Friday, March 31, 2006

Touring Dumaguete and nearby destinations

Summertime is here and now is probably the best time to visit Dumaguete and other nearby destinations. The rains are a distant memory and the sky is a clear blue canvas daubed with white clouds. The seas are invitingly calm this time of year, perfect for traversing the straits. And if you can just bear a little bit of the sun, then you're all set.

So what's to see and do around here aside from visiting Silliman University and eating litson manok?

Well, it so happened that one brave stranger dropped me a note via Yahoo Messenger, politely asking for help with their travel arrangements. Since she very nice about it, I decided to help out. And I learned a few details in the process, things that might escape a jaded Dumagueteno who hasn't bothered to go outside the city limits.

So without further ado, here are ten sights to see here in Dumaguete and nearby parts.

1) Take a walking city tour. Dumaguete is really a small town with almost everything clustered in the city center. Thus it's perfect for walking, though you can also choose to hail one of the ubiquitous pedicabs that ply the city. Walking or riding, you can visit Silliman University, the Bell Tower, the cathedral, the plaza, and the boulevard. You can stop for coffee or budbod at any of the cafes or painitans. Upscale or downscale, it's your choice.

2) Bike up to the town of Valencia. To me and my biking buddies, this is a daily treat, and yes, now you too can enjoy it. The trip to Valencia is an moderate uphill climb of anywhere from 10 to 15 kilometers, depending on the route you choose. You can either take the main roads or one of the many rough trails. Coming down is a rush! If you're up for a challenge, you can tackle the road going up to the Japanese shrine. Valencia is also home to the Forest Camp resort and the Casaroro Falls.

3) Watch the whales and dolphins frolic along Tanon strait. Bais is the city most associated with this activity, though nowadays you can also go a little further up north to Manjuyod where they also offer the tour. You take an outrigger canoe into the strait, and with some luck, you can catch pods of dolphins and whales. You can also take lunch at the white sand bar just off Manjuyod.

4) Swim in Lake Balinsasayao, and hike to its twin, Lake Danaw. The twin lakes are secluded high up in a mountain and can take a while to get to on a 4x4. If you're feeling adventurous -- though I don't recommend it -- you can hitch a ride on a habal-habal motorcycle. Balinsasayao is a fairly large lake, and you can choose to swim in it, boat on it, or fish from it. If you're up for a brisk hike, you can follow a trail up to Lake Danaw, about half-a-kilometer away through dense jungle foliage.

5) Spelunk in Mabinay or Bayawan. Mabinay is home to several caves, but the four most popular ones are Pangligawan Cave, Pandalihan Cave, Mambajo Cave and the Crystal Cave. Nearby Bayawan also boasts of some caves as well. I haven't been on either trip myself, but I'll make it a point to visit them this summer.

6) Go snorkelling in Apo Island. Apo Island is famous for its coral reef that surrounds that volcanic island. It's a marine reserve, and home to many different species of aquatic life. It's a tad pricey, though, because the boatmen all charge tourist rates, but what they hey. Also a trip I haven't made yet.

7) Go shopping in Malatapay. Looking for a cow? Some sheep, maybe? Or how about some goats? Malatapay, which is the gateway to Apo Island, also has a market and auction that takes place every Wednesday, a tradition dating back to just after World War II. Here, ranchers buy and sell cattle. And even if that's not your sort of thing, you can shop for some native handicrafts in the market. Famous designer Patis Tesoro makes it a point ot visit Malatapay every trip to Dumaguete, precisely for the handicrafts. There's seafood, too, but the prices are tourist rates, unfortunately.

8) Mix a love potion at Siquijor. Siquijor is famous for its witches and its faith healers, and Holy Week is the time they descend from the hills to make their potions. If you're not into that sort of thing, you can also visit the old church, explore some caves, or just stroll along its white beaches.

9) Watch some writers stare at paper until their foreheads bleed. May is when poets, novelists, and playwrights descend upon Dumaguete for the National Writers Workshop, the country's oldest such workshop. More information at Ian Casocot's website. (Whether I'll finally be part of the forehead-bleeding bunch is still in question, but hey, I submitted my application....)

10) Unwind for some good, clean fun in Dumaguete's nightlife. You can get some very good pizza at Hayahay while enjoying sea breeze or listening to a reggae band. If you're looking for a bit more variety, there's also Gimmick, El Camino Blanco, and Why Not.

The Dumaguete and Valencia attractions I mention above are all accessible by public transport. Siquijor, too, is a boat ride away.

For the more adventuresome attractions, talk to the folks at Dumaguete Outdoors as I've found them to be quite competent. They also rent out mountain bikes at a decent rate of P250 per day.

Hope you decide to come over and have fun, Dumaguete-style!