Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dazzled by Davao del Sur

“Going south”—that’s what some people say to describe someone or something that’s taking a turn for the worse. Not in my case. Going south, for this incorrigible bum, means hitting the road to a place I’ve come to associate with dazzling adventures—Davao del Sur! 

Located on the western side of Davao Gulf, the province, I believe, is in the running for being one of Mindanao’s eco-tourism adventure capitals, offering tourists the ultimate thrills by riding zip lines, scaling lofty mountains, braving river currents aboard a water tube, to name some.

Digos City, the provincial capital

Time was when I frequented Davao del Sur for a variety of reasons: to visit my father who was then assigned in Bansalan, Sulop and Santa Cruz on different occasions; spend a summer vacation in Malalag during my childhood days, drive along the roads of Kiblawan, Hagonoy and Padada, among others.

I’ve always been fascinated by the province, particularly its colorful history which is intertwined with that of what is now known as modern-day Davao Region. After reading books about it, I found myself even more dazzled by this exciting southern destination. 

Though it was only during the latter years of her sovereignty that Spain managed to make inroads here in Mindanao, her forays into what is now the Davao Region date back to the years following Magellan’s rediscovery of the Philippines in 1521.

Agong House at Kublai Art Garden in Kapatagan, Digos City

Sculptures at Kublai Art Garden
In his book on Davao’s history, author Ernesto Corcino recounted several interesting stories on how Davao del Sur and its sister provinces came to be. I found these snippets from Corcino’s historical account quite enlightening:

  • In 1543, Spanish conquistador Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, together with his crew, reached the shores of a place called Malaga (today’s Baganga in Davao Oriental).
  • Cruising southward of Davao Gulf, Villalobos and his men found the island of Sarangani (once a part of Davao del Sur prior to its integration with Davao Occidental in 2013), which they called Antonio.
  • In the 1840s, a former Spanish judge turned entrepreneur and trader by the name of Don Jose Oyanguren laid the solid foundations for the protracted conquest of Davao Gulf and the Moro-dominated territories surrounding it.
  • Oyanguren’s proposal to explore the economic potentials of Davao Gulf garnered support from Spanish Governor-General Narciso Claveria who provided him supplies and armaments.
    Fogs enveloping the highlands of Davao del Sur

    • Sailing for months, Oyanguren and his men dropped anchor at what is now called Malipano Islet in Samal (in Davao del Norte) in 1848. Thus began the colonization of Davao which Claveria named Nueva Guipuzcoa. He also called its capital town, Nueva Vergara (today’s Davao City) in honor of Oyanguren’s hometown.
      Highland valley of Kapatagan
    • In  the 1850s, Nueva Guipozcoa, later renamed to Davao, became Mindanao’s fourth district. The name Davao held on long after the Americans and the Japanese came. 
    • In 1967, Davao was subdivided into three provinces and one city.  The three original Davao provinces included Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental.


    Mt. Apo as seen in Kapatagan, Digos City

    Fast forward to the 2000s: The new provinces, Compostela Valley and Davao Occidental, were formed out of the towns that were originally part of Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur, respectively.

    Five of Davao del Sur’s original fourteen towns—Don Marcelino, Jose Abad Santos, Malita,  Santa Maria and the island municipality of Sarangani—were constituted by law to form Davao Occidental in 2013.

    Today, Davao del Sur is left with only nine towns—Bansalan, Hagonoy, Kiblawan, Malalag, Matanao, Magsaysay, Padada, Santa Cruz and Sulop—with Digos City, the only city in the province, as its capital.

    The road to Camp Sabros

    Dazzling and deadly—that’s how I’d sum up my different escapades in Davao del Sur’s adventure destinations. Hey, that doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe to explore this gem of a province. Truth is, my “death-defying” experiences there really pumped up my adrenaline to levels beyond my wildest imagination! LOL!

    You see, one of the audacious adventures I’ve ever had took place in the province—riding the so-called “death slides” of Camp Sabros, an adventure camp and mountain resort in Digos City.  The exhilarating experience there gave me one of my greatest thrills!

    Nestled at 1,213 meters (3,980 feet) above sea level in the village of Kapatagan in the uplands of Digos, Camp Sabros is the ultimate adventure destination for those yearning to push themselves beyond their limits. Its zip lines will surely give intrepid visitors the ride of their lifetime. 

    Guests can also take the resort’s cable lift while admiring the sweeping canopy of lush forests and verdant hills below them. For more about my experiences in Camp Sabros, visit my post at http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2010/07/sliding-and-shooting-spree-at-camp.html.

    Mt. Apo as seen from Camp@Tagan

    Kapatagan is also home to another equally enchanting destination which I’ve visited recently: Camp@Tagan Lake Mirror and Hillside. Formerly known as Mt. Apo Highland Resort, the two-part resort consists of two campsites—Lake Mirror and Hillside—where a number of must-sees and must-dos await nature lovers, weekend wanderers and outdoor enthusiasts who visit the place.

    Lake Mirror, which boasts of a cold spring swimming pool, provides an awe-inspiring vista of Mt. Apo, particularly during the early hours of a clear day, hence, the name. Hillside, on the other hand, is found in the uphill portion of Kapatagan adjacent to the Mt. Apo Highland Civet Farm, where one can sip the famous civet coffee.  

    Cool mountain breeze, check. Picturesque vistas, check. Comfy accommodations, check. What other wonderful things await those who dare venture into Camp@Tagan Lake Mirror and Hillside? Well, you can add swimming, fishing, boating, mountain trekking, hiking, horseback riding, or simply bumming around to your list of to-dos. 
    Neatly tucked at a hilly portion of Kapatagan amidst a forest of confers is another interesting site worth exploring—Kublai Art Garden, where some of the amazing works of prolific Davao artist Mujahid “Kublai” Ponce Millan are being displayed.

    Arguably the most interesting among these works of art is the Agong House, a  unique-looking structure that’s shaped like a giant percussion instrument known as agong, which is used by Muslims and the indigenous tribes of Mindanao.

    In Binaton, another village near Kapatagan, lies Ang Tribu Bagobo Woodlands, a privately-owned mountain resort that’s the closest thing to heaven for those seeking solace from the whirr and whirl of city life. Less than hour’s drive from the city proper, ATBW is the perfect hideaway where you can commune with nature.

    Early morning mists enveloping ATBW

    ATBW has open-air cottages, picnic huts and function halls that can accommodate trainings, seminars, retreats, team building sessions, meetings and other corporate and/or family activities. It also boasts of a sprawling campsite guaranteed to turn your weekend wandering into one camping experience. 
    The summits of Mt. Apo

    And how can I ever forget my first climb to Mt. Apo via Digos in Davao del Sur? To many Pinoy mountaineers, the country’s highest peak is the dream climb. I’m no mountaineer but I, too, dreamed of conquering it since college. With grim determination, I did it some years back with the help of some coworkers. 

    Located on the western side of the province, Apo is shared by the towns of Santa Cruz, Bansalan, and Digos. With an elevation of about 3,142 meters (10,311 feet) above sea level, I, along with my colleagues, conquered it in three days’ time, taking the Kapatagan-Kidapawan route.

    Much to my surprise, I survived Apo even with little preparation and lived to tell the tale of how I conquered its seven peaks. For more about that, visit my post at http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/arnobs66/4/1110893400/tpod.html.

    Veggie farms in Kapatagan, the Vegetable Basket of Davao del Sur

    Undoubtedly, Digos is a one-of-a-kind tourist destination that will surely leave thrill-seekers dazzled and dazed. The myriad adventures awaiting those who dare to venture into Mt. Apo, Camp Sabros, Ang Tribu Bago Woodlands, Camp@Tagan Lake Mirror and Hillside and other highland resorts in the province are simply mind-boggling!

    Largely agricultural, the city is home to some of the best quality mangoes in this part of the country. Mind you, these aren’t just sold locally but also exported abroad. About three-fourths of the fruits that the “City of Sweet Mangoes” produces come from the remote village of San Roque. 

    There’s more to Digos, however, than its soothing mountain resorts and sweet mangoes. Facing Davao Gulf, it also has a number of interesting beach resorts—Dawis Beach Club and Resort, Bolinaon Beach Resort and Aplaya Beach—where beach bums can get a good dose of sun, sea and sand.

    Dawis Beach

    When in Digos, a visit to Mer’s Kitchenette along the national highway (their new location) is a must. The roadside restaurant offers some of the best Pinoy dishes for those wanting to have their brekkie and lunch. 

    House specialties include delectable Pinoy dishes like afritada, picadillo, laing, dinuguan, sinigang, pinakbet, bistek, sinugba, chopsuey, to name a few. Mer’s also concocts probably one of the best, if not the best, bibingka (rice cake) in this part of the Davao Region. 

    Must-buy pasalubong: Mer's bibingka


    A popular stopover among travelers, it also serves the best puto (steamed rice cake), suman (rice cake wrapped in banana leaves), kutsinta (brown rice cake) and other mouth-watering delicacies perfect for pasalubong.

    Many years ago, people dreaded to go to that part of the region because of the frequent skirmishes between government forces and the insurgents taking place up in the mountains. In time, these have declined to almost nil. Today, the province is one of the more peaceful ones in Mindanao.

    I’m no expert on political climates but I believe it is the peace and political stability reigning there that’s one of the selling points of the province. And it is these two ingredients which would propel Davao del Sur to greater heights of progress in the years to come.

    I can only wish the people of this dazzling place would go to great lengths to keep it that way…for good. :D

    Saturday, October 4, 2014

    Inspired by Iloilo City’s Impressive Imagery

    I can count by the fingers the Philippine cities I’ve visited that have captivated me with their old-world charm and colonial elegance. Iloilo is one of them. With its centuries-old churches, awe-inspiring ancestral houses, mellifluous mother tongue, and delectable dishes, the city is nothing short of magical!

    Iloilo occupies a special place in my heart since many of my relatives, including my parents, spent a good part of their lives there. This, I guess, is the umbilical cord that connects me to the fabulous city, prompting me to visit it whenever time and resources permit. Truly, the sojourns I’ve made there have deepened my affection for Iloilo.  

    Iloilo's main thoroughfare, Benigno Aquino Avenue

    Names of places in the Philippines have interesting tales behind them. So does Iloilo. From what I’ve gathered, the city derived its name from the local term irong, meaning “nose” in reference to the nasal-shaped outline of the flourishing pre-Spanish settlement, which is set in graceful repose along Iloilo River.

    The mighty Iloilo River

    In the old days before Spain came, Chinese traders who frequented the area mispronounced the “r” with “l”, popularizing the term ilong-ilong, which, through the years, evolved into the current name of the city. By the way, Iloilo was also the same name given to the whole province by the colonizers, with the city serving as its capital.

    Once recognized by the Spanish queen as a “royal city”, Iloilo exudes a classic and chivalrous aura that always amazes, giving you a taste of European grandeur in that part of the world. Even a quick peek at its quaint districts—Jaro, Molo, Villa de Arevalo, La Paz and of course, Iloilo proper—would take you to a cruise back in time. 

    Belfry of the Jaro Cathedral

    In the 1800s, the historic city in Western Visayas rose to global prominence after its port was opened to world trade. Over time, it gained the reputation of being “the favored city of Queen Regent Maria Cristina of Spain” or simply the “Queen’s City of the South”, a title that is now attributed to Cebu after it eclipsed Iloilo’s economic supremacy.

    Following its economic decline, Iloilo recovered in due course and has grown into one of today’s highly urbanized cities. At present, it is the capital of the whole province as well as gateway to the entire region. Located in the heart of the archipelago, the city is home to about half a million inhabitants who speak Hiligaynon.  

    A veritable paradise for travelers, artists, scholars, and culture vultures, you’ll find difficulty describing the plethora of unforgettable imagery that the city projects in superlative terms. Iloilo is a delightful symbiosis of East and West, of old and new, of urban sophistication and bucolic charm.

    The old city is an intriguing mosaic of contrasting images that would surely excite first-time visitors and thrill frequent tourists—centuries-old cathedrals and modern-day churches, pre-war buildings and sprawling shopping malls, Spanish mansions and humble shanties, modern steamers and scurrying native boats, and much, much more.

    Ancient pottery from Isla Gigantes in Northern Iloilo

    Stepping into charming Iloilo is like making a trip down memory lane. You’ll get that strange feeling of the glorious past being fast forwarded into the present for everyone to see and appreciate. You’ll find yourself seemingly transported to some strangely familiar scenes from a bygone era.

    Geez, the city simply seizes the first-time visitor’s heart and soul. You’ll find yourself under a mystifying spell. Must be those ancient churches. Inside them, you’ll find the rich cultural heritage of the Ilonggos. If they could talk, they would have lots of stories to tell to those who’ve made it to their awesome confines.

    Upper facade of Molo Church

    Interior of Molo Church
    Drop by any of Iloilo’s magnificent cathedrals, which seem to have the power to inspire reverence even in the unbeliever, and, I bet, you’ll be in a time warp. Apart from capturing the charm of old Iloilo, these edifices stand as solid proofs of the early Filipinos’ architectural ingenuity. 

    Although war, fire, earthquakes, floods and other vagaries of nature had damaged portions of these religious landmarks, these have failed to extinguish the Ilonggos’ religious fervor that has remained strong over the years. 

    Interior of Molo Church
    Aside from their aesthetic qualities, these heritage churches have another thing in common: they were the fruits of human sacrifices. It is said that men, women, and even children were forced to work to build them. They were made to look for stones and other construction materials and assist the laborers.  (For more about Iloilo’s heritage churches, visit http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2012/04/impressed-by-iloilos-iconic-churches.html).

    Twin spires of Molo Church

    Anyone visiting Iloilo should spare some time doing the rounds of its churches. A good place to start is St. Anne’s Church a.k.a. the Molo Church, said to be the most beautiful of its kind in the region. Both sides of its nave are adorned with sixteen life-size statues of female saints, earning for it the reputation as a “feminist church”.

    Rizal, who had visited it, was said to have commented: “The church is pretty outside and the interior is not bad, considering that it had been painted by a lad. The paintings are mostly copies of biblical scenes by Gustave Dore.” 

    Facade of St. Anne's Church

    Gothic in style, St. Anne’s Church, which faces the public plaza, was erected in 1831. Its high pointed spires striving upwards into the sky symbolizes faith that reaches heavenly heights. Two massive belfries, containing around thirty bells, flank its façade. 

    Visiting Molo seems to mitigate my misgivings about life. This may sound mushy but true. This memorable enclave has a way of mollifying me! Must be those meditations I do whenever I visit its old church. Or perhaps that marvelous soup with yummy dumplings—the eponymous pancit Molo!—that somehow drowned my miseries. 

    Molo's eponymous dish

    Ah, whatever! This incorrigible meanderer is always mirthful whenever he makes it to Molo. Here’s hoping my most recent visit won’t be my last!

    Located about three km northwest of the city proper is another Ilonggo enclave which I visit whenever I have time: Jaro, the biggest among Iloilo City's seven districts. What’s so special about it? Well, I can cite at least three things: fabulous architecture, fascinating contribution to history and flavorsome goodies.

    Our Lady of Candles Church a.k.a. Jaro Cathedral

    A mural on the ceiling of Jaro Church
    There’s the 140 year-old Jaro Cathedral, the Gothic-inspired church whose red-brick beltry is among the few religious structures in the Philippines that were constructed separately from the main church. Known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Candles, it was recently named the National Shrine of the Marian image. 

    The original cathedral was built in 1874 by Jaro’s first bishop, Mariano Cuartero. An earthquake ravaged the church  in 1948 but it was not until 1956 that it was rehabilitated by the first Archbishop of Jaro, Jose Maria Cuenco.

    History buffs will be delighted to know that one of Jaro’s most prominent sons is the great orator and journalist, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, who edited La Solidaridad, the official organ of the Propaganda Movement during the 1880s. The newspaper featured articles about the economic, cultural, political, and social conditions of the country.

    Every June 5, the people of Iloilo (both the province and city) commemorate the birthday of one of Jaro’s most notable sons through the celebration of the Lopez-Jaena Day. A statue of the hero can be found at Jaro's public square.

    Lizares Mansion now houses the Angelicum School of Iloilo

    Whenever you’re in Jaro, take time also to gad around the place and see those old colonial houses of sugar barons and Hispano-Filipino mansions of the elite that still stand today. One of the most interesting palatial homes there is the Lizares Mansion, which now houses the Angelicum School of Iloilo.

    Finally, Jaro is home to delicious goodies courtesy of Biscocho Haus, which are perfect for pasalubong. Indeed, dropping by this thriving locality will leave you more exalted, more inspired and more sated.

    Delicious treats of Biscocho Haus

    Tourists roaming around downtown Iloilo should find time to visit San Jose de Placer Church (St. Joseph Church), said to be the birthplace of Dinagyang, the city’s most popular festival. The church itself rose to prominence when Iloilo was proclaimed an ayuntamiento (municipality), becoming the center of devotion among the Ilonggos that time.

    Facing Plaza Libertad, the church, with its Corinthian pillars and cross-shaped dome, houses a precious Marian icon: Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Holy Rosary), which was discovered during the Dutch’s invasion of the city in 1616. 

    Sto. Niño de Villa Arevalo Church

    Third oldest icon of the Holy Child
    Its other notable resident is a replica of the Sto. Niño de Cebu that was brought to Iloilo in 1968. The arrival of the Holy Child's icon in Iloilo is being celebrated annually by Ilonggos through the Dinagyang Festival.

    Another interesting house of worship worth visiting is the Sto. Niño de Villa Arevalo Church, which houses one of the three original images of the Holy Child. Said to have arrived sometime in 1581, the image was brought by the Augustinians who were establishing La Villa Rica de Arevalo (Villa Arevalo) as a Spanish settlement.

    For more about the iconic churches of the city and that of the whole province, visit my post at http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2012/04/impressed-by-iloilos-iconic-churches.html.
    Arroyo Fountain

    Mind you, old churches aren’t the only attractions that make the city such an interesting tourist magnet. Downtown Iloilo also oozes with many historical landmarks. At the capitol complex,  you’ll see both new and old capitol buildings. Nearby, you’ll find the Iloilo Museum, overflowing with fossils, artifacts, traditional pottery, and old photos of the city.

    Visit the historic Arroyo Fountain, which also serves as a rotunda where important streets, including Calle Real, converge. The fountain is said to have been named after Senator Jose Maria Arroyo, a well-loved politician in Iloilo during his time (who is also the grandfather of the former First Gentleman).

    The iconic S. Villanueva Building along Calle Real

    Go window shopping in stores housed in old buildings at Calle Real and imagine seeing Rizal, who, on his way to Manila from his exile in Dapitan in 1896, bought a hat in one of the stores there. Vintage buildings still dominate this popular strip which also happens to be a shopping mecca of sorts among the locals.  

    Now known formally as J.M. Basa Street, Calle Real is one of the iconic symbols of Iloilo City when the strip was a thriving business and cultural center outside of Manila during the late Spanish colonial and American periods. Incidentally, the street has been recognized as a heritage zone by the National Historical Commission.

     Batchoy, La Paz's homegrown, mouth-watering dish

    Laze around La Laz and savor a steaming hot bowl of the original batchoy, which is said to have originated from that part of Iloilo. Batchoy, a local noodle soup made of pork organs, chicharon (crushed pork cracklings), chicken stock, beef loin and round noodles. You’ve never totally made it to Iloilo if you missed tasting this local delicacy. 

    Siete Pecados, a group of seven islands found on the way to Iloilo

    Stroll around Plaza Libertad and picture yourself as part of the crowd who witnessed the raising of the First Philippine Republic’s flag, signaling our victory after Spain surrendered Iloilo, her last capital in the islands, to the Filipino revolutionaries led by General Martin Delgado on December 25, 1898. 

    At the plaza stands a monument of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, which was inaugurated on December 30, 1917. Trivia: the National Historical Institute had declared Plaza Libertad as a national historical landmark more than a decade ago.
    Iloilo Strait
    Take a cruise over Iloilo Strait to the neighboring island of Guimaras from Muelle Loney (pronounced as Mool-ye Loney) or Loney Waterfront, the name given to the river wharf and the street at the western side of the river. The river wharf became a favored port because it is naturally protected from strong winds and tropical monsoons.

    The wharf is used today as a port for inter-island vessels such as ferries and “roll-on roll-off” (RORO) boats plying the Iloilo-Bacolod route. Day in, day out, thousands of passengers, pedestrians, and motorists pass by this important landmark, many of whom are unaware of its historical significance.

    A portion of Muelle Loney where Iloilo's Customs House is located

    One of Iloilo’s unique landmarks, it was named after Nicholas Loney, the British businesman and vice-consul to the Philippines whose efforts greatly helped turn the local sugar industry into a major player in the world market between the 1800s to the 1900s. Muelle Loney played a pivotal role in launching the said industry into heights of international success.

    Iloilo's Customs House and Muelle Loney at night

    Heritage churches attesting to undying faith. Old landmarks of historical significance. Stately homes of yesteryears. This is Iloilo’s imagery that has left indelible marks in the consciousness of this culture vulture of a bum. Impressive images that would surely lure travelers and adventurers to take a peek at this royal city of yore.

    Believe me, your meanderings around Iloilo would not only give you a powerful inspiration to stimulate those creative instincts but also help widen your understanding of the Ilonggo’s participation in the weaving of the fascinating tapestries that make up Philippine history, culture and arts. :D