The Things to Do in a Small City

Dumaguete may be small, but it holds its own in terms of sights, sounds, and experiences that make many a visitor never want to leave.

By Ian Rosales Casocot
June 28, 2011

What do you do in a small city? Everywhere, you run into someone from somewhere else. Familiarity soon endures for the visitor. The temptation, six months in, is to quickly get bored--you say you can only traverse the stretch of Rizal Boulevard one time too many--and yet, and yet...


People come to Dumaguete expecting to find the well-kept secret and favored destination that it is--and quite often, people stay. It's a city of langyaws, strangers who have found home here, and the city's growing population of foreigners attests to this. Certainly, there's a reason why its name is derived from the word "daguit"--literally, "to snatch away," which in olden times spoke of Moro invaders coming in to loot its beachside towns and to carry off many of their inhabitants to sell in the slave trades once prevalent down south.

These days, "daguit" metaphorically means something else: you come, and by some strange sort of magic, you stay. You can ask Peachy Paderna, a writer from Manila. She came last May to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the Silliman National Writers Workshop--the longest creative writing workshop in Asia, counting among its alumni many of the luminaries of contemporary Philippine literature. On the last night of the festivities, basking in the starlight with other writers from all over the country (and some from Iowa), beer in hand at the Blue Monkey Grill, which is a stone's throw away from old Silliman Hall and the sea, she started crying. The next day, she was flying back to Manila, and once again, she didn't want to leave. "I don't know how your city does it," she told me.

So how do we do it? The people certainly. And of course the things we do here. It takes a certain little expertise, quickly learned if you are discerning, to know that smallness is often something that hides treasures. The beaches of Dauin to frolic in. The whales and dolphins off Bais to catch in their dance in Tañon Strait. The diving off Apo Island. The mountaineering to scale Mount Talinis, or Mount Canlaon. The caving in Mabinay. And these are just a fraction of what we do here.


Ask Moses Atega about what can happen to you in the deceptive quiet of Dumaguete, and he has stories to share. We call him Kuya Moe because he knows the city and all its craziness like the back of his hand--and when he welcomes people newly arrived in Dumaguete, he readily tells them, with an earnestness that comes with a wink: "Nothing bad happens to you in Dumaguete--and if something bad does happen, you'll like it." Take that advice in any measure of interpretation.           

What do we do here? I've asked around, and somebody tells me of the Frisbee games quite popular in this town, that even people like actor Derek Ramsay fly in to participate. There's the photography craze, the skateboarding, the skimboarding, the drag racing, the OBT-ing ("one big tuyok") around town. Kuya Moe is more particular, and with the conviction of a sage, he suggests "a rum Coke jam along riverbanks and on seaside walls, poetry reading at the Catacombs, stargazing at Camp Look Out, and mild river rafting in Amlan..."

And belying the myth of small places with black holes for a night life, Dumaguete is ultimately party-central. Which is perhaps to be expected. It is, after all, a university town--a young people's town. Every weekend, in El Camino Blanco, Dok Timbancaya, the city's party master, concocts his latest schemes to lure in the dance-and-party crowd. He already transformed the venue into a beach last summer for a like-themed extravaganza, and a few weekends before that, he called for a "Daisy Dukes party"--and the city's young crowd obliged by coming in the skimpiest of denim shorts and plaid shirts and cowboy boots. On the other side of town, there's Tyrone Tejam in Labeled educating the same young crowd with the latest in trance and R&B, depending on the mood for each weekend night. There are other hot spots like Zanzibar, which, like its name, promises nights drenched in exotic nocturnal habits ready for your own definition.


We always begin the partying, of course, every Wednesday night, in Hayahay. There, sometime near midnight, Reggae Wednesday begins, and under the al fresco moon, the beer flows, the party rushes into the madness of Escaño Boulevard, and the music booms. The weekend veritably starts then, quite early. By Friday night, we return to the same venue to hear Beverly--some people call her En-en--sing and take command of the microphone. From her perch on stage in Hayahay, she rocks the night away with her shoulder-length hair over a small black dress, her throaty renditions of the same tireless songs having become a familiar favorite. She begins usually with the Beatles' "Helter Skelter." Then she segues to James Brown's "Superstition." And then she sings Roxette's "I've Never Loved a Man" and her plaintive cry of the line "how could you hurt me so bad, baby you know that I'm the best thing you've ever had..." pierces you. And then she sings "The Biggest Fool Was Me," and you know that this lady means to rock it when she sings the blues.

And how we sway away with each song. And how we drink away to the moon and wax in poetry. And how we rock. And for next day's plans, while lazing the rest of our crazy nights over a nightcap in Qyosko, we think of the mountains nearby to climb, the beaches to run in, and the lakes to swim in--and we know for sure there is no boredom here.

In that way, Dumaguete is never a small city: there is a universe of things to do, that sometimes one wonders exactly how to begin. Basta Pinas, Suroy Dayon!