Dumaguete City, the Philippines

June 24 – 26, 2011

It dawned on me that every city in the Philippines most likely had a street named after our national hero Jose Rizal. Dumaguete certainly was no exception, but its acacia-lined Rizal Boulevard was in a league of its own. With due respect to our hero, locals would often drop the name Rizal. The street and promenade along Tañon Strait could stand on its own merit as, simply, the Boulevard.

Rizal Boulevard @ Dumaguete by Twilight

Bethel Guest House from the Boulevard
Birthday Boy @ the Boulevard
Birthday Boy @ the Boulevard

Like the Boulevard, I was also named after Rizal with whom I shared 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 honorary Tanjay native Ki who invited me and my mother to Dumaguete. My siblings jumped in and joined the fun. “Why not travel,” a sign at the Boulevard concurred.

Yeah why not Mom?
Mom’s First Trip to Dumaguete in Decades
Monument of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres @ the Boulevard

What could be a better place to stay than by the Boulevard itself? Bethel Guest House, bookending the Boulevard with Silliman University, was a convenient starting point for a stroll on this scenic seaside.

Happy to See the Boulevard
Mom Enjoying her Room @ Bethel Guest House

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.

An Evening Stroll @ the Boulevard
Ki and a Quail Egg Vendor @ the Boulevard
Local Bling-Bling for Sale @ the Boulevard

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 more than made up for it. My order was OK, but Mom’s lengua estofado (ox tongue) was memorably tender.

Don Atilano Steakhouse @ the Boulevard
My sister disappearing behind Don Atilano’s voluminous menu
Pizza Night @ Don Atilano Steakhouse
Could this be Don Atilano himself?

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.

Stop in the Name of Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries @ San Jose St., Dumaguete
Can I have my birthday cake and eat it too?
His Hometown Pride: Dumaguete’s Sans Rival
Having her cake and eating mine too @ Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries, Dumaguete
Dumaguete’s San Rival: Truly Without Rival

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 foodie 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.

Family Photo @ Lab-as Seafood Restaurant, Flores St., Dumaguete
Sing-Along @ Lab-as Seafood Restaurant
Hayahay Treehouse Bar and View Deck

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.

Girls Night Out @ Honeycomb Tourist Inn, Dumaguete
Motorcycle Riding Music Lovers @ the Boulevard
Mom with Acacia Antlers
Boys Night Out @ Honeycomb Tourist Inn, Dumaguete

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 preferred 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.

Brekky Fare: Budbud Kabog (Millet Cake)
Acacia and Tricycle on the Boulevard
TTT on the Boulevard