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February 1, 2010 / iselgarcia

Dumaguete Dreaming

*A version of this was published in Expat Newspaper

We all have that special place in our minds. The one we go back to when traffic is unbelievably congested, when schedules couldn’t be more hectic; when the pollution, noise and crowded streets of the city just become too much to handle. For me, that special place will always be Dumaguete – the dear city of gentle people. The mere mention of the name of this charming capital of Negros Oriental conjures up images of clear, blue skies; translucent water and lazy days at the beach with my feet in crumbling sand and a salt-water breeze on my face. Sigh. Atleast writing this article gives me the perfect excuse to go on yet another one of my floaty, ethereal moments of Dumaguete Dreaming.

Upon arrival in Dumaguete, the first thing my travel buddies and I did was to sit in the dark-wood dining room of our host’s spacious, Spanish-colonial home (known as the Locsin House to the locals) and talk about what we were going to do in the coming days. It was serious business. We all had something we were bent on doing. One wanted to snorkel. Another wanted to spend a night in nearby Siquijor and perhaps get a palm-reading. One wanted to see historical sights and dine. And I – I just wanted to see dolphins. Unfortunately, after a long discussion, my dolphin-sighting wish was voted out of the itinerary. It wasn’t dolphin season, they reasoned. I resisted the urge to stomp my feet and pout and allowed them to plan the rest of the vacation – atleast for the time being.

Apo Island
When you go to Dumaguete (or any other place in Negros Oriental), Apo Island is a place you shouldn’t miss. Located off the southeastern tip of Negros Oriental, it is 30 km south of Dumaguete and is considered a part of the province of Dauin. The drive from Dumaguete to Dauin takes a little over an hour and from there you can take a ferry to Apo. However, the water becomes choppy later in the morning, so make sure you get an early start. My companions and I left home a little past six in the morning, groggily picked up our dive instructors and woke up half an hour later at a make-shift, send-off point from which we could see the gray outline of the island. The water was a startling blue, deep and vivid, like shards of stained glass. The fifteen-minute boat ride was enough to wake even the sleepiest of travelers – the water splashed right into our faces the whole way through.

Unlike other diving spots, Apo Island, despite being hailed as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, has remained largely low-key. There are no motorized vehicles in Apo and there are only two resorts. The one we stayed at was the Apo Island Beach Resort: an establishment that keeps their designs simple and understated, but exceedingly comfortable. There are nine cottages you can rent in the resort’s private cove; each with its own marble bathroom, balcony and a beautiful view of the ocean. The resort is also open to day visitors.

Going to the diving/scuba spot itself, we had to walk through a small village. The villagers are friendly and used to tourists; a couple of sun-burnt children waved at us as we sauntered by.

After a morning of snorkeling and fussing over pink corals and neon-colored fish, we headed back to the resort for a scrumptious lunch they had prepared for us by the beach. When we had eaten our fill of fish cooked in vinegar, green mangoes in shrimp paste, kare-kare and other delicious Filipino dishes, we stretched ourselves contentedly out on the beach chairs and watched coconut branches sway in the wind, the waves beating their rhythm on the shore.

“Are you sure there aren’t any witches we can visit in Siquijor?” the thrill-seeking one of my companions asked for the third time that day. We were driving down a bumpy road on a bumpy hill in a jeepney we rented for the day.
“I’m not going to get voodooed or palm-read or anything like that,” I replied, sounding like a complete wet blanket. “What if they tell me my future and I don’t like it?”
“Well, you do have a point.”  
About an hour and a half boat ride away from Dumaguete, legend has it that Siquijor is a place where witches and other “creatures of the night” live, and I hear it’s easy to find a palm-reader here. But if you’re someone who gets freaked out with stuff like that, don’t be too quick to take the first boat out of Siquijor. There are a lot of things to see and do in this yet “undiscovered” piece of paradise – both for the thrill-seeker and the wet-blanket.

As soon as you get down at the port, a crew of jeepney, taxi and tricycle drivers will offer their services (drive you around different sites) for the day. If you choose to avail of this option, like we did, it would be best if atleast one of your companions can speak in the vernacular (Visayan) or in Filipino. This way, they’ll be hesitant about offering you unreasonable, sky-high tourist rates.

There are a lot of places to go to in Siquijor, for almost no expense. Ask the locals to point you to the direction of the “Magic Tree”, an ancient tree that has existed since the pre-colonial times. It is said to be the home of “encantos” (the Filipino equivalent of fairies or demi-gods) and can grant wishes. Doubter though I am in matters like this, I made a wish anyway. (Hey, a girl could use all the help she can get!).  For the culture-vulture, there’s also there are also 19th century churches you can visit. For the adventure-loving, the waterfalls and beaches would be your best bet. There are even jumping points in these places – cliffs that you free-fall from into the cool water below. For the luxury-loving, Coco Grove Resort is the perfect place where you can revel in comfort. According to gossip-mongers, Brangelina stayed in Coco Grove during a secret trip to the Philippines.
Antulang Beach Resort
It was our last day in Dumaguete and we knew it. Much worse, we were starting to feel it. People from home started calling. Tickets had to be brought out from bags. Flight schedules had to be rechecked. Panic set in as we remembered last-minute errands we had to attend to. Reality was pulling us back, but we weren’t about to give in without a fight. Not that day. So, we trooped to what would be our last beach stop in our trip, Antulang Beach Resort.

 Located 40 km south of Dumaguete, you can drive to Antulang by heading south on the National Highway. There are a lot of signposts on the road that will direct you to the resort.

 As soon as I stepped out of the car at Antulang, I knew it was the best spot to spend my last day in Negros. Having been to my own share of beach resorts growing up, Antulang, though comparatively small, is simply gorgeous. With an infinity pool overlooking the sea, a winding stone staircase leading down to the shore and fine sand; it made me think of the movie “Mamma Mia” – and I almost expected Meryl Streep to dance out of some palm-shaded corner. 

The best part of my Antulang trip, I must say, was when I got to ride down the azure shore on horseback, in the sunset. I felt like a princess. Or atleast some fabulous lady in a TV commercial. As my horse and I trotted around the resort, I caught a glimpse of the luxurious accommodations in Antulang.

There are luxurious villas you can rent in Antulang with its own pool overlooking the ocean. There are also spectacular suites with floor-to-ceiling windows, with prices ranging from $45-200. Another plus is that all of the villas and some of the suites are very private and have their own gates from which only the guests can enter and exit.

I didn’t want to leave Dumaguete. And I guess we all subconsciously wished to stay so much that fate stepped in to grant us our request. When we reached the Dumaguete airport, the plane had left us. What followed (banging on office windows, demanding a refund, etc.) is a different story altogether. Wistful though I may be, I have to end this unforgettable tale.

I slip from my reverie. I suddenly become aware of the sound of my officemates typing away on their computers and the rush of traffic outside. Oh, well. Until my next trip, I’ll see you in my dreams, Dumaguete.


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