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641 kilometers (398 miles) south of Metro Manila in the Philippines lies, what’s been dubbed as,The City of Gentle People – Dumaguete (doo-mah-get-eh), the capital of the province of Negros Oriental. A captivating hodgepodge of sun, sand, sea, food and endless supply of good vibes. Legend says Dumaguete was coined from the Visayan word “daggit,” meaning “to snatch” owing to alleged frequent pillaging attacks of pirates and snatching of its beautiful women. But Dumaguete preys on its visitors and snatches our will to move on as she imposes her natural beauty, gastronomical excesses and laid back, sleepy way of life! It’s the Lair of the Lotus Eaters that devours all our stress and negative vibes replacing these with laughter and affirmation that life truly is beautiful.

Our journey started off to be quite a stressful one. I was running around like a headless chicken the day before, attending meetings and doing some last minute errands and shopping. Our flight was at 7:00 AM the following day and I just completed all our packing by 1:00 AM. We grabbed a couple of hours’ of Z’s and headed to the airport at 4:30 AM. In our haste, my partner accidentally left his iPhone in the cab. Further, the ATM was offline and we only had enough cash to pay for the airport fees and we knew our luggage was over the weight allocation…luckily they accept credit cards. My partner was also dreading the one hour flight since he can’t sit for long due to his slip disc.

But arriving in Dumaguete changed everything! The sun shone brightly and we were greeted by our gracious host for the trip – Rene Juntereal – with his infectious smile, a booming reassuring voice, warm hugs (which never run out), and an equally warm and friendly entourage.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

We stayed at Obdulia’s Business Inn, right next to Saint Catherine Cathedral at the heart of the city. It’s not an uber posh accommodation, but its clean, conveniently located, and had friendly staff to assist at any time. We were given our room assignments, unpacked, checked our itinerary for the day, found an ATM and set-off to experience our first Dumaguete delight at the market – Budbud Kabog (a local delicacy made of millets instead of the usual glutinous rice) served with local hot cocoa and sticky rice.

Market

Budbud Kabog

Fabulous Rice

After our brief walkabout we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our 2 dives for the day in Dauin, about 12 kilometers from the city center. Dauin is a quiet, rustic, and low-profile destination easily accessed using the local transportation (jeepneys or tricycles) and regarded as the diving capital of Dumaguete because of its rich marine life. The abundance underwater is masked by the simplicity of the bamboo cottages, shanties and a small number of resorts along its coast.

Finding Nemo

Lion Fish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Dinner that night was at Dumaguete Royal Suite Inn, and this was our first taste of the gastronomical feast in store for us for 3 more days! Dumaguete Royal Suite Inn is the home of the famous Dumaguete sizzling bulalo or whole beef shank, complete with a morsel of bone marrow waiting to be scooped out of the bone for those brave enough to challenge their mortality or who brought extra anti-hypertension medication. This dish is to die for and could literally be lethal for marrow-guzzling-gluts! Taken in moderation, if you can stand the temptation to order extra plates of rice and munch on the fatty joints, this dish is scrumptious with a fabulous explosion of flavors making you wish you had extra bellies to stuff.

Sizzling Bulalo

I was challenged to do a Man versus Food episode on desserts featuring a slice of leche flan (caramel flan) and a slice of tiramisu cheesecake…and I never back down on a food challenge, especially dessert! I prevailed.

Caramel Flan

Tiramisu Cheesecake

The next day started early with 3 dives scheduled around Apo Island. Fantastic dive sites with beautiful creatures like turtles, rays, groupers, bump heads, unicorn fish, barracudas, and beautifull coral formations. Unfortunately some of the sites were damaged by the recent storms but there was still plenty to see.

Sea Turtle

Giant Clam

Barrel Sponge

Lunch on the boat was another Dumaguete feast with an assortment of grilled sea food, pork, chicken and fresh fruits. I missed out on thoroughly enjoying this after feeling sick from the dive because of the strong surge at the shallow levels as I was exiting the dive.

Dinner that night was a segue to a party at Hayahay – a restaurant along the coast of Dumaguete City. We got a long table at the tree house, ate to our bellies’ bursting capacity and drank jack Daniels, beers, margarita, pina colada, and mango sling to insanity.

Celebrity Smiles

The dive the following day started late as everyone was nursing a hangover from the previous night but the sea hugged us in its cool comfort and showed more of its treasures. I got a fabulous shot of a sea horse – not bad for a newbie underwater photographer – and that made my hangover float alongside the bubbles I expelled. Lunch this time was more classy with pate, bread, salad, ham and chicken.

Lion and my Piggie

Divers in Action

Taking off!

Dinner that night was at the Blue Monkey. They served traditional Filipino dishes. After dinner we went for drinks at the Honeycomb on the Boulevard.

The last day was more relaxed. No more dives, just chilling. We all had brunch at Casablanca, again on the Boulevard, where I had tuna ceviche with oven baked potatoes – a weird combination that turned out to be quite exquisite.

Baked Potato with Ceviche

Make mine rare!

Parfait

On our way back, everyone recalled how they were smitten by Dumaguete. Plans of going back are underway including the possibility of staying longer, even putting up businesses and settling down. You’ve done it again Dumaguete…we’re hooked!

suit up

Suiting up

Situated roughly 2 to 3 hours away from Metro Manila, although my best record was 1 hour, is my favorite SCUBA diving destination – Anilao! Ever since I learned and got certified Anilao has become my weekend getaway – a sanctuary where I could get respite and recharge my enthusiasm for the day job. Oddly enough though the enthusiasm for work has never been a favorable consequence with each trip as I never look forward to going back to the daily grind.

Anilao has more than 40 dive sites beaming with rich marine life and my top 5 favorites are:

  1. Twin Rocks. My “go-to” site because of its fantastic mix of corals and variety of marine animals in all sizes.  Maximum depth of roughly 30 meters or 90 feet but most of the action happen at somewhere between 15 to 50 feet. There is a resident school of jacks that seem to just forever swim around in circles, a variety of nudibranchs, the occasional school of barracudas, snappers, and lots of fish. I never fail to visit Twin Rocks every time I go for a dive in Anilao and I never get tired of being immersed in its beauty. Its also a fantastic site for night dives with sitings of octopus, cuttle fish, barracudas, morays and colorful nudis.
  2. Kirby’s Rock. This is where I saw 6 frog fish and fell in love with these ugly looking creatures. Kirby’s Rock is a wall dive that can go to depths of over 100 feet and is known to be the residence of black and white frog fish. In one of our dives we saw 6 and there were brown, white, white with black spots, neon green, and orange. We had a great time admiring these creatures as they blend with the rocks and corals. The current could be treacherous though, especially if you do not have a dive master who is familiar with the site.
  3. Mainit Bubbles. Perfect dive site for those who are looking for a relaxed time underwater. This site could go as deep as 100 feet but most of the experience is in the shallow part as you watch the hot bubbles come out of the sandy bottom. Interesting corals here as they are immersed in more sulfuric conditions owing to the volcanic steam that escapes through the bed of sand.
  4. Darilaut. About 90 feet in depth, Darilaut is great for practicing wreck dives. The top deck of a big floating casino that used to dock in this area and sunk is now a dive site to practice buoyancy and getting in and out of wrecks. the structure is now laden with corals and home to lion fish, bat fish, gobys and mandarin fish. I once chased after a hunting Great Barracuda here, thinking it was only a big grouper, until it flicked its tail and went off like a lightning. Lucky it didn’t turn around and decide to have a piece of me for lunch.
  5. Cathedral. This is the home of crazy bunch of fish that harass divers for food. They got used to being fed by other divers which explains their unusual behavior. They literally crowd around you! This site is the usual spot for check out of open water student divers. It has artificial landmarks like a castle and a concrete cross that was installed by former Philippine president Fidel V. Ramos. Cathedral is also home to the pygmy sea horse.

When in Anilao I stay at  Balai Resort located in Barangay San Teodoro. Balai has rooms made of bamboo and nipa layered along the rocky slope. It has a main dining area where guests can have drinks and sumptuous food and becomes the main area to socialize with other divers. It also has a deck to view the fabulous sunset. The staff are very friendly and it has a fully equipped dive shop for all your diving needs.

With Anilao being a couple of hours away from Manila weekends are always a no-brainer and my gear is always ready to go!