I spent only two days in Dumaguete City, the capital city of the island of Negros in the Philippines, but found it to be a pleasant spot to recharge, catch a film, meet new people, eat good food, book diving trips, stock up on supplies, etc. There is just something about this town that has a good vibe.
Unusually for the Philippines it also seemed to be a hub for independent travellers; or at least I didn’t find anywhere else like it in six weeks of travelling to five other islands. I’m guessing that it’s location between Cebu, Bohol and Mindanao makes it the exotic Filipino equivalent of Birmingham New Street.
Home was Harold’s Mansion Hostel, which had a quite slick international feel for a backpackers and also looked like it had been transplanted there from South Beach, Miami. Meanwhile, a run of beach roadside bars and cafes offered friendly dining and live music with a mixed crowd of travellers and Filipino holidaymakers.
Some bargain clothes and shoe shopping in the department store on the main strip made a stop-off here extra sweet; but it was made particularly memorable for the whole store coming to a perfect halt at 6pm as Hail Mary came over the store’s loud speaker. At the end of it, everyone crossed themselves and carried on. A Catholic embedding in a commercial environment, and quite intriguing culture-wise.
Dumaguete is also the jump-off point for snorkelling/diving trips to Apo Island, an intermediate dive spot and world-class marine site. Sadly, I didn’t have a good dive experience here because the local dive operator didn’t listen to my request for a shallower afternoon dive. I became over-exerted at depth and this resulted in a panicky ‘out of air’ experience. But this was the only no-no (one that finished my dive career sadly) and more a warning to others to pick your dive operator with care.
I wish I’d had time to see the rest of Negros, which is supposed to have one of the most beautiful backpacker beaches in the world at Sugar Beach. But we were only passing through in order to catch a small ferry boat over to Siquijor Island for the alternative Easter black magic rituals and shamanic traditions of Black Saturday. But that is another spooky story – one that doesn’t make my top 31 list, I’m afraid.