Monday, February 14, 2005



Text by Johannes Chue, Photos by Pinky Colmenares

It is the city mentioned in pages of books or in spirited conversation between writers. It is the city that is bounded by boulevard and populated by a people comfortable with books around them. It is called a “writers haven,” “University town,” and the “city by the sea,” and so on because it is a place etched in the memory of those it enchants. And it goes by the name Dumaguete.

For writers or for those who seek artistic inspiration, Dumaguete’s boulevard – with the Silliman University as backdrop -- is the perfect place. It is “perfect” because writers are able to come up with a plot outline, a character’s name or a dramatic ending for a story while strolling along the boulevard.

I was skeptic the first time I heard that story. But who will disagree? Dumaguete is the city that hosts the annual Silliman Creative Writer’s Workshop, undoubtedly one of the most prestigious workshops in the country. Conceptualized by the late Dr. Edilberto Tiempo and wife National Artist Edith Tiempo, the workshop produced the who’s who in the Philippine literary scene. It created a reputation of honing a greenhorn into a wordsmith, and aside from the writing awards, a fellowship in that workshop says your work deserves “a second look.”

Even my professor, the poet Marjorie Evasco who graduated from Silliman, speaks of Dumaguete as a sanctuary for writers. She would pause for a while, and look very far and say how that place has inspired her. And because of this several lines and pages of poems, stories and plays were dedicated to the boulevard and the city where it belongs.

Writers sand songs of praises to Dumaguete even if it they were just momentarily there. And they wrote lengthy passages extolling the boulevard as if underneath the concrete path lies an “inspiration magma.” One such praise is from Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo’s issay entitled “The Legend that is Dumaguete” in her book “Coming Home.” She writes: “But everything in Dumaguete, I discovered, is by the sea. Sea breezes drift through my memories of that first season in that languid university town.”

Then I had the chance to find out for myself if the boulevard is really what they say it is. How different is it from other boulevard in the country? I had that question in mind six years ago when I was invited to attend a seminar for student journalists in Silliman.

It was early morning and I clearly remembered the Bethel Guest House, though we didn’t stay there because we stayed in a dormitory. That is supposed to be the starting point of the stroll along the boulevard.

With the lull of early morning sea breeze, the mild heat of the sun and the soothing sound of rustling acacia trees, it was a perfect day to discover the boulevard.

Well, my group was not alone. There were several locals doing brisk walks, jogging or dong calisthenics. And since we were a group, and obvious Manilenos at that, the people gave us a second look while some even greeted us with warm smiles.

I cannot help but wonder why this boulevard stretch is different from others. There are the usual stalls --- which mushroom more in the evening – selling cigarettes, candies and native delicacies. There are kids, some half-naked, running around calling out to one another in an unfamiliar language.

After less than an hour of lazy strolling, sun burnt and all, we had a collective feeling of endearment – and memory – to the place. Sitting in one of the concrete benches while sipping Coke, I talked with a fellow writer about a story concept that I want to develop into a short story. Soon, other members of the group joined in the conversation. And we found out that another one brought a poem with her and would like to read that aloud to the group.

While she was reading her poem, the passersby didn’t give us a weird look, sneered at us or made side remarks. Instead, they let us feel that we are not making an unusual scene. You can feel their sense of respect towards artists and writers.

In that moment, I came to a personal conclusion that it is the collective high regard of the people towards writers that make Dumaguete a “writer’s haven.” Yes, the sea breeze cools, the magnificent view awes. But for writers, it is the “humanity” of the locals that makes it more inspiring for writers to stay for a long while in the boulevard.

That’s why when I came back to Dumaguete after winning two Palancas, I feel I’m comfortable with the people around me. They do not question me what a Palaca is if it’s a military citation or an award given by a local barangay. They don’t make me feel that I’m weird because I chose to become a short story writer and not a nursing aide. Some of them even ask for pointers and tips. I also met people along the way who showed me their poems or stories. My only regret is that I can’t have a slot in the Silliman workshop because my medium of writing stories is in Filipino. But I can always find my spot in the boulevard to create another story and find inspiration among the waves, sit on top of a concrete bench and feel the respect of the people.


Macrina Ramos Fuentes is the face behind an adventure in Negros Oriental.

As the moving force of 14 year-old Orientwind Travel & Tours, Macrina has become an expert in organizing itineraries that make tourists leave with a feeling of “a connection” with the locals. The success of those tours – from the sober city tour to the exciting dive, trek or cave exploration – has resulted in a chain of satisfied clients who now form Orientwind’s word-of-email advertising.

Her understanding of what makes a good adventure comes from a simple thought: To help a client have a good journey. And it is supported by a complex idea: A vision through the tourism groups where she is an active member. At present, she is the president of the Negros Oriental Association of Travel Agencies; director of the Provincial Tourism Council; and vice-chairperson of the Planning and Development Regional Tourism Board. As a columnist in the local newspapers, she advocates a tourism that “will not compete withCebu, Bohol or Siquijor.”

“It is that kind of destination that will evoke a spiritual experience that starts as soon as the visitor sees the skyline and shoreline of Dumaguet,” Macrina wrote in the Metropost newspaper.

With a woman like Macrina, those are not thoughts flying in the wind. It has become her major challenge – to put Negros Oriental in the tourism map as “an eco-tourism destination that will showcase a balance between environment and development, shared by spiritually aware locals.”

Macrina learned to be strong-willed from the angry waves of Tanon Strait. As a fishfarmer for more than 20 years, she had battled its furious waters by planting mangroves and fortifying the dikes. A mini mangrove forest provides the buffer in most portion now but relentless force of the sea is a perennial battle that she continues to fight.

Now a tourism advocate, she works with the same strong will, starting with the local tours she designs for domestic and foreign tourists. To sustain tourism efforts during the lean months, Orientwind Travel joins the WOOW Select Consortium which packages special three-day-two-night tours to various destinations in the country. This year, the consortium designed “Sweet deals and pure indulgence” packages which include various activities for the travelers.

Naturally Macrina is in the middle of the “WOW Select Sweet Deals” campaign. Visitors traveling on that tour package in Negros Oriental will likely take the journey with Macrina – as she is the one who puts together the cultural and heritage tour.

Other “pure” indulgence” activities of the program are health and wellness (sps); and sports and adventure (diving, snorkeling, trekking, wall climbing).

And that is the way she implements her simple and complez visions, which she now shares with her family. Husband, Vic, operates a resort in a neighboring island; daughter Sanda and son Sande, run Orientwind with her. Her son Sande also operates the family restaurants – Labas and Hayahay.

In our brief meeting, we found that Orientwind has become the wind beneath Macrina’s wings.

(“The WOW Select Sweet Deals” includes 3-day-2-nights in an aircon room; daily breakfast, round trip airfare via Air Philippines or Asian Spirit; land or boat transfers; a “pure indulgence” program. Destinations are: Boracay, Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu City, Dumaguete, Baguio, Bacolod City, Batangas, Puerto Galera, Camiguin, Subic, Bohol, Puerto Princesa, Davao and Palawan.)

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