Grace M. Avanzado

Writer and photographer

I looked down from the window of the plane and took my first look at Dipolog City as we were about to land.

What stood out for me was the sight of so many rivers—spilling out into the open sea, like snakes being set free.

We stayed at the cozy Ariana Hotel, which is located amazingly close to the airport, you could just actually walk to and fro.

It is also where one can enjoy the delectable international menu from Chloe’s Cafe where we had some of our best meals in our whole visit.

Dipolog City is often called the Gateway to Western Mindanao but is actually more known to foodies like me as the home of the Montaño Spanish sardines so, of course, it was my first “pilgrimage site” and I was so amused that there were so many other products under that brand.

Then it was time to visit a cacao farm in nearby Katipunan, in the company of Philippine Cacao Industry Development Council national chairperson Armi Lopez-Garcia of Cebu-based brand Tablea. From seedlings with bar codes so as not to compromise quality, to using banana trees to shade the growing cacao trees, I absorbed so much information in such a short span of time from someone truly passionate about developing this industry.

Dipolog Sunset Boulevard

After returning to the city, we took a walk to see Dipolog’s pride—its sunset boulevard that is officially known as the Foreshore Development and Wellness Center. It is a very clean 2.6-kilometer esplanade where people from all walks of life could come together and just enjoy the view, the sports facilities and the playground. I felt a tinge of envy at how expansive it was, in the middle of the city at that!

Our first day here ended at Baybay, a restaurant where you can order the best quattro formaggi and sinful kinupsan in one sweep from its diverse menu. I love everything about Baybay. The food, the vibe of the place, the dramatic change that takes over once the sun sets and most of all, the beautiful black sand beach that served as its backdrop. The sand sparkles, shines and does not get murky when you immerse yourself in the sea. We found such pleasure in swimming here at day’s end. A Russian visitor once described the sand here as “sparkly like my glitter polish” and yes, I totally agree.

The next day, we visited nearby Dapitan City that has long been on our bucket list because it was our national hero’s place of exile. After passing the very sleek City Hall, you know you have arrived because a larger-than-life sculpture of Jose Rizal with his captors depicted in gold is mounted onto a stage marking Rizal’s landing place back on July 17, 1892 onboard SS Cebu.

The marker at the port where Rizal arrived in 1892

We were soon in a beautiful park that has his statue in the middle and fronting the church, a relief map of Mindanao made by Rizal himself. I truly wished at that moment that we had an expert guide with us, regaling us with stories about the four years he spent here. We entered the St. James Church that had a marker depicting the place where Rizal would usually stand when he attended mass. I did not realize until much later that way back then, he was excommunicated, so that was why he had to stand outside the perimeter of the church.

We entered the Rizal Shrine and wanted to see the museum first but it was not open to the public that day so we just went around the nipa huts that served as his residence, his clinic (the octagonal shaped Casa Redonda) and scattered around the hillside were lodgings for his students and patients. There is an old tree that is cordoned off for protection as it was in fact the oldest tree in the area—a silent witness to how Rizal lived his life there.

Dapitan is quietly beautiful, old houses and big, beautiful trees line the streets, with images of Rizal in various forms everywhere. It is also the home of a surprisingly bustling amusement park known as Gloria’s Fantasyland. We did not have enough time to enjoy all the rides but let me tell you this. The show alone is worth the visit. The finale called the Festival of Colors is a dazzling parade of performers and beautiful women atop giant extravagant floats depicting countries like Brazil, Thailand, South Africa and ends with a sparkling Jeepney float from the Philippines, of course!

I still cannot believe that a place as sedate as Dapitan is the home to this huge, well-kept entertainment complex!

Dapitan is also famous for being the home of Dakak Beach Resort—now with a new, posher extension called Villa Angelina Luxury Suites on its left cove wing.

We had a sumptuous lunch there but decided to forego swimming as we were pressed for time. A very promising project by the Garcia family soon to open in Dapitan City is Baybay Canlucani, where the vast expanse of space will surely be utilized for maximum enjoyment of future visitors.

Strawberry picking at La Presa

After mass the next day, we went up to the mountains to Alvenda in the municipality of Mutia. Less than an hour out of Dipolog, we were transported into their version of Baguio. Pine trees, cool weather and pockets of fog made for quite an interesting lunch at Cecilia’s Plate. It was the perfect chill-mode hangout—even the acoustic duo perched on a makeshift stage seemed to blend into creating the perfect ambience that we took our time before heading higher up into the mountains to seek out strawberry fields and flower farms. At some points during this drive, we turned off the air conditioner in the car and just savored the cool, crisp mountain air driving through fog. Such a rejuvenating experience for a city dweller like me.

Acoustic duo on stage at Cecilia’s Plate

The next day, our sojourn in this part of our country came to an end and we felt a little wistful because we felt there was still much more to see. As we were being driven around in the previous days, this thought always popped in my head—Dipolog today is Cebu of the 1970s—and I realized that despite the privilege of living in a highly urbanized city, some part of me wishes for a more sedate way of life. I am blessed that there are places like these that are a short plane ride away.