IT WAS perhaps the most depressing two weeks of my life when, like an angel from heaven, my all-time favorite travel buddy Ann offered me a way out of Cebu… at least for awhile. A southern belle at heart, she advised: When you’re losing ground, the least you can do is just ride the wave down south; for once there, there’s no other way to go but up again.

Ann figured going to Dapitan with her would just be right for me. Confused and a little lost, who was I to argue? At the last minute, I took a kindred spirit along-- John Keats, who, by the way, looks absolutely dreamy on his book cover. It is said he set about writing his first major work by taking himself to new places where fresh scenery would stimulate his senses. Like him, I was just hoping for a bit of inspiration.

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Dapitan

“I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.” -- John Keats

From Cebu, it takes about 6 hours to reach Dapitan via ferry. Once there, you’ll find unusual rock formations on one side and the calm blue sea on the other – a quiet harbor for troubled souls, I thought. The scenery is dotted by charming Spanish-styled houses. The land is so vast they don’t compete for space at all. Coming from a bustling city like Cebu, I kept wondering, “Where on earth are the people?” Even by day, the streets stretched to sleep, disturbed only by the occasional tricycles that pass along. The few people there are – apparently lost in this other world—generally ignore you.

But though it’s not a friendly place, Dapitan, I discovered, is a peaceful one.

Dakak

“Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” --John Keats

Located in Barangay Taguilon, Dakak wasn’t as I expected. For one, it was bigger than I imagined. Two, the sand was too fine to be true. And three, the staff were too unfriendly to be working at a resort. But as always with Ann, the experience was a blast. For our first night, we were treated to a cultural show where the girls danced the hula and the men ate fire. Then by day, there were the endless pictorials and swimming sessions by the pool and the sea. Partially enclosed by islets, the Dakak sea is so calm and clear I even saw multiple fishes in shallow waters swim right past me. While we have to walk for about 10 minutes and climb a hill to get to the cluster of cottages, our room was quite charming. It was big and quiet and slightly overlooking. There I spent the night reading John Keats and it was simply sensational.

Rizal Shrine

“I am as happy as a Man can be… with the yearning passion I have for the beautiful, connected and made one with the ambition of my intellect.” -- John Keats

Walking about in Dapitan, one can’t deny the rich taste of history. So though there was little time, we just had to drop by the house of Dr. Jose Rizal – an exile, a hero, a man of intellect and passion.

There I began to understand how Rizal could have turned his back on a progressive life in Spain or Manila, or how he could have denied the Katipunan heroes his support for a bloody revolution and opted for more peaceful means. Dapitan’s serene beauty would inspire anyone to do the same. I believe he’s found the needed breath of fresh air in a complicated life.

The Rizal Shrine also gives testimony to his life as a healer. We went through the various huts in the compound where he taught and treated people. His house was simple enough. Who needs more anyway when you’ve got a spectacular view of the bay, especially at sunset? What I found distracting though were the paints of his many girls on display. I grinned at his life sized replica. Way to go, Dr. J. You may be short. You may have the worst hairdo of all time. But still, you’ve got a way with the ladies. Even after all these years.

Gloria de Dapitan

“However it may be, O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts! It is ‘a Vision in the form of Youth’, a Shadow of reality to come.” -- John Keats

Zooming past Dapitan’s boulevard from the Rizal shrine, I saw pension houses interlaced with more Spanish- inspired structures. Before reaching the end of the stretch, there is this one place worth dropping by – Gloria de Dapitan, the town’s amazing commercial center. In the midst of an old and traditional town, its screaming modernity was such a welcome respite. After going without a coffee shop for almost four days, I went delirious with joy when I finally saw one, Ann couldn’t help laughing. There were also bars, an internet café, shopping center, gym, not to mention a circus complete with ferris wheels, merry-go-round, a castle and more. Alright, I admit, while I hate it sometimes, I will always crave a remnant of city life wherever I go. But when you have the charm of old town on one hand and the convenience of a modern world on the other, what more could you ask for?

On our way home, my eyes feasted at the sight of the sun’s rays dappling on the quiet blue sea for the last time. It was such a thing of beauty that for once, I stopped thinking. I emptied my troubled mind, breathed it all in and simply reveled in the sensation. Facing Dapitan bay, I finally understood what Keats meant when he said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”