“I would suggest you take the flight from Manila to Davao on the southern tip of the island of Mindanao, South Philippines, and for your forward journey take an Indonesian airline across to Manado.”
The travel agent stared at me as I looked at options for my journey. It made little sense for me to return to Singapore and make a round trip through Jakarta to Manado on East Indonesia’s island Sulawesi. That would take the best part of two days by air with necessary stopovers, whereas what the travel agent suggested appeared to involve a few hours of air travel. So I instructed her to buy the tickets trusting all would be well.
The Portuguese were the first to refer to Sulawesi as ‘Celebes’ however the origins of this name are unclear. One suggestion is the Bugis word si-lebih for ‘more islands’ – a reference to its shape suggesting it was more than one island. The modern name ‘Sulawesi’ possibly comes from the words sula (‘island’) and besi (‘iron’) thought to be reference to the rich Lake Matano iron deposits. Other suggestion is that it comes from the Portuguese word “celebres” or “famous ones”, as these islands were famous for their spices throughout Asia and even Europe, this being the reason that attracted them to these islands. Wikapedia
So I headed for Manila with the calm assurance our travel agent knew her business and all would be well. It was in Manila I paid my customary respects to the financial institutions in downtown Makati which I now knew my way around rather well.
I also had no problems in Cebu City or Cagayan de Oro where I’d similar business matters to attend to. I assumed the same pleasant circumstances would follow me to my international transit point Davao. As it was my first visit there Davao was an unfamiliar city to me, but as it was a transit point I approached that leg of the journey with confidence. My confidence was misplaced.
On arrival in Davao I made my way to the ticket counter of the Indonesian Airline I was to take across the ocean to Manado Indonesia. Everything was deserted in that part of the airport. Attempts to find someone who represented the airline proved to be futile and no one seemed to know what was happening. But it was obvious other intending passengers must have been notified because no one was there at the check in time written on my schedule. Eventually someone of authority at the airport came to my rescue, and after several phone calls informed me the flight for that day had been cancelled and I should present myself for the flight next afternoon.
As I’d already exchanged my Philippine currency thinking I’d not need it at a transit point I was in a bit of a quandary. I’m sure taxi drivers would have been delighted to take me anywhere in Davao for a USD 50 note, but that would be the costliest taxi ride in the history of Davao and I’d no intention of being the one to provide that excessively generous gesture. So I looked around and eventually found a fellow traveller who provided me an assortment of currencies for my USD 50 note, including a peso top up. With my newly acquired local currency I was soon on my way to town in search of accommodation for the night. Eventually I found a place to stay for a reasonable price and after depositing luggage in the room returned to the foyer to see what was worth venturing out to see. As I’m always curious about the history and culture of a place when I arrive for the first time I looked for information brochures on Davao.
Davao Region, designated as Region XI, is one of the regions of the Philippines, located on the southeastern portion of Mindanao. Davao Region consists of four provinces, namely: Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, and Davao del Sur. The region encloses the Davao Gulf and its regional center is Davao City. Davao is the Hispanicized pronunciation of daba-daba, the Bagobo word for “fire” (the Cebuano translation is “kayo”).
This region also bears the nickname Silicon Gulf.
CULTURAL GROUPS The region is an in-migration area, with a mixture of migrants, which include Cebuanos (making up the majority), Ilonggos and Ilocanos. Its ethnic groups include Manobos, Bagobos, Maiisakas, Maguindanon, T’boli, Tirurays and Muslims.
CLIMATE The region has a generally uniform distribution of rainfall through the year. It lies outside the typhoon belt.
NATURAL RESOURCES Aside from its forestland and fertile fields, Southern Mindanao has mineral resources of chrornite, iron, nickel, and manganese, gold, copper and other non-metallic minerals. Five of the major fishing grounds of the Philippines are located in the region.
ECONOMY While the region’s economy is predominantly agri-based. it is now developing into a center for agro-industrial business, trade and tourism. Its competitive advantage is in agri-industry as its products, bananas, pineapples, fresh asparagus, and fish products are exported abroad. The region can be a vital link to markets in other parts of Mindanao, Brunei Darussalam and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
There is a gradual shift to industrialization as shown with industry’s growth rate of 8.1% in 1996. Other economic activities are mining, fishery, forestry and agriculture.
FACILITIES The region’s principal ports are the Sasa International Seaport in Sasa, Sta. Ana Pier in the Chinatown District, Panabo Seaport in Davao del Norte, and Mati Seaport in Davao Oriental. Infrastructure developments in the cities within the region are considered excellent.
The airport in Davao City is the largest and most developed in Mindanao. The region is accessible by land, air and sea. The region has adequate communications facilities, reliable power and an abundant water supply. Wikipedia
I didn’t see much to tempt a tourist in that information sheet so after a brief walk around streets near my hotel I retreated to my room and sought comfort in an evening of TV entertainment, but trying to guess what was happening on screen without knowledge of the language soon became tiresome and I opted for an early night instead.
Next day I was at the airport bright and early. I’ve discovered even if your name is on a reserved list it can disappear miraculously unless you are the first in line and check the list. Being first in line gives plenty of time to go inside the inner sanctum of the day duty officer and persuade them to put it back on again if a bad fairy has taken it off. My name was not on the list, but after appropriate respect had been shown it reappeared in someone else’s slot.
Now the airline I was booked on was a carrier that didn’t have a fleet of the latest jets. My craft turned out to be a four engine relic of another era which looked like it had been resurrected from a WWII graveyard. However it had lots of courage and made its way painfully to the required altitude to cruise on to Manado. On board was an assortment of passengers including high ranking officials. I was nominally in the no-smoking section along with these high ranking gentlemen who collectively lit up their cigarettes in a joint attempt to smoke me out of the cabin. When I pointed out this was the no smoking section to the petite little lass attempting to feed us and care for our needs she glanced at the offenders with a terrified look and shook her head sadly. “Sorry, I can’t help you!”
Out came the food. I have to tell you Indonesian food is some of the best in the world, and they made the nation proud on that ancient aircraft. Included in the goodies served though was an interesting fat green vegetable I’d not seen before. The high ranking officials had been watching me closely since I’d attempted to bring them into line as smokers in the no smoking section. It had been unnerving at first, but I was now used to it and concentrating on the delightful food set before me.
I munched on the fat green vegetable and fires of hell descended on my throat. Caught again! I should have learned my lesson in Trivandrum, India under similar circumstances. This was the mother of all chilies. Its power to destroy was magnificent and I reached for my water bottle as tears and sweat formed a torrent down my cheeks. There was an explosion of mirth in the cabin as the high officials observed my plight. That would teach me to question their right to smoke!
But eventually we reached our destination in Manado and it was wonderful to see my friends at the airport waiting to receive me. I could only whisper my thanks and greetings much to their puzzlement, but by the next day I was fully recovered from the ordeal and able to share the humor of it all with my friends.
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