Rediscovering Cagayan de Oro City
How much information do you know about your current city or town?
Let me rephrase that...if a visitor asks you to identify tourist spots in your current place of residence, would you be able to show that person around your city and town and be able to give him or her a good impression of your place?
I reckon most of us would not be able to effectively promote our own city or town to first time visitors. I have been assigned here in Pampanga for two years now and I am bothered by the fact that most of my staff are unaware of the historical facts about the city. I was even amused when I was sharing information about the city that they have these bewildered look on their faces as it was their first time to hear those information. This lack of information among its residents is detrimental to local tourism of the city.
I had the chance to rediscover Cagayan de Oro City during my recent visit last September. The city holds a very special place in my heart as I hold a lot of great memories of the city, apart from it being my birthplace. I consider myself a Kagay-anon by heart. The trip was intended as a visit to my grandmother, who is already bedridden, but I managed to squeeze in half a day to just revisit some of Cagayan de Oro's tourist spots and I discovered new and interesting information about my birthplace.
Cagayan de Oro City Museum
The old structure of the city water storage tank has been standing on its location as far as I can remember. Even before the development of the new road systems in the city, the structure is one of the "city icons" that will greet you as you enter the city from the Carmen area. I could say that the old water tank has formed part of the city's skyline next to the Cathedral.
The museum is still a work in progress but one can support the development of the museum by making a visit. It is also important to note that picture taking is not allowed on the second and third floor of the museum. A trip to this museum will give you a brief on the humble beginnings of Cagayan de Oro along the river and its development to what it is now.
Getting there: Hop onto a motorela, a major mode of transportation in the city, and ask the driver to bring you to the San Agustin Cathedral. The Cagayan de Oro City Museum is located on the left side of the Cathedral. Fare is about Php10.
San Agustin Cathedral
The San Agustin Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in Mindanao and has attracted visitors especially in the month of August when the city celebrates the feast day of San Agustin. The cathedral is personal to me as I was baptized in this cathedral.
The San Agustin Cathedral is located just right beside the Cagayan de Oro River. In fact, the landscaped garden on the right side of the cathedral offers a great view of the river. The original church was constructed in 1845 but the subsequent bombings during World War 2 in 1945 completely damaged the structure except for the wooden cross that is now found at the front of the cathedral. The present structure, with its Gothic design, was constructed with the help of Father James Hayes.
The interior of the San Agustin Cathedral provides a refreshing atmosphere for churchgoers and visitors with its high ceilings, white washed walls, and grilled open windows that provide proper ventilation inside the cathedral. The images of saints are found at the back end of the cathedral while the pulpit is found under the dome of the cathedral.
The stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes is a source of pride for Kagay-anons. These were a donation from American Catholics and are a century old.
Getting there: The San Agustin Cathedral is just right beside the Cagayan de Oro City Museum.
Gaston Park is a popular park in Cagayan de Oro. It is a huge park right beside the San Agustin Cathedral and just right in front of the City Museum. Even when I was a child, I have always seen this park as a venue where most residents would enjoy a late afternoon stroll or spend quality family time right after hearing mass. The park has a play area for kids and are frequented by peddlers that sell balloons, toys, and snacks.
My earlier visit to the city museum revealed a lot of information about Gaston Park. This park, named after a former mayor of Cagayan de Oro, was an excavation site that yielded pieces of artifacts that indicated that it was a site of a community of the early settlers of the city. Records have also shown that it was also the site of first Spanish settlement in the area
Exploring the park area also yielded an important historical landmark - a stone memorial was erected on the grounds of the park that recognizes the heroes of the "Battle of Cagayan de Misamis". It is a bloody encounter between Filipino and American forces where hundreds of Filipino fighters lost their lives.
Getting there: The Gaston Park is just right outside the San Agustin Cathedral.
Cagayan de Oro City Hall
Just right across the San Agustin Cathedral and Gaston Park stands the Cagayan De Oro City Hall - the seat of the Executive Office of City Cagayan de Oro. The present structure was built in 1940 and is one of the very few buildings that survived the World War 2 bombings of the city.
On the same site once stood the Casa Real de Cagayan or the official residence of the Provincial Governor. This is where the Philippine Flag was raised on January 10, 1899 declaring Philippine Independence in the region.
Getting there: The Cagayan de Oro City Hall is just across San Agustine Cathedral and Gaston Park.
Makahambus Cave and Gorge
I have been to Cagayan de Oro a couple of times but it was only now that I have picked up on the buzz about the Makahambus Cave and Gorge. I have to admit that the cave started to be a point of interest when Cagayan de Oro tourism started to level up when Whitewater Rafting Adventures started attracting visitors to the city. The feedback that I got from relatives was not that exciting but the discussions I have been reading on the internet was enough to pique my curiosity.
The Makambus Cave and Gorge is located in Lumbia about 30-40 minutes away from the city center by taxi. The cave is a "thru" cave, with a total length of 57 meters that allow visitors to enter from one end and exit on the other end. A platform was constructed at the end of the cave to offer visitors a spectacular view of the Cagayan River. There are a number of guides available in the area that can assist you in traversing the cave for a generous tip.
The cave also played a significant part in the history of the city and the country as it was the site of a bloody battle between American and Filipino troops in the 1900 where the Filipinos won over their counterparts. This victory was recognized as the first victory of the Filipinos in the country and the only battle won in Mindanao.
Though the trip to Makahambus Cave and Gorge was interesting but the experience in itself lacks in excitement. I actually suggest to those wanting to visit the cave to make it as a side trip when trying out the many adventure activities, like Whitewater Rafting or Ziplining, that are present in the area.
Getting there: You can hire a taxi for a roundtrip fare of Php500 from the city center or the San Agustin Cathedral.
Also known as the Golden Friendship Park, Plaza Divisoria is a stretch of parks dedicated to local heroes. Interestingly, the stretch was originally designed as a fire break for the early settlers of the city. Plaza Divisoria divides the city center into two so it serves as a barrier to prevent fire from spreading to other side of the city. It was later developed into small parks which made it what it is today.
At present, Plaza Divisoria is now surrounded with different business establishments that offer various services and goods. The mix of these establishments are local and national businesses thus making it a bustling city center during the day.
Getting there: You can take a jeep or a motorela anywhere in the city and you can ask the driver to bring you to Divisoria.
Sidetrip: Cogon Market
Cogon Market is one of the many public markets that you can find in Cagayan de Oro City. It is located strategically near the city center which makes it accessible to both local and foreign tourists.
Cogon Market changed drastically through the years. It no longer has the usual shops selling batik or Muslim merchandise which I enjoyed going to before. It has now a proliferation of pirated DVD shops along the side shops. The second floor was already converted into a mall while the ambulant vendors selling fruits, vegetables, and other merchandise are found along the side streets near the main building.
Cogon Market, in my opinion, has lost its original charm. It has completely acquired a new identity which is sad because I believe that the public market is a reflection of the city or town’s personality. With the development of Cogon Market, it did not only lose its charm but it lost part of the city’s charm.
Getting there: You can take a jeep or a motorela anywhere in the city and you can ask to be dropped off at Cogon Market.
Hop On: The Motorela
One thing that I always look forward to when I visit Cagayan de Oro is getting around the city with the ever dependable Motorela. It is an innovative mode of transportation in the country where a carriage is attached to motorcycle. It is more commonly known as Tricycle. There are a lot of variations of the tricycle and each region has its own unique design. You would be pleasantly surprised that the number of people that it can accommodate would largely depend on the design.
Cagayan de Oro’s motorela is not an exception. The carriage is attached to the motorcycle’s body making it look like a small jeepney. It can accommodate a total of 6 passengers, excluding the driver. These little vehicles are easy to find in the city as they ply most of the short distance routes of the city. So when you get the chance to visit Cagayan de Oro, do not miss out hopping into a motorela and enjoying the ride.
Rediscovering Cagayan de Oro was a great experience that made me appreciate my birthplace. I discovered that the places that I use to just pass by, when heading off to a friend’s house or the beach, is actually an excavation site that holds the secrets of early settlers of the city or a battle ground where Filipino lives were lost because of their fight for freedom. It is amazing how you get to discover these facts and build your sense of pride for your city or town. It gives you a different view of the city, one that just makes you feel proud of your birthplace. Hence, I challenge you to discover something new about your city or town and share it with your friends.
As for me, I will always find a home in Cagayan de Oro. It is more than just the adrenaline adventures that it is known for. It is a home with a rich cultural heritage that every Kagay-anon should preserve and be proud of.
The comfort of a bed, the salivating noodle soup, the fresh seafood, and a great take home gift completed my trip in Iloilo. Besides, a trip to a new place will not be complete unless you get to have a taste of their specialty, their warm reception and bringing home a great memorabilia of the trip like a local product innate to the city or town. The following places and products really stood out during my visit to the city that I feel that it is worth mentioning in the concluding blog of my Iloilo trip.
Sleepy Head: People's Hotel
People's Hotel is just one of the many hotels in the city. Located along Fuentes and Delgado Street, the hotel is just a few blocks away from SM Delgado and is accessible to public transport making it ideal for travellers visiting the city. Most taxi drivers in the city are familiar with the hotel.
The standard room that I checked in was clean and they offer all the basic amenities like toiletries, towels, and hot and cold showers. The room's interior was modern and it was really value for money considering that I got the room for less than a thousand. It is ideal for those who want to get a luxurious accommodation without spending too much.
The only setback was that the staff was not that accommodating. The hotel can really focus on improving their customer service - even just on the basics. There were some who would answer your queries but they do not go beyond the extra mile. There was even a time where the security guard had to attend to my query since all receptionists were not at the front desk. If management can work on tweaking their customer service then it would really be one of the best hotels in the city.
Getting in touch: People’s Hotel is located at Delgado corner Fuentes Streets, Iloilo City and you may reach them at (033) 5086111.
Soup-ah Dish: Deco's La Paz Batchoy
After checking in at the hotel, I decided to cross out the first thing on my Iloilo to do list - eat batchoy. It was a great to find a Deco's Restaurant at the lobby of the People's Hotel.
Iloilo has always been associated with the La Paz Batchoy - a noodle soup from meat stock and flavored with local herbs and spices. It is one of the famous dishes of the city. It is said that the first batchoy was served in La Paz Market by the restaurant founder, Federico Guillergan, Sr. from where the name Deco was derived.
Nothing really beats an authentic batchoy straight from where it originated. The soup, which consists of noodles in meat broth and garnished with pork innards, beef, and pork cracklings, is a surefire delight to one's palate. It is a definite must eat when you are in Iloilo City and it will surely make you want more so forget about your diet.
Getting there: You can find a Deco’s La Paz Batchoy restaurant at the first floor of People’s Hotel.
Seafood Delight: Breakthrough Seafood Restaurant
Between the two famous restaurants that I tried in Villa Beach, Breakthrough Seafood Restaurant really stood out for me as one of the restaurants that you should not miss when you are in Iloilo City. The restaurant offer a wide array of dishes “turo-turo” style but it is well known for its fresh seafood dishes.
The place is a huge restaurant located by the beach which makes it more conducive to enjoying your meal. The fresh air and the lively staff add up to the ambiance of the place. It is ideal for a gathering of family or friends over a shared meal.
I ordered two of my favourites – steamed “sugpo” (large shrimps) and “dinuguan”, a pork viand with innards and boiled in chili, vinegar, and pig’s blood, for dinner. Their servings are good for two individuals and, being alone on this trip, meant it was another cheat day for me. But I didn’t mind having to finish the two viands as it was all worth it. Needless to say, I went back to the hotel satisfied and with a very full tummy.
Getting there: I opted to take the cab to the restaurant since I was travelling early evening. Most cab drivers are familiar with the place. Fare price is about Php120 one way.
Sinamay: A Textile to Remember
I would consider the Sinamay as the best souvenir to bring home from Iloilo since the fabric is strongly associated with the province. Prior to the sugar industry boom in the region, Iloilo was known as the textile centre of the country in the 19th century. However with the introduction of sugar production, most businessmen opted to go into a faster moving product in the market leaving the handling of the textile industry to a select few.
One of the remaining industry movers of the Sinamay industry is the Arevalo Sinamay House. The house is located along the main highway in Arevalo, right beside the Sto. Nino de Arevalo Parish. The owners were able to preserve the art of making Sinamay and a visit to the Arevalo Sinamay House will give you a glimpse of how the textile industry once flourished in the region. It is also a place where you can purchase Sinamay - a great souvenir from Iloilo.
The Arevalo Sinamay House serves as an exhibit house of old weaving looms and the many products of the sinamay fabric. If you are lucky enough, you might get the chance to meet the owners of the house who would gladly share their story as they show you the wide array of products that you can choose from - from sinamay fabric to finished products like table runners, placemats, shawl, and even barongs. It is a good buy and one shouldn't leave Iloilo City without one.
Getting there: One can take a cab to the Sinamay House, just tell the cab driver to go to the Sto. Nino de Arevalo Parish as the house is located right across the church along the national highway.
See You Soon: Iloilo Airport
Checking in at the Iloilo Airport, I secretly wished that all our local airports would be rehabilitated like the Iloilo Airport and Silay Airport in Negros. The airport looked very refreshing with its high ceilings and glass panels that allow natural lighting inside the terminal. The enthusiastic tourism staff also gave the airport a very accomodating feel. It was a very good impression to a first time visitor to Iloilo like me.
The first floor houses the arrival and departure check in areas for passengers and the second floor houses the departure area for outgoing passengers. The airport has two air bridges and the waiting area for departing passengers was organized that one can just sit down and relax while they wait for their boarding call. I even gave one of the airport staff a complement saying that Iloilo Airport looked and had the feel of an international airport.
My Iloilo and Guimaras trip had a lot of "ifs"... if only I had more time, if only I focused just on Iloilo city and have a separate trip to Guimaras, and if only I had done more research. But the truth is all these "ifs" are out of my window. I liked the unpredictability of my trip - not knowing what to do next allowed me the flexibility to change things around. It allowed me to plan at the moment which, from my previous trips, I have difficulty doing once I have a plan in place.
Iloilo was a tough adventure because of the unpredictability but I loved the romance with Iloilo's history and the sanctuary offered by Guimaras. Unlike my previous trips where I board my plane back to Manila feeling accomplished that I have seen all, this trip to Iloilo and Guimaras left me with the feeling of wanting to comeback as I still have an unfinished business with Iloilo.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.