Negros Oriental + Siquijor, Philippines (March 2018)

1. Dumaguete City

My friend is a local in the town and she took us around for a short tour. Life in Dumaguete City was slow. People gave way to pedestrians, traffic was when it would take you ten minutes to get home, instead of five. People wake up early, have lunch early, go to bed early. They take siestas, too. It was a university town, which grew with respect to the students of Silliman University–one of the top six colleges in the Philippines–and their families. It was a small city–so much so that it was an unspoken rule to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle (which used to be the primary mode of transportation before cars started populating the streets) so that the local officials could easily identify the driver. Food was cheap, and delicious–don’t get me started on the seafood. Our whole trip was pleasant all throughout, so allow me to share with you some pockets of our local adventure.

RIZAL BOULEVARD + PORT

This was Dumaguete’s miniature version of Manila Bay. On one side was a strip of commercial establishments, and on the other, a wide pathway lined with century-old trees and benches. Late afternoon would be the perfect time to stroll–against the backdrop of the setting sun in combination with the sea breeze and the waters clapping against the rocks, nature’s soundtrack for this fine city. At one end was an organized street-food fair, where one may sample kwek-kwek, balot, tempura, and more.

THE PLAZA

FOOD PLACES

We never had a bad meal. None that went above P500, either (and that goes with dessert and drinks). All the dining spots listed below are good recommendations.

Dumaguete Public Market

Rizal Boulevard Organized Streetfood Bazaar

Panda Ice Cream

Gabby’s Bistro

Sans Rival Cafe

Bernie’s Halo-halo

Teria

Along E.J. Blanco Drive:

Lantau

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Tinto

Ciao Bella

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Cafe Racer

2. Apo Island

The island was a short boat ride away from Dauin port, 30 minutes away from Dumaguete City. We would unboard the bangka to three snorkeling spots, each filled with magnificent marine life: hundreds of corals and sea creatures of different sizes, shapes, and color adorned the seabed and stimulated the our sight. How we enjoyed swimming with the adorable sea turtles, which carried on with their business like nobody else was there. It was a wondrous place to dive and explore, and, for a few hours, pretend to be ‘part of that (underwater) world’–a space to dance and glide against the expanse of biodiversity. The sun, still luminous underwater, shone like a natural spotlight to busy pockets on the ocean floor, and becomes, to the experienced free diver, an opportunity to take part of the production.

 

3. Manjuyod Sand Bar & Olympia

We set out early from the port of Bais to avoid the crowd and arrived just before the tide covered the isle of sand. The sun greeted us with fine weather and a promising day ahead. For hours we swam on the semi-beach. There was no longer dry land but there was water shallow enough for us to play in–and I say play because that’s precisely what we did. The waves were strong. We swam in the undertow, floated still for the current to transport us, lay baked on the surface of the ocean, and enjoyed seawater fare–grilled squid and fish, fresh oysters and sea urchins.

After a pleasurable morning, we set out for the island of Olympia. Under the noontime heat, we went around on foot. Our guides were locals of the small community of less than a thousand, hence our walk was full of stories about daily life and struggles of the island’s inhabitants. The climax of our visit was when we stepped on the highest point of the island–the grotto–and pointed out its neighbors from every side–Cebu, Bohol, Dumaguete, and more. The grotto stood on a hilltop of vivid green, which served as a recreational spot for the residents, a kind of respite from the busyness of the day. It was peaceful and quiet, an ideal venue for restful solitude.

 

4. Siquijor

Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful island. I was enchanted the moment we sped out on Kuya Francis’ newly-painted blue-and-yellow tricycle for our first stop. The roads were newly-paved, and wide–there weren’t any cars (yet). Development was minimal (unfortunately though, it won’t be for long, as an airport is underway), a perfect ratio of 80-20, 80% open space. The natural landscape was diverse and colorful: rice paddies, small fisheries, mountain ranges, white sand beaches, mostly without a single soul in sight due to the small population. It was another haven for solitude and tranquility.

Siquijor Church & Bell Tower

Century Old Balete Tree (and fish spa)

Paliton Beach

Capilay Spring Park

Lazi Church

Cambugahay Falls

Salagdoong Beach

Guiwanon Spring Park

“Uy, meron dito!!!!”
“Saan?!!”
“Ayan, o!”

In this island, children’s leisure on a Sunday is spotting fish in the shallow waters between the spring and the sea. Time ran slow. The sunlight was a pleasant contrast from the chilly ocean breeze; the light waves sparkled on the shore as the young ones cackled and splashed and sauntered–a tranquil moment from which I captured a mental picture. How blessed are they, I thought, for paradise to be this accessible.

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