Almost every Filipino family dreams of shopping in Hong Kong or Singapore, a summer weekend in Orlando’s Disneyland in Florida, a fashion watch in the streets of Manhattan, a Caribbean cruise, an elephant ride in Thailand or an African safari, a homage to the Vatican or to the Holy Land, an art museum tour in Paris, crossing London Bridge and royal-gazing at the Buckingham Palace, a nature trip in New Zealand to Down Under, or to the latest craze, a pilgrimage to Tibet.
Before the Porters decide on a world tour, however, they agree it’s important to know Home. Afterall , James and Irene Achacoso-Porter, although culturally different, share the same philosophy in parenting: inculcate in the children amor propio before they can appreciate what’s outside and beyond...
And the good way, they decide, for their kids to be inspired to love their home country is to visit the islands and learn about the places and people. Ask the Porter twins, James Edward and Robert Andrew, about Camiguin Island and with big smiles, they will tell you their “paradise conquest.” This time, you can ask the twins and their lovely sisters Aisa, Gayl and Nikki with their friend Gabriel Laurel about Dumaguete.
You see, Dr. Irene Achacoso-Porter finally realized a longing: to take her family on a summer break to Dumaguete. Friends from Manila tried to discourage her from coming saying she would just get bored in a small town and that there’s “really nothing to see in that side of [eastern] Negros.
Dr. Patrick Chua’s power of persuasion, however, led the Porters to explore this University Town’s best-kept secrets. (Irene is Patrick’s mentor in Endodontics, a branch of dentistry that studies diseases of the pulp. This rare specialization led both to a mutual-admiration society. Irene is proud that Dumaguete’s No. 1 orthodontist is her favorite student, and Doc Pat, Bebot to others, only has litany of praises for his beautiful teacher. Meanwhile, I am a fortunate beneficiary of this professional friendship, if you haven’t noticed the almost-magical change as I flash my smiles these days.)
Patrick did the hosting with gusto, filled with the spirit that stems from his love and respect for the family. The chef in Doc Pat, in tandem with his equally talented cousin Annebeth Sy, gave the Porters a sample of an array international cuisine variations: pasta, sushi, Chinese traditional entrees and the local seafood harvest -all of which were capped with the marvelous secret cakeworld of the sweet tooth himself, Doc Pat.
The Porters have proven their Manila friends wrong, and they are set to tell the world that Oriental Negros, indeed, is full of wonders:
Day 1: A visit to the Silliman University Center for Tropical Studies and Conservation, the SU Marine Laboratory, and the SU Center for Living Cultures & Anthropological Museum. Irene was a portrait of a happy Mom as she led her family to this educational tour. It was their first time to see the spotted deer that is endemic to Negros island, and got oriented with the friendly fruit bats. They were amazed that the whale bone museum at the Marine Lab is the world’s second largest collection. They were also awed at the burial jars and fertility ritual icons that seemed to bring them back to pre-historic Philippines, and of course at Silliman Hall, one of the country’s concrete symbols of American heritage.
Day 2: Dolphin watching in the Tañon Strait from Bais Bay. They boarded a boat loaded with picnic food – typical of any ride with Doc Pat. Cebu-based dentist Dr. Mia Rafanan Samson came along with her daughters. The big waves almost ruined their appetite for the floating fiesta. Their waited was long, the whistles and pleadings for the “ocean acrobats” to come out and show off their skills were starting to fade. Then their patience was rewarded as the dolphins came with their talent of glee and grace. A rare bonus was whales in sight. The fiesta lunch and frolic was at the Manjuyod white sandbar. After a packed day, the children and adults couldn’t stop talking about what they just experienced, even as I joined them for dinner with sizzling bulalo as the main dish at Royal Suite Inn back in Dumaguete.
Day 3: Trip to Sumilon Island at the Southern tip of the Tañon Strait. This old marine sanctuary is now a major resort for tourists. Dotted by bahay kubo-inspired cottages, these structures are redefining what used to be simple and raw. Pathways and wooden bridges now lead visitors around the Island. There was another refreshing stop on a cove that has a white sandbar.
Day 4: Waterfalls and lakes. The morning calm was spent on the Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao. The Porters were simply awed by the tranquil beauty of the lakes that surrounds them as they were in the middle of the big lake. But only Dad James dared to hike up and down towards the smaller lake. From the town of San Jose, the Porters went up to the Casaroro Falls in the mountain town of Valencia. They did not expect Valencia water veins to be so breathtaking. Casaroro was a perfect spot to cap their visit. James Porter, who works with Nestlé Philippines’ international trade, can’t help but just wonder why Oriental Negros is not that known as “tourism haven” when there is so much that the province can offer.
Day 5: Mariyah Gallery. A touch of culture welcomes the Porters in this hidden corner of Kitty Taniguchi, voted one of the best women artists in the ASEAN. Kitty, who is also a literary artist, entertained the Porters with stories behind her paintings. Filled with enigma, the murals of women dancing, or wrestling with life and romancing with nature captured the senses of the visiting family. But it was Kitty’s red painting that caught the eye of Irene, and after a brief private conference with James, a decision was reached: take home Kitty’s mural of women dancing on a sea of Oriental red.
The Porters has just made an inspiring point for other Filipino families: dream destinations don’t have to be that far. Within this wonderful island are some of nature’s best-kept secrets.