Davao (Or Why I Really Think Life is Here)

8 months. This has been the longest time I was away from home. The hyper-sensitive OFW would of course strangle me to death, believing that 8 months is a mere walk in the woods if you compare it to their years of separation from Patria. I wouldn’t even try to argue.

How was my 8 months here in Davao? Well, after all the hype from the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” internet meme, I should say without reservation, living in Davao is fun! Let me count the ways.

1. Beach in less than 30 minutes.

Being a beach-bum (minus the beach body), I feel like I’m in heaven knowing that Samal island is just a jeepney and a barge ride away. I live in the Bajada area of Davao and I can always catch the jeepney going to Sasa wharf where barges going to and fro Samal ply the Davao Gulf hourly.

The official name of Samal is “Island Garden City of Samal” and yes, it’s an island, but a garden? Well, they still have to convince me with more flowers and anything that would probably suggest it’s an island garden. And not to be confused, it’s not an urban, sprawling city like Davao or Manila.

But the real seller are the white-sand beaches! While in one of the beaches of Samal, take your shoes off and feel the powdery sand on your feet. Relax and take the worries of city life off from your mind. Exhale a sigh of relief and let the Davao sun do the tanning!

While in Samal, try diving in the shallow coral reefs of Talikud Island, experience the cool fresh water of Hagimit Falls and photograph the Guiness World holder for the most number of bats in Monfort cave (just don’t forget your mosquito repellent!)

2. The highest mountain in Pinas, right in your own backyard.

The Grandfather of Philippine Mountains, Mt. Apo or Apo Sandawa, sits in the boundaries of Davao City, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato and Bukidnon. Six indigenous peoples call Mt. Apo home – the Manobos, Bagobo, Ubos, Atas, K’lagans and the Tagacaolo.

The best time to see Mt. Apo here in Davao is during sunrise, when it’s clear and the sun bathes the mountain in red, yellow and orange. When you’re lucky enough, Mt. Apo also clears just before sunset and there are areas in Davao where Apo is framed by buildings and the right time, right light and right location, would give you an awe-inspiring sight. If you’re a photographer, you would know what I mean. There are times when you’re tired from office work and you’re on your way home, a traffic jam maybe along JP Laurel induces a severe migraine, then you pass by these open spaces where you can perfectly see Apo in twilight hues of gold and red – you’re all of a sudden reminded of much bigger things than your migraine, work and aching toes.

If you’re looking for adventure, why not climb Mt. Apo? For amateur hikers start in Kidapawan, North Cotabato. I was told that the climb is both back-breaking and gratifying! Plus, you get to boast of climbing the highest mountain in the Philippines!

3. Gastronomic Paradise.

Italian, French, Fusion, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino or Uber-seafood? Davao boasts of restaurants galore!

La Toscana in Quirino Avenue serves the best Italian food with red wine to match. From prusciutto, selection of cheese, insalata, pasta, pasta and pasta! Top it all off with affogato and grappa. Why go to Italy to eat Matriciana, Aglio oglio or Marinara? Chef Pierro cooks it al dente and in no time you will be saying ‘molto delizioso!‘ like a pampered Italian!

For French cuisine, Claude’s in Rizal Street is to die for. Owned and managed by Chef Claude Le Neindre, they moved from the original little restaurant near Casa Habana to the Oboza ancestral house. One feels like being transported back to colonial Philippines because of their exquisite ambience and delectable European cuisine. Try their Salade Nicoise with fresh vegetables from Bukidnon and for main Chevreuil a la Canneberge, pan-fried venison with cranberry sauce – match it with red wine from Bordeaux and you’ll be speaking like Sarkozy-crazy! Crepe Suzette for dessert will make you want to forget your own name.

Krua Thai in Torres Street is another experience entirely. Sawadee Kha-style! Try the chicken pandan, Tom Yum soup (extra hot for Bikolano-oragons) and the Khao Khai Chaio, omelet with rice, chili and cucumber. The spices and the aroma from all the food served would remind you of the wars fought because of the spices of the East.

For Filipino seafood, Marina Tuna in Lanang District near the airport is a must-try for tourists and locals alike. Feast on their 10 tuna recipes and other scrumptious seafood from oyster, crabs, lobster, tanguigi to a wide array of truly Davao delicacies. You haven’t tasted Davao if you haven’t tried the fish eye soup!

And then there are the fruits! August was supposed to be the harvest season, but people here are saying that the season has changed and it’s now January when you can find the cheapest Durian, Mangosteen, Suha, Rambutan, Lanzones and Marang. Banana (all kinds) is available all year round. For fruit lovers, Davao is truly a feast!

4. Treasure Trove of Cultural Wonders.

Being in Mindanao Island, where Lumads have found a home even before Christians settled here in the early 1900s, Davao City has become a melting pot of different cultures. From our Lumad and Muslim brothers to the Indian, Indonesian, Korean and other foreign nationalities who have called Davao home, this city is a model of acceptance and tolerance of different beliefs, customs and traditions.

The Kadayawan Festival celebrated every August is a showcase of a people embracing the plurality and multi-cultural milieu of the city. The ten tribes of Davao: Ata, Matigsalug, Obo-Manobo, Klata-Djangan, Tagabawa, Tausug, Maguindanao, Maranao, Kagan and Sama have all etched a special mark in the city’s spirit. You can see their arts in traditional weavings and baskets, hear their songs played by bands advocating traditional and World Music in Taboan, Matina Town Square. Even the paintings of local artists like Kublai Millan have been influenced by these groups.

Visit the museums in Davao and you will see the rich culture of these peoples. One will also understand their struggles and their hopes for equality, justice and peace, which are oftentimes being denied them.

The proximity of Davao City to provinces with Indigenous Peoples Communities like Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, Malungon and Malita in Davao del Sur, Cateel in Davao Oriental, all off which are very warm and welcoming, makes it a destination of choice for people who want to experience the lives of our Lumad brothers and sisters.

5. So much to see! So many things to photograph!

If you’re in to photography or just a plain wanderlust, Davao has so many things to offer.

Malagos Farm in Calinan is a showcase of arts by Abueva and landscaped gardens where birds of different species simply amazes the visitor. I went there once with a major hangover and when the birds (of all colors) started swooping down on me, I was suudenly cured of my hangover malaise.

The Philippine Eagle Center, also in Calinan about an hour drive from the city proper is simply an amazing must-see. Also try the Japanese Tunnel in the diversion road – just make sure you’re not claustrophobic!

The Crocodile Farm in Ma-a is not just a simple crocodile farm, they also have birds and mammals that children would surely love. Not to mention their Tribu K’Mindanawan area, where cultural performances are shown every night.

If you’re the asthmatic type, go to Eden Nature Park and breathe-in the fresh pine-scented air. Never to be missed is their zip-line – yes, free shouting!

Life of the party? Don’t miss Taboan in Matina Town Square, an all-week long street party. Or videoke night in Torres street. And how will I forget Starr Bar, in which I was recently introduced? Indeed, if you’re the type, party all night and sleep all day in Davao!

There are just so many things to do and so many things to photograph in Davao City. One week is not enough. Living here is a much better idea.

Ahhhh Davao! It’s an honor to say Madayaw!


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