On the 2nd week of December, we flew in to Dumaguete for 2 shows. On the 8th, we had a concert at the Luce Auditorium at Silliman University, followed by a Christmas tree lighting event at the plaza the next day. As with most of my work trips, so long as time permits, it doubled as a QuicKation, or so I’ve come to call them.
We were on a red eye flight, so breakfast was the 1st order of business when we arrived. While Casa Rubin prepared our rooms for early check-in, we ordered food at their restaurant Cocina Teria. They had 2 variants of their homemade chorizo, and I opted for the paprika. It was very tasty, and its flavorful oil made the rice hard to resist. I slept through lunch, so I forgave myself the indulgence (besides, who counts calories on a vacation? Right??) No one had coffee, because everyone wanted to sleep a little before starting to work.
For reasons I can’t explain, most people we talked to about Casaroro Falls discouraged us from going. From saying it was extremely dangerous since the earthquake, to “hindi kayo aabot sa waterfalls“ (verbatim from the teenage girl at registration), it was a bizarre mystery. We ignored them and made plans with our ever-reliable Ate Mae, so we took off on a van at 7:30 am. It was roughly 30 minutes from our hotel to the jump-off in Valencia, and then – the funny part? It took us only 11 minutes from jump off to the waterfall. I timed it. Lesson? Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you can’t do something.
It was an easy walk through initially paved trails, across cascades, over and around boulders. Precaution must be taken as with any hike, especially with slippery rocks. It’s far from dangerous, as we’d been warned, not when you take your time and weigh every step. Having overshot the level of difficulty, and it took us a lot less time to hike than we had allotted for, we were able to swim and chill for longer. We had the place to ourselves, so it was a nice, private retreat.
By 10:30, we were back at the hotel. We bustled in the showers to make it to Silliman University for a surprise tribute to our boss and recently conferred National Artist for Music, Ryan Cayabyab.
That night, we performed for the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies in front of the historic City Hall. We sang a different repertoire from the previous night, something more mainstream and familiar. It was SO MUCH FUN. Over post-show dinner at the Mayor’s house, he approximated about 5000 in attendance 😱
While 3 others had gone back to Manila, the rest of us stayed for some island hopping. I’d been to the Manjuyod sandbar in 2009, but it seemed so much more fun this time around. In recent years, this has been dubbed as the “Maldives of the Philippines,” but I find that so silly. It’s just THE PHILIPPINES. Our islands are the best in the world, and have no need for such comparisons.
The boat ride that was supposed to take 45 minutes turned into nearly 2 hours because of the choppy waters. Luckily, we later learned, the tourism office had gotten us a bigger boat to make us feel safer.
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Running to that last patch of white, but running out of time fast! When the tide is low very early in the morning, the sandbar can be walked all the way from mainland town to the middle of the Tañon Strait. Before noon, the water rises, turning everything into a glimmering gradient of greens and blues as far as the eyes can see. . Trying to hold on to this break as long as I can, but it’s back to work tomorrow, around the same time the next tide washes over the island I have just left behind. . Nadagit ko sa Dumaguete! 😍 Babalik-balikan kita hangga’t ‘di na naising umalis! . 📷 @vjcaber
After lunch, the tide had risen considerably, enough for the boat men to take us to a spot nearby for some snorkeling. The marine life seemed undisturbed with lots of colorful corals and curious animals. Extra care had to be taken to keep ourselves floating horizontally to avoid hitting the underwater homes, and to keep safe from urchins.
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My friends have teased me for my love of animals (I think rats are cute with their beady eyes ✌), and I am the type to become easily attached to most anything. BUT I never thought the day would come when I wanted a pet sea urchin. This little bugger was in a bucket being peddled as food out at sea, when its green and orange color caught my eye. S/he (they are not asexual) matched my bikini 🤣 This salawaki, the local term for this species of urchin, was cradled in my hand for a good half hour, before I realized it was attaching itself to me 😮 It was so hard to say goodbye 😭 Times like these make me really think twice about the food that I eat. Am I alone in this?
Our itinerary suggested we went home after that, but we passed by some interesting signs that we couldn’t help explore. Luckily, our companions still had the energy for it (Celine and I can be tireless in this regard).
Mt. Talinis is a semi-active volcano, and is responsible for these beautiful red rocks in Valencia. The waterfalls and hot springs have been temporarily privatized to help the government restore it from a recent calamity. I love the collaboration, but these have also made it so the place seems more commercial, touristy, and less natural. But, I repeat, I appreciate that they are being cared for.
We could tell that the others weren’t in the mood to jump into the crowded waterfalls, so we opted for the quieter hot springs down the road. There were 2 tiers: a hotter one with a more concentrated sulfur content, and a lower, more temperate one. The 1st warned of clothing discoloration, and the 2nd was empty, so we went for that.
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It may seem like the clouds are hanging low on this hill, but those white tufts are actually geothermal gases escaping from the vents of Mt. Talinis. As if to show off how its island has everything you could want, just across the volcano on our left was a cliff covered by a lush tangle of trees and embraced by a surging river that ran alongside the highway. What wonders these “gentle people” have done, finding the right balance of progress and preservation!
We saw signs for more waterfalls along the way, but the boys seemed exhausted. Our guide, Jenna, brought us to this local crafts shop called Subida. It was a haven for knick knacks and novelty items.
Before dinner that evening, the owner of the Christmas House invited Mr. C over for a look. The same time we were there, a local news network was filming it for a feature.
They had pre-ordered food for us by the time we arrived, so in a matter of minutes, we were served pako salad, sizzling bulalo, sisig, kinilaw, fried chicken, and garlic rice. Everything was exceptionally good, so much so that our long-held champion for best RCS meal (in Candy’s Cagayan de Oro) was finally topped in this place. All the dishes weren’t too salty or rich, but were the type you just couldn’t get enough of. That may have sounded like a lot of food, but we wiped it out, with room for dessert. Their best seller, a chocolate dome, wasn’t available, so we had tiramisu cheesecake, white chocolate cake, and leche flan for sharing. The 2nd was my favorite.
Food coma commenced without preamble, and we took it the extra mile by heading to Royal Garden Spa for massages after. I loved my thermal treatment, and together with everything else, gave me the best sleep of the entire month. 😴
We went to Apo Island to swim with the sea turtles! The boat ride was also choppy, and the waves were bigger and splashed us all… which accounted for my phone to stop working. 😭 So I have no photos from Apo, but how could I forget swimming alongside such beautiful creatures anyway?
Back in Dumaguete, Jenna took us to the public market for some suman, mangga, and tsokolate. Typically breakfast fare, it is food to “warm the stomach,” thus the term painit. The server was funny and friendly, and they went out of their way to buy mangoes even if they had run out by the time we arrived. With all the “gourmet” and specialty suman there are now, I’d forgotten how good it is just with brown sugar.
After freshening up, we went for dinner at Lab-as, one of the best restaurants in town. I remember being taken here on previous trips, but the food that night was unlike any in my memory. They served us black pepper and chili crabs, fish lumpia, salmon sashimi, tempura, kinilaw, steamed maya-maya, Dumaguete Express, and some I forgot to take note of. Everything was fresh and perfectly seasoned, but my clear favorites were the tempura and black pepper crabs. The sauce on the latter, I can eat with anything!
A quick search showed us that sunrise would be at 5:45 the next day, so Celine and I got up to catch it at the bay, directly facing east. I thought the town would just be waking up at the time, and I suppose in some ways it was; but there was also a good number of people already walking along the bay. The elderly were stretching, some younger ones were jogging, and a mix of men and women were doing Zumba of sorts. Loved the vibe and could totally imagine joining a community like that.
The boys met up with us at around 7:00 am for breakfast at Sans Rival. Then we all hopped into a trike to head back to the hotel.
This was one of my favorite workations in my 11 years with the RCS. So grateful I got to squeeze that into the year.
I’ll probably edit this for details later on, and will add a short video, but isn’t it obvious I’m trying to post this before the new year? 😂
One last day, and ready for 2019!