Dumaguete City, the Philippines
June 24 – 26, 2011
Every city in the Philippines is likely to have a street named after our national hero Jose Rizal. Dumaguete is no exception, but its acacia-lined Rizal Boulevard is in a league of its own. With due respect to our hero, locals often drop the name Rizal. The street and promenade along Tañon Strait can stand on its own merit as, simply, the Boulevard.
Like the Boulevard, I was also named after Rizal for the mere fact that we share birthdays. On this particular birthday, I couldn’t pass up the chance to celebrate it on the most famous street named after him, thanks to my friend Ki who invited me and my mother to Dumaguete. My siblings also joined in the fun. “Why not travel,” a sign at the Boulevard concurred.
What better place to stay than on the Boulevard itself. Bethel Guest House, bookending the Boulevard with Silliman University, was a convenient starting point for a stroll on this scenic seaside.
Evenings were vibrant on the Boulevard, even as the rest of the city had retired for the night. Neon lights and music emanated from a row of restaurants and bars. The town and the out-of-towners would come together under its ancient acacia trees and on the paved breakwater. Bustling but not crowded, the strip had taken the place of a town plaza, becoming a melting pot of characters that made for a night of people-watching.
But what’s a birthday without breaking bread? After whetting our appetite with hard boiled quail eggs, care of a street vendor, we went for ritzy dining in Don Atilano Steakhouse. Trust my sister for sniffing out the swankiest places. My wallet shivered at the mood lighting alone. Food quality, it turned out, was inconsistent, though the ambiance made up for it. My order was forgettable, but Mom’s lengua estofado (ox tongue) was memorably tender.
And what’s a birthday without a cake? Although not on the Boulevard, Dumaguete’s iconic Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries was just a stone’s throw away. The reputed creaminess of their sans rival was truly without rival. Excuse me, Col. Sanders, but that dripping buttercream was finger-lickin’ good! Long lines perfectly justified. We bought boxes of silvanas, those addictive frozen cream-filled cookies, to take home only to find them squished and half melted after our flight.
Oh, and what’s a birthday without songs? Our unlikely venue for a sing-along session, accompanied by an overly animated piano player, was Lab-as Seafood Restaurant. The freshest fish dishes (tastiest item on the menu was cheesy oyster, according to my mother) could not top the high notes belted out, a la Anne Curtis, by performers who shall not be named. Perhaps that was why the place was practically empty that time while the crowd overflowed at Hayahay Treehouse Bar next door.
Of course, what’s a birthday without a night on the town? Mom gamely joined us for a night cap at the alfresco restobar of Honeycomb Tourist Inn. Formerly called North Pole, an ice cream parlor in the 1950s, the place was my dad’s hangout during his college days at Silliman. Providing the soundtrack of our nostalgic night was Liquid Souls, a band that made good use of their violin-playing member by covering songs of The Corrs. Several people on motorcycles stopped across the Boulevard to enjoy the music without spending for drinks.
Finally, what’s a birthday without a gift? My cup was already running over with time spent on a trip with my loved ones; a tangible present would have been utterly redundant. But Dumaguete itself gave me a special treat: its sweet delicacy. Like the national hero I was named after, my taste buds were nationalistic. They prefered local sweets, and how they loved budbud kabog, millet cake wrapped in coconut leaves. Not to be confused with its lookalike, the more common suman (rice cake), the tempered sweetness and grainy texture of kabog was, well, unkabogable, for lack of a better word.
This trip, out of all I had taken, was unkabogable (apologies to my foreign readers, the term is untranslatable). I wondered if Rizal derived some measure of pleasure and comfort, as I had on our birthday, when the ship that would take him to his exile allegedly made a stop at Dumaguete in 1892.