Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dumaguete upstart

OF the ones we love, we think we only expect constancy.

Only later do we realize that we are hardly capable of that ourselves. The inability to change does not hold off betrayal or loss. At a certain point, the unvarying, the predictable is the terminal, a diminishing, death.

We found ourselves stuck in Dumaguete on Good Friday. For the past two days, we managed to squeeze in all we planned, work and bonding, Dumaguete and Siquijor.

However, a call confirmed that no ferry would be connecting Sibulan to Liloan or Tampi to Bato to get us home to Cebu by Friday.

After piling into one of Dumaguete’s spacious tricycles (steered by her inimitably polite and honest drivers), we unloaded knapsacks, bottled water and Harry Potters five minutes later at our transient quarters for the next two days.

Had we worried less about the day’s heat melting our stash of sylvanas in their pretty white-and-blue Sans Rival boxes, we would have walked the four blocks or so connecting the Boulevard room we vacated to its reserved guest to this downtown inn, which, contradicting years of hard-earned wisdom that it was impossible to find in the city any vacancy in accommodations, without reservation, in the middle of Holy Week, did have this unreserved family room, modern, reasonably priced and equipped with a mini-fridge that guaranteed the sylvanas would melt in our mouths, not inside the box.

Apparently, the city we thought we knew and loved well for two decades had some surprises up her sleeve. The Boulevard still has among the best places to stay, which require reservation. Even the vintage homes converted into halfway houses do not just inveigle their guests into a tryst with the Boulevard’s ambrosial view of century-old trees, the sea and the sky-mantled outlines of Siquijor but also with history and quaintness.

Minutes after we checked in by the Boulevard, the shower head would not stop gushing and the aircon iced itself and only heated the room; the inhouse plumber had to wait for the hardware shop to open after noonbreak to get the thingamajig to silence the weeping shower; the replacement aircon was too small, cardboard strips plugged the hole until the service crew fixed the ice-queen aircon and we could finally drown in the butter-drenched pleasures of nearby Sans Rival.

What mitigated this cartoon caper from escalating into a holiday disaster was the niceness of the staff (the word is trite but not misplaced when applied to Dumaguete citizens) and World War II history (a place that survived Japanese military houseguests should rise above domestic debacles).

If one cannot find a room along the Boulevard, Dumaguete’s newer inns are within walking discovery. Although many of these enterprises don’t have a website and cannot be conveniently tracked (as well as reviewed and contacted online), several are right in the heart of the main commercial district.

That is another of the city’s pleasures: walking. Much of Dumaguete we discovered by walking around: tree-lined avenues, apple-mangos in the mercado, streetside chess players, waterfront debaters, musicians and proselytizers, tempura-by-the-sea, the rare bookshop. That’s how we also found out that, unlike in the Dumaguete of yesteryears, the national fast food chains are open during holidays and Sundays.

Purists might sniff about lining up for a burger or halo-halo that one can get in Cebu or Manila (Dumaguete, after all, is Sans Rival, Chin Loong and the Silliman University cafeteria, which has tragically stopped serving buko bar made with fresh carabao milk). Being once marooned in Dumaguete on a Sunday or Good Friday, when shops closed ala Cebu of the 1960s, confined one to gnaw on day-old sliced bread and cheese, still in its coat of tinfoil, while watching cable reruns.

And, yes, Jo’s Manukan, which once served the tiniest mound of rice, excruciating to extend when taken with their classic charbroiled breastmeat dipped in biting fish sauce, now offers unlimited rice.

I miss the older, slower Dumaguete but can live with this upstart.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 1, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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