The seven-hour non-airconditioned bus ride from Bacolod to our next-door neighbor was fatigue-inducing but rewarding when the diverse country scene rolled by. Sugarcane fields are juxtaposed with the steep rocky mountainside. Hidden bends unveil breathtaking cliffs and the blue Tanon Strait beyond. Bamboo-and-nipa huts perch on road edges cheek by cheek with concrete residences creating an interesting timeline of the native past up to the modern present.
Running stretches of plains come gently to a halt at the rims of municipalities where quaint decades-old wooden houses still stand. The sight of colonial-style staff houses of Central Azucarera de Bais builds up the anticipation of seeing the Big City of Negros Oriental. Ah, Dumaguete. This languid beauty of the Negros isle. Everytime I am there, I enjoy a refreshing respite from harried city living.
There are no lonely days or nights in Dumaguete as I discovered when I spent Valentine’s day there. I spent the night at the Sierra Hotel and had dinner at the hotel with my date, my dear friend Arlyn who has grown roots in Dumaguete. The Sierra Hotel is along Blanco Street which is a lovely residential street with graceful houses set on expansive lots –quite a rare sight in Bacolod nowadays. Just barely five minutes away on foot to the corner of this old-rich neighborhood is the famous Rizal Boulevard replete with bars and restaurants, and the habitués who frequent them. The city population has been made more colorful with the intermingling of various races – the brown maidens pairing off with Caucasian males, and the Orientals bonding as groups.
Still, the old Dumaguete is assuredly intact. The early morning walk I took around Blanco and the length of Hibbard Avenue revealed the city’s quiet charm. It is when she is blanketed by the hushed tones of a lazy morn that we know that the girl we used to know is still the girl we used to know.
I pass by more lovely homes at Hibbard. Then, I make a right turn to Bantayan where the paved road leads me to the boulevard. This part is where mermaids can let down their hair. Visible from the street are beach-loving trees such as the talisay and the bulubitoon. Rows of fish traps shaped like inverted baskets called panggal for the rabbitfish or danggit give way to bigger rectangular ones called bobo (accent on the second syllable with a glottal stop) for fish such as mamsa, dalagang bukid a.k.a. sulid, and dalangdang. There is even a cuartito-sized trap for the bag-angan. More remarkable than the traps are the 12 –meter banca carved out from red lawaan or bagtikan logs. The two fishermen that I talked to lament the unavailability of these woods now, so, they oh-so-carefully repair the bottoms of their boats to keep the boats seaworthy. The rapid development at the boulevard i.e., road widening and possible construction of commercial buildings in the area, affects their livelihood. Once it was easy for them to park their vessels by the road- and seaside; now, for access to the sea they need to haul their boats across the widened and paved street and weave through the cars passing through. If they park their bancas by the seaside, huge waves can damage the boats. Their hearts’ desire is a wavebreaker to prevent strong waves from slapping against the boats.
When my tummy told me it was time for breakfast, I walked back to Blanco Street. I saw more charming structures, including a bungalow that had a new life as a language school. And there are spas, and small food joints. And I remember: buses to and from Bacolod do pass by this street. What a fabulous location!
Now, let me tell you about my breakfast. I tackled a Mexican Breakfast which was a pair of burritos filled with corn, sliced ham, and scrambled eggs and generously scented with cumin and chili; a mound of vegetable salad with mustard dressing; a small bowl of tomato salsa; and a choice of fresh fruit juice, coffee, or hot chocolate. Sierra Hotel Marketing Manager Andge Bula challenged me to have the Austrian Breakfast as well. It was a challenge I failed at because I simply could not finish off a huge serving of thinly sliced potatoes and ham cooked in a drizzling of bacon fat and served with two fried eggs on top. My fellow Bacolodnon must have thought I need to fill up after that long morning walk. Both breakfasts were very good that I wished I had two stomachs. I allowed myself a slice of the delightful Chocolate Graham Cookies which had alternate layers of dark chocolate and milk-graham mix which was not too sweet that, if I hadn’t had a conscience, I would have eaten three. There are 82 food items on the restaurant’s menu (excluding drinks) including an international menu such as roast lamb, Tex-Mex Southern cuisine, goulash, and schnitzel. Can you spell Kaiserschmarrn?
The three-star Sierra Hotel assures the guest that “your journey deserved detailed hospitality”. My Queen Room was well-appointed enough to make me feel like one with amenities that include a safety deposit box for a queen’s baubles. Outside, there are cool pockets of indoor gardens in strategic places in each floor to detoxify the air. The Operations Manager explained that the hotel tries to go green as much as possible. Thank you, Sir!
My twenty-four hours in Dumaguete was quite fun and memorable. My summer plans will surely include another trip to this bewitching capital that is country mouse by dawn, brisk city cat by day, and soft siren at dusk.