Discovering Davao Oriental

THE PEPPER MILL - Pepper Teehankee - The Philippine Star
Discovering Davao Oriental
Aliwagwag Falls
STAR/ File

The Davao region is huge. It is composed of five provinces: Davao de Oro, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao Occidental. I’d only ever been to Davao City (part of Davao del Sur) and I joined the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) on their trip with the Department of Tourism Region XI to find out what treasures Davao Oriental had.

The PTAA is an organization born out of a union of the national associations of outbound travel agencies and inbound tour operators in 1979. It has over 500 members and was founded to foster unity in the travel industry.

Upon arrival, we went straight to the Davao Oriental Welcome Park in Pintatagan, Banaybanay. There is Kagan Café, where we had halal Davao delicacies that included jaral (spring roll wrapper stuffed with bukayo, a Filipino dessert made from sweetened young coconut strips simmered in water and sugarcane muscovado melted into a chewy, caramel-like consistency), panyalam (flour bread), and jampo (fried, battered banana). The café serves traditional Kagan (from a tribe also called Kalagan) food and its specialty brewed coffee made with local Arabica coffee and corn was roasted and brewed in the traditional Kagan method.

A sight to see is the Aliwagwag Protected Landscape, an area that preserves a major drainage catchment in Mindanao in the Davao Region. It contains the headwaters of the Cateel River in the southern Diwata Mountain Range, which provides the water source and irrigation for surrounding rice fields and communities in Davao de Oro and Davao Oriental provinces. It was named after the remote rural village in the municipality of Cateel, where Aliwagwag Falls, the country’s highest waterfall, is located.

Pusan Point
Pepper Teehankee

A must-visit place is the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Bato Bato, Davao Oriental, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. This mountain ridge running north-south along the Pujada Peninsula in the southeastern part of the Eastern Mindanao Biodiversity Corridor has an elevation range of 1,620 meters above sea level and provides critical habitat for a range of plant and animal species.

The property showcases terrestrial and aquatic habitats at different elevations and includes threatened and endemic flora and fauna species, eight of which are found only at Mount Hamiguitan. These include critically endangered flora (with several species of nepenthes, or the carnivorous pitcher plant) and fauna such as the Philippine Eagle (the preserved Thor is inside the museum), the Philippine Cockatoo, the Philippine Warty Pig and punay, or Bleeding Heart Dove.

San Salvador del Mundo Church.

The combination of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within the boundaries of the property and the large number of species inhabiting each makes the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary home to a total of 1,380 species with 341 Philippine endemics. There also is a bonsai forest or pygmy forest here where plants do not grow as large as they are supposed to grow.

Another point of interest is the San Salvador del Mundo Church, a Roman Catholic Parish Church of Caraga, Davao Oriental. The town of Caraga was established in 1861, making it one of the oldest towns in the province. When the Jesuits took charge of the spiritual administration of the town in 1871 from the Augustinian Recollects, a stone and wooden church was built in 1877 to serve as a mission station of Spanish Missionaries in propagating Christianity in the eastern side of Mindanao.

The San Salvador del Mundo Church is mainly made of limestone blocks, corals, and wood. It houses interesting artifacts dating back to the Spanish colonial era such as two-centuries-old giant seashells that serve as the holy water font, the church bell that dates back to 1802, and an antique statue of the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador. This church was declared a national historical site by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 2012.

Then there’s Pusan Point in Santiago, Caraga. This place is the easternmost part of the Philippines and is the first place the sun rises in the country! Pusan has a lighthouse, a huge sundial, a large white cross on the cliffs, and a museum that features garb from the Mandaya tribe, as well as statues depicting their way of life.

Check out the “Sleeping Dinosaur” along the beautiful Pujada Bay on the Pacific coast of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. It has been declared a marine protected area known as the Pujada Bay Protected Landscape and Seascape that covers 21,200 hectares protecting the bay and its coastal area. It was declared through Proclamation No. 431 on July 31, 1994, by President Fidel Ramos. This bay is kept clean by the students of Taganilao.

Roy Ponce, president of Davao Oriental State University as well as of the Mt. Hamiguitan Natural Science Museum, calls these kids “sea heroes,” as he continues to educate them about the environment and keeping Pujada trash- and plastic-free. These kids voluntarily collect plastic from the shoreline, which is recycled into concrete blocks and plastic planters.

The PTAA travel agents proved it wasn’t all leisure and travel and do their corporate social responsibilities as they distributed school supplies and hygiene kits at Gavino Dawang Elementary School.

Davao Oriental has so much to offer. The people are warm and the food is amazing. Four days were not enough to explore this beautiful province. I will be back and see more of the unique and inviting Davao region.

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Follow me on Instagram @pepperteehankee.

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