Digos City and Hagonoy, Davao del Sur, the Philippines
March 27 – 29, 2014
A city without an airport – that meant it was far from touristy. That was exactly how we found Digos, capital of Davao del Sur. Mom, sister, friend, and I flew in via GenSan in South Cotabato. Davao City was half that distance, but my brother who planned this trip thought otherwise. In the age of Google, we relied on assumptions. Well played.
Mom, 81 at that time, had to sit through a couple of hours in a Yellow Bus so packed we couldn’t get adjacent seats. Otherwise, it was all manageable discomfort. We covered the almost 75-km of Digos-Makar Highway looking out at the picturesque expanse of Mindanao punctuated by the sight of a truck seesawing precariously on a roadside ravine.
We made the trip, not for sightseeing, but for a family reunion. We knew nothing about Digos other than that it was singer KZ Tandingan’s hometown. There were none of the usual commercial establishments in larger cities, but it was clearly an urban center in progress. Main roads were wide as were the tricycles doing taxi service.
Reggie Roa, the prime mover of this reunion, billeted us at Hotel de Crisbelle, the best in the city. We immediately felt at home. Mom, ever the dog lover, captioned one photo: “Greeting the hotel’s guard dog who never leaves his post at the front entrance except to eat…”
Hotel owner Romualdo Crispino (fondly called Nong Romy by his friends) hung around at the lobby restaurant during breakfast. He would glance at me curiously, perhaps trying to place my undeniably Chinese features in his family tree. We eventually approached him for a photo op and thanked him for the big fat discount he gave us.
What was Davao without a sighting of Mt. Apo, the country’s highest mountain? A relative assured us of a glimpse of the peak. He led us out to his fields and pointed at the mountain silhouette on the horizon. We could barely make it out in the falling twilight.
But it was family that we came here for. Originally from Negros, a granduncle of mine settled in Mindanao after WW2. We came to see his descendants, many of whom we had only met in Facebook. What a blessing that my sibs and I could make this visit with Mom.
Our relatives rented a bamboo cottage for the grand meet-and-greet at Leling Beach over at the next town. The dirt road leading to the resort indicated it was still beyond the long arm of tourism development. We passed through fish ponds and grazing livestock. The scene was all refreshingly rustic.
We partook of all things fresh – food and air and familial relations. Our younger relatives set up a barbecue grill beside the cottage. We swapped stories and laughter over a buffet spread that included pato tim (a duck dish, specialty of a cousin) and fruits native to Mindanao: marang and durian.
Later in the afternoon, we took Mom, geared up in fuchsia beach shoes and pashmina shawl, for a stroll by the beach. Only a handful of visitors braved the slapping waves of Davao Gulf. Save for a paved promenade and a line of bamboo cottages, Leling Beach was, for the most part, untouched. There lay its charm – a local place stubbornly not dressed up with touristy trappings.
But more than the place, it was the people that made our trip. Mom enthused, “There’s nothing like a big wonderful family, close, and united and loving each other like the Roas of Digos!”