Category Archives: travel

Mindanao Tourism Gets a New Lease on Life

Have you ever looked at one of those tourism ads and wondered what sort of stories lie behind the spectacular sunsets, the colorful sceneries, and the sweet smiles of the people in the glossy photographs?

Are they just as happy when the cameras aren’t around? Or does the twinkle in their eyes fade when the afterimage from the last flash dies down. What secrets do they keep and what kind of lives do they lead beyond what tourists normally get to see.

In Mindanao, where years of government neglect has rendered many beautiful places inaccessible except for the truly determined, there is hope that some of these hidden gems will finally see the light.

If there is one thing that the first Philippine President from Mindanao has brought to the national consciousness, it is a greater interest in the land he calls home. While much of the focus so far has been on the political front, images and reports on the beauty of Mindanao are also starting to come out. And with them come the stories of the people.

In the next six years, Mindanao will have an unprecedented opportunity to reveal itself to the world – and the world will, for the first time, have greater access to this last pristine frontier of Philippine tourism. Hopefully this will be supported by the administration with the appointment of a Tourism Secretary who is also from Mindanao and understands its people and culture.

With Duterte and the Muslim rebels promising lasting peace, maybe the stories of Mindanao can finally be told by those who have lived them.

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All photos are by award-winning Davao-based Photographer, Rhonson Ng

 

 

 

Old Davao Neighborhood Becomes Haven for Budget Travelers

Old Davao Neighborhood Becomes New Haven for Budget Travelers

One of Davao City’s oldest neighborhoods, the place where the future President of the Philippine grew up in no less, is fast becoming a haven for budget travelers. 

Juna Subdivision, located on the south side of the Davao River that splits the city in two, was one of the earliest residential developments to spring up after the war. The place where many of Davao’s most prominent families built their homes.

 A few streets away from the Duterte ancestral home are the houses of Dominguez, Floirendo, Sarenas, Ayala, Alcantara, Dalisay, Robillo, Santos-Munda, Dela Paz, Lorenzana, and many other families that are part of Davao City’s storied past.

 Today Juna Subdivision has been transformed by the entry of many small hotels, inns, and bed and breakfast places – many of which are owned and operated by the younger generation of the original homeowners. This includes Lispher Inn, Casa Munda, The Big House – A Heritage Home, Jogues Appartelle, Domecilio Lorenzana Appartelle, Rue Mango Appartelle, and many more.

What makes the hotels in the area attractive to travelers, aside from the affordable rates, is the central location of Juna subdivision to many of the places you would want to visit when you go to Davao. It is quiet community that is just a walk or short ride away from malls, supermarkets, and great dining options. It is also located far from the bustle of Davao’s downtown area, and a good jump off point when you want to go to some of the city’s most famous attractions like Eden Nature Park, Malagos Gardens, Crocodile Park, and the Philippine Eagle Nature Reserve, among others.

Casa Munda

  

Casa Munda Suite

Rue Mango

Lispher Inn

Eden Nature Park

 

Booming Davao

In the news recently was the 9.4% gross regional development product (GRDP), which was the highest among all the regions in the country for 2014. Significantly, the current rate is more than 3% higher than the 6.1% it posted in 2013, highlighting the region’s strong economic performance on the backs of stellar growth in the service and industry sectors.

At the heart of all this of course is Davao City and the leadership of Mayor Rody Duterte. Unlike other areas in the Philippines where the local government units do not have a clear idea of how they can best serve the community, Davao City has hit on the perfect formula of focusing on public security and safety, and letting the rest take care of itself. 

By putting much of the city’s resources on reducing criminality and improving public order, Davao City residents are free to pursue their careers, grow their businesses, and increase their investments without fear of being targeted by criminals. This is the Duterte legacy of Davao. And while critics like DOJ Sec. Leila De Lima continue to harp on his supposed human rights violations, there is strong consensus among Davaoeños that the mayor has done a yeoman’s job of keeping the city on track. Which is more than we can say for De Lima’s stint at the DOJ.

With the booming economy, Davao City is now starting to experience the problems faced by all growing metropolis’. Chief among these is the worsening traffic situation, which is not at all helped by the ludicrous speed limits that we have right now. Having to drive at thirty kilometers per hour wouldn’t be so bad if not for the jeepneys that insist on driving fifteen. For Davao drivers, angst is having a wide open road and the possibility of a speed gun on the horizon.  

Another consequence of all these positive economic developments is the rush to construct as many building as possible. Where for years we didn’t even have enough high rises to count with the fingers of one hand, all of a sudden they’re popping up like mushrooms. What seems worrisome though is that a lot of these new buildings are being built in what used to be old riverbeds and swamplands. And given that much of what we now know as downtown used to be part of the coastal plain and/or the riverside, it would really be interesting to see how these structures would stand up to an earthquake.

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Next: Old Davao Neighborhood New Haven for Budget Travelers 

A Monumental Mistake

The controversial Torre de Manila rises behind the historic Rizal Monument in Luneta Park. Photo from skyscrapercity.com

Much as I try to focus only on those topics that have a direct impact on the lives of Mindanaoans, I just cant resist commenting on the recent full-page advertisement taken out by DMCI regarding their controversial Torre de Manila project. It offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about ways of communicating with an angry public that might help other companies, some of them in Mindanao, that are facing similarly sticky situations.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, the controversy stems from DMCI’s decision to build a 49-storey condominium directly behind the Rizal Monument in Luneta. According to some very vocal sectors the building sacrilegiously obstructs the otherwise pristine skyline that has framed the historic landmark for more than a hundred years. But which, as far as DMCI is concerned after having jumped through all the legal hoops, they are well within their rights to construct.

From a communication stand point, what we have here is a classic example of the disconnect that happens between the logical and emotional levels of discourse. On the logical sphere, where what one says is received by the audience exactly as it was transmitted, there is very little ambiguity in the project, especially from the point of view of the sender. In this case, DMCI.

Reading from their own official statement, they clearly see Torre De Manila as nothing more tan a straightforward “urban solution” designed “to help address the need for mid-income housing and urban renewal… (and to provide their customers) the convenience, security and quality of life they deserve.” In seeking to strengthen their logical legal basis for Torre De Manila, DMCI also cites its compliance with all the rules and relevant laws, their clearance from the National Historical Commission, urban development issues in the City of Manila, and international precedence in the preservation of national heritage sites.

Before commenting on some of the deficiencies of DMCI’s statement as a communications tool and a way to bridge the gap between them and their detractors, let me just say that from a purely legal perspective, I have no doubt that it stands on very solid footing. That said, I also believe that this is one of those cases where one can be legally correct, but ethically wrong. And trying to argue one over the other will not get you anywhere in the eyes of an already outraged public.

What DMCI doesn’t seem to understand, and what it’s statement fails to address, is the anger felt by those opposing their project. And while they took time to outline why they are “right” and their opponents are “wrong,” this logical presentation will not have any impact on the raw emotion that drives those on the other side. It is like talking about one coin but coming from different sides, you will never be able to come to an agreement without taking a leap of faith and accepting that the other side may just have as much “right” as you do. That their perceptions, while based on nothing more concrete than a hunch, still has the force of reality behind it. And attacking people’s beliefs by calling them irrational guarantees that they will only resist harder than ever before.

In order to find a common ground, DMCI should first identify the source of the anger. Is it because of the structure or is it because of the process that went into the building of the condominium? Most often than not, the public’s anger comes from a feeling of being ignored. Of being marginalized from the decisions that affect their lives. And compliance with laws and regulations, especially in the Philippines where confidence in the government is not very high, does not ensure public acceptance.

Once the source of the negative emotions has been identified, DMCI should determine who or what is driving the anger. While there will always be those who are using the issue for their own agenda, there are also legitimate groups who have real grievances. These are the people DMCI should reach out too. Maybe even form a community organization that would work towards finding an acceptable solution. These should be sincere efforts to bridge the gap and not just public relations damage control.

Lastly, DMCI should look for ways to widen the discussions with the public. The unknown is also a potent force in creating anger and anxiety, particularly in issues that are emotionally charged. By engaging the public in dialogues across all platforms of media, traditional and social, they will be able to reassure the people that, at the very least, they are listening to their concerns. This way also, by their reasonableness, they will be able to expose the extremists and the crazies whose anarchic views leave no room for compromise. DMCI should not be afraid to talk to the community, even when they may not always agree, these can be a rich source for demonstrating that they can do better.

So, Grace Poe wants to be President. And if the surveys are right, majority of Filipinos want her to be the President too. But from what we’ve been hearing through the political grapevines, the decision of whether or not the first term lady senator would actually take the plunge rests entirely on her good friend, advisor, and constant companion, Chiz “The Whiz” Escudero. After orchestrating the ascension of Jojo Binay to the office of the Vice President, he has somehow maneuvered himself to be in the perfect position to ride the coattails of Poe towards the same seat in 2016.

If Chiz manages to pull this off, it would cap off a wild series of horse trading and back channel negotiations that has seen the political fortunes of these would-be Presidents rise and fall in dizzying fashion. Whether it is Binay, Poe, Roxas, or Duterte, the one thing that is clear is that people are having a hell of a time keeping up with all the issues being brought out about each candidate. And with the expansion of media platforms into the real of the social networks, the slightest rumor can disrupt even the best laid communications plan.

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In the wings of all these political maneuverings, President Aquino went about with the regular business of government by signing RA 10668, or the Liberalized Cabotage Law, which would now allow for much, much cheaper shipment rates of foreign goods all over the Philippines. Prior to this law it was cheaper to send goods to and from abroad than it was to send them from Manila to Davao.

As an example of the impact that this new law would have on Mindanao development, the President cited the case of a cargo container from Cagayon de Oro going to Hong Kong. He explained that in the past it would have cost US$ 1,264, of which eighty-eight percent or US$ 1,120 to ship it from Cagayan de Oro to Manila, and only US$ 144 from Manila to Hong Kong. “Because of the amended Cabotage Law, shippers from Cagayan de Oro can go straight to Hong Kong. They will pay only US$ 500. They will be able to save US$ 746 per container,” this the President says, would end the absurdity of the situation where the Philippines has one of the world’s most expensive shipping costs despite having some of the largest shipyards, and being home to one-fourth of the world’s seafarers. This development is a clear victory for the people in Mindanao. Finally the stranglehold on shipping, which has favored the interests of Metro Manila over the rest of the country has been broken.

Denizens of the deep

You meet the most interesting creatures underwater. LIke this flamboyant cuttlefish. Normally this guy crawls along the bottom, dressed all in black and dark greys. But when it gets excited, loke it is in these pictures, you can see how the colors come out. 

I took these photos somewhere in the Davao Gulf, at one of those beaches that you wouldn’t expect see anything so beautiful. Guess that goes to show you can never judge a book by its cover, or the ocean by the garbage stacked on the beach.
Cuttlefish1 image image image

Travel Memories

It’s been a while since I took to the road. Work, that dreaded four-letter, has had me tied down with deadlines for months – with the end still no where in sight. In times like these, I usually occupy myself by revisiting old photos taken during previous travels.

A floating house along the banks of the Agusan Marsh. This is near where the caught Lolong, the 21-foot saltwater croc a few years back. 
Another floating house. This time on stilts. The Agusan !arsh can be a great location for a reality TV series about a group of people riding araft from Davao to Butuan
Anyone want to play ball?
Sunrise after a night of fishing for tuna in siargao

Diving in Dumaguette

TURTLES! I’ve since returned to Dumaguete to dive in Dauin and Apo Island and true to my earlier expectations, I saw turtles and a lot more. And this time I didn’t forget to bring a camera, as evidenced by the images of ghost pipefishes, a scorpion leaf fish, nudibranchs, shrimps on whip corals and of course, a turtle. 

The seas were heaving and so was my stomach. I really shouldn’t have had that cheese omelet for breakfast. Still, there wasn’t much else I could do about it now, nor was there much else I could complain about. Straight ahead I could see the cloud-hazy bulk of Apo Island, and beneath it, I could imagine the famed corals and endless undersea wonders of what is reputed to be one of the world’s best dive sites. 

I got this far by driving all the way from Davao and I was determined to enjoy the experience. Too bad my friend Menka, who arranged everything for us, wasn’t able to join the dive. But then again I was here and Apo Island was there so what else could I ask for. At that point it mattered little that the sun kept hiding behind the clouds, or the high wind was whipping the waves across the bow of our small banca with such force that I had to wear my scuba mask to keep my contacts from getting washed off – I was going to dive in Apo island and nothing was going to spoil it. 

I turned to our divemaster and asked how much longer it would take. He shrugs his shoulders, which I took to mean either, he didn’t know, didn’t hear me, or it didn’t really matter. I envied his indifference to the passing of time and speculated about how moments flow into each other and of the transitory nature of our existence. That is until a particularly big wave hit me squarely on the face, almost knocking the mask off and treating me to a mouthful of saltwater. From then on, I thought it more prudent to just keep my mind on not drowning before I even got into the water. 

Stubbornly our little banca, like the little choochoo that could, pressed on. Every dip into the waves threw up a fresh wall of water, but at the same time it drew us closer to our destination and it wasn’t long before we were turning the corner and were within sight of our first entry point. 

As the small 16–horsepower engine sputtered to a stop, the divemaster began his briefing. We were at Cogon Point and we would be doing a modified back roll entry, which actually meant that we would neither be going on our backs nor were we rolling. We would in fact be jumping of the banca face forward and butt first. Whatever. It was going to be a drift dive with our maximum depth pegged at 80 feet. He pointed off to the distance to our exit point, telling us that we would be picked up by the boat when we surfaced. 

Three splashes later and we were all in the water and raring to go. After some minor adjustments, a few hand signals, and the hiss of air being released we slipped gently underwater. 

THE CLOSEST THING TO FLYING 

For those who’ve never tried it, it’s hard to express in words the three dimensional freedom one gets from diving — unfettered by gravity, it is the closest thing to unaided flight humans will ever experience. Whenever someone wanting to learn to scuba asks me what its like, I often tell them to just try it and they’d either come out liking the experience or hating it. 

Another thing about scuba, the lines of choices are clearly drawn. It is always an experience sliding beneath the waves. There is a quietness and serenity that overwhelms the senses and drives all thoughts out, leaving only the moment and the awareness of each breath. Sounds of the world above are forgotten and motion is reduced to the pace of thick molasses. 

These first few moments are always the best for me; it is a moment of doors opening and genies being unleashed. 

And the genies of the deep were clearly with us during that dive as less than five minutes into it we were welcomed to Apo by a pair of giant trevallies swimming in the current. They were a bit above us and I wanted to swim to them to get a closer look, but the urgent tank-banging of our guide drew my attention further down. 

I swam to where he was and saw the huge, moss–lined, barnacle-encrusted carapace of a hawksbill turtle. I searched for the head and it took me a while to notice that it was tucked underneath some sponges feeding. This wasn’t the first turtle I’ve seen, but it was certainly the most self-assured. It never spooked even when I got in close enough to almost touch it. I can remember looking into its wizened eyes as it turned its head ever so casually towards me and wondering what amazing sights he must have seen — and all this time there was this whole surfer dude dialogue going on in my head — and I knew that it won’t be long until I was started calling clownfishes, nemos. 

After that first awesome encounter, there were a couple more turtles that we saw — even one with a missing fin — plus schools of jacks, barracudas, a couple of stone fishes, a ribbon eel, a snaggle-toothed snapper that I swear was almost as long as my forearm, and more corals than you can shake a stick at. 

As to the last, it was wonderful to see such abundance without any signs of decay or deterioration. 

We did three dives that day, each successively better than the last and at the end the only thing we regretted was not having the foresight to bring an underwater camera (duh!). Well, I guess that only means I’d have to go back and do it all over again… maybe next time the sharks will be there. 

The unseen world of scuba diving

 

The Beauty Within

Few things can surpass, and none can match the thrill of scuba diving. The sensation of slipping into a world where the constraints of gravity are loosed and one is free to fly, gliding with the unseen currents like an eagle soaring in the wind, is an indescribable experience that never gets old no matter how many times you do it. Every time is always the first time, and every dive unique from all the rest. The vastness and diversity of our oceans practically guarantees that you will see something new each you put on that wet suit.

When the water is crystal clear and the visibility is unlimited, you can survey the underwater world like you would from an airplane – looking down on the many-colored and oddly shaped corals. The multitude of fishes too numerous to count. And the unbelievable array of the strangest, weirdest, most interesting creatures you would ever find – from an eight armed octopus that can change colors at the drop of a hat, to shrimps with a thousand eyes and a kick so fast it creates its own sonic boom. Old Mr. Ripley can write a whole volume on these wonderful animals and it still won’t even scratch the surface.

Once in a while the lucky diver may also catch a glimpse of a shark, the undisputed king of this watery world, cruising among lesser mortals with all the surety and menace of Mike Tyson entering the ring during his prime. Seeing these apex predators for the first time, looking into the unblinking blackness of their eyes, you get a distinct feeling that it is only through their sufferance that you continue to remain healthy while in their realm. It is a humbling encounter where the wise depart with a sense of awe and a big question mark on the true place of humans in the hierarchy of nature. And the foolish do not leave at all.

The Treasures of the Past

But for all the beauty that it holds, much of our seas and oceans remain a mystery. An unexplored world just outside our doorsteps, and whose murky depths have proven all but impenetrable to our quest to see and understand what lies beneath the waves. Far from the prying eyes of men, a large part of human history lies hidden and undisturbed in the silent darkness of the ocean floor.

Buried beneath thousands of feet of water is a chronicle of man’s earliest attempts to answer the siren’s calling beyond the waves. From the meanest dugouts to grandest galleons, crossing the vast distances between continents meant venturing far beyond the sight of land and into the heart of the unknown. It was an adventure for the ages and countless brave souls answered the call. Tragically not all of them made it to the journey’s end. Stored away in Davy Jones’ mythical locker are the stories of man’s persistent itch to explore, to discover what lies beyond the horizon. 

Aside from fueling our curiosity, the oceans have time and again been used as a tool to extend man’s capacity to inflict violence on other men beyond the borders of their own nations. Throughout history, and even up to the present time, warlords, conquerors, and despots have played their games of brinksmanship on the high seas, with the fate of millions on the line. And while those who have succeeded are written into the history books, the failures of those whose efforts have yielded nothing but a watery grave, can be read only from the battered and broken wrecks they left behind. 

Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg

In descending these depths, the intrepid diver journey’s into a world of unending possibilities and new discoveries, a world of wonder and sudden, violent danger. A world filled with relics of the past and the promise of a bright future. And, sadly, a world that is slowly dying from neglect, and misuse. Because its bounty is hidden beneath the surface, it is easy for people to turn a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating conditions of our oceans. Despite the increasingly dire warning and doomsday predictions from scientists and conservationists, the dumping of millions of tons of garbage into our waters remains unabated. 

According to a report by by Ocean Convervancy (oceanconservancy.org), “The amount of plastic going into the ocean from land is estimated between 5 and 14 million tons annually. This study demonstrates that the sheer volume of plastic in the ocean is orders of magnitude greater than what has been previously estimated.  In the next decade our ocean could hold one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish.

We know that plastic is bad for ocean wildlife and habitats – animals ingest it and can get entangled in it; it litters our beaches and waterways.  Volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s International Cleanup have collected over 190 million pounds of trash, including plastic waste, since the event began 30 years ago.   And plastic waste is not just an environmental concern.   For countries where plastic consumption has outpaced waste management, there are real concerns around public health, job creation, tourism and quality of life.” 

And as far as it being an endless supply of food for our growing cities, man’s greed and inexhaustible appetite has beggared the once seemingly limitless riches of Neptune. Every year, as the fish stocks grow smaller, it becomes harder and harder for fishermen to meet the demands of the market. Leading many to resort to more desperate and environmentally destructive methods in order to increase their haul of the ever more precious fishes. Soon this vicious cycle of exploitation and extermination will come to a dead stop as the oceans will finally be depleted of all that it has to give. Which, if the current studies hold true, may come sooner rather later.

Hoping for a Better Future

But until that time comes we continue to hope that something will change. Something drastic that will make people realize that we should do all we can to preserve and protect the oceans and all the creatures that live in it. Not just because we rely on it for food or that it is useful for whatever purpose it might serve us, but because it is simply the right thing to do. The late Jacques Cousteau, a scuba diving legend and one of the earliest advocates for marine conservation said it best when he declared that, “If we go on the way we have, then fault is our greed. If we are not willing to change, then we will disappear from the face of the globe. If we are just logical, then the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”

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For more of my ramblings, please visit my site at http://www.mindanation.com and http://www.infinitemonkees.com