Friday, February 01, 2013

Davao Occidental: Road adventure to Santa Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino & Jose Abad Santos

It's been quite a while since I've gone on an adventure to a remote area of the Philippines. I looked at Jose Abad Santos on the map, at the southernmost end of Mindanao Island, as I planned this spur of the moment trip to what could be the country's newest province. How on earth do I get there?

Davao Occidental had just been created a week before, five towns separated from Davao del Sur. Only a plebiscite separates the province from formal existence. But despite the uncertainty, I still decided on a whim to fly to Davao and explore these rarely-visited municipalities at the southwestern end of the Davao Gulf.

Getting to Malita, Davao Occidental's future capital was no problem since there are regular buses from Davao City's Ecoland Bus Terminal. Unfortunately, the bus I was on seemed to stop at every town. So it took me over two hours to get to Digos, and another two hours to Malita. While there is accommodation and small beach resorts available in the area, I was graciously hosted by the local congressman's family.

The next morning, I was taken around Malita and Santa Maria by motorcycle. The communities along the coastline of Malita, particularly Musa Compound and Fishing Village, must be predominantly Muslim since I noticed several mosques can be seen in the area. I particularly liked the bright blue and gold Jamiri Musa Mosque.

We visited Little Boracay Beach in Santa Maria, about 40 minutes from Malita. Off the National Highway, it's several kilometers of rough road to get to the beach. The beach is secluded with rough cream sand. There are several huts, including air-conditioned ones for those who want to stay overnight. It's a decent beach resort, but they need to pick-up the plastic wrappers more often. Plastic seems to be a plague even in rural areas of the Philippines where many locals just throw their wrappers anywhere.

By lunch, we motored back to Malita where the former municipal administrator of Jose Abad Santos was waiting for me. I was introduced to him by a common friend. And lucky me, he was on his way to JAS from Davao City which made my trip more comfortable. My other choice was to hire a habal-habal from Malita to JAS, a trip that would take almost three hours! Good thing I had a ride since the roads were really rough. And I would have gotten really wet at the river crossings!

We stopped by Captain's Lake in Don Marcelino. It's a resort with a stream and freshwater pond that drains into the beach. Looks fun to swim in. And the beach is just outside the fence.

From there to JAS, we were incommunicado. The ride took another two hours (or more because of the picture stops) through rough mountain and coastal roads. It was mostly coconut plantations. And I would think the original forest cover was wiped out during the colonial period when Mindanao became the land of agricultural promise.

There were several river crossings. And unfortunately, when it rains hard, the southern end of Don Marcelino and the whole of JAS are cut off from the rest of civilization. Some people have earned a living from these river crossings. I've only read of stevedoring in old books and the term is still actively used in these crossings. Roads are being constructed as we speak, and hopefully bridges. So this rugged adventure drive won't last for long.

As we were driving, we saw a group Manobo kids selling lansones. We asked how much and they told us they were selling them for Php3 a bag. We bought the whole lot and gave them a bonus. The smiles said it all. Don't you just love the simple pleasures of traveling through rural Mindanao.

All throughout, views of the coastline were picturesque. We finally made the border between Don Marcelino and JAS which was another river crossing.

We passed through the Lawayon Plantation and noticed the plantation carabaos converged at the mouth of the river. A flock of egrets were there as well, most probably feasting on mites feasting on the carabaos.

In the next barangay, we saw a basketball court right on the unpaved National Highway by the beach. In this area, there is no electricity. So this must be a very important pastime. The players have to clear the court every time a vehicle passes. But it doesn't happen very often. There should have been electricity in this area late last year. But I was told the extension of power lines all the way to JAS was delayed due to opposition from a local politician because the northern barangays of JAS were not his supporters.

It was getting dark, so we rushed straight to the town center of JAS. We charged our phones as soon as we got to my host's home. Since power in the poblacion is served by generator, it's only available from 2 p.m. to midnight. They also have solar power units available in some houses. Satellite cable TV is the only choice since they are too far away to receive signals from the free channels. But what surprised me was that there were Internet shops and WiFi, also served by satellite signal since mobile phones hardly have any signal (only Smart functions there).

We had a sumptuous dinner at the mayor's house before calling it a night. I spent the rest of the time uploading photos on Instagram before going to bed. More on Jose Abad Santos and Davao Occidental in my next post.

Part 2 - Davao Occidental: Adventure in Jose Abad Santos

How to get to Davao Occidental
There are regular buses to Santa Maria and Malita from the Ecoland Bus Terminal in Davao City. I paid Php213 for the air-conditioned ride from Davao to Malita. From Malita, there are buses to Don Marcelino. To get to Jose Abad Santos, you can take a van from Malita (although the service is not regular) or from Davao City which costs Php500. But you will need to know the number of the van drivers since they are private vans which will pick you up from your hotel in Davao. Contact Junjun at (0928) 2645527.

Where to stay in Jose Abad Santos
There is only one place to stay in JAS. You may contact Traveller's Inn at (0908) 8855687.

Thank you to the family of Rep. Franklin P. Bautista, JAS Mayor Jimmy Joyce and Atty. Jason Joyce for their warm hospitality!
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