DAVAO City—Time and again it’s been said that distance and some solitude are all you need to find some clarity.
That includes distance from the people and the things that sap your energy or stir your equilibrium. This week, work took me first to Cebu, and one of the perks was a room with a spectacular view of the sea and the sunrise. There’s nothing like the beach to clear one’s head of cobwebs or to find one’s core once more. That is God’s gift, after all—nature has a way of centering us, of helping us find our center when the demands of life become a bit too much.
From the Queen City of the South, my colleagues and I traveled to Davao which I consider my second home. Davao is love. It’s where my father grew up and, each time I am there, I feel his spirit all around. The province is my happy place, and every chance I get to visit, I stay behind for a couple of days just to take in the sights, and enjoy the company of old friends and family when time permits. Sometimes I head to the beach, and sometimes I explore places I’ve never been to yet.
This trip has been about friends and food. Working in the pharmaceutical industry, I have been blessed with great friends who are assigned all over the Philippine islands. In Davao, my tandem was Ryan and Dudz. They were very kind enough to take me to all the foodie places I had been wanting to go for months.
Dinner at Claude’s
On my first night here, we went to Claude’s, which is in a beautiful heritage house built in 1929. It’s a home that is filled with so much history! Claude, who has chosen to live in Davao for the last 25 years, regaled us that evening with stories about the home that was owned by Davao’s first ever city engineer. He said that President Manuel Roxas had sought shelter right in that very home during the Japanese occupation.
Interestingly, on one wall of the house is a rare photograph showing Manuel Quezon, Manuel Roxas, Sergio Osmeña, and Elpidio Quirino at a party in the house before any of them had become Philippine presidents.
Claude’s is fine dining, where the food is excellent, and the ambiance and interiors remind one of a slower, more genteel time. It was a good way to end a long, arduous workweek, with fine cuisine and the sharing of laughter and stories over a great meal. Later we sat in the garden under the stars. These are the moments that feed a tired spirit, and help nourish a weary soul back to life.
The following day we headed over to Ellen’s Tuna Queen in DBP Village in the Matina district of Davao. Ellen’s is a small, cozy home where the queen of Davao tuna, Ellen Allanegui, reigns. Her success began with her fried tuna tail, which is absolutely to die for! I swear, there is no other tuna like it on the planet, and people from all walks of life come to dine here. The price points are terrific! Her place is clean, cozy and comfortable.
Ellen’s laing is the best in the country, and that’s with all due to respect to my Bicolano friends. It really is something else! Tinomok is another dish made with gabi leaves, tuna chunks, shrimps and spices that is truly mind-blowing. After the meal it felt like I was about to slip into a food coma.
One can walk the streets here and not fear for one’s life. Everyone follows the rules, perhaps for fear of the hand of the law and, well, the mayor’s wrath.
It was interesting to find out, though, that the mayor has a soft spot for pediatric and adolescent oncology patients. In the afternoon, when my friend Kisay toured me around the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC). Yes, touring government hospitals is my thing sometimes. I was very much impressed at how efficiently it is run. The ER is bright and spacious, patients are attended to immediately, that it would put many private hospitals in Manila to shame.
Ably led over the last five years by its medical director, Dr. Bong Vega, SPMC is a model of excellence other government hospitals can take a cue from, in terms of infrastructure and service.
Programs for cancer patients
The staff told me that the mayor has been very supportive of patient programs, and that he has a special place in his heart for oncology patients. Across the hospital, in fact, is a center he built especially for adolescent patients seeking treatment for cancer.
In addition, he also built another facility for the families of patients from out of town to stay in while their loved ones are in the ER.
It’s no wonder that Davao’s tag line is “where life is.” A few days here, and that becomes pretty evident. One of its current claims to fame is that it’s the fourth safest city in the world. Imagine that.
Although it’s also the biggest city in the world, the beach or the mountains are often just an hour away wherever you are. The people are disciplined, ready with their smiles, and ready to help. It’s efficient, but not stressful; modern and yet imbued with an old world charm.
Davao is no longer the wild, wild west it was once was. My grandfather came here as a bright-eyed agriculture graduate from the University of the Philippines Los Baños in the late 1920s. Life has a strange way of coming full circle sometimes. Davao is love, and I hope to spend more lovely days here when the time comes.