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

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