What is a great way to start Monday in Negros Oriental? Why, it is sipping a hot cup of sikwate (chocolate) paired with puto (that’s suman to us Occidentals). At the Dauin market, the tsokolate is served in demitasse cups. It is neither “eh” nor “ah”, so, one has a choice to sip, or dip. Chocolate is prepared either from small tablea or hand-rolled balls sourced from Cebu and Davao, or some local farmer in Oriental. Ah, the sweet fragrance of a cup of hot sikwate. Nothing is folksier than sipping it al fresco with no one looking displeased if you put your elbows on the table.
The early hours of the day can also be spent in prayer at the Dauin Parish of San Nicholas de Tolentino. The coralstone structure has a long nave that ends at the altar. The altar now sports a minimalist look; the church interior has a modernized feel making me forget that this is the oldest church in the province. Nevertheless, the exterior seems well-preserved and sturdy. The church faces the sea which is just meters away. What a lovely view. Just over there yonder is one of the best dive locations in the world – Apo Island.
The day before, my friends and I visited, for the first time, the church at Bacong. Bacong is a mere 10-minute drive from Dumaguete City, and the St. Augustine of Hippo church is a source of pride for the residents. It was constructed from 1866 to 1883, and is one of the churches in the country chosen for restoration by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. The brick-and-coralstone edifice still has its wooden pulpit, original clay tiles in some parts, and a pipe organ that still plays during the first Sunday mass. The organ is a Roques Brothers brought in from Zaragoza, Spain, in 1894. When the Semana Santa approaches, on display are a few images for churchgoers to appreciate. Don’t miss taking pictures of the old wooden convent beside the church.
Dauin and Bacong are two coastal towns in Negros Oriental, and both are easy to explore. Dauin, just thirty minutes away from the capital, is the more popular of the two this being where most of the beach resorts are located. Many resorts are geared towards the European market with their enticing offerings of sun, beach, and diving. The view around is wonderful and the clean beaches come up with delightful surprises. There’s that old Talisay tree whose gnarled roots snake around someone’s front yard. Lovely bleached driftwood are a-plenty. Pretty gardens are a sight for sore eyes. And sometimes, you run into fellow guests quietly going about their business.
I enjoyed the view more back at the 32-room beachfront Sierra Resort where I spent the night. At the third floor, I can see the amazing sunrise as the sun peeks through the blue-grey dawn. The waves here are strong enough for surfing. Although they were vigorous enough to knock me down as I was wading through, they were gentle enough to lull me to sleep with their soothing rhythm. Alone in my very pretty seaside room, I can hear the rush of water in the night. The homey setting is tastefully furnished with Old World charm from the wooden floors to the aparadors in the bedrooms to the comfortable settees you’d like to sink into. All bedrooms are airconditioned with television sets and refrigerators. And Bibles! Now, this is just the kind of home one would like built for family. Yet, there is room for more. For events and seminars, a 200-person function hall is available by the poolside with the full-grown frangipani trees all around.
Those travelling via public transportation can easily get to Dauin. Tricycles ply the area and people are quite helpful to visitors. For a quick get-away from the Occidental side, spend a few summer days in this gentle province of sun, sand and sikwate.