A Weekend with Gentle Giants in Dumaguete and Cebu

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Asia, Dumaguete, Negros, Oslob, Cebu

My late father was a Man for Nature. It was his happiness to share with us his passion for Mother Earth’s miracles  – whether it be camping us out in Danjugan Island where they would scuba dive frequently, meticulously caring for his prized fighting cocks, tortoises and indigenous fish species to even domesticating a bear cat, locally known as a “Musang” in our backyard. I had a childhood of fun and adventure with sugar cane plantations and farm animals as my musings and the children of our loyal farmers and staff as our playmates.  It was simple compared to others, but such fond memories kept me humble.

Organising trips for my family is my outlet to teach my kids how to see the world on a holistic and grounded perspective.  Trips abroad open their eyes to different cultures and pegs to more developed societies but trips around the Philippines balances them to never forget their identities and pride for our country’s natural beauty (as it is often overpowered by negative news).

It was a weekend in Dumaguete with a side trip to see the Whale Sharks in Oslob.  Just a Friday to Sunday quick getaway as my husband could not spare another day.  I was challenged to meet a list of “must do’s” in a matter of 56hours.

I wanted to budget our trip to a reasonable degree but given the limited time and youngsters we had in tow, contacting Angelo Villanueva was the most convenient and worthy decision. All of us had a grand time with him and the tour definitely exceeded our expectations!

The actual itinerary was as follows:

Flight:  Philippine Airlines
PR2545     MNLDGT     0840     1040     1h20m    May 23, 2014
PR2544     DGTMNL    1520       1640     1h20m    May 25, 2014
approximately Php6000 pp

Hotel

Atmosphere Resort, Dauin, Negros Oriental

Atmosphere Resort is located on the south-eastern tip of Negros, near Dumaguete. The resort is managed by English owners and was built on a former coconut plantation and is located directly on the beach opposite Apo Island.

The resort has 30 comfortable rooms: 14 Deluxe Suites, 8 Garden Apartments, 4 Family Rooms and 4 Penthouses. All rooms have individually adjustable air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, DVD player, minibar, complimentary wireless internet, coffee and tea making facilities, solar heated water, bathrobes and a private bathroom with modern appliances.

Each room has its own terrace or balcony, some offering a private garden. You can choose between a large king size bed or two single beds. You can also add an extra bed to all room types, so the suites and apartments can accommodate maximum of three guests while the penthouse houses up to five.

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The four Family Rooms are the resort’s newest addition offering families of 4 maximum space. They have a large room with 2 double beds or one double and one twin bed set-up, a seating area with lounge chairs and a TV. The family rooms feature an outdoor bathroom, a large pocket garden, terrace with hammock and couch.

The resort is located in a beautiful tropical garden. The Blue Restaurant is located directly on the beachfront and offers guests a magnificent view of the sea. The chef has previously worked in major hotels and offers patrons a high standard of international and Asian cuisine. Beach barbecues and Filipino fiesta evenings are held regularly. Private romantic dinners can be arranged in the beach tree house, on the guest’s own terrace or on the beach. There is a large pool with sea views and plenty of chairs sun deck chairs including a pool bar. Cocktails and snacks can be purchased at the pool bar. The pool area is also the meeting place for divers. The second pool, situated by the Coffee Shop, has three inter-joining pools with different depths and is surrounded by cushioned sun lounges and sofas and overlooks the ocean.

The resort has a signature Spa with natural local and international treatment lines. They also offer regular yoga classes and have constructed a yoga platform in the trees right at the beach front. A small souvenir shop is on site and land tours can be booked at reception.

What We Did, What We Saw

Snorkeling with the Marine Turtles of Apo Island

While others avail of a boat from the Malapatay Market – Pier in Zamboanguita, we opted an afternoon tour from Atmosphere Resort which was directly across Apo Island.

The boat we used was bigger, so it was safer for families with young children and it also took us half the usual travel time. It came with snacks and refreshments as well as snorkeling gear.  However our tour cost about USD25 per person instead of hiring an 8-person boat for USD65 from the Pier.

Snorkeling with the turtles was fantastic!  We would swim up to them but they didn’t seem to mind us at all!  It was a great day – The waters were so clear that as we explored underwater, we could even see down to 25 feet. Great sightings of sea snakes and colourful fish as well!

Click for more tips

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Swimming with the Whale Sharks by Oslob, Cebu

IMG_5436Friends who did the Whale Shark Experience ahead of us shared that doing it yourself involves more time and physical effort as you will be transferring from one vehicle to another with your belongings.  Obviously, the DIY is the most reasonable granted you have time to wait in lines and follow the scheduled ferries or buses. But with just the whole Saturday to experience as much as we can – no need to overthink – just call Angelo.

It was so much fun hanging out with Angelo.  We knew of him from our college days as the Belle of our Beer Parties in the Dinglasan Residence.  He was always a character who struck me as fearless and vivacious! His zest is infectious – even the kids were amazed with him. After his successful stint in the Retail Industry that led him to postings abroad, he decided to go back to his Hometown and began this lucrative career – a way to share his rekindled love for Nature while enjoying a life of Simplicity.

What we loved about our day trip:

  1. Having our own private vehicle allowed us to leave the resort at a comfortable time; rid of the queues at the Bus Stop to take us to Sibulan Seaport; no need to ride trikes around Oslob (in our case it would always be 2trikes each ride); have a place to leave our belongings; most importantly there was AC 🙂
  2. Ferries to and from Oslob were pre-arranged for us
  3. A sumptuous Picnic Lunch was waiting for us after our swim with the Whale Sharks. Drinks and Snacks were also provided throughout the day.
  4. Tumalog Falls, Boat rides to Sumilon Island and surrounding islets were also included in the tour.
  5. We had a most entertaining host – Angelo V.

Tumalog Falls

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It has become a common trend for tourists heading down to this “Gossamer” Waterfall after their whale shark encounters.  Gossamer means it creates a silky, very light and gauze-like fabric descending down transforming into a basin of water.  Others describe Tumalog as ‘horsehair’ (especially white horse’s) due to how the water flows creating like horse’s tail or neck hair.

The van dropped us by the entrance, where you pay a minimal environmental fee of Php20 PP.  Then Angelo advised us to hop on a motorbike to take us to the falls (Php50 PP two way) instead of walking up and down the mountain – 400 meters under the debilitating heat.

Seeing the “white curtain” up close, reminded us of a scene in Avatar.  The falls surrounded by lush forest was picturesque.    We swam in the shallow basin to cool ourselves and enjoyed the flowing rain from the smooth rock formations.

http://www.cebu-bluewaters.com/tumalog-falls.html

Sumilon Island

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The Island of Sumilon is located at the southeastern tip of the Municipality of Oslob in the province of Cebu. It is the first marine protected area in the Philippines and was created as a marine sanctuary in 1974 under the guidance of the Siliman University Marine Reserve of Dumaguete City in the nearby province of Negros Oriental.

The island is famous throughout the country and internationally for the exceptional beauty of its dive sites. These sites are famous for their superb visibility, stunning reefs and abundance of varied tropical marine species that provide an ideal and memorable dive. There are occasional sightings of black tip sharks during dives.

A popular attraction in Sumilon Island is its sandbar because of its changing shapes and shifting locations around the island depending on the season. Other places of interest in the island are a natural lagoon teeming with high mangroves and natural caves used by fishermen to seek refuge during storms, and a pristine lake.

On the south portion of the island, a lighthouse rests on a protected tree park and beside it is a “baluarte,” a historical watchtower built as part of a warning system to thwart slavers and marauders in the 19th century.

Besides diving, you can also go bird watching, do beach picnics with the family, fishing, hiking, island tours, paddling and trekking.

Food Tripping

Sans the popular Malatapay Market scene (we missed the Wednesday fair), we were able to eat in some of Dumaguete’s Noteworthy restaurants.

Hayahay & Labas along Flores street is great place to enjoy Seafood specialties like Chili Crabs and “Kinilaw” and other local favourites – try their Dumaguete Express.  Come at night so you can also delight in live entertainment.

A household name in Dumaguete City, Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries has been baking delicious goodies since 1977. Their specialty? Sans Rival and Silvanas.  The original store is still there along San Jose Street, but their expansion efforts led them to convert the first floor of the Sagarbarrias’ beautiful old home.  Enjoy an array of pastries in their Bistro while hoarding on silvanas – try their chocolate and Ube flavors as well.

Before heading to the airport, we had lunch at Gabby’s Bed & Breakfast.  The kids marveled at the premises tastefully built with European Charm. Lunch at Gabby’s Bistro was a variety of  international dishes ranging from Pizzas, burgers to yaya’s Bangus. We were very happy with our meal there and it was also a visual treat inside filled with American memorabilia.

It was indeed a memorable weekend with gentle giants and surreal experiences.  All of us had a relaxing vacation bravo to Dumaguete Outdoors for carrying us through at a chill pace.  My objective for this short break was to rid of the stress.  Paying a little premium for convenience made arrangements amicable for everyone.  It was a short weekend well spent and I would strongly encourage others to do the same.

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