Solo backpacking is in my bucket list and I’m excited to be crossing this one out. It’s not the last though. Just because it is done does not mean it’s over. This is just the beginning.
Honestly, I am happy I fulfilled this in Davao City, the 4th largest city and one of the safest places to live on the face of the Earth. True enough, I could walk at midnight alone looking for a snack, passing by clubs and public markets. In Manila, you would have probably gotten pulled to a corner and raped or your bag has already been snatched. You could think of all the possible dangers awaiting when you are in this notorious side of the NCR. Read: Manila, not Valenzuela, which is just part of the Metro, but an independent city. This is where I live and I love my city because 1) Our mayor is awesome, not corrupt 2) its is way more peaceful and 3) the local government is developing it into a sophisticated cluster of districts.
While Valenzuela is slowly climbing up to the top of the most pleasant cities in PH, Davao is more established. Mind you, they have 911 there, free of charge. I repeat: FREE of charge! Because, why would I pay someone to help me in times of need? Then they do not deserve my thank you.
But thank you Davao for giving me a taste of freedom. All alone in an unknown city touring from downtown to the islands on foot (well, mostly), life is indeed here! Wanna know the things I did? Because there was no nobody to stop or push me where to go, I did as my heart pleased.
I arrived at the Davao City Airport at 8:45 AM. By the way, it was also my first time to fly so I still had a hang-over from the great view from the top. For me, it was surreal, even the heavy pressure I felt in my ears. I realized how beautiful Philippines is even if I didn’t know exactly where the plane was hovering. The dramatic takeoff for me seemed like just an ordinary bus ride to the rest. So, I struggled to hide my excitement and anxiety. There were times when I dozed off but I tried to wake up many times. I did not want to miss the details.
There were taxis already waiting in front of the departure area. Expecting one of them would charge me way higher for the luggage, I forgot I was no longer in Manila.
Taxi drivers here are just, fare-wise and polite that they keep calling me Ma’am. I never really liked being called ‘Ma’am’ ever since even in the office before but I forgive these guys. Lucky enough, the previous occupants in the room my friend booked have checked out so I was able to unpack and take a short nap. Yes, I didn’t sleep the night before my flight. I badly needed a short snooze.
My sister’s call woke me at 2 PM to get an update, then I texted my mom, and then prepared for my journey. Prior to that, I have researched on all the places to visit and most of them are in walking distance. So I spent the day hopping from church, to museums, to parks, and then figuring out where the fucking hotel was.
San Pedro Cathedral
My first stop was San Pedro Cathedral. It’s a medium sized church with fascinating architecture. I am not a regular church-goer but I make it a point to visit the churches in all the places I go. I did spend a few minutes at the small chapel beside the Cathedral to offer a prayer. I am grateful for everything: the ticket, the safe flight, the experience, the freedom. It was like orgasm.
I took a few pictures and then headed to Museo Dabawenyo, which was two blocks away.
The tour was just starting when I arrived. There is no entrance fee and taking pictures is prohibited except at the gallery.
The place is rich in Davao’s history and I really loved the miniature native houses of various ethnic groups. Security was tight and I would probably go to jail if I pocketed one of them.
The most amazing stuff are upstairs, where a gallery of beautiful paintings were on display. I had a photo opp with the painter, Elenita Dumlao. She had a humble appearance and a face that did not intimidate; ready to answer questions anyone may have.
I have read about her on the Internet and have seen her work. To my surprise, she was there at the museum as gallery host! Coincidence? We do not cross paths with certain people for no reason. I am sure someday I will find out why we met in the first place. But let me just enjoy the brief encounter. This woman knows color. I love colors! Too bad I could not afford her pretty expensive works of art. The least that I can do was capture the moment so I just requested someone to take a picture of us together.
“Are you not with them?” Mrs Dumlao asked me as I put my arms across her shoulders. “No ma’am, I came here alone,” and then we smiled at each other. It was a compliment, of course, that made me giggle and draw a huge smile.
Next, D’ Bone Collector Museum. I asked the guy at the entrance how to get there. However, despite all the hand gestures, I didn’t quite follow. Finally, he handed me a map of the city to make things easier, which he should have done firsthand to spare me from the headache of figuring out what he was talking about, LOL!
D’ Bone Collector Museum
D’ Bone Collector Museum may not look that special but once inside, you get to learn so much about marine life and how humans are doing a good job at killing the aquatic animals. Its owners are an American Couple living in Davao for several years now. They have made it their mission to preserve not only remains of these precious creatures but also to enlighten humans about the implications of our carelessness. “We do not do it for the money alone. Our goal is to educate people about the importance of respecting nature.”
Funny story, the Am guy asked which dialect I prefered: “So Bisaya-tagalog or Tagalog?” I laughed and said nicely, “Tagalog please.” He hesitated: “Well, I don’t know Tagalog so let’s just stick to English.” And then he explained to me the rules and regulations. “Don’t feed the animals.” To my surprise, I asked “Oh, you have animals here?!” Then wife said laughing, “Yes, they’re all dead!”
It was a joke. I was too tired to see the humor. He turned me over to a local tour guide, who I later appointed as my photographer. LOL!
My heart sank with every story he told of how the whales and dolphins ended up in that museum. Once in my odd life, I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist because of my penchant for the underwater. I don’t know why I took up journalism to be honest. 😀
People’s Park: Last stop
The People’s Park was close by. We have a People’s Park in Valenzuela, too but I wanted to compare the qualities.
Duterte vs Gatchalian.
After a few monutes of walking around the park, no doubt, Duterte won. Davao City’s People’s Park is way more spacious and breezy compared with our own People’s Park.
Valenzuela’s People’s Park got a fountain, two monkeys, an ampitheater, and skaters.
Davao’s got a mini waterfall, a dome, statues, playground, trees, and fitness buffs running and doing sit-ups everywhere.
My attire that day could pass for a runner’s but I didn’t plan to go along. I had been walking for four hours by that time and still a few kilometers away from Las Casitas Inn. Walking and thinking could really drain your energy big time.
Now I had to figure out my way back to the hotel. At 6 PM, I stopped by a diner for dinner, which included one piece chicken, rice, and soup for P25. Not bad! Not bad!
At almost 9PM, I was finally back at the hotel, dropped my backpack and devoured the remaining sandwich I made back home to avoid spoilage. This is a budget trip so I need to maximize my resources, too. 😀 More than food, I badly needed lots of water. My indulgence was a late-night coffee at the restaurant downstairs. I sat quitely in one corner overlooking the serene road to enjoy my accomplishments that day before I retired to bed.
P80.00 – entrance fee to D Bone Collector
P30.00 – coffee
P25.00 – dinner
I needed some view of the sunset or a sunrise but the ferry boat to Talicud Island normally leaves late. At 8:30 AM, I have already secured my seat in Isla Reta ferry boat, which sets sail at 9 AM. Travel time was approximately an hour. Having chosen the window seat, I didn’t mind even if it took three hours. The last time I had been to the sea was many moons ago. Plus, it’s a joy to ride a boat. I thought if I’d be lucky, I might see some dolphins jumping and playing in the ocean, but to no avail.
Fine. No dolphins. Just the view of Samal Island. Worth it. Minutes passed by so fast and I found myself treading the powdery white sand of Isla Reta. It felt like quicksand — so soft I wanted to take off my rubber shoes and run around. Maybe next time. The view from the wharf was breathtaking that I started taking pictures of the thick trees and bushes soon after I got off the boat. The sun that reflected on the white sand was blinding. It was paradise.
Isla Reta Touchdown
I walked towards the beauty and found a spot on the less populous side of the resort. There I set up my blanket, took off my shirt, shades on and looked on. It was so quiet; the kind of quietness that encourages you to just sit there and think about life. love. happiness. sadness. freedom. abundance. nature. gift. loved ones. people you cherish here and there. I wish my mom could see what I was seeing (although she sucks as traveling). But remembering her made me a little sad. This is what I want my mom to experience. Peace. She deserved it more than I do.
If only she had a friend that’s working at a ticketing company LOL! Maybe someday, I will take her to different places too. No, soon.
Looking at the sea is one thing. Listening to it is another. That was music. The real thing always sounds better than mp3, so I laid down, closed my eyes and aimed for a nap, something that’s hard to do when you have a racing mind.
A few hours more and I decided to explore the island. I checked the guard post and realized there’s a town outside. Ah, that’s what they’re talking about. I asked the habl-habal driver to take me to Babusanta Resort. I just heard the place is pretty as well. They initially charged me 300 for the roundtrip. But I was born to haggle. Remember: budget trip. “Oh please, fare is only 50!” I insisted. I was then informed that each habal-habal accommodates two. A single passenger should cover two seats. “Okay. So that’s 200.”
And then off we went. The road to Babusanta was long, steep, and winding. There are thickets surrounding the area, which reminded me of the backwoodsy gore movies I have watched. I was in an Island close to Mindanao, sitting behind a motorist that looked like a Tutsi in dreadlocks. And then it hit me. “What the fuck am I thinking?!” I could get raped or beheaded and thrown into the woods or get kidnapped for ransom! My family won’t be able to find me and my flesh would rot and be forgotten. I am not ready!
“It doesn’t look like there’s a resort here.” I said. No answer. As the tension rose, I blurted out smiling: “Hey man! What have I gotten myself into?!” He said, “Adventure…” in monotone. “Are you alone?” He went on to ask. “Oh yes!” If he was a killer or a kidnapper, that’s mistake #1. “Where are you from?” he asked again. “Oh, I’m from Manila just having a free vacation!” Mistake number-fucking 2. Call me paranoid, but I guess I should be. And call me stupid because I was.
My thinking process was kinda slow I know and I was being judgmental. But hey, I trusted him after all and tried to remain calm and friendly despite my fears! Let me tell you though that alongside the fear, my gut told me everything was fine; that it’s safe.
In my head, I was praying: “Please Lord, get me back safely to the hotel. If this is my time, please…with dignity.” But I reached Babusanta in one piece.
Business as usual, he offered: “If you like, we can go around the island. We take the long road. Just add 50.” I replied: “Nah! it’s fine. I can handle the bumps.”
No answer. But, considering he has no other job but the habal-habal, he could definitely use the additional Php 50. I asked him prior to that how many passengers hire him everyday. None. “We rarely have passengers.” That means, he only made money that day because of me. So I said, “OK! Let’s do the long trip.”
It was indeed a long trip. Excuse my lumbago…lol! I don’t have it but my lower back ached trying to distance my crotch from his butt. I guess I was careful not to arouse him. 😀 I know it’s a weird thing to say. I was just trying to redeem myself.
And at last! we were back at the island. The guy or kid proved to be harmless. You are probably thinking I am an arrogant beach who judge people by their appearances. Forgive me but let me clarify that even if he looked like Derek Ramsay, I would feel the same (but I can’t promise I would keep my hands off his triceps, lol!) Kidding aside, I was alone and I should be paranoid enough not to fully trust anyone in a strange territory. And besides, I made the trip after all!
I registered for the 3 PM trip right away at the guard post and returned to my spot, downing a whole bottle of water to disperse the heat. My stomach screamed Kinilaw na Tuna Belly but it cost 380 pesos. The rest were somewhere between 180 and 200 at the canteen. No thanks! Water was all I needed.
Another one-hour ferry boat ride to Sta Ana Wharf, a taxi ride to the hotel, and another thank you prayer while lying in my bed. Just a few minutes after, I received a text from a friend of mine who is a local. We planned on meeting the other day but she was unavailable so I invited her for dinner that night. The meeting place: Jack’s Ridge.
I got there ahead of call time, 7 PM, and took some pictures while waiting. There’s a terrace downstairs overlooking the entire Davao City at night. I could compare Jack’s Ridge’s concept with Metrowalk or Libis but this one’s prettier, of course. It was a beautiful mildly cold night. The moon looked like a wounded eye bleeding for my lack of fashion sense and gullibility. Almost 20 minutes have passed and she was nowhere to be found so I enjoyed the night sky in the meantime.
“Look at the moon, isn’t it pretty?” I heard someone said.
“Yes, it’s pretty.” I smiled. And then, a text message from my friend came in saying she’s at the front gate. I could really give her a bad timing award! LOL! I excused myself in dismay. “Wow, the poorest timing ever!” LOL!
Food was of course a little pricey but there’s no McDonald’s or KFC to save us. The food smelled tempting though and we’re hungry. Note that it was our first face-to-face meeting. We only chatted on Skype sometimes for update on life and work. She’s a really nice and pretty girl.
The night was getting old and we still had Sunday Service to attend to the next day so we said our goodbyes after a few hours of non-stop talking. Another busy busy day…
P160 – back and forth ferry boat fare (P80 one-way)
We used to call events like the Sunday Service a charismatic. Almost any affair where people raise their hands with closed eyes and say “praise the Lord” is a charismatic. I don’t think I have ever been to one except that Sunday.
I woke up early, wore my casual ensemble and headed to the school where the event was taking place. At 10 AM, Tina was already there waiting for me. People I didn’t know greeted me with warm handshakes and big smiles.
They were singing christian songs that made me behave like a tame deer. The catchy tunes made me wanna sing along, only I didn’t know the lyrics. The only thing I could do was stand there, listen and sway a little. It would be a tasteless show of appreciation if I did nothing. My stupid moves were funnier in your imagination! 😀
The things that followed involved lots of prayers, a pastor’s sermon, and a short ceremony for first-time attendees. Next, a pray over. Tina prayed over for me along with some of her church mates.
The ambience was quite overwhelming and my morbid jokes didn’t make it to my system. Out of respect, I quietly watched how happy these people looked. They looked so happy like they’ve already seen paradise. I thought: I want that kind of happiness, seriously. Those happy, peaceful faces made me envious. I wish that someday, I would look like that. Happy. Actually, joyous. And that happy face would be a fine work of art by God’s hands. As of now, I am aware that I still need to cleanse myself of bad behaviors. But I am working on it, slowly…
My friend could not accompany me to my tour, not this time, so I went ahead to Crocodile Park. On a lazy Sunday afternoon. Alone. Fuck me. That’s not the worst part. The worst part is that the huge crocodile wouldn’t come out of the water. The monster was the reason why I went there and I paid P200 for small crocodiles, birds, and a few disgusting snakes. The ticket, however, was good for entrance to the Crocodile Park, Tribu Kamindanawan, and Butterfly House. It was 2PM. The guard said I can come back at 4 PM for the show happening at the Park and Tribu simultaneously. With a one-way 150-taxi fare, nah!
I just went back to the hotel, grabbed a late lunch, and tried to do some work. By 9PM, I was getting hungry again. The only option I had was a cup noodle or a cup of coffee. Remember: budget trip. Why choose? The two would cost only a little over P20. So I went outside and bought me a cup noodle and a sachet of Kopiko. In between sips of coffee at the hotel diner were conversations with the security guard about Manila, politics, and family.
His enthusiasm was contagious that I had to willingly answer questions like: “What do you think of Miriam Santiago? What about Binay? Joseph Estrada? FPJ? Pinoy? Who did you vote for president?” Our discussion was humorous but he was disappointed to know I haven’t been voting in years. I did comfort Manong guard though with a promise that if Duterte, Gatchalian, or Bongbong Marcos would run for president, that would be the time I would exercise my right to vote. And he was happy. 😀
End of story.
P200 – Crocodile Park
P135 – fare
P120 – fare
P120 – fucking fare 😀
P8 – coffee
Oh God. Last day. I wanted to extend but reschedule of flight would cost money. It’s sad to wake up realizing my freedom will soon be revoked. But this is my life. I am grateful for the temporary emancipation and will never forget those four days.
Tina offered to accompany me to the Philippine Eagle Center and Aldevinco to buy some homecoming presents. But first, let me tell you that the Eagle Center is one place in Davao you shouldn’t miss. The eagles are the highlight but you would also appreciate the entire sanctuary. Well-maintained, preserved, lots of huge trees, beautiful garden. It would be a nice setting for a wedding ceremony with an LOTR or Game of Thrones theme! I have always imagined my wedding to be in the woods near a waterfall or something and I would dress like a Greek goddess or Arwen. My groom would be in an Aragorn-ish suit and the children guests would dress up like dwarves, hee-hee. It’s awesome!
Anyways. there’s a guy selling pearl earrings and necklaces near the entrance. I bought four for P200, a price that took the vendor almost an hour to decide on. I had to haggle because he was charging each pair of earrings 100 earlier. Four pairs would cost me 400, which was unacceptable. But because I love pearls and I promised my friend in Manila I would buy her one, I really had to try and pull the price down.
There were also several stalls selling batik items. If haggling was a crime, I would probably serve life in prison. Well, you know the business and they can’t make me buy stuff over 200. I scored a few bags, wallets, and key chains. The malong made of batik cost P700 so no go. Aldevinco might have better offers.
Off we went to Aldevinco but I was only able to find T-shirts for my family. That afternoon, Tina and I met another ‘colleague’ and spent a few hours at the food court talking about lots of stuff. Tina went ahead and my other colleague was kind enough to accompany me back to my hotel at around 6 PM. There I spent the remaining hours packing and dissing the ugly Inn that I transferred to to save on room rental.
I would end my Davao stories here. Everything is still fresh in my mind. Every footstrike. Every trail I passed by. Every person I met. Every misfortune I encountered. Even the number of times I heard my stomach growled. It made me long for freedom more. It made rethink my life and imagine who or what I could have been if I were given the opportunity to be independent when I was younger. I am sure everything would be very very different, but in a good way.
But perhaps I won’t be able to appreciate those moments much if I had everything I ever wanted. Humility is very cheap but only few can afford it.
In my next solo travel, I am eyeing Cebu. I have always wanted to go there but there would be no free tickets this time so I am preparing for it. I do not want to be too tight and pressured so I can push myself to the maximum. So, till next!