubrious sea breeze, and the surreal serenity swaddling Secdea. The deafening silence that surrounded us was only interrupted by the twitter of birds, the roar of the carts’ engines and our voices.

Home away from home
Few places have a calming effect on me. Secdea is one of them. The resort had me the moment we jumped out of the carts. Entering the resort’s clubhouse, we were treated to the picture-perfect view of the infinity pool and its spectacular background—Davao Gulf and the coastal towns of Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley, including the two Ligid Islands!  

Secdea's seaside cottages
With its sedate and splendid ambience, the beach resort is the perfect rendezvous for a great island escapade. It has lovely cottages, villas and lodges which are well-appointed and tastefully decorated. The rooms can be Spartan in a rustic way, modern Filipino or Spanish colonial depending on your choice of accommodations. 

If you wish to stay at Secdea, these are the types of accommodations that you can avail of: seaside cottages ideal for couples, lodges for a family of four and villas for large groups and families, which can house a dozen people. All the resort’s rooms have aircons, queen-sized beds, refrigerators, cable television, hot and cold showers, the works.    
Secdea's infinity pool

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Other amenities include an infinity pool where guests can swim from sunup to sundown, a bar where they can sip their favorite drinks, basketball and tennis courts where they can sweat it out, a jetty with a view deck where they can gaze at the stunning seascape and private function rooms where they can hold corporate meetings, weddings, parties and other social events, among others.

The resort's resto at the clubhouse
The food at Secdea is fine to say the least, judging from what we ate at the resto. On weekends, buffet meals are served but you can order a la carte if you like something. Here’s a caveat: Order at least an hour earlier since it takes a long time for them to serve even the simplest meals! I guess this is one aspect of Secdea's customer service that needs to be leveled up.

When day unfolds, you can go swimming at the infinity pool or in the inviting waters of the gulf. Scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, jet ski-ing, fishing, boating, wall climbing and rappelling are some of the stuff you can do there. Or you can just go strolling in the garden or along the beach. The ethereal sceneries will surely make you feel light as if a heavy burden were taken off your shoulders.

When night creeps in, you can read a bestseller in the comfort of your own lanai, watch your favorite shows on cable TV in the privacy of your room, play chess, cards, or scrabble at the veranda, or have a chat with someone at the clubhouse. If you’re a night owl, cap your evenings at the bar by the beach or at the jetty, sipping your favorite drink while listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean.

Serenity reigns supreme at Secdea—morning, afternoon and evening. And this is one of the resort’s irresistible attractions. How long will it stay that way? Perhaps until the time when throngs of tourists discover it and invade the place. Before that happens, take a peek now and soak up all the sun, the sea and the sand and, most of all, the serenity that this new hideaway in IGACOS offers. :D  

For more about Secdea, visit

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kidding around in Kidapawan City (Part 1)

You’re probably thinking I’m kidding about this but I’m not. Many of my firsts as a kid happened in Kidapawan, one of Mindanao’s cities closest to my heart. I got lost in its old public market at seven; fiddled with my uncle’s Armalite when I was eight; got chased by a mad dog when I turned nine; rode a 6 x 6 dump truck at ten; gulped a bottle of San Miguel Beer when I was eleven; lit up a Philip Morris stick at twelve! 

Gateway to City Hall

Now, before somebody starts shouting child abuse, here’s the thing. My grandma eventually found me; the rifle I touched wasn’t loaded; the wild bitch failed to bite me; it was my uncle who drove the truck, not me; the beer was good but it didn’t stay long in my system—I puked later; and the cigarette wasn’t mine—I was  just told to buy and light one stick! If only for these memories, Kidapawan will always be precious to me.
Archway at the city's entrance
Known for its tonic springs and tropical fruits, this progressive city in Central Mindanao is one of my favorite summer hideaways during my childhood days. Home to my relatives on both the paternal and maternal sides, I’ve spent many memorable vacations in Kidapawan. Whenever time permits me, I hit the road to the city not only to soak myself in its highland springs but also to kid around and kindle ties with kins. 

Quezon Boulevard
Kidapawan may well be called the “City of Highland Springs” because of the many hot and cold springs found there. Incidentally, its name is a portmanteau of two Manobo words: tida which means “spring” and pawan which means “highland”. Something must have gotten lost in translation somewhere—probably the mumbo jumbo of some early Christian migrants—such that the name Tidapawan evolved into Kidapawan.

Downtown Kidapawan

Kidapawan City Hall
Nestled at the foot of mighty Mt. Apo, Kidapawan is being marketed by the local government as the ultimate gateway to the great outdoors. Every year, thousands of climbers from here and abroad troop to the landlocked city, considered as one of the most exhilarating entry-and-exit points to the mountain, which seasoned and neophyte mountaineers alike consider as their “ultimate dream climb.” 

Saguing River
I, too, had long dreamed of scaling the heights of Apo, whose name means "master" or "grandfather" in the vernacular. After failing to climb it for years, the chance to go up the mountain came my way during the Lenten season in 2005. Casting away all my fears and doubts, I joined some co-workers and their friends in realizing our collective dream: to walk above the clouds in the seven summits of Apo! 

Statue of Manobo carrying a
basket of tropical fruits
After a successful climb, our group then headed for Kidapawan, the exit point of the trail we followed starting at Kapatagan in Digos City. It was one exhilarating descent from the peak that saw me and my colleagues frolicking in Lake Mainit’s springs, braving the strong currents of Marbel River in crisscrossed fashion—not just once but many times over!—and immersing ourselves in the hot and cold waters of Lake Agko.

Fruits of the season
More than just a tourist destination, Kidapawan seems to be on the verge of an economic rebirth. Standing in the middle of eight Mindanao cities—Davao, Digos, Cotabato, General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Valencia, Malaybalay and Cagayan de Oro, it sizzles with exuberance as it steps out anew into the road to progress being one of the cities belonging to the so-called SOCCSKSARGEN Region.

Gaisano Grand Mall
Since becoming a full-fledged city in 1998,  Kidapawan has portrayed a pivotal role, not only in the development of the province of Cotabato, but also that of SOCCKSARGEN, a conglomeration of four provinces (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani), two other component cities (Koronadal and Tacurong), one independent city (Cotabato), and one highly urbanized city (General Santos).  

Marang in my uncle's backyard
Heralded as the “The Second Fruit Basket of the Philippines”, Kidapawan is also noted for the plethora of exotic fruits grown there. Rambutan, mangosteen, lanzones, marang and durian, among others, are cultivated and harvested in abundance at the foothills of Mt. Apo, stretching downwards into the orchards found at the city’s outskirts and even in the backyards of many homes in the downtown area.

Pomelos ready for picking
Every year, the city pays tribute to this plenitude with the celebration of the Timpupo Festival. Taken from the Manobo word timpupo meaning “harvest”, the festival provides a venue for the city to express gratitude for the prolific harvest and the profusion of exotic fruits. So, if you want to indulge yourself in the guiltless pleasure of gobbling exotica, then Kidapawan is the place to be from August to October! 

It’s been a while since my last peek at the city so a revisit seemed in order. It was a journey that I’ve been raring to do for the longest time because it would also reunite me with relatives I haven’t seen for quite some time. Besides, it’s harvest time for tropical fruits that are abundant in the city. It was so hard to resist Kidapawan’s luscious rambutan so revisit I did.

Mary Mediatrix of All Grace Cathedral
Embarking on my first solo long distance drive all the way from Davao City, I reached Kidapawan after more than three hours on the road, passing through Digos City and the towns of Sta. Cruz, Kiblawan, Matanao and Bansalan in Davao del Sur and the municipality of Makilala in Cotabato. If not for the heavy downpour that slowed down vehicular traffic, I could have reached the city in about two and a half hours.

Arriving in sunny Kidapawan, I headed straight for Mary Mediatrix of All Grace Cathedral, where many important events in our family took place. The church looked resplendent that time after being spruced up for a wedding later that day. After saying thanks to the Lord for a safe journey, I drove all the way to the first mall in the city, Gaisano Grand, where I took my lunch.

Sated and satisfied, I went to Terraza Lei where I met Leah, the owner who’s my cousin. Housed in a three-storey building, her budding venture offers catering services to different functions and events—birthdays, weddings, baptisms, and the like. Terraza Lei also has a convenience store at the ground floor. Later that night, I stayed at her place in one of Kidapawan’s new subdivisions where my hosts warmly welcomed me.

Terraza Lei
Before going to sleep, I spent some time bonding with my aunt, uncle and cousins, sharing interesting anecdotes on my first solo long distance drive to Kidapawan. Tired, I didn’t have trouble dozing off early. In the wee hours, however, the bitter cold that envelops the city most of the time roused me. Geez, it felt like I was in Tagaytay! Shivering, I put on my hooded cardigan and snoozed again for three more hours. 

Later, I rose up feeling refreshed. While sipping my coffee, a huge, brown dog—a Great Dane named after the American president!—came out of nowhere and started licking my hand. Caught by surprise, I tried running away, thinking that Obama wanted to get a piece of me! “He’s just asking for that pan de sal you’re holding”, my aunt said.  Relieved, I shared pieces of my bread which he gobbled voraciously. We hit it off as friends after that.

Feeding Obama
Never did I imagine myself getting chummy with dogs again after my traumatic experience of losing many pets in the past. Brief as it was, the encounter with Obama turned out to be one of the most unforgettable episodes of my recent visit to Kidapawan. Who would have thought that my gesture would endear me to him? Cliché as it may seem, dogs are indeed man’s best friend. Geez, I’m missing the big fellow already! 

Later that day, I joined my relatives as they headed for the suburbs to visit the family of another kin, my father’s brother.  Though he had already joined his Creator a few years ago, we still keep in touch with his widow and children. Since it was noon when we got there, they had prepared sinigang na tangigue for lunch. Whew, it was one of the best tasting fish stews I’ve had in years! 

One of my uncle's feathered pets

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Halfway through lunch, it began to rain. Since there was nothing left to do after eating, we spent time kidding around with my nephews and nieces. To celebrate the academic achievements of two of the kiddos, we bought pizza and cake for merienda. Unfortunately, the inclement weather kept us from taking the little ones for a stroll at the mall. I guess that would have to wait until my return to the city. 

Calda Pizza!
Holy cow! A real "Farmville"!
I wouldn’t consider my visit to Kidapawan complete unless I’d get to scour the town and visit some of its landmarks. After the downpour subsided later in the afternoon, I drove back to the downtown area and went to see some of the spots I’ve missed for years. Geez, I could only beam with pride at the beautiful changes that have altered the city’s landscape. Truly, the City of Highland Springs is going great guns!

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As expected, the weekend wandering in Kidapawan turned out to be another helluva great adventure for this incorrigible vagabond. Too bad, I didn’t make it to Lake Agko to immerse myself in its hot and cold springs. Well, there’s always a next time.  All told, I enjoyed to the hilt my quick escape to the city, which earned for me a big kick that came from kidding around with kins. :D