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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Virgin In Davao

No, it's not some svelte, statuesque swimsuit model who can make Heidi Klum weep. It's just old, not-so-little me.

I was more than a little giddy that this was going to be my first time to visit the third most populous city in the country. The farthest I have ever gone - south - was Cebu. Or Samar. (Which one is farther down? Must research.) So this marks my first time to also set foot in Mindanao. The butterflies always crowd in my tummy - there is a lot of space for that - whenever I think of heading to a place I've never been to before.

My friend Tess and I headed down south quite early, and we arrived at a little past 8AM. Since we practically just had coffee before boarding the plane, we were off to find some sustenance as soon as we got to our hotel.

Tess went around and found these goodies from a little canteen she passed by. The kakanin (rice-based snack) was okay, but the siopao (meat bun) was quite different: instead of a meaty center enveloped by a sticky white bun, the meat was dispersed throughout. It was a new experience, and a welcome one.

Because we had such an early flight, our room at The Royal Mandaya Hotel wasn't ready yet (standard check-in time of 2PM). What I found quite refreshing was that the front desk personnel approached me and informed me, "Sir, while you're waiting, we have a different room for you to stay in, so you can freshen up. Once we have your assigned room ready, we will call and transfer you then." This kind of treatment was something I would have expected from a top-tier, five star hotel, to clients who have been fiercely loyal, so I was very pleased with this development.

I'm sure we have different preferences when it comes to hotel accommodations, but personally, I am not that picky: as long as the beds are comfortable, the room is generally clean, and the cooling unit functions properly, it's generally more than okay with me. The room was quaint and had a charm of its own, though I would understand if some people won't like it at first glance.

Surprisingly, less than an hour had passed and we were informed that we could go to the "original" room we were billeted in. So, after a few minutes, we both decided to have lunch at one of the malls that wasn't available in Manila, Gaisano Mall, more known as G Mall locally. At first glance, it looked like a rundown shopping place (it still is for the most part), but we came upon a "new" area, as evidenced by the lack of people trekking here.

I was rather taken with the open space that "The Peak" had, which reminded me of similar areas in Trinoma Mall and Robinson's Magnolia, back in Manila. (Though not as big size-wise) We had an unremarkable lunch at Ineng's (and Tess didn't like her laing) after which we headed back to the hotel to catch up on much-needed sleep. (I like how easily accessible cabs are in this metro.)

Waking up refreshed, Tess found a message waiting for her, a Davao-based friend she hadn't seen in years. We met up with her (and her beautiful daughter), and she brought us to Jack's Ridge, a point in Davao which overlooked the entire city. (I was rather disappointed that there wasn't a corresponding drop in the temperature.)

We dined at a place called Taklobo's, which served pretty standard pulutan fare, though the kilawin (raw fish marinated in vinegar) tasted fresher than what I'm used to in Manila. The highlight of the meal - ironically for some, or probably most people - was the dessert we had that honored this city's most famous/notorious fruit, the can't-be-neutral-about-it King of Fruits, the durian.

For those of us who unabashedly claim affection for it, this dessert is a must-try: the custard and sauce were thoroughly infused with the durian's sensibility without any cloying after-effect that durian haters might expect. The dish gets a few points deducted for maybe being a little too sweet, and it wasn't helped by the story of Tess's friend, who recounted how her neighbor died after ingesting durian.

All in all, a fitting end to a day that marked the first time my feet touched this part of the country. Tomorrow, we proceed with finding the actual fruit that has spawned facial contortions of unimaginable horror.

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