Davao Da “WOW” 

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When one thinks of Davao, exactly what images do come to mind? As for me, Davao is durian and marang, Luz Kinilaw, Samal Island, the Shrine in Matina, Philippine Eagle, orchids, the San Pedro Cathedral, the no-smoking rules, and the well loved Mayor Duterte.

they don't send smokers to jail, as long as you smoke responsibly - - in designated spots away from non-smokers

Well, the 2010 elections have just been concluded and the mayor-elect is Inday Nita, a daughter of the incumbent mayor. Thus it is expected that the peace and order enjoyed by Davao will continue and will make this largest Philippine city  even more attractive to visitors.

It was a Sunday so I visited the Sto Nino Shrine in Matina. If one needs a place conducive to praying, and communing with nature, the Shrine is the best place to go to in Davao.

the grounds around the Shrine

On the road opposite the Shrine is Jack’s Ridge, a destination in itself, particularly popular for drinks at night when you can have a good view of Davao City at night. They were fully-booked when I went, all three rooms. Book ahead at (+6382) 2978830 to 31. website http://www.jacksridgedavao.com

the city as seen from Jack's Ridge

restaurant at Jack's Ridge

Bar with a view

pool on the ridge

A relatively new attraction is Baywalk, with a reproduction of Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture “David” as the most prominent, albeit much talked about and controversial centerpiece. Apparently, the locals were scandalized by the statue of a man with his genitals uncovered, that at some point they actually covered David’s private parts. Maybe the thought of Michaelangelo rising from the dead made them re-think this “solution”. Now, David, in bronze and bigger than the original housed in Florence, Italy, stands proud, showing to one and all his manhood. The park also features a lagoon with sharks on the water, and a small zoo with some ostriches in cages.

David now stands tall and proud, and still uncovered.

real, aquarium-variety sharks on the lagoon

from the Baywalk, a view of bathers at Emar's Beach, one of many low-end beach resort in the area known sa Times beach

Shopping in Davao is like any big-city shopping. I checked out SM Davao, plus the huge NCCC Mall. At SM Davao, the fastfood staff were attired in their best Filipiniana, the day of my visit being the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day. There was also a huge exhibit mounted by the Philippine Eagle Center, with real live eagles brought into the mall for public viewing. Plus photos of the birds taken by ace photographers, also on exhibit. I will blog separately about the Philippine Eagle Center.

a chance encounter :eagles at the SM Mall, limited run. Terry is an Australian who came to the Philippines just to see the Philippine eagle, and stayed on as a volunteer at the center

Meanwhile, I was floored to see this signage at the men’s room of SM Davao, 2nd floor. Unthinkable for a mall that has become so big because of the patronage of its customers, more than the value of its tenants. Calling SM Malls !

SM treats tenants better than customers?

A visit to Davao is not complete without saying a prayer at the San Pedro Cathedral across from the City Hall. Never mind that the church was bombed by extremists in 2003. I guess it is better to leave this planet while praying in such great place of worship, just in case.

Eating Out

I also checked out the restaurant row beside the Peoples Park. Banok Banok apparently means “baboy at manok”.

Baboy-manok = Banok

It was hot and humid so I decided to skip these famous al fresco restaurants and decided to enjoy cheap lunch in aircondtioned comfort just across from all these famous restaurants – – – at a cafe cum grocery, a version of 7-11 and Figaro, called 24 Shop in Store . I was happy with my rice toppings lunch. I had ampalaya with beef, and it was so good it could have come straight from the kitchen, fresh cooked. All for P70, plus P15 for iced tea.

in this corner is the " 24 Shop in Store" . . .

...where you can buy a P70 ampalaya con carne rice topping

You can also try Tsuru, a Japanese restaurant that shares a common kitchen with Hanoi, serving Vietnamese dishes.

go Japanese at Tsuru, right beside Cafe Leticia

Luz Kinilaw Place is still there along Magsaysay, and so are the regular customers. I had the usual kinilaw na tuna, and the famous inihaw na panga. This time, I sat closer to the street instead of what used to be the prime seats facing the sea. The sea view is gone, and in its place are roofs of squatter-type houses. The kinilaw, as expected, is still great. And so is the panga, the smallest of which is still impossible to finish. The driver was happy to take the panga home.

the familiar old stairs

same old set up, minus the sea view

good old food : this huge panga for P360

and the raison d' etre : kinilaw

Within a few steps from Luz Kinilaw is the row of fruit stalls with the prominent signage Magsaysay Fruit Vendors Association. I savored a small durian for P85, and moved to the next stall for my favorite marang. There was no small marang that was ripe enough to eat, so I bought one that is nearly 3 kilos for P135. Again, the driver was happy to bring home more than half of the fruit, because these fruits can not be brought into the hotels in Davao.

glorious durian, but they don't allow inside hotels !

marang, 2.5 kilos for P135

People’s Park.

This is a popular park at the restaurant area near Casa Leticia and at the back of Apo View Hotel. The park is , typical of the entire city, a no-smoking park.  It is well maintained, with interesting giant stone sculpture depicting barrio life  and fishing village scenes. A section of the park is a gardener’s haven, with clinging vines and orchids within the area around a pond. Interestingly, a gym operates from this area, albeit out of place. Still, it is a clear message that the park is for everyone’s use.

at the park, carabao for transport (stone sculpture)

the park is for joggers, and a venue for sports events

a gym in a quiet corner

a garden enthusiast's haven, too

while people run, ducks take a walk

Hotels

In my previous visits, I have stayed in the better hotels in the city. From the Maguindanao Hotel, the premier hotel in the 7os, but is now closed, to the Apo View Hotel, to the new 5-star Marco Polo. I have also stayed at the Waterfront, even before when it was just Davao Insular. This time I stayed at the Casa Leticia, a good value mid-level hotel.

Casa Leticia along J. Camus Street has rooms that are as good as 3-star hotel rooms. A de luxe room I checked into (P2,500) had a queen size bed, television, mini bar and ref, a workdesk, a coffee table, while admittedly a bit cramped within the small space. The toilet had complete toiletries like toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, bath towels, floor towels, hair dryer, and an old-fashioned retractable mirror. I would say I got the best value this time. Clean comfortable room at half the cost of my previous hotels. Contact Casa Leticia at (+6382) 2240501.

Casa Leticia, best value for money

Juliet at the front desk, with Benjie the bellman

Sagay coffee shop, with very attentive waiter Erwin

room rates include breakfast of your choice

my day 1 breakfast : home made sardines, the house specialty

my de luxe room, for P2,500

I went around to check my old hotels.

Apo View has refurbished and is clearly not letting the newer hotels take over its clientele. It has the look of a new hotel, with a huge glass wall beside Cafe Josefina that makes the whole lobby area look green thru the foliage outside the glass wall. Even the pool on the ground level has moved, to give way to restaurants and generous garden spaces.

Apo View: more beautiful than before

Cafe Josefina, at the end of the lobby

Marco Polo is humming with brisk business. Clearly THE hotel in Davao.

the world-class Marco Polo, first stayed here in 2006

The Royal Mandaya is also quite busy, getting its fair share of business. I guess that is because tourism in Davao is on an upswing, with business going to as many establishments as possible.

Seagull at Matina Aplaya

On a tip from the taxi driver, I also checked out Seagull, a beach accommodation in the down-market area called Matina Aplaya. Access is through a thickly populated area. When on a budget or when going with friends for a swim nearby, this place is good enough. Away from the city center, but only P85 by taxi. Contact (+6382)3010100, 3010097

the beach at Seagull

aircon room by the beach, with TV at P1,950 and it comes with...

an outdoor seating overlooking the beach resort

Argao, to visit a dear friend

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I gave my mom, resident of Sydney, a Cebu vacation. She has never been to Cebu all her life.

Marcelo Fernan Bridge in Cebu

After doing the usual tourist itinerary, I asked her if we can go to a place outside the city so I could visit a friend.

On a rented car, we were driving to Argao. I wasn’t sure though where exactly my friend was laid to rest. I thought that, surely, the local residents would be able to lead me to his tomb. After all, he passed away while serving as Press Secretary, and he was a much loved son of Argao.

Talisay

These "leaning to the center" posts lead to Talisay

The first city outside of Cebu on the way to Argao is Talisay. I remembered having seafood lunch once or twice many years in the past, when a trip to the seaside restaurants in Talisay were de riguer. I am told business is not as brisk, with locals opting for the sutukil stores in Lapulapu City instead when the urge to have fresh seafoods out of town hits them.

Minglanilla is next. And then Naga City.

Naga City figured in the news in the past year, when the town was granted cityhood, and the same was taken away. What was taken away was eventually granted one more time. Naga town has, therefore, moved to cityhood, returned to being a town, and is now finally a city. Maybe for this reason, the “city” officials have not changed the signage to indicate Naga being a city. The city derives income from the power plant that it hosts, as well as cement factories within its jurisdiction.

Naga "Municipal" Hall

San Fernando comes next. I made a detour to Pulchra, a 5-star resort in the area owned by a Filipino and Indonesian group, done in a Balinese theme. I was not able to check out the rooms, but with the way the place was set-up, from the manicured garden leading to the reception, to the spacious reception area, and the poolside next to the sea, I can safely say the facilities, and the accommodations, are first class. Rates are quoted in US dollars, and definitely high-end.

Rooms here are quoted in US $, and the cheapest room for 2 is the equivalent of P12,000 when off-peak

landscaped road leading to the high-end property

reception area at the Pulchra

the poolside, and the sea, just past the reception area

Carcar is next. It shares the same town-city-town-city saga as Naga. Carcar is famous for its shoe industry, and it seems like Marikina has moved to Carcar. Travelers also make sure they stop and buy the local delicacies  – – – ampaw and chicharon. I wrote about Carcar as a separate post, and showed photos of shoes shoes shoes and more shoes in their “permanent” trade expo.

a seemingly permanent trade expo to promote Carcar's shoe industry

Sibonga comes next. We stopped at the boundary of Sibonga and Argao to have some refreshments.  We had some “torta”,  an Argao delicacy. This shop at the boundary probably felt entitled to the “torta” industry of Argao. The storekeeper was very pleasant.

torta in Sibonga, near the Argao boundary

We finally hit Argao. On the way to the center, the view to the left was fantastic. Pristine beaches. In fact a premier beach resort in the area was once a top destination in Cebu province – – the old Argao Beach Club. Technically within the next town of Dalaguete, but the resort made Argao famous.

seaside road in Argao

I was able to contact relatives of my departed friend, and we decided to have lunch before visiting his tomb. Lunch was at Alex Kafe, the undisputed best place for lunch or dinner for visitors to Argao.

relatives of my friend in Argao, and my visiting mom

Alex Kafe is interesting. The restaurant has an old-world character, with old bric a brac adorning the place. An old sewing machine, an old book case, etc. They are famous for their tsokolate (chocolate) but everything on the menu that we tried were very very good. The place is shabby chic, actually more shabby than chic. It was very hot and humid inside the restaurant, made worse by the GI sheet roofing that does not have a ceiling to block the heat caused by the tin roof. I figure the place must be much better at night when the temperature is cooler.

While waiting for lunch to be served, I decided to walk to the old church where my friend received his final blessings before being laid to rest. It is beautiful.

After lunch, we went to his tomb. I prayed. It felt very good to travel the distance to pray for a dear departed friend. I felt consoled that I was finally able to visit him in Argao because I had wanted to be there when he was being laid to rest, and I just couldn’t go.

Rest in peace, my friend

May he rest in peace. But in my heart he lives, and is still having fun. Doing a “back-to-back” videoke number with me, literally standing behind me, our backs joined together like we were Siamese twins.

And ready to jump to the river with us, and enjoy a bottle of beer.

Fond memories: after shooting the rapids, we swam in the river, and enjoyed a bottle of beer