Looking for somewhere to go to for the Nov.1 long weekend, I chanced upon a website promoting Dumaguete City (www.dumagueteinfo.com). In a couple of hours’ time, I had booked our flights going to the City of Gentle People - and unknown to many, probably the only place in the Philippines with a different time - Dumaguete time is consciously and uniformly set 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the country’s. It’s a quirk even the locals can’t explain but it sure makes for good conversation Day 1: Apo Island
Still sluggish after our 630AM flight from Manila, we arrived in Dumaguete City at around 745AM. Kim’s friends, husband and wife Anis and Daphne, picked us up from the airport. After a brief stop in their home (they own popular pizza place Neva’s), they brought us to Hotel Palwa so we can check ourselves in and leave our stuff. Hotel Palwa is fairly new and we instantly loved the hotel as the staff are very polite and the room, very clean. Our room is fairly well-appointed for the price - we got the deluxe room with matrimonial bed, aircon, hot and cold water, and cable TV for
the "registration desk" at malatapay
only P900/night. Breakfast is free and it was pretty good too so we highly recommend this hotel to all those going to Dumaguete.
Soon we were on our way to Malatapay, site of the famous weekly market (Wednesdays only), where we will hire a boat going to Apo Island. The ride took less than an hour.
In Malatapay, we hired a boat for P1500 to bring us to Apo Island. These bancas can carry up to 10 people but the Cebu Coast Guard has mandated that for safety reasons, only a maximum of 6 people can be accommodated. For more than 6 passengers, you need to rent the bigger bancas that cost P2500. As it was almost 10AM, the waters were pretty rough so we got quite soaked. The boat ride took about 30 minutes which was good because the small boats had no covers/roofs so we were getting quite sunburned too.
Upon arrival at Apo Island, we paid our park fees (P100 per adult + P50 if you will snorkel) and having our own snorkels and masks, we proceeded to the marine sanctuary. We passed through the “main” road of the island, watching people go about
the malatapay shore
their simple everyday lives - children playing, adults doing housework, a couple of guys taking a bath in the communal bath. Along the way, we passed by a father and son carrying on a stick hoisted on their shoulders a humongous fish (talakitok) and a fairly big, bright orange lapu-lapu which was positively dwarfed by the talakitok (see pic below). The talakitok was almost as big as the boy!!
We were also amused by the painted signs on electrical posts indicating the distance of the island from different countries around the world (see pic below)
We also passed by the mangrove area where a few kids were fishing for saltwater tilapia -- they had quite a few already, in fact
At the marine sanctuary, we rented a life vest for me (P75) and claimed a shady spot under one of the trees there. After making sure our stuff were safe, we donned our masks and snorkels and entered the world-famous underwater world of the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary. Underwater pictures would not have done justice to the treasures of Apo Island and surely, nothing I can ever say can describe it well enough. I have not
choose your boat!
seen corals so vibrantly alive - here, as if sensing that they are well-protected, the corals bloom and spread and house fishes like nowhere else I’ve seen. The sea bed is covered with corals of all colors, shapes and sizes - some were as big as cars or even a small house! There were very few patches of sand visible -- every square inch was covered with spectacularly healthy coral formations. The fishes came in schools and were as big as my forearms! Kim said there was a wider variety of corals and fishes here than in the Balicasag marine sanctuary we visited a couple of weeks ago and that this sanctuary is one of the best he’s ever seen.
After an hour and a half of snorkeling against strong currents, my arms and legs were aching and we decided to head back to shore… but not before we were faced with a major challenge. The tide has gone so low and as there were almost no patches of sand to step on and we definitely cannot step on the corals, we had to float right on top of the corals (they were grazing my tummy and legs -
market stalls line-up this street during wednesdays
sorry corals) until my vest was almost to the sand. When I stood up, the water was mid-calf hehe
No choice - we couldn’t step on the corals!
After dressing up and taking a few pictures, we decided to head back to where we docked. After checking that our boat was still there, we headed to Apo Island Resort to have lunch. We had grilled fish and pancit canton and the food was surprisingly good. It was reasonably priced too. The beach area of Apo Island Resort was tempting but as it was nearly 2PM already, the sun was scorching. We would’ve loved to take a nap at the lounge chairs but it would be bitin so we decided to head back to our boat.
We found our boat and again, some locals of the island hitched a ride with us going to Malatapay. The waters were calmer this time and the ride was shorter. At Malatapay, we walked about 10 minutes from the shore to the highway where we waited for a bus or a jeep going back to the city. After about 10 minutes, we were able to board a jeep. I slept most of
coast guard station at malatapay
the way going back to Dumaguete. In Dumaguete, we boarded a tricycle going back to our hotel where we showered and took a nap before heading out for dinner.
At past 7PM, we headed out for the Boulevard. It was nice but I didn’t feel particularly safe walking there because there were a lot of seedy-looking men just sitting in the benches. (Actually, our friends said it was safe there, no problems at all if we want to hang around the boulevard - so I guess it’s just me hehe.) We passed by the Tempurahan strip where people flock to eat street food at the temporary dining areas set up every night. There was even an acoustic player in the area to entertain the diners.
As it was November 1, there were very few people about in the city - Dumaguete is basically a college town and our visit fell on the semestral break so it was quite, hmmm, dead. The sad thing is, most of the restaurants and bars were also closed for All Saints’ Day. I was absolutely famished and we ended up eating at Café Filomena, the cafeteria-looking restaurant of Bethel Hotel. The food took
rate board at apo island
years to prepare but it was good so it will still be on my list
We had Shanghai fried rice which Kim positively loved, Beef Salpicao which was very good but very spicy, and Sizzling Mixed Seafood, the closest to seafood I would have during our stay in Dumaguete.
After dinner, Anis and Daph picked us up and as almost all the bars were closed (with the exception of Why Not which was packed with foreigners and their Pinay dates), we ended up having our drinks at Gimmick Restobar. The place is a bare-bones bar - monobloc chairs and tables in the grassy lawn, a few billiard tables, filthy restrooms, and on that occasion, waiters and waitresses with blinking-red-light devil’s horns - but they serve cheap beer and a mean dish of Calamari, and the music is pop and loud, making it one of most popular hangouts for the student population of Dumaguete. We had such a great time with Anis and Daphne that if not for our trip early the next morning, we still wouldn’t have gone home even if it was past 1 in the morning already. Day 2: Twin Lakes (Lakes Balinsasayao and
Danao) Note: Originally, we were planning on going to Bais to do some dolphin-watching and to visit the sand bar in Manjuyod. However, we learned that boat trips have been cancelled since last week because of rough seas and that there are no more sightings of dolphins as it is already the tail-end of the season. I cancelled our reservation for the boat. These boats are regulated by the municipal government and it costs P2515 for a 20-seater boat (even if there are only 2 passengers).
We woke up at 630 in the morning to prepare supposedly for our day trip to Siquijor. I have previously contacted a tour guide (Clyde) to take us around the island’s attractions. The tour rate was P1300. We have also called Delta Ferries thrice before leaving for Dumaguete to check on the fastcraft and ferry schedules. I am not a very superstitious person but as it turns out, events conspired so that we were not able to go to Siquijor at all. First is that we couldn’t reach the Delta offices the day we arrived (Nov. 1). We thought maybe they had a holiday (even if they were a transport 24/7 company).
registration pavilion at apo island
Second is that I couldn’t reach Clyde anymore. We thought ok, so maybe we can just rent another multicab when we get there. Third is that for some reason, all the morning trips of Delta that day, whether fastcraft or ferry, were cancelled. Weather was fine, mind you, and we called right before we left for Dumaguete and they said there were schedules for Friday, Nov. 2. But when we called at 630 in the morning to check whether we can still get tickets for the 9am trip, they said no trips in the morning. We felt that we weren’t meant to go to Siquijor that day so we gave up, decided to go instead to Twin Lakes, and went back to sleep.
After breakfast, we took a tricycle to OK Inn. There are a couple of motorcycle rentals right beside and across it. We got a 110cc bike for the negotiated rate of P300 for 24 hours and set off for our adventure trip. But nothing prepared us for the (mis)adventures the day had in store!
First mis(adventure): We ran out of gas. Harhar. Right after getting the motor bike, Kim decided to pass by the scenic
liberty resort (one of two in apo island)
route (aka Boulevard) again and check out if the restos were now open. After about 10 minutes of going around, our bike sputtered and died hehe. We parked the bike in a safe place, hailed a trike to the nearest gas station. It made us feel better (less stupid) finding out that they rent out containers for P15 (empty containers of oil) exactly for moments like these. We filled the container with unleaded gas and went back to our abandoned motor bike. After being hydrated again, our bike came back to life. We went back to Petron, got back the P15 deposit for the container, filled the tank, and off we went!
Second (mis)adventure: Getting out of the city, right after we bought siopao and water from Birdie’s bakeshop in Sibulan, it began to drizzle. In the far-off, we can see the clouds beginning to cover the mountains. Uh-oh, bad sign. We were headed that way. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the turn going to the lakes. We stopped for a couple of shots and asked the habal-habal drivers if our bike can make it to the Twin Lakes (we have previously been advised in the www.dumagueteinfo.com
where you dock in apo island
forums that the bike ride is for experienced drivers only as the roads are steep and rocky). After being assured that we will arrive there in one piece using our bike, we headed off.
The drive going up to Twin Lakes is fantastic! We passed by a sort of plateau where you have a full view of the whole island of Cebu and the sea between where we were and Cebu (directly across) was so placid, it looked like glass. The view was breathtaking.
We passed by deep valleys of coconut trees, dizzying in its steepness. We passed by a couple of chapels, lots of grazing cows and goats, one fairly big community, and finally, the sign that says “Welcome. You are entering the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park”. We stopped to take pictures of an odd family of a small monkey and 2 piglets fooling around
They were so cute! (until the piglets decided to chase me)
We rode up for maybe another 10 minutes until we reached the main pavilion of Twin Lakes where you pay the park fees (P18 each) and register. By this time, the drizzle has turned into rain. Everything was
road to marine sanctuary
shrouded in fog. Deciding that the rain doesn’t look like it’ll stop soon, we proceeded up and this is where our first major, major, major misadventure began.
The girl at the main pavilion said “Sir, 5 minutes andun na kayo.”. We rode up and after a couple of minutes, we saw a sign that says “Lake Danao: 1.8km”. Hmmm. I read that there was a trek going down to the falls so we figured this must be it. But Kim was wondering why there was no parking space. Just to make sure, we rode up again for another couple of minutes until there was no road anymore (or so we thought). We went back to the sign, parked our motor bike near a tree and started the trek.
Some basic facts before I go on. Kim is a mountaineer but he’s had almost no exercise since he moved to Manila last June. I, on the other hand, am an absolute lampa and my only form of exercise is the occasional Pilates in the comforts of my own room. On top of that, not anticipating the nightmare of a trek we were going to have, we were only dressed
check out the campaign material: no surname needed
in shorts and slippers. The waterproof jacket I was wearing was just a last-minute, “just in case” toss-in to our backpack.
At about the same time I started to hyperventilate from the effort of climbing up, it began to really rain. The rain was pouring so hard I was soaked under the waterproof jacket in minutes. We were trekking on mossy stones made dangerously slippery by the rain. The trail was about 1 meter wide, complete with ravines on the right side, fallen trees and thorny dead plants on the steps. While I was concentrating on my steps, the rain has developed into a clapping thunderstorm. The forest was shrouded in fog. I slipped several times, stubbed my toes, scratched my feet and legs, had my hands poked by thorns. I was absolutely miserable, soaked to the bones, exhausted, scared, and desperate, thinking we will have to pass the same way going back. At one point, I crouched down to negotiate a high step and couldn’t get up anymore, my knees were shot and my leg muscles were cramping from the strain and still I couldn’t see the end of the trail. I started crying and had to stop
in apo is., you won't get lost hehe
several times because I couldn’t see the trail because of my tears and the rain. Kim gently prodded me to go on. After what seemed like an eternity (actually an hour or so of trekking), we arrived at the lake. Since it was raining heavily and the fog was very thick, I didn’t find the lake spectacular. Especially after what we’ve gone through just to see it, it really didn’t seem that special.
The clincher of this particular misadventure was this - when we got there, there was a group of foreigners who were in one of the picnic huts. There were a couple of oldies, a couple of kids and this Filipina girlfriend of one of the foreigners. They were walking around in slacks and sandals, complete with umbrellas and bags and worst of all, they were DRY.
Curious about it, we walked to the station where you can rent boats and kayaks and asked the manong where those guys came from. He pointed up and said “dyan sa parking area sa taas”. We were dumbfounded. So there was a parking lot after all. AND IT WAS JUST 5 FRIGGIN’ MINUTES FROM THE EFFIN’ LAKE. There were
geography lessons in apo is.
even stairs going up! Shit!!!!!
The manong was so surprised when we told him of our misadventure. Apparently, that trail has not been used in a long time! It has been abandoned and has not been maintained thus the fallen trees and the dead plants. Aaaarggggggghhhh!!! I was just happy nothing bad happened to us in the trail otherwise, I don’t know how we would have gotten help or how they would’ve found us. Haaay talaga, katangahan!
After eating our measly snack of siopao and water, we walked up to the parking lot, walked another bit and saw our motor bike where we left it. If we continued on after we thought there was no road anymore, we would have seen the turn and the signs pointing to the main entrance. Oh well.
As if what we went through wasn’t enough, when we reached our bike, I noticed that our rear tire was flat. We had no choice but to run it flat to the rocky ground until we found a vulcanizing shop. It was still raining and the roads were slippery. Kim was having a very difficult time controlling the bike because of the flat tire.
big fish, small fish
At one point I volunteered to walk because we almost fell off negotiating a steep incline. But Kim said we had a long way to go so I rode again. We had to sit very close to the handle bars to minimize pressure on the tire and this was very hard - I was slipping forward because of the wet seat and my wet clothes and the inclines were steep. Finally, after about 20 minutes, we reached the community where they said there was a vulcanizing shop. It was a vulcanizing family to be precise - there were no signs at all that the owner of this house knows how to fix tires. We had to ask from house to house and in fact, asked the tire man himself where the vulcanizing shop was hehe. Turns out we had 2 holes in the tire’s interior (rubber was slit by a sharp stone) and broke 3 spokes. It took about an hour to fix it, with the entire family helping out and the neighbors making usyoso. Our bill was P70 and when we handed the guy P100, he insisted on giving us back our change. When we said ok lang, they
kids fishing at the mangroves
all said, “Thank you sir sa maagang pamasko.”. It was touching.
Now that our bike is ok, we sped off as fast as we could back to the city. At 4PM, we reached our hotel, showered and fell into bed. A fire wouldn’t have woken us - we were so exhausted. Ditching our plan to go to Hayahay for a seafood dinner, we ordered room service. Good thing the meal was pretty good.
At around 9PM when our souls have returned to our creaking earthly bodies, we went out to meet another of Kim’s friends for drinks. We headed to Payag sa Likod, literally a backyard joint popular among college students, to meet with Ran and his girlfriend Patricia. There was live music and cheap beer. I ordered the house special Payag Jam, a concoction of Malibu and pineapple and lime juice (I think) served in a giant mayonnaise or jam bottle. It was ok. At 11, we brought Patricia home as she was leaving for Cebu at 5 the next morning.
Ran, Kim and I went for another round of drinks at Coco Amigos. We also met Anis there. I ordered their nachos with meat sauce
check out my catch for the day!
which was soooo good I wanted to take some home
We closed down the bar a little before 2AM. Day 3: City Tour
The next morning, Ran invited us to breakfast. After returning our rental motorbike, Ran picked us up and brought us to a popular carinderia - Gina’s Kabayo-an. Apparently, Saturday is horse meat day (ewww). I was hesitant to eat at first because I kept thinking of (dead) horse meat but the food was actually good and unbelievably cheap. We had grilled porkchops, ox brains (or whatever that was), fried Visayan chicken, monggo with spareribs, lechon paksiw and of course, horse meat stew for the boys.
After our hearty meal, Ran toured us around the Silliman University campus and pointed out other interesting spots in the city. As Ran is an architect, he also showed us some of his ongoing projects and homes with good architecture. At 11AM, he dropped us off at Sans Rival so we can buy our pasalubongs of Sans Rival and Sylvannas.
By 12nn, we had checked out of the hotel and were aboard a tricycle going to Ran’s home where we had another great meal. After lunch,
the marine sanctuary -- the magic is under the sea :)
we had coffee at Chantilly then Ran brought us to the airport. Our flight was delayed so we went out again and Ran showed us their “millionaires’ row” where the houses were huge! We drove around again until finally he dropped us off again at the airport.
Both Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines flights were delayed so there were so many people in the airport. We had to sit on the floor to wait for our plane. Our flight which was originally scheduled at 2:50PM finally took off at past 4PM.
All in all, it was a great eco-adventure trip made even better by the overwhelmingly gracious company of Anis, Daphne and Ran
We’ll be back
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