|December 12, 2013
Volume 11 Issue 260 TRAVEL ADVISORY
CAGAYAN DE ORO, CITY OF GOLDEN FRIENDSHIP
One of the prime regions for growing, processing and exporting coconut is the island of Mindanao in The Philippines. Cagayan de Oro is the primary shipping port of departure for coconut products. This bustling Philippine city of 700,000 residents is often referred to as “CDO” by fellow countrymen. While the city proper is not particularly impressive or exciting, it is a strategic hub for exploring nearby nature and eco-adventure sports like white water rafting, kayaking, trekking, and zip lining.
The metro area of CDO is highly urbanized and given the dearth of multiple lane highways, the city is often choked with traffic even during the middle of the day. The Downtown area is generally limited for aesthetics and cultural amenities, with two small but quality museums standing out as exceptions. Absent is the grand Spanish colonial architecture, majestic churches, and elegant plazas more readily seen in Latin American cities. Recently, a new mayor is undertaking some ambitious beautification projects to upgrade and revitalize areas of Downtown and the riverfront. Some marked improvements should be seen in two years’ time.
There is one notable city-wide event, though each barangay (neighborhood) has its own fiesta honoring their patron saints. The Kagay-an Festival, is a week-long spectacle in celebration of CDO’s patron saint Señor San Agustin. It is held every August. The word “Kagay-an” means river in the native Higaonon tribal tongue. Highlights of the Festival are the Kahimuan Trade Fair that features the native products of the city and province, particularly the agriculture products, colorful Folkloric Street Dancing, Golden Float Parade, and a culinary show.
Tourism infrastructure within the city is in need of enhancement, with just one information center in the central Plaza Divisoria. Accessibility to accurate updated information, directions to points of interest, and professional tour operators are lacking. Online websites, whether government or otherwise, lack specifics about hours, days of operation, or directions. However, once you find your way around there are some very worthwhile experiences for both culture and nature.
SITES TO SEE
Plaza Divisoria (a.k.a. Golden Friendship Park)
Built around 1900, it served as a town divider after a great fire that almost burned down the entire city. The park is dedicated to local and national heroes like former President Ramon Magsaysay, Andrés Bonifacio, Dr. José Rizal, and former Mayor Justiniano R. Borja. Most of the Kagay-anons soldiers who died during the Philippine-American War are buried beneath the monument and has survived the ravages of time including World War II. Local Manghihilots (practitioners of the Hilot style of massage) can sometimes be found at the Ramon Magsaysay monument on the plaza. They work on a donation basis. Hilot is a word from Tagalog that generally translates to “massage.” The practice of Hilot is part of the traditional Filipino way of life.
St. Augustine Cathedral
Originally this Gothic-inspired church was built around 1845 and nearly a century later was destroyed during World War II. It was rebuilt and only the wooden cross in front remains from the old church. Home to the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro.
It was in the year 1626 that Fray Agustín de San Pedro persuaded the chief of the local Himologan native people to transfer his settlement down river, to the present-day Gaston Park. Gaston became an execution ground for Spanish criminals when their rule came to an end. Later it turned into a training ground for the local revolutionaries during the American occupation. Despite the great historic significance for the people of Cagayan it is disgracefully maintained, as exemplified by a broken, trashy fountain in the middle. Now shovels are in the ground for some long overdue beautification of this important site. Located next to the St. Augustine Cathedral.
City Archives Museum
This is an Old Water Tower built circa 1922, just across from the Cathedral and Gaston Park. Recently, it has been upgraded to a museum that houses antiquities, memorabilia of well-known families in the city and a gallery parade of Cagayan de Oro history. Not really worth your time, unless you are doing a research project about the city.
Executive Building (Old City Hall)
It used to be known as Casa Real de Cagayán, a former Spanish Governor’s residence and seat of the present-day local government officials.
Vicente de Lara Park (a.k.a. McArthur Park)
A popular jogging area during the morning, it is situated in front of the Provincial Capitol of Misamis Oriental building. The age-old mahogany trees provide a therapeutic canopy for strollers. The Press Freedom Monument and the Heritage Monument of Misamis Oriental designed by national artist Eduardo Castrillo can also be found in this redevelopment park.
MOGCHS Administration Building
This was part of the 1907 Gabaldon initiatives to establish and build public schools all over the Philippines under the American occupation.
Casa del Chino Ygua (Balay na Bato)
Built in 1882 by the Sia family; they are the first Chinese migrants in Cagayan de Oro. Most of the revolutionaries died and buried behind the house during the Philippine-American War.
Museo de Oro
A museum located within the main campus of Xavier University, Ateneo de Cagayan. The museum exhibits artifacts dug from Huluga Caves and a repertoire of Bukidnon, and Maranao cultures that have survived the ravages of time. Closed currently for renovations.
Museum of Three Cultures
This museum is part of Capitol University. The highlight is the excellent gallery of Maranao brassware and gold antiquities from Tugaya, Lanao del Sur Province. The craftsmanship is truly inspired. Another gallery of ethno history displays Cagayan de Oro history, Butuan archaeological artifacts, Lumad arts and crafts from the Higaonon and Manobo cultures, and a treasure of lowland artifacts of the Northern Mindanao region. Finally, there is an art gallery and coffee shop that promotes the local visual arts of Mindanao. It also has a research archive that houses Spanish-era written documents, photographs, and memorabilia of well-known personalities in Mindanao, which is open to all researchers and students of culture.
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT VENUES
Brew Berry Restaurant
A national Philippine magazine claims that the Chicken Adobo made here is one of the ten best in the country. While I’m in no position to make the call, I have to concur this is one of the best servings of the national dish I’ve ever tasted. The sauce is a perfect blend of sweet and sour that is to be craved and raved about. Located on the corner of Velez & Chavez Streets in Downtown CDO
Lantaw Bar & Restaurant
A festive outdoor ambiance lends color to the restaurant, whose specialty is Cagayan’s very own cuisine creation known as Siniglaw. Essentially, it is another dish called Kinilaw (seared Marlin soaked in lime, spiced with chilis and other delights) with a dollop of grilled pork thrown in for good measure, and it’s delicious. Served with steamed vegetables as well. Live jazz is performed here on weekends in late afternoon-early evening. Located on Masterson Road, just beyond the entrance to the Pryce Plaza Hotel on Carmen Hill.
Luxor Bar & Restaurant
It was a Saturday night, and as far as I was told this was one of only two places with live music. It was pretty standard pop tunes sung by a female threesome and played on a keyboard/synth. by another. Their voices were Filipina fine. Corner of Tiano Bros. & Macahambus Streets.
Inilog Bar & Grill
This was the other live music venue, anchored by a brother and sister duo who were replaced by a solo male singer/guitarist with a good repertoire of songs. If you’re thirsty the Buko (Coconut) shakes are yummy here. Just a block away from the Luxor, on Tiano Bros. & Kalambaguhon Streets.
AROUND THE CITY
La Castilla Museum
La Castilla was the home of the elite Peláez family. Now it is a museum housing the family heirlooms and antiques. The quality collection embodies the varied decorating tastes of the family, from Spanish colonial to Chinese traditional. The memorabilia includes family history and is administered by the Liceo de Cagayan University next door.
Gen. McArthur Memorial
A historical marker located in Macabalan Wharf, at the edge of Port of Cagayan de Oro; the monument commemorates two historical events, one supposedly claims this is where the General made his famous “I shall return” speech.
WHERE ELSE TO EXPLORE
This was the site of the only battle won by resistance fighters against the Americans in 1900. Ultimately the U.S. won the war and occupied The Philippines until independence was achieved in 1945. Makahambus is an underground cave with a 130 foot (40 m) circular gorge. The ravine is thick with various species of plants and huge trees. It is the most easily accessible cave, located on the main highway.
An archaeological site in Sitio Taguanao, barangay Indahag. It is composed of an open site and two caves where skeletal remains of a child and woman were found. A fragment of the woman’s skull was discovered 377 A.D. by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, United States. Currently it is closed to public access after a damaging flood in 2011, but may be re-opened soon.
Located in barangay Mambuaya, the cave entrance is water flowing in from an underground stream. The cave has a small opening that seems too narrow to be passable, it has six inches airspace between ceiling and water that you have to submerge yourselves one by one, equipped with a helmet and a water-proof cap lamp. It contains a beautiful sparkling formation, of Calcium Carbonates (CaCO3) or Calcites. These stalactites and stalagmites, white and brown, are a sign of oxidized materials that take 50 to 60 years to form; the cave is definitely spellbinding. There were formations of flowstone, gurpool-resembling, rice terraces, transparent crystals and picturesque speleothems, such as cathedral drapes and icons.
The place to go for a swim, and to find frolicking Filipino families feeding themselves and having fun. About a 30 minute drive from the city.
Great White Water Tours
If you seek a wet adrenaline rush on the river, this is the place. The tour company offers beginner or advanced courses, but after doing the former I concluded this is a cut more adventurous than a beginner’s ride. Some of the 14 zones of rapids traversed will spin you around pretty good and give a good drenching. At one point the guides intentionally collide with a large rock, capsizing the raft. I was briefly trapped under the raft and gulped some water before escaping to open space. This is not for timid types who cannot swim. And the option exists to jump into the rapids and be carried downstream for quite a ways (which is a lot of fun, for sure).
I was told that I could bring my camera, but not informed to turn it over to one of the guides for protection. Knowing that I was doing this tour as a journalist, they should have surmised that I’d want to take photos. Apparently the other tour participants were told; perhaps I was not present at the moment it was announced. This should have been done at the office instead of the river site. Thinking it was an easy-going beginner’s course, I brought the camera into the raft. Shortly after climbing into the vessel, the guides proceeded to pour buckets of water on all of us. I asked them to stop as my camera was getting soaked, but they kept on and the camera became inoperable. It was frustrating and later I had to spend two hours and 200 pesos in a repair shop to make it work again. While the trip was fun, the camera damage was an inconvenience and reflects poorly on the professionalism of the tour company. http://www.riverraftingcdo.com
La Montana Tours
Edgar & Gina Amador are a friendly and knowledgeable tour team who will take you anywhere you want to go in their van around CDO. I was shown the Makahambus Cave, La Castilla Museum, and General Douglas McArthur Monument. Tour prices are very reasonable. Contact: La.firstname.lastname@example.org or +63 928 507-3843
WHERE I STAYED
Pryce Plaza Hotel
Perched atop Carmen Hill is this peaceful oasis within the city that will satisfy most any traveler in need of a break from the congestion below. Pryce Plaza is the oldest upscale hotel in CDO and presents superb views of the city and coastline from your room’s window. Spread across several acres of woodsy environs, it is a pastoral sanctuary within the city.
The Superior Room is spacious, clean and comfortable for a good night’s sleep, and includes a mini-fridge. The furniture is very basic and uninspired but at least not tattered. For exercise, the swimming pool is well maintained and has sufficient length to do long laps. Pryce has a fitness room on the premises as well as a basketball court. For the pamper-minded, the spa provides relaxing massages and facials.
The breakfast menu varies from American style to Filipino, Chinese, and Korean. One night I ordered Tanguigue steak a la Pobre for dinner – grilled swordfish smeared with pepper and chopped nuts, flavorful though a bit parched to the palate. Food was generally OK.
The lounge entertainment in the form of a keyboard/synthesizer player with female vocalist is good quality. This well-schooled musician plays with the whimsical enthusiasm of Chico Marx, and the versatility of someone who has performed in many countries and explored many genres.
This hotel is suitable for company events which require a big plenary session. The ballroom accommodates up to 500 pax, and there are two smaller meeting rooms.
If you like the feel of the by-gone days of easy-going, gentle Philippine hospitality, this is what you get at the Pryce. If you desire a more modern trendy hotel with music and TVs blaring, and being jostled and hurried, go somewhere else. Yes it’s old and could use some restorative touches here and there, but I like the old-style feeling. As long as everything functions, the staff is congenial, and the food is good, I’m quite content and that’s the Pryce in a nutshell.