Pack your bags once again for a whirlwind adventure! This time COOKIE MICALLER takes us to the city of gentle people. Photos by TOMMY SCHULTZ
Escaping a city for another city may not be your idea of a weekend retreat. But travelling to Dumaguete City (approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes from Manila), the principal seaport and largest city of Negros Oriental in Central Visayas, offers an array of surprises.
Popularly known as the city of gentle people, Dumaguete is quaint, rustic and laid back. A university town (because it hosts Silliman University, the Philippines’ first Protestant school and Asia’s first American private school), the city is home to some of the country’s finest writers, educators, and conservationists.
It’s small (land area: 34.28 square kilometers) and less populated (116,392 based on the 2007 census), but rich in history and biodiversity. Bounded on the east by the mindanao sea and tañon strait that separates Dumaguete from the neighboring cebu and siquijor provinces, this coastal city is a natural paradise for ecotourism, outdoor travel, and adventure.
SATURDAY (PAL flight leaves at 7 a.m.)
9:00 a.m. ‘Painit’
Walk outside the airport and cross the main street. Stop a jeep (php10), a bus (php10) or a pedicab (php15 per passenger) to go to Dumaguete City Public Market on Perdices Street downtown for your breakfast treats or “painit”. For php15, fill your stomach with budbod or kabog, glutinous rice simmered in rich coconut milk and sugar—the locals’ version of the traditional Filipino rice cake, suman.
10:30 a.m. Date with Dolphins
Start the adventure in Capiñahan Wharf (45 minutes drive from Dumaguete) in Bais. Professional divers take you to Bais Bay on the East coast of Negros Oriental by outrigger boats called bancas (php2,500 for a group of 15), then off to Tañon Strait, the natural habitat of dolphins (pantropical spotted, bottlenose and long-snouted spinner) and watch them frolic and dance in unison. A variety of whales, among them the melon head, short-finned pilot, dwarf sperm and pygmy sperm, are commonly found here. An ideal time to visit is during sunny days or early in the morning when the seas are calm. Arrange your cruise prior to the trip (Bais tourism office; +6335 541 5161).
12:30 p.m. Stopover at the Sandbar
After the show of sea mammals, prepare to temporarily dock at the Manjuyod White Sand Bar. Savor your lunch (arranged with the tour; php150 per head) of a variety of seafood fresh from the grill on this 7-kilomoter stretch of fine white sand that disappears during high tide. Relax, snorkel, dive the reef, or simply plunge into the sparkling waters. Houses built on stilts can be rented overnight at low tide (php1,500 for a small cottage) from the Bais City Tourism Office.
3:00 p.m. Sans rival and Silvanas
Not to miss while in town is Sans rival Cakes & Pastries at No. 3 San Jose Street (+6335 225 4393). This former garage-turned-bakeshop that started in 1977 is famous for its sans rival (php300 per box) and sylvanas (php12 per piece). Their brazo de mercedes, blitz torte or the walnut dacquoise are also highly recommended. Order in advance if you want to bring home boxes of these popular sweets.
4:00 p.m. A Cathedral and A Bell Tower
Get a glimpse of the city’s rich past by dropping by at the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral on Perdices Street. Built in the 17th century, the city’s largest church is also the oldest stone church in negros. another historical landmark beside this European-inspired cathedral is the Dumaguete Belfry. This imposing moss-covered stone structure was erected in 1811 and served as a watchtower against intruders.
5:00 p.m. On the Boulevard
One of the most familiar places in Dumaguete is its 800-meter-long promenade along Rizal Boulevard where locals and tourists go for a stroll and relish the sea breeze from the beach opposite Siquijor Island. As the sun dips in the horizon, people sit on the grass and watch the waves break the sea wall.
7:00 p.m. Gotta love Lab-as
From downtown, drive through the coastal road to 201 Flores Avenue in Piapi, Dumaguete, home of Lab-as Restaurant which is known for its seafood and Filipino dishes. But its recipe of Bicol Express can top the Bicol version. Warning: it’s super spicy. Sinuglaw, a dish of grilled pork in kinilaw (vinegar-soaked) sauce, or fish kinilaw topped with chicharon, is a must-try.
9:00 p.m. Relax in a Shack
Move to Hayahay Treehouse and View Deck next to Lab-as Restaurant for after-dinner drinks or desserts. Relax in this shack that overlooks the bay while listening to the live band music that alternates from R&B, hip hop and reggae.
The city’s main drag, Rizal Boulevard transformsinto a native food market or “tempurahan” as the locals call it. The wonderful aroma of grilled seafood and barbecue pervades the air as this strip of street food kiosks comes to life after dark. Fish tempura, squid balls, balut and penoy are popularchoices. Vendors don’t sell alcohol.
6:00 a.m. Market, Market
Head back to Dumaguete Public Market for “Painit,” but this time try the puto served warm and topped with grated coconut. These round little glutinous rice cakes are also perfect with a cup of hot chocolate. You can also opt for puso (plain rice wrapped in leaves) for Php5 or the giant pan de sal with fried eggs, hotdog or luncheon meat. Don’t forget to grab a slab of freshly-cooked chicharon (pork fat with a generous layer of meat).