Month: September 2014

Food, Fun and a Little History in Dumaguete

 

“Oh My God!” I closed my eyes, savoring the rich buttercream within layers of meringue wafers, allowing it to linger on my tongue until it melted. The occasional crunch of crushed cashews fuelled the lust in my mouth.

The Sans Rival was nothing unfamiliar, really, but the fact that I was indulging my sweet tooth at the famous Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries in Dumaguete City made it taste even better. Besides the Sans Rival, Cathy (my instant travel buddy) and I also sampled their other equally addictive bestsellers: the Date and Walnut Dacquioise, Sylvanas and Salted Caramel Cheesecake.

Established in 1977, Sans Rival Cakes and Pastries was born unexpectedly. Trining Teves-Sagarbarria, the owner, loved to treat her family and friends with her special homemade sylvanas. The delicious treats became popular and generated word of mouth demand, prompting her family to convert their garage into a small pastry shop. Now, it continues to serve slices of happiness on San Jose Street corner Rizal Avenue, facing Rizal Boulevard.

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the much-loved Sans Rival

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With no expectations, I went to Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental in Central Visayas, only because it was my jump-off point to Siquijor and Apo Island. But just like many foreign tourists I’ve talked to, I fell in love with “the City of Gentle People”. It must be the laidback vibe created by the gargantuan acacia trees thriving in the city. Or the simple and warm locals who’d take afternoon strolls at Rizal Boulevard to enjoy some kikiam and the clean ocean breeze. Or perhaps the quaint bars and restaurants lining up the bustling yet unpolluted streets. Whatever charm this progressive city has is enough for it to be included on the list of the most ideal places to retire around the world by The Overseas Retirement Letter, a publication dedicated to the concerns of retirees.

DSC05230 While waiting for my ferry to Siquijor, I hopped on a tricycle for a quick tour to some of the city’s historical sights.

Dumaguete City is the home of the majestic St. Catherine Alexandria Cathedral, the oldest stone church in Negros. Standing prominently at the gate are four stone pillars with intricate statues of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on top. The church’s construction began in 1754 and was completed in 1776. In 1885, it had undergone reconstruction and in 1936, it was extended with the present façade. The parish church of St. Catherine of Alexandria became a cathedral when Dumaguete was established as a diocese in 1955.

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St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral, the oldest stone church in Negros

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A few meters from the church is the oldest surviving structure in Dumaguete, the Belfry Tower, which dates back to 1811. Built to warn the locals of an approaching danger, the tower is a silent reminder of the horrendous Moro piratical attacks on Christian communities during the Spanish colonial period. Now, it houses the grotto of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where devotees can light candles, offer flowers and say their prayers.

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the ancient belfry tower of Dumaguete, erected to forewarn the locals of an upcoming danger

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Another important and perhaps the most famous landmark in Dumaguete City is the Silliman University. Dotted with over 300 gigantic acacia trees, the 62-hectare university is one of the biggest in the country. Founded in 1901 by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Silliman is the first American University in the Philippines and Asia. It is named after Dr. Horace Brinsmade Silliman, a philanthropist, who gave an initial sum of $10,000 to start the institution.

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A majestic building in Silliman University

the beautifully designed Luce Auditorioum

the beautifully designed Luce Auditorioum

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After exploring the raw and white sand beaches of Siquijor, Cathy and I went back to Dumaguete City in afternoon the following day. Since we only had one more night in the city, we challenged our insatiable stomach to visit as many restaurants as we can. The city is a foodie haven, with a dazzling variety of interesting restaurants lining up the streets.

Starving, we decided to get warmed up at the Kikiam stalls along Rizal Boulevard, named after, of course, Dr. Jose Rizal. It is said that the Philippine National Hero took a brief stroll here before heading to the neighboring island of Dapitan where he was exiled for four years, following the Spanish authorities’ suspicion that he was about to lead a revolution. With beige lampposts and acacia and coconut trees lining up the stretch, Rizal Boulevard contributes immensely to the city’s laidback charm. Many locals and tourists go there at night to enjoy the fresh air, the barbeque and the bright city lights.

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Rizal Boulevard at night

Making tusok-tusok the kikiam at Rizal Boulevard

Making tusok-tusok the kikiam at Rizal Boulevard

“You should go to Kri!” Some friends I surveyed in Facebook came up with a unanimous suggestion. We found Kri Restaurant at 53rd Silliman Avenue, just across the Silliman University Post Office. Cathy and I had their bestseller, the Truffle, Bleu Cheese and Bacon Burger. The warm soft bun, the fresh lettuce and tomato, the savory dressing, the crunchy bacon and the thick and dripping pure-beef patty created a delightful combination of taste and texture. Cathy and I agreed that it was the best burger we had in a long time.

That unforgettable burger at Kri.

That unforgettable burger at Kri.

As if the hefty burger wasn’t enough, we hopped to another restaurant my friends were raving about, Hayahay Treehouse. Located on Flores Avenue, Hayahay Treehouse overlooks Piapi Beach and is the perfect place to just chill out, listen to a live band and have some ice-cold beer. According to some locals, the restaurant serves good pizza. We would’ve loved to try some, but we just had burger at Kri’s. Instead, we ordered Dumaguete Express, a bestseller, and Buttered Chicken. The former is a savory mix of fish, squid, shrimp, coconut meat and lechon kawali all cooked in coconut milk. With their delicious inexpensive food, large servings and good ambience, it’s a no-brainer why this restaurant is a heavy favorite among locals and tourists.

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we had huge servings of Buttered Chicken and Dumaguete Express

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Later that night, we joined some locals and fellow travellers who became our friends over an all-you-can-eat buffet at Mifune Japanese Restaurant, located on Sta. Catalina Street. Mifune satisfied our cravings for tempura, sushi and other authentic Japanese dishes for just Php 333.

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Tempura galore

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Without a doubt, Watever! Family KTV was the highlight of our night. Located on Silliman Avenue, this KTV Bar has affordable rates, comfortable rooms and updated song lists. I’m not big on videoke but I had a blast, thanks to a great company and an interesting repertoire.

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I should have known that there’s more to Dumaguete than the aforementioned and I wish I had stayed longer. I hear that there is a beautiful sandbar somewhere up north, where you can also watch several species of dolphins and occasionally, whales. And besides Apo Island, there are other stunning dive sites around the province. Now I have good reasons to go back soon.

 

How to Get There:

There are direct flights from Manila and Cebu to Dumaguete.

If you are coming from Cebu City, you can reach Dumaguete the cheaper way. Just go to the North Integrated Bus Terminal and ride a Ceres bus to Liloan Port. Travel time is approximately 3 hours. From Liloan Port, ride a ferry to Sibulan Port in Dumaguete. Travel time is 30 minutes.

Where To Stay:

Harold’s Mansion at 205 Hibbard Ave, Dumaguete City. The hotel also has a dive shop and the staff can arrange your tours if you plan to visit Apo Island, Oslob and other nearby attractions. You may reach them at 09173024455.

Expenses (from Cebu):

Ceres Bus from Cebu City to Liloan Port Roundtrip              Php 350

Ferry from Liloan Port to Sibulan Port Roundtrip                   Php 130

Hotel (1 night)                                                                       Php 800

Food/Drinks                                                                          Php 1500

Pasalubong                                                                          Php 600

Tricycle and jeepney fare                                                       Php 100

Apo Island Day Tour                                                              Php 1000

TOTAL                                                                                  Php 4480

 

A Magical Day in Siquijor

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“The Sorceress’ Boat” Dumanjog Beach

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Cambugahay Falls

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The 400-year old Balete Tree

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Kagusuan Beach

“Finish your meal or the wakwak from Siquijor will rip out your innards and eat them!” Our help would growl and raise her fingers like a monster’s claws, scaring the ill-mannered six-year old me to consume the last morsel on my plate. Her impression of the aswang from Shake, Rattle and Roll never failed to make me behave and sit frozenly like the antique statuettes on our altar. Raised in the countryside, I grew up listening to stories about the mambabarang (black magic practitioner) and the shape-shifting creatures that skulk in the rooftop to feed on infants and the ailing. According to the stories, they abound in Siquijor, a small province located between the Visayan Islands of Negros and Mindanao. As I grew older, I heard of the wakwak less and more of the beautiful white sand beaches that make up most of the 102-kilometer coastline of the island. After packing my bag on impulse, I headed to the province I once thought was the scariest place in the country.

Called “Isla del Fuego” or “Island of Fire” by the Spaniards in the 16th century, Siquijor is home to swarms of fireflies that cast an eerie glow among the numerous gigantic trees at night. A folk legend says that the island rose from the ocean’s abysses after a tumultuous period of storm, earthquake, thunder and lightning.

Alighting from a small ferry after an hour ride from Dumaguete City, I was welcomed by the salty breeze that ruffled the crystalline water of Siquijor Beach just beside the port. The midday sun highlighted the vast radiant shoreline, as if hinting about the small island’s overflowing treasures.

Siquijor Beach, beside the port

Siquijor Beach, beside the port

“Those are just stories, nothing has been proven.” Kuya Edgar, our tricycle driver and guide, quickly debunked the island’s age-old reputation as a place of sorcery and unearthly beings. “There are some mananambal here though, mostly in the mountains,” he continued. He was referring to the folk healers who use roots, leaves and barks of certain trees to treat maladies. According to him, these herbal practitioners gather every Good Friday to cook up concoctions and perform healing rituals.

In the town of Siquijor not far from the port stands the St. Francis of Assisi Church. Built in 1793 and completed only in 1831 under the supervision of Spanish priests, it was the only Catholic Church in the island until the 1850s. It has undergone several restorations already but the rough coral stones on the walls somehow gave us a glimpse of the island’s roots. The belfry across the church, like most ancient towers in the country, is a silent reminder of the horrifying Moro piratical attacks on Christian communities during the Spanish colonial period. It was constructed in 1891 to forewarn the island folks of an approaching danger.

St. Francis of Asissi Church

St. Francis of Assisi Church

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The belfry tower in Siquijor Town

En route to our lodge, we had a brief stopover at the Guiwanon Spring Park in Barangay Luyang. The small roadside entrance led us to a bamboo bridge above the thriving mangroves and to a couple of Nipa houses perched on the stout branches of the Pagatpat trees. According to the caretaker, travelers can stay in these huts for as low as Php 250 a night. Sitting on the terrace, I savored the fresh aroma of the sea as the gentle wind rustled the lush woody vegetation. Below, a bouncy school of fish glinted in the emerald green water.

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

The bouncy school of fish at Guiwanon Spring Park

The bouncy school of fish at Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Guiwanon Spring Park

Dark thick clouds started to shroud the skies, creating a mysterious atmosphere around the empty fishing village of Dumanhog when we arrived. The tide was low, revealing wide swathes of powdery white sand. The fishermen must have decided to call it a day, leaving their colorful fishing boats to lounge on the shore. Also in the town of Siquijor, Dumanhog Beach is a tourist favorite because of its vast shoreline, according to Kuya Edgar.

Dumanjog Beach

Dumanjog Beach

Dumanjog Beach

Dumanjog Beach

Tucked away from the main road in the town of San Juan is another pristine white sand beach, marred only by the dead seagrass washed ashore during the monsoon season. Quiet and undeveloped, Paliton Beach has clear turquoise waters that expose a few clusters of coral and tiny fishes, allowing me a glimpse of its colorful underwater life. This hidden strip of paradise is usually not included in the day tours but tourists can request for a stopover.

Paliton Beach

Paliton Beach

Travelers won’t run out of stunning white sand beaches to lounge by in the town of San Juan, which has also the highest concentration of cozy beachfront resorts. After checking out some, I settled with JJ’s Backpacker for Php 600 a night, though I could’ve spent only half in the neighboring resorts. The wooden lodge with amakan interiors and the fine white sandbar of Sulangon Beach in front were too charming to resist.

JJ's Backpacker Resort

JJ’s Backpackers Resort

The beautiful Sulangon Beach in front of JJ's Backpacker

The beautiful Sulangon Beach in front of JJ’s Backpackers

JJ's Backpacker

JJ’s Backpackers

Sulangon Beach during low tide

Sulangon Beach during low tide

Shrouded by the lush roadside greenery in Barangay Campalanas in the town of Lazi is a humongous 400-year old Balete tree, one of the oldest in the country. Long vines hang like hair from the tree’s outstretched branches and the roots cling thickly around its massive trunk. I was reminded of the stories of my childhood, about the hairy kapre (dark smoking giants), the white lady and the vindictive duwende (elves) who according to the elderly dwell in ancient trees. According to Kuya Edgar, some locals claim to have seen apparitions within the area at night.

A stream that emanates from the base of the tree flows into a man-made pool, which is a home to the garra rufa or the doctor fish. These fish thrive in rivers and hot springs and are usually integrated in spa treatments. Visitors are allowed to dip their calloused feet into the pool for the doctor fish to nibble on. Oddly, the locals do not know where the water comes from, fuelling the strange stories about the place.

the ancient Balete Tree

the ancient Balete Tree

free fish spa beneath the Balete Tree

free fish spa beneath the Balete Tree

Two National Historical Shrines stand among the gigantesque acacia trees in the town of Lazi: the San Isidro Labrador Church and the Lazi Convent.

The San Isidro Labrador Church was built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1857 and was completed 27 years after. Its meter-thick walls are made of coral stones and wood. Unlike many baroque churches in the country, it has a simple façade but nonetheless beautiful. It is also one of the few Spanish era churches in the country that still has its original wooden flooring and pulpits. The majestic belfry tower beside it was constructed in 1885

The complementary convent, which was then used by the friars for recreational purposes, stands across the street and dates back to 1887. Encompassing an area of 42 by 38 meters, the Lazi Convent is considered as the largest in the country. Its thick and sturdy walls are made of boulders, coral blocks and wood.

The majestic San Isidro Labrador Church

The majestic San Isidro Labrador Church

the Lazi Convent

the Lazi Convent

Two kilometers from the town of Lazi is another beautiful treasure, the Cambugahay Falls, which we had all to ourselves when we arrived. To get there, we had to take a 135-step concrete stairs that descend to the clear greenish-blue stream. Nestled among luxuriant vegetation, it consists of three-tiered waterfalls, with fresh and warm water coming from the springs in the mountains. It is a perfect place to just sit meditatively and listen to the sound of the water cascading gently over the rocks and the whistling of the birds among the trees.

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls

After a relaxing swim at Cambugahay Falls, we drove further down north to the town of Maria. A few minutes after we passed through a small man-made forest, we alighted on a paved parking area beside a cliff, which has concrete stairs descending to Kagusuan Beach. Like sentinels posted to watch for intruders, several huge coral rocks stand sporadically on the pristine shore. Secluded and undeveloped, Kagusuan Beach is ideal for those who want to quietly enjoy the white sand, the clear waters and gentle splashing of the waves against the rocks.

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Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Kagusuan Beach

Siquijor has also around 45 caves, the most famous of which is the Cantabon Cave. Not far from it is the Mt. Bandilaan National Park, the island’s highest point. Upland farmers claim to have unearthed giant shells and fossils from this area, supporting the theory that the island indeed rose from the ocean’s womb.

The tales of magic about the island are indeed true, though not exactly the kind that inspired fear for ages. Siquijor’s true magic is not on voodoo dolls and terrifying shapeshifting creatures, but on the raw breathtaking beaches, jungle-covered streams and waterfalls, centuries-old religious edifices, unique caves, rich marine sanctuaries, abundant waters and friendly locals.

sunset in Siquijor

sunset in Siquijor

Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue

Heaven's Wrath

Heaven’s Wrath

Cathy's Wrecking Ball moment

Cathy’s Wrecking Ball moment

Coco Grove Resort

Coco Grove Resort

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Sulangon Beach

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How To Get There:

There are no direct flights to Siquijor. The easiest way to reach the “Island of Fire” is through Dumaguete City. Cebu Pacific and PAL fly daily to Dumaguete. From the port of Dumaguete City, take a ferry to Siquijor. Travel time is 1 hour and the fare is Php 120.

 

 

Expenses (1 whole day tour + overnight stay):

Tricycle (whole-day tour)                                  Php 1000

Food and Drinks                                              Php 1000

Accommodation (JJ’s Backpacker, San Juan) Php  600

Pasalubong                                                     Php  500

Boat Fare                                                        Php  240

Entrance Fees                                                 Php  100

TOTAL                                                             Php 3440

 

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