Ang Dabawenyo » Travel & Tours The DAVAO blog -- from the islands to the highlands! Sun, 04 Nov 2012 12:43:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Exotic Tawi-Tawi demystified (part 2) Fri, 19 Aug 2011 07:16:11 +0000 Blogie {Click here to read the first part of this post}

After dinner on my first day, Ramon and I had a few beers. I’m happy to report that Bongao Town has SanMig Light (usually ₱30/bottle). Red Horse and Pale Pilsen are available almost anywhere, too.

After the nightcap, I went out to the seawall to try and talk the sea into letting me dive the following day. The waves were angry and sporadically splashed salt water onto the road, but did not touch me where I stood. Silently, I implored the raging sea to calm down so I could descend to her depths. When I turned around to head back to my room, a spray of sea foam stroked my cheek.

Day 2

I woke up early on Saturday to find the waves even angrier. Then dark clouds rolled in and within minutes sheets of rain dashed all hopes of seeing Tawi-Tawi underwater.

But I was in Tawi-Tawi, and I consoled myself with that achievement.

After a light breakfast, I tried connecting to the Internet via my SmartBro dongle, which had given me quite a good 3G signal the previous day. No luck this time — probably due to the heavy rain. The locals say, though, that they get good Internet connectivity in town. (Smart Communications is the better mobile network out here.)

When the rain let up around noon, I hired a tricycle to take me around. I needed to buy a jacket because I didn’t think of bringing one (I was going to the beach after all). Then I gorged myself on local sweets (again) at the market, but this time along the old pier. After walking around a bit and chatting with some friendly marketplace hawkers, my driver-cum-guide gave me a joy ride across town.

We went up a hill where I thought stood a majestic mosque. Turns out it was Tawi-Tawi’s provincial capitol. The proud structure overlooks the governor’s mansion and new housing developments on Bongao Island.

Tawi-Tawi provincial capitol Governor's mansion Tawi-Tawi sign

Upon returning home, I met up with Ramon again and we had a grand time swapping diving stories. He has much more, of course, and I was growing more and more eager to experience those Tawi-Tawi dive sites he was so colorfully describing.

He told me about Sitangkai Island, which is dubbed the Venice of the Philippines, and how he never tires of diving that site. He and Engr. Reyes have seen great pelagics there, and sharks, and huge schools of different types of fish. Sitangkai is the outermost island of Tawi-Tawi and is a stone’s throw away from Malaysian Borneo. The thing is, if you do go to that remote island, you’d have to plan for an overnight, because the ferry does only one roundtrip a day.

Saturday breezed damply by and then it was nighttime again. I was going to fly out on Monday morning, so any chance of diving had altogether evaporated for me.

Day 3

Sunday, 6:00am. The sky was clear, with only wispy clouds, and the waves were tranquil! Knowing how strict Ramon was about scuba rules, I didn’t think they’d let me dive anymore, because my flight was going to be less than 24 hours hence.

At around 7, Engr. Reyes and his family picked me up from Beachside Inn and told me to bring my diving gear. My host informed me that we wouldn’t go deep and stay less than an hour underwater. I was ecstatic!!

But first, we were to climb Bongao Peak. I was about to protest, but I suddenly recalled a local myth about the mountain. Some of the inn’s staff who kept me company the previous night had told me about paying one’s respects atop Bud Bongao. They said that, before doing anything adventurous in Tawi-Tawi, one has to climb the province’s highest peak first. (I don’t know how high it is, but it took us a little over an hour to climb it. Maybe 1,500 feet or so?)

Bud Bongao is famous for its resident monkeys. At about the halfway point, these furry troops start to emerge out of the trees and demand a pass-through fee of bananas.

Near the top, there are two Muslim tombs that are regarded as shrines. You can enter one of them and pay your respects. It is said that people who enter the shrine can ask for forgiveness for all transgressions.

Rock formation Mountain view Native monkey Banana tribute Mountain trail Mother and child Monkey troop Alpha male Final climb

Since it was raining the previous day, the way up was muddy and slippery. The last leg of the ascent had cemented steps all the way near the top, but that didn’t make the climb any easier.

But the view from the summit — it will take your breath away and at the same time fill your lungs with joyous fresh air!

View from the peak Airstrip Awesome view

My host was telling me that, on really clear days, you’d be able to see Borneo to the south. Sitangkai Island was thinly visible then, but a few errant clouds were hovering over the horizon.

I almost forgot all about scuba diving up there… but then the scintillating blue waters beckoned.

Diving Bongao

Diving Bongao

It took me half the climb time to go descend Bud Bongao, I was just too excited to finally be able to dive Bongao! When the whole party was at sea level, we proceeded to Engr. Reyes’ beach resort, called Mountain View, to prepare for the dive. My host’s nephews were in town from London, Manila and Zamboanga, and they were also planning on doing intro dives.

The waters of Bongao did not disappoint. After two days of pining for the sea, I was finally rewarded with my first dive! And then another one. Read about my scuba adventure in Bongao here.

I can’t wait to go back to Tawi-Tawi! Three days there certainly weren’t enough. The next time I’m back, I’ll be sure to visit Sitangkai, the turtle sanctuary, the dive site off Sanga-Sanga Island, the Napoleon Wrasse nursery, and so many more…

I’d like to thank my host and dive master, Engr. Rosendo Reyes and Ramon Tañgon, Mr. Lando Lim of Beachside Inn, and Airphil Express for having made my first trip to Tawi-Tawi a memorable and exhilarating adventure!

Magsukul & As-Salaamu `Alaykum!

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Exotic Tawi-Tawi demystified Thu, 18 Aug 2011 17:54:41 +0000 Blogie Two weeks ago, I was at last able to fulfill a long-time dream: to travel to the southernmost point of the archipelago, the province of Tawi-Tawi. Ever since the start of the Mindanao Bloggers Community, I’ve been grabbing every opportunity to see as much of Mindanao as possible, so that I could share with the world the beauty of the Philippine South.

Sadly, except for a few people, the first thing out of the lips of friends and relatives who found out about my trip to Tawi-Tawi was “Is it safe there?”

I’m no expert in national defense situations, but as a private citizen I can positively say it’s safe in Tawi-Tawi. As safe as any city or town could be, I would imagine. The moment I arrived at the airport, I could see how relaxed people were. There were military personnel outside, but then I realized it was because a ranking officer had arrived on the same plane. And during my entire stay, I didn’t sense anything untoward or unusual. All I could feel the whole time was a sense of newness, but at the same time a feeling of familiarity — I was still in the Philippines after all.

Not counting my visits to Kuala Lumpur, Tawi-Tawi was the second place I’ve been to that has a largely Muslim population (the first was Basilan). That’s what my friends and family were referring to when they cautiously asked about the safety condition in the deep south. The perception that Muslim areas in the Philippines are dangerous still prevails, even among Mindanaoans. Allow me, then, to show you what I experienced in Tawi-Tawi (or at least the parts of it that I was able to see).

Sanga-Sanga airport Airphil Express Bongao Beach Beachside Inn Beachside Inn grounds Beach road Bongao Peak A computer school Construction Dais Bridge Fisheries project Philippine flag House on stilts Low tide Mercado

Day 1

I arrived on Friday, 5 August 2011, at 8:00am from Zamboanga City via Airphil Express flight no. 2P 243. (The airline pioneered this route and now flies between Asia’s Latin City and Bongao, the municipal capital of Tawi-Tawi, four times a week.) I was already scheduled to be in Zamboanga for a speaking engagement, so I took the opportunity to visit the country’s southernmost province from there.

On the plane before touchdown, the alluring coastlines and sparkling sapphire and emerald waters were a sight to behold! The province is made up of 107 islands and islets, including the fabled Turtle Islands. I couldn’t wait to get underwater!

The people at Sanga-Sanga Airport behaved as any group of people would in any airport (although this one is small and looks more like a warehouse from the outside). There were expectant relatives and well-wishers outside and the whole setting had a business-as-usual atmosphere. I was met by my host’s driver, who then brought me to the Beachside Inn where I would stay for the next 3 days. It was about a fifteen-minute drive on cemented roads from the airport to the inn. (Most roads on Bongao and Sanga-Sanga Islands are cemented.)

The Beachside Inn is untrue to its name only because the expansive beach is actually in front of the property. It’s in a sprawling compound, with about 22 or so rooms after the owners finish constructing the new wing. They have meetings facilities and a kitchen that can whip up a mean escabeche and tinola.

The rooms, while really basic, are air-conditioned and also outfitted with electric fans for when they’re using the generator (which is super silent). Scheduled power outages are common; on the flip side, Bongao’s water is good and reliable.

When I was there, the tail-end of a storm was threatening to ruin my stay, but from the inn it was awesome to watch the waves slam into the breakwaters and spray foam into the air. I was witnessing the rage of the Celebes Sea — a far cry from even the worst weather in the Davao Gulf.

My main objective in Tawi-Tawi was to go scuba diving, so the looming bad weather was very worrisome for me. I didn’t want to have come all the way here and not be able to dive…

Long before the trip, I had myself introduced via email to Engr. Rosendo Reyes of the Tawi-Tawi Divers Club, thanks to my instructor at the Carabao Dive Center, John Neri. When I finally met Engr. Reyes and two other club members (dive master Ramon Tañgon and Mr. Lando Lim, who owns Beachside Inn), I was instantly put to ease because the first thing Ramon asked me was to see my c-card. That showed their professionalism and concern for my safety as a diver. Still, it didn’t assuage my growing fears of not being able to dive due to the inclement weather.

In the afternoon, Ramon brought me to town on his motorbike. The main mode of personal transport there is the motorcycle, and tricycles are the best way to get around if you don’t have one. Although, Japanese- and Korean-brand sedans and SUVs are also present.

Too bad I wasn’t able to take a photo, but there’s a good-sized Catholic Church (complete with belfry) sitting right across the street from a mosque. I don’t know how reliable this figure is, that Christians comprise 30% of the total population of Bongao. Judging by what I’ve seen, it could be quite accurate. What I found interesting, though, is that Christians in Tawi-Tawi observe some Muslim traditions, like touching one’s chest after a handshake. Also, they speak the Tausug dialect, even among themselves.

Near the mosque and church is a relatively new mini-mall called Midway Plaza. It’s about one-fourth the size of Gaisano South in Davao, but it’s pretty self-sufficient: it has a grocery, a pharmacy, appliance store, clothing shops, a computer sales outlet.

Other things I spotted around town: internet cafés; schools (the Notre Dame of Bongao is in this area, while the other notable tertiary school, Mindanao State University at Bongao, is on Sanga-Sanga Island); banks (I can only remember seeing Metrobank, but I’m sure there are others); dress shops; repair shops. Except maybe for the calls to Islamic prayer that can be heard early in the morning, at noon and just after sunset, Bongao felt like any other town to me.

At around 4:30pm, we went to the public market to buy fish and have it cooked at the inn. It was astounding the innumerable varieties of fish and other seafood that were being traded at the mercado! I found it really difficult choosing which fish to have for dinner that day, but I settled for a rabbitfish (a.k.a. danggit).

Locals don’t usually buy fish on a per-kilo basis — each fish or squid or what-have-you is sold at a certain price, depending on the vendor. Of course, haggling is expected. (Due to the increased entry of buyers from Zamboanga, however, more and more Tawi-Tawi traders have already started selling their goods by weight.)

Tamparan Batfish Butterfly fish Fish galore Fish vendor Garfish Goatfish Local delicacies Octopus Parrotfish Porcupine pufferfish Rabbitfish Sting rays Squid Sweetlips

Ramon also introduced me to local delicacies, which were in abundance then, thanks to the observance of Ramadhan. During this holy month of fasting, Muslims break their daily fasting with sweets and sticky-rice treats after sunset. There’s the tamparan, or the local hot cake but much bigger, served with sweetened grilled coconut meat. I also liked the pitis (looks like suman, filled with sweet toasted coconut meat) and the pasong (a cone of delicately flavored sticky-rice cake).

Back at the inn, we had the rabbitfish (about 1.5 kilos) stuffed with onion, tomatoes, garlic and other spices, and grilled in a banana leaf. I believe this preparation is called pinaputok in Tagalog. It was heavenly! (And so did the other meals prepared for me at the inn.)

Beachside Inn Hotel & Restaurant is in Barangay Pasiagan, Bongao Municipality. Tel. +63(68)268-1446. Room rates: ₱700~1,000 per night.

To contact the Tawi-Tawi Divers Club, get in touch with Ramon Tañgon via his mobile phone: +63(918)699-2822.

Next up: Day 2 & 3 in Tawi-Tawi...

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High hopes for Davao tourism Mon, 11 Jul 2011 13:59:14 +0000 Blogie Celdran with new tour guides

Celdran with new tour guides

Carlos Celdran provided valuable input to the local tourism industry when he visited Davao City from 6 to 9 July 2011. On the 8th, the Department of Tourism – Region 11 arranged a powwow for Carlos and a new batch of graduates of DOT-11′s tour guiding program.

In his usual effervescent self, Carlos related to a rapt audience how he developed his signature tours of Old Manila, and gave the new tour guides insightful tips on how to conduct informative yet entertaining tours. Hopefully, he has planted seeds of innovative ideas in the minds of those present that day.

Boncato, Aranda, Celdran

Artists All

Also quite well-known (or notorious, depending on who’s talking) for his advocacy to get Congress to pass the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood bill, Carlos gamely welcomed questions about his legal tussle with the Catholic Church. He mentioned that he was delighted with Davao City for having had its own reproductive health ordinance for some years now.

As a token of appreciation, the group gifted Carlos with a framed abstract painting by Davao artist, Rey Aranda.

Serendipitous convergence

On 7 July, having dinner at Ronaldo’s on F. Torres St., I asked Carlos and his wife Tesa, DOT-11 regional director Art Boncato and travel writer, Michael Aquino, if they knew a certain Michael Grosberg of Lonely Planet. Since we were all together to talk about the future of Davao tourism, it was but natural to bring up hearing about a popular travel publication, especially when one of its writers was in town. None of them knew Michael Grosberg, but I’d heard he was in Davao from Jackie Dizon (Maxima Beach House, Crocodile Park, etc.) and from my favorite dive shop that same day.

About the time when dessert was served, a man who had been having dinner alone in the restaurant approached our little group. Hearing your name bandied around by a party of chatty patrons, you’d be curious too. It was Michael Grosberg.

Dinner at Ronaldo's

Dinner at Ronaldo's

What were the chances, right??

Our evening became even more interesting with the second Michael in the group. He had been sent to Davao to update the city’s entry on Lonely Planet, which I hope will include some of the tidbits we were able to share with him. For example, I explained to Michael why, on that street where we were, the row of restaurants is punctuated by a funeral home.

(F. Torres Street was a lonely road way back when, and as far as I can remember, the funeral parlor had been there forever. Filipinos being the way they are with funerals, the need for places to eat nearby brought about the mushrooming of food establishments in the area. Of course, it also helps that one of Davao’s culinary institutions, Harana, had also been on that street since time immemorial.)

It was an evening of memorable conversation and exhilarating exchange of ideas. Too bad, though, that I wasn’t able to bring Michael G. scuba diving. He did, however, go on a white-water run with Sonny Dizon the following day.

Next steps

Carlos & co.’s tour of Davao and Samal ended with a luxurious and sumptuous feast at the newly-reopened Café Marco on 8 July 2011. We were treated to a spectacular buffet that I’m sure people will be talking about for the next few weeks. Kudos to Marco Polo Hotel Davao for uplifting the city’s culinary experience!

Speaking with Director Boncato afterwards, we plan to follow through with some of Carlos Celdran’s ideas for Davao tourism. One of which is this: preserve the city’s history.

I’ve also promised to help the DOT in teaching the tour guides of the Davao region in using social media to level-up their chosen profession.

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Walking tour of Davao Thu, 07 Jul 2011 09:41:34 +0000 Blogie Carlos Celdran is in town to get to know the cities of Davao and Samal, with the aim of (hopefully) tailoring a new kind of tour. Carlos is well-known in the capital for his unique walking tours of Old Manila. Those tours have gained popularity, not only because of their uniqueness, but also thanks to Carlos’ brand of humor and charisma.

A couple months ago, my cousin had a brainstorm. Michael Aquino works for as its travel writer for Southeast Asia, and he pined for an off-the-beaten-track type of sightseeing tour for Davao, akin to what Carlos was doing in Manila. Well, what better way to do that but to get the man himself on board!

Blogie, Carlos, Mike

The blogger with Carlos & Mike

Through Facebook and Twitter, Mike and I were able to pique Carlos’ interest in Davao, as well as solicit the support of the indefatigable regional director of Department of Toursim – Region 11, Art Boncato, Jr.

Davao City’s tourism, in my opinion, has remained unchanged for too long. We need something different here, we need to do something new in order to attract tourists to come to Davao and stay for a bit longer. From what I’ve observed, travelers come to the city and hie off to other places. While that’s also a good thing, on the other hand, I think they’re missing out on some truly Dabawenyo experiences.

Why did we bring Carlos Celdran to Davao? I believe it’s very good practice to listen to somebody from the outside, someone who has a fresh perspective, someone who might see what’s been under our noses all this time.

Kudos to DOT-Region 11 for putting together this familiarization tour! With Dir. Boncato at the helm, the Davao Region’s tourism industry is a sure winner.

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Maximum beach experience Sun, 26 Jun 2011 13:49:12 +0000 Blogie Maxima House

House Above the Sea

What’s the one thing that Dabawenyos always boast about to their out-of-town visitors? The city’s proximity to beach resorts, for sure. The coastlines of Samal Island are dotted with various beach resorts now, but when it comes to having a range of activities on offer, very few stand out like the Maxima Beach House and Maxima Aqua Fun.

Whether you’re staying overnight or just for the day, you’ll find something to amuse yourself at Maxima. Or you can just chill out and enjoy the sun. If you love the world under the sea, take a look at some of the wonders to be seen underwater:

A baby giant clam Midnight coral Blogie - candid shot Blogie Brain Coral Brain Coral & Sea Anemone Bubble Coral Electric Clam Giant Clam Giant Clam Blogie & the Giant Clam Hard coral Mini cave Pearl-looking thingie Sea Lion A coral shrimp Patrick the Starfish Underwater cave Yellow & blue sponges Yellow & blue fish Curious-looking sponge

If you’re not a certified diver, you can instead do “intro dives” at Maxima for less than a thousand bucks. They have a full-service dive shop with four dive masters and dive guides and a complete complement of equipment. Incidentally, you can also get yourself scuba certified (SDI, PADI, or NAUI) through the Carabao Dive Center and do your check-out dives at Maxima.

Love the water but not into scuba diving? Maxima’s got a jetski and a banana boat that’ll get your hearts racing! There are also two water slides that both get you landing in the ocean! The guys at Maxima will even capture your thrilling moments on digital video for you.

Would you believe they also have a canopy walk? Above the trees, you can test your mettle by walking a rope bridge from end to end. The view of the gulf of Davao is fantastic!

But it’s not just all fun at Maxima. Environmentally-oriented businessman Sonny Dizon, who operates Maxima Beach, has embarked on several marine conservation efforts, in order to contribute to the development of Samal as a true eco-tourism destination. The transplantation (or re-seeding) of giant clam, which is endemic to the waters of Samal but has all but gone extinct due to overfishing, is one commendable endeavor by the Dizons. Diving recently at Maxima, my dive buddy took this video of a patch of transplanted Tridacna gigas, thriving at a depth of about 15 feet:

You can tell that the Dizons are focused on protecting the marine environment because they do their best to educate their patrons on the value of preserving coral colonies and other marine life. Sonny Dizon is also working on getting coastline communities (in Samal and in Davao) to stop dumping plastics into the sea.

Maxima Beach, which is located in Peñaplata district, is about 45 minutes away by motorized banca from Davao City’s Sta. Ana Pier (the old wharf beside Magsaysay Park). They have their own boat, which leaves the pier everyday at 9:00am. For more information, please call (82)300-8636, 286-8883. Click here for Maxima’s website.

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Leticia by the Sea Fri, 20 May 2011 17:57:26 +0000 Blogie About half an hour’s ride by speedboat from Davao City is a charming beach resort that can melt your worries and bring you much-needed rest & relaxation. Leticia by the Sea on Talikud Island, Samal, is one of the many beach resorts now dotting the Samal coastlines, but it’s one of the better resorts in its class. In terms of location and amenities, Leticia by the Sea tops the others of its class.

Leticia by the Sea at night

Leticia by the Sea at night

Recently, the owners of the resort — who, by the way, also operate Casa Leticia, Tsuru Japanese Restaurant and Hanoi Vietnamese Cuisine — hosted a group of bloggers and photographers to an overnight stay, which all of us thought was close to an enchanted experience. (Disclosure: I am related to the resort owners.)

Leticia by the Sea markets itself as an exclusive resort, which groups can “own for a day,” so to speak. Their most popular package is for groups of 20 who stay for a night or two and they get to have the run of the place exclusively.

I will let the following photos tell you more about the resort:

The beach Beachside cottage Seascape Pavilion Walkway Family room Bird's eye view View of Samal Island Flower arrangement Quaint cottage Lounge Cottages New cottages Gateway to bliss Reef Blogie Eric D. Bedroom Sleeping in the wild Terrace Dining area The GT3 Water sports Blogie on the jetski Bloggers kayaking Wakeboarding Newbie wakeboarder

The idea is to get your friends or your family (or your organization) to own the island resort while you’re all there, with no strangers except for the resort attendants who are there to keep you reasonably comfortable. There are modern amenities that you might expect from a resort, such as clean running water in the bathrooms, privacy when needed, air-conditioning. There’s no wi-fi (yet), but I’m happy to report that all the mobile carriers do reach the resort and broadcast 3G Internet signals.

Aside from lounging and enjoying the idyllic ambiance of Leticia by the Sea, there are plenty of other activities for everyone on the resort. There are kayaks, jet ski, thrilling inflatable rides, snorkeling gear, and even an aquatic trampoline. But the best marine pursuit for me at the resort is scuba diving.

Just in front of the resort is a vibrant undersea ecosystem. Again, I will let the photos below do the talking. The first set are photos by resort proprietor, Ray de la Paz.

Dwarf lionfish Humpback scorpionfish Moray eel Harlequin ghost pipefish Nudibranch Blue nudibranch Up close and personal Starfish Coleman shrimp

This next set is by one of Davao’s best photographers, Bing Peña.

Cuttlefish Divers three Under the floating pier School of fish Porcelain crab Sun and Surf Ray de la Paz Lionfish Coral outcrop

(For even more awe-inspiring photography of undersea life in Davao’s waters, you must check out Steve de Neef’s account of the recently-concluded Philippine Seafari – Davao edition. He has a breathtaking collection of macro shots that will make you want to take up scuba diving and spend all your weekends underwater!)

That day we went diving, the sun was ablaze and visibility was excellent, which made for great photography and hours’ worth of underwater wonderment. It was pure pleasure observing delightful sea creatures and schools of varicolored tropical fish. (What I’d like to be able to do next is dive at night, when the undersea environment is bound to be drastically different and mysterious.)

The resort does not have its own scuba diving facilities. However, it’s very easy to engage the services of dive shops in Davao City. The Leticia by the Sea staff can arrange this for your group if you indicate that you’d like to go diving while at the resort.

Sunset cruise

Sunset cruise

One other activity that I vigorously recommend is their Sunset Cruise. You and your pals are taken by speedboat to the mouth of Samal Strait to view the sun as it sets behind Mt. Apo, with drinks and eats and soothing music on board.

To get to this tropical paradise, you have two options: go in style by speedboat, or by commercial ferry (which takes a little more than an hour). Either way, you will have to book in advance, because the resort does not allow walk-ins. Call +63(82)224-0501 or visit the beach resort’s website for more information.

They also offer day trips… But that’s not a good idea, because once you’re on the island, you’re definitely going to want to stay!

Here are other blog posts about Leticia by the Sea Beach Resort:

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Davao’s upcoming tour destinations Tue, 03 May 2011 04:46:11 +0000 Blogie Davao Region

Davao Region

Thanks to the Department of Tourism-Region 11 (DOT-11), led by energetic and forward-thinking regional director Art Boncato, I was able to see and experience several upcoming tourist destinations in the province of Davao del Sur recently. Davao del Sur lies directly south of Davao City and its capital is Digos City. (There are four places with the name “Davao”: Davao City, which is not part of any province; Davao del Norte; Davao del Sur; and, Davao Oriental.)

Last week, DOT-11 brought a group of local, national and international media people to the municipality of Sta. Cruz to witness the kick-off of the town’s 1st International Mt. Apo Boulder Face Challenge. This race has been held four times since 2008, but this year saw international participants from Indonesia and Australia.

Teams of two racers had to mountain-bike almost to the peak of Mt. Apo, climb to the top, proceed to a river and ride rubber tubes down the mountain (a.k.a. white-water tubing), then run all the way back to Sta. Cruz — all within 24 hours in order to finish. I forgot! The teams also had to plant a tree at a tribal village along the way. The first prize, awarded to the team from Carmen, Davao del Norte, was ₱150,000 cash. The second prize was a hundred grand, and the third seventy-five thousand pesos. Not bad, eh? However, I think the purse has to be made more attractive, if we are to expect more foreign participants next year.

Mt. Apo

Mt. Apo's boulder face

According to Sta. Cruz municipal mayor Joel Ray Lopez, eco-adventure is one of the thrusts of his administration’s tourism master plan. To accomplish this, the town is working closely with DOT-11 to design exciting tour packages and more activities such as the Mt. Apo challenge.

Mt. Apo Boulder Face Challenge racers Mt. Apo challenge team Prepping for the race In high spirits Race start! Kalumon Dance Ensemble RD Art Boncato Bagobo dancing Bagogo toddlers Bagobo dancing My tree! Tree-planting

It should be worthy to note that Davao del Sur is also working closely with the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) in order to maintain the ecological balance of the province. Mt. Apo is a protected site, and tourism should promote awareness of nature conservation, rather than cause its destruction.

The view of Mt. Apo in the picture above can be seen from Camp Sabros, a mountain getaway with one of the longest zip lines in the country. The group had a chance to talk with the owner, Edwin Sacdalan, who has installed several zip lines all over the country. The sprawling camp used to be a private resort but has since been developed by the Sacdalan brothers (hence “Sabros”) for the adventurous public. There are two lines, one being 820 meters long!

Entrance to Camp Sabros Blogie on Horseback Mt. Apo in the background Camp Sabros cottage Edwin Sacdalan Forest @ Camp Sabros Tree platform View from the cables

See more information about Camp Sabros on Multiply or on Facebook. They may also be contacted on the following numbers: +63(920)875-0015, (927)331-5844, (82)301-8056, (82)303-6091.

Businessman Sonny Dizon, the self-proclaimed environmentalist who gave Dabawenyos the crocodile park and white-water rafting (among other things), is building an inland resort in Kapatagan, Digos, called Camp@Tagan. The resort is still being completed as I write this, but there are some cottages and Coleman® tents (with mattresses and pillows!) that can already be used. The DOT-11 group spent a nippy night there, but warmed by a couple of bonfires.

Camp@Tagan also has man-made ponds and a lake, fed by spring water, and a mirror pool that reflects Mt. Apo. I can’t wait to see the place again when it’s finally finished!

Blogie @ Camp@Tagan Camp@Tagan RD Boncato interview
Mangrove forest

Mangrove forest

There are a number of other tourist spots in Davao del Sur that adventurers, backpackers and nature-lovers will surely appreciate. There’s an islet called Passig, a 5-minute banca ride away from Digos, where families can go for a day trip. One of the places I got to like very much was the mangrove forest in Digos City. The provincial government, in cooperation with the Digos City government, is doing its best to protect the mangrove trees and its surrounding habitat. I do hope they continue the effort, and provide the local residents with enough information to apprise them of the urgency in preserving these trees, which are the ecological basis for the survival of the region’s marine life.

To culminate the media tour of the province, Gov. Douglas Cagas and his wife — after welcoming us with a sumptuous feast at the Digos baywalk restaurant — brought us to their pride and joy: the Davao del Sur Astrodome. What a sight it was! In the middle of rural Davao, there it is, an impressive and high-tech arena for sports and entertainment. The main structure, which will have a seating capacity of 5,000, is nearly finished, and is expected to host national (and why not international?) sporting events this year. There will also be more basketball courts in the adjacent area, plus an Olympic-size swimming pool. Truly, the astrodome is a major accomplishment in the Davao Region. I sure wish we had something like that in Davao City!

Inside the Digos astrodome Digos astrodome Inside the astrodome

Sports, eco-adventure, leisure-tripping… all to be had in Davao del Sur. And with its proximity to Davao City for the latter’s more modern accommodations, this southern province is indeed a great destination for nature lovers!

For more information, please contact:

Department of Tourism

Department of Tourism – Region 11
Room 512, 5th floor, Landco Corporate Centre
J.P. Laurel Avenue, Davao City
T: +63(82)221-0070, 221-6955
F: +63(82)225-1940

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Davao tourism gears up for RA 9593 Tue, 22 Mar 2011 19:13:24 +0000 Blogie

Stakeholders in the tourism industry joined the orientation and consultation forum about the implementation of the Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009 last Friday and Saturday at the Royal Mandaya Hotel. Fifty participants have attended from hotels, resorts, travel agencies and tour guides.
Source: Sun•Star Davao

We do have tourist attractions in Davao City (and in other parts of the Davao Region) that are worth promoting. We have various festivals and activities to offer our visitors. We have fine hotels and excellent restaurants. We have travel agencies and tour operators whose services are at par with their Manila counterparts’. And Davao has several advantages over other destinations.

But what of the disadvantages? In our eagerness to promote our city and our region, we often fail to look inward and, thus, neglect to see the things that need improvement.

Traveling to some cities in Europe late last year, I was much impressed by the tourist services available to visitors. In Rotterdam, The Netherlands, there’s an office that’s clearly visible to arriving train passengers, and I was able to get a map of the city there — for free. The man behind the desk was very helpful in pointing out the points of interest in that western Dutch city, and gave some suggestions on what to do given my limited time in the area.

In Budapest, Hungary, a policeman I approached for directions back to my hotel also apprised me of the various museums and other interesting leisure spots on both sides of the Danube.

Closer to home, in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, tourists are regaled with a wealth of information to help ensure a satisfying stay in these well-regarded destinations. You get a feeling that there’s concerted effort to take care of tourists behind the tourist assistance counter, at the airport information center, even in public parks. You get this feeling because the people involved in tourism-related agencies (whether public or private) seem to be well-trained and well-informed.

Department of TourismThe Department of Tourism (DoT) has been undertaking a series of consultation sessions across the country to inform hotels, travel agencies and other tourism stakeholders of the Implementing Rules & Regulations of the Tourism Act of 2009 (or Republic Act No. 9593, embedded below). In Davao, the consultation sessions happened yesterday, attended by various businesses and organizations. (Fifty tourism-related establishments out of hundreds, though, isn’t a very encouraging turnout.)

I hope that, beyond the implementation of bureaucratic measures as laid out in RA 9593, such as new forms of required accreditation, the Davao City Tourism Operations Office (CTOO) would adopt a holistic approach to tourism promotions, as well as to actual tourism operations. I believe that, for tourism in Davao to become more viable and vibrant, everyone must be in on the game.

OK, let’s have something concrete, so that I don’t sound like a pedant here. I used to work for Casa Leticia as its front office manager (among other things). We were very serious — as I’m sure they are still very much so — about our motto: “Where you matter most.” We did everything to make sure that our guests were satisfied with our facilities and services, so that we could reasonably expect return business from them.

One day, one of my newer receptionists was surprised when I asked the hotel driver to bring a group of visitors to another hotel. My reasons for doing that: first, we were fully booked; second, the guests were loyal patrons who, unfortunately, arrived without a reservation; third, and most importantly, the net effect of my action would show our visitors that they did matter a lot to us, and it would leave an overall good impression not only of our hotel but of Davao City. (The guests appreciated the gesture so much that we didn’t lose them at all — on succeeding trips to Davao, they always checked in with us.)

That example is, admittedly, a very small thing. But imagine a whole bunch of small things that, taken together, would add up to something much bigger than their sum. Especially if all those little actions were tied together by a single motivation, an overarching goal, then surely Davao would experience a boom in tourism arrivals.

We need a citywide consciousness of the importance of tourism, and the responsibility that that entails. To do that, we need a rallying point, a battle cry, or whatever it is that would bring everyone under a unified purpose.

With fresh, young blood in leadership roles in the tourism industry today, I am confident that there is only one way for us to go, and that’s UP. At the helm of DoT Region 11 (covering Davao City, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley) is Arturo Boncato, Jr. In spite of his youth, Boncato is an industry veteran, having been the director of sales & marketing of The Marco Polo Hotel for several years. And before that, he was the brains — and oftentimes the brawn as well — behind the first professional events organizing firm in the city.

For the city, the CTOO is now under the direction of Jason C. Magnaye, who brings to the local government years of invaluable experience in the business sector. Magnaye was the executive director of the highly-acclaimed Davao City Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Also, he is concurrently the head of the Davao City Investment Promotions Center.

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My 1st time in KL Tue, 03 Aug 2010 11:01:27 +0000 Blogie I was invited to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to be a resource speaker at the Asian Bloggers & Social Media Conference, which was held from 28 to 29 July 2010. The flight itinerary that the event organizers arranged had me traveling on my birthday! But that was OK — I gladly sacrificed my birthday celebration for the chance to see Kuala Lumpur for the first time.

I had already met three Malaysians on my trips to Hong Kong, at BlogFest.Asia and at the Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum. Two of them, Sean and Siew Eng, went out of their way to show me around the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. The first thing on my mind was Malaysian cuisine, so Sean brought me to Jalan Alor. That place is well-known for street fare, and is populated by Chinese food outlets mostly. It’s a lively place, with plenty of foreigners and locals mixed in to form a cacophony of languages and cultures.

During my stay, Muslims around the world were celebrating Eid ul-Fitr (the Islamic celebration that marks the end of Ramadan). Sean was explaining to me that Malaysia enjoys good relations with Middle Eastern countries, that’s why there were so many Arabs in KL when I was there. Women in burqa or abaya were everywhere to be seen — that was my first time to see so many Arabs in one place, which made for a novel experience for me.

View of KLCC WordPress talk Muzium Kesenian Islam Ornate lamp Qur'an Blogie @ Muzium Kesenian Islam Betel-nut box Durian jar Dome Twin Towers KLCC KLCC KLCC KLCC Petronas Twin Towers

Speaking of Islam, Siew Eng brought me to Muzium Kesenian Islam (Islamic Arts Museum). The museum has a huge collection of artifacts dating to early Islamic periods. Of particular interest to me was the assembly of Arabic calligraphy. Many of the calligraphic artifacts — pottery, scrolls, Qur’an tomes — were from the period when China had a heavy influence on the art. It was a feast for the eyes! There was also a piece of ancient history that came from Mindanao: a betel-nut box cast from bronze and inlaid with silver, dating back from the middle of the 19th century.

Malaysian cuisine did not disappoint. From native Malay dishes to Chinese food, my palate has never been so satisfied! When I wrote about Taste of Malaysia, a restaurant in Davao City, I was already looking forward to the gastronomic experience in KL. The food offerings around Bukit Bintang (a.k.a. “Star Hill”) alone were enough to please any foodie, but there was more! Even the humble offerings of Wan Tan Mee Jln Sg Besi (which is something like Colasa’s in Davao) blew my mind. At that place I had wild boar curry, and a soup of vegetables stuffed with fish paste, washed down with calamansi juice that had kiamoy (plum preserves) in it. I considered the gastronomic treats my belated birthday celebration!

One other thing that made my Kuala Lumpur trip a memorable one was the people. I’ve already mentioned the two Malaysian friends who took the time to accommodate me. There were also the conference participants who made the effort to express their appreciation of my WordPress presentation. (I even got tentative offers to come back for more!)

Then there were the strangers I met — and there were quite a few. The most engaging acquaintance that I made was a half-Filipino Malaysian, with whom I had the pleasure of spending my last few hours in the city. He was on his way to his hometown in Sabah. I had an early flight, so I’d already checked out and was brought to the train/bus station by Siew Eng at midnight. I was anticipating several hours of loneliness ahead of me… but, thanks to a simple act of kindness, was able to meet Ramli, whose mother is Tausug, and who turns out to share a hobby of mine. It’s always a delight for me to meet people who have the same love of languages as I do. Ramli and I spent the next few hours talking about Bahasa Melayu, Tagalog, Dabawenyo and Tausug (the last two of which are very similar linguistically).

At the airport (the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal), I also had a brief encounter with a Malaysian who spoke passable Tagalog. As soon as he found out I was Filipino, he used all the usual Filipino greetings on me. I found Malaysians to be like that during my stay: accommodating and polite. Which makes me look forward to my next visit to this truly Asian country.

What didn’t I like about KL? The traffic? Nope — Manila’s is much worse. The prices? Hmmm… There are lots of inexpensive places for meals and shopping, right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

There’s one thing, actually. Malaysia’s government, ruled by the Barisan Nasional political party since independence, does not seem to look upon freedom of expression very favorably. Coming from an advocacy that upholds just that, I felt a persistent low-intensity buzz while I was there. Not that I feared being jailed anytime during my stay, but it’s a kind of feeling you don’t have in countries where you know there’s complete freedom of expression. I was warned that there are regulations in place against “illegal assembly” (but who defines what is legal and what is illegal?) and against improper behavior (such as two unmarried people being together at night in public parks). Being warned of such things does not sit well with many people, I would imagine.

Just when I arrived back in the Philippines, one of my Malaysian friends told me about the arrests that were made among those who participated in a candlelight vigil last Sunday. The vigil was a peaceful protest to let the Malaysian government know that they were calling for the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA). For more information on this and other issues brewing in Malaysia, please visit

I hope that the Malaysian government will listen more intently to these calls for more freedom and openness. Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and other places in Malaysia are truly beautiful and worth visiting — Malaysian tourism promotions abroad are among the best in the world — so, in my opinion, it would be a great boon to the country if the Malaysian people did enjoy the freedoms for which they have been clamoring.

On the whole, though, the trip to Malaysia was one of the best journeys I’ve had so far: gastronomically, socially and professionally.

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Sunrise over Canibad Mon, 07 Dec 2009 15:28:01 +0000 Blogie Canibad Beach — for a long spell, it was a secret paradise for a handful of in-the-know Dabawenyos. But after word spread, many have since found their way to the lovely strand and clear waters of this secluded slice of Samal Island.

It should be said right away, Canibad isn’t for resort-goers. It’s more for the adventure-seeking types, because the “beach resorts” there offer little more than basic accommodations with the barest of facilities. But that’s the charm of the place, in my view. (When I decided to go, it was actually to field-test my new Coleman tent.) There’s no electricity, and only some of the properties have working generators — which means, however, that you’ll have a fantastic view of the stars at night. And a bit of good news: there’s a strong source of spring water, and they’ve been able to draw the sweet water into a rudimentary waterworks system.

My timing was almost perfect when I got to the beach Friday night, because the moon had just been full the previous day. When the large, golden, near-perfect orb began to rise from behind a picturesque outcropping of reefs, the sight was breathtaking. (Too bad I wasn’t able to take pictures of it, as I didn’t have the proper equipment for a night shot.)

The following day, I rose very early and took my first pictures of sunrise. And how glorious it was! You see, the most beautiful few minutes of sunrise cannot be seen from Davao City, because Samal Island blocks the view. But on Canibad Beach, which faces the east, you can witness the morning sun’s first peek above the low horizon.

Canibad sunrise

I needed a brief respite to recharge, and Canibad was, for me, the perfect place to do just that. It’s very far from the hustle and bustle of city life, and it’s not easy to get there. The remoteness allowed me to temporarily break connection from everything, even just for a little while. So, on this idyllic tropical getaway, you can chill out to your heart’s content, soak up the sun, do a little boating… And don’t forget to jump off of the reef cliff!

Cliff jumpThey say that, if you didn’t jump from that reef into the azure waters, you weren’t able to experience Canibad at all. So, after mustering enough courage — and successfully quelling all fears — I did finally take the plunge! But only once, because the second time I went back up the cliff, I found my knees knocking even harder.

What got me to jump? A school of fish. That’s right: a very large school of very small fish (which locals call bolinao) that intermittently jumped in and out of the water a few times. It was like they were cheering me on. Of course, there were the other people on the cliff, too.

New friendsI find it quite refreshing how you can, somehow, easily meet and get to know other weekend warriors in far-off getaways. In Canibad, I chanced upon a big group of youngsters who also came from Davao. They were on the cliff when I met them, and while they were teasing each other, they happily and encouragingly urged me on — to jump a cliff that’s 3 or 4 storeys high!

The rest of my stay on Samal was spent listening to soothing music and chatting with my new friends. They “adopted” me there, so I didn’t have to worry about food or entertainment. Thanks, guys!!

It’s not very easy to get to Canibad Beach, though. From Davao City, you can take the ferry or a banca to Babak, or one of the regular inter-island routes to Peñaplata. From any of the points on Samal, hire a motorbike (with driver) to Canibad Beach, which is in Barangay Aundanao, Peñaplata District of the Island Garden City of Samal. The land trip will set you back around ₱150 and will take about 45 minutes to an hour. Most of the way is rough dirt roads, so be prepared for an unpleasant and bumpy ride. All in all, the trip from Davao City to Canibad will take more or less two hours.

Upon arrival, one more hurdle: a steep climb down a long stairway (which will be hell when you have to climb back up on your way home!). But once you step onto the beach, all your aches and pains will melt away. The off-white sand underfoot is very fine and cool (even at noon). There are lots of pebbles and smooth coral and shells strewn all over the strand. The sea… what can I say? It’s no wonder many call it the source of life. The sea in Canibad is what you’ve always imagined its perfection to be.

Fishy lunchDon’t expect much, though, when it comes to dining. You have to bring your own food, otherwise you’ll have to settle for locally-caught fish. You can ask your hosts to cook the food for you, but it won’t be much of a gourmet experience. Like I said, it’s still mostly unspoilt and bare — a state in which I wish Canibad would remain for a few more years.

But–alas!–developers and prospective buyers have already found this tropical retreat. It won’t be long before we see more honest-to-goodness beach resorts out there, which will mean more visitors and a flourishing tourism industry in the near future. Whether that’s good or bad will depend on how you feel about nature, about the environment…

I’m glad I was able to see Canibad while it was still relatively untouched. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit again very soon!

Here are more pictures of my Canibad trip. And to get an idea of the location, here’s a terrain map, courtesy of Google Maps.

View Samal Island in a larger map

Another way to get to Canibad, especially if you’re a big group, is by motorized banca. There are a number of these boats that can accommodate 30 to 50 people in Sta. Ana Wharf, beside Magsaysay Park. Since Canibad is pretty far off, these boat operators will most probably charge a whole-day rate — something in the vicinity of ₱3,500 to 4,500, if I’m not mistaken.

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