June 29, 2004  (STAR) rendezvous By Christine S. Dayrit  -  A psychic once told me I was a mermaid in my past life. No wonder the sight of pristine waters excites me to don my goggles, flip my fins and check out the mysterious denizens of the deep. Recently, sheer anticipation enveloped me when the Department of Tourism invited me to visit the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao that boasts 35 exquisite beach and dive resorts. For worshippers of the sun and divers of the deep blue sea, these numerous resorts have packages to choose from that can suit their discriminating taste and budget.

Inevitably, the DOT embarked on a Dive Fiesta Davao that included a dive fair, exhibit, basic diving courses, underwater photo competition as well as kayaking, windsurfing and other aqua sports activities. DOT Davao regional director Sonia Garcia said the fiesta of sorts would continuously promote the region as an ideal site for underwater activities to complement existing tourism packages. Philippine Convention Visitors’ Center Sports Tourism director Cynthia Carreon is exploring the ecotourism potentials of the Davao region now being packaged as a major "island to highland’ destination anchored on the theme "Adventure Davao."

"Davao has come a long way from a wilderness to a sprawling metropolis of dynamic people. Not only has the city won acclaim for peace and order but it has also earned the reputation for being one of the most livable and child-friendly cities in Asia," said Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

With a steady climate between 27 and 32 degrees Celsius all year round, Davao, whose land area is 244,000 hectares, is the largest city in the world and the warmth of its inhabitants complements its unique charm and character. The Island Garden City of Samal is the largest of a group of nine islands in the gulf of Davao. Samal has a coastline of 118 kilometers and is blessed with lovely beaches, rich marine life, dramatic rock formations, and mangroves. This ecotourism haven has 70 to 90 caves of varied ages perfect for spelunking. Several natural springs and rich aquifers sheltered by 19 watersheds, three major waterfalls Haimit Falls, Tagbaobo Falls, Tambang Falls, a number of river systems and creeks comprise its rich bodies of water. Samal is the site of the first tourism estate project in the Philippines, one of the eight anchor tourism destinations in the Philippines together with Davao City.

The ultra impressive and modern Davao airport with brand new baggage carts made me feel like I was in the fabulous airport of Kuala Lumpur. Our group headed by DOT Usec. Armand Arreza and ace photographer Melo Villareal boarded a van that took us to the luxurious Waterfront Hotel. A speedboat whisked us off to Buenavista Island on Small Ligid Island which you can rent all to yourselves. Measuring four hectares in high tide and doubling in low tide, Buenavista Island is perhaps one of the country’s most private island resort. This innovative concept in vacations is unique for you can have this whole island to yourself or whoever you want to be with while you are served like royalty with only the best cuisine and accommodations. Air-conditioned villas and cottages with the finest linens and white comforters plus outdoor bathrooms with all the lush flowers and plants will truly delight you. You could even pitch a tent under the stars or bask in their pavilion if you wish.

Over a sumptuous lunch of the freshest seafood and greens, grilled porkchop and native delicacies, world-class diver Yvette Lee and journalist Inday Varona, who went diving in the waters around Buenavista Island, shared with us their most fascinating dive experience.

The dive buddies enthused that they had seen a fabulous slope filled with seafans, bushes of red whip corals and soft corals that dripped like pastel candlewax. They also spotted pinnacles or underwater monoliths like giant chess pieces placed strategically off a drop jutted from the wall. Schools of bannerfish, surgeonfish and fusiliers were in abundance. At the Aundanao Fish Sanctuary, they saw different varieties of gorgonians and more of a strange new blue coral. Bigmouth mackerel, sweetlips, butterfly fish were sights to behold.

They also reported, after having checked out the waters in the vicinity of Pearl Farm, the massive wall covered in mutant blue baby tube sponges as big as PVC pipes and oversized white seafans. They were mesmerized to find World War II wrecks specifically Japanese supply ships. One shipwreck lies on its side at 80 ft. with its photogenic propeller still intact. Another one, although torn apart by a massive explosion that split open its engine room, lies upright with its engine exposed.

The last dive for the trip took Yvette and company to the other side of Talikud Island called Coral Gardens. They tied up next to another large banca filled with divers and snorkellers.

After lunch we proceeded to Pacific Little Secrets, a quaint resort with a gorgeous beachfront. Companies and families usually rent the entire resort and hire their resident cook to prepare sumptuous meals. Groups of 10 can rent the resort costing as little as P400 a day each including accommodations and four delicious meals. From here, we checked out Punta del Sol Resort equipped with recreational and sports facilities: volleyball, badminton, kayaking, wind surfing, and diving. Punta del Sol is only 15 minutes away from downtown Davao City.

From here we proceeded to the exquisite Pearl Farm where we spent two glorious days. "Many years ago, this was once a pearl farm where thousands of white-lipped oysters from the Sulu Sea were cultivated for their glorious pink, white and gold pearls. Today, this setting of beauty and serenity is now a world-class beach resort," enthused gracious executive Stephen Tan of Fuego Hotels and Properties that incidentally also manages Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City, Club Punta Fuego and Terrazas de Punta Fuego in Nasugbu, Batangas.

As we toured the fascinating island with handsome GM Juan Roca, we were mesmerized by the resort’s pristine beaches and azure waters. The resort offers lovely air conditioned suites, deluxe, standard rooms, villas and cottages. Pearl Farm‘s other facilities include an al fresco bar with evening entertainment and stunning views of the sea and nearby islands.

An array of watersports such as scuba diving, jet skiing and the like will thrill any water enthusiast. Malipano Island, nestled across the resort is the site of seven exclusive villas truly a class on its own. The Malipano Gardens offer a perfect setting for that dream wedding. The Samal suites, on the other hand, directly overlooks the gulf. These two-story suites are Muslim-inspired cottages named and decorated according to the different Mindanao tribes such as Tausug, Yakan, T’boli, Bagobo, B’laan and Maguindanao.

Leona Nepomuceno of DOT and I had the privilege to try out the Ylang-Ylang Spa beside the cascading waterfalls. Truly a soothing nook, Ylang-Ylang Spa is a place for daydreaming. Instrumental mood music filled the air as the scent of burning lavender and euchalyptus oil permeated the air. Ideal for some meditative moments, the mesmerizing sound of pouring water creates a resting-place for the mind, body and senses. We were pampered like royalty with several indulgent body and beauty treatments based on natural products rather than chemical preparations. We experienced the relaxing papaya body scrub, revitalizing honey and cucumber facial cleansing plus the refreshing floral foot soak beneath swaying coconut fronds. Traditional sampaguita essential oil is added as a symbolic gesture to wash away bad luck. With their massage therapies that embrace the most effective European and Asian techniques, we luxuriated in the healthy outdoor aromatherapy massage and the stress-busting, soul-soothing power of coconut oil. While the scents enhance a sense of well-being, the power of touch of the healing hands will carefully relieve congested areas in your body.

Papaya and aloe vera body polish – which reminded me of Cleopatra bathing in sour milk to keep her skin smooth – were mashed and smeared all over our bodies to soften and revitalize the skin. Then, freshly shredded young coconut was rubbed for its cleansing properties and high vitamin C content. As new cells are stimulated, our masseuse said, the skin will take on a natural glow.

At our tropical luau cocktails, as we watched the sun set over the horizon, we exchanged pleasantries like the best of friends. Our group had truly bonded in this paradise. Yvette and Inday, who must have been mermaids like me, claimed that diving in Samal, Davao is perhaps among the best dives they have had. We all agreed that collective efforts of the tourism sector and private resorts would definitely boost tourist arrivals in Davao. After all, according to Alfred Xeres Burgos, president of Fuego Hotels and Properties, no other sector in the country has more potential to earn revenue than the tourism sector.

With all these God-given natural beauty and the perseverance and fortitude of its people, we enthused that if our newly installed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were to move the present Department of Tourism, let it be transferred to Davao, the gateway to Mindanao.

Post me a note at miladay@pacific.net.ph.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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