After a late night of revelry to mark the conclusion of the 2023 Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX), held in Cebu City over the course of three days, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) of the Philippines organized a post-PHITEX 2023 familiarization trip for some of the participants. Before arriving in the Philippines, the 88 buyer representatives from 19 countries were asked to select a destination from a list of pre-selected locations throughout the country.
The TPB identified the after-PHITEX tours as such: “Arts and History” covering Manila and Rizal Province; “Dine and Dive” happening in Pampanga and La Union; “Faith, Farm and Fun” exploring parts of Cebu and Negros Oriental; “Calm, Culture and Culinary” in the islands of Boracay and Romblon; “Wellness and Fun Dive” in the crystal clear waters of Coron, Palawan; and the trip asianTraveler went to—the “Nature and Adventure” escapade in Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon and Davao.
As I boarded our coaster van to the airport, I was introduced to our foreign guests. Firstly, there's the two Davids, David Chai from Malaysia who works for a travel company in South Korea and David Chandraraj from New Zealand who owns a tour agency in Sydney, Australia. There's also Franziska Wirth, a German who now works in a Bali-based travel agency, as well as Malaysians Julie Ang and Melissa Ong, who also serves as the Department of Tourism's liaison officer in Malaysia and Thailand. We also have three Filipinas living abroad: Sarah Aldana, who works for Polaris Travel and Tours in Toronto, Canada, Ludi Pasilabban, also a Canada-based tour operator and Christy Tan, who manage a travel company in Carson, California.
Even though I have been to the provinces we were about to visit, I felt a different kind of excitement as I will be journeying this time with a group of people who will be seeing these parts of the Philippines for the first time. Our first stop: Cagayan de Oro.
Our first activity was intended to be a paragliding ride from Cagayan de Oro’s highest point--Amaya View—which is situated 1,122 feet above sea level. Despite the lack of sleep and our early morning trip from Cebu to CDO, the group’s spirits were lifted by the possibility of flying in tandem with an experienced paragliding pilot.
Regrettably, the wind conditions were insufficient for paragliding as a heavy downpour began shortly after our arrival. Undeterred, our group indulged in a delightful assortment of dishes, all the while marveling at the breathtaking cityscape from the decks of Amaya View. We discovered that there are additional intriguing things to do on site. This includes crossing a long hanging bridge with glass bottoms surrounded by the picturesque mountains, towards a mini zoo called Noah’s Ark.
The next day, we awakened to a glorious bright day, which gave us the green light to quench our need for adventure. Ready to get wet, we all look forward to embarking on a white water rafting across the raging rapids of the Cagayan de Oro River.
Kagay Whitewater Rafting, which arranged our trip, employs seasoned guides who are both knowledgeable about the river and entertaining, combining 'Captain of the Raft' directives with rehearsed banters that never fail to make their guests laugh.
Every time our raft approaches a rapid, our guide would calmly commands us with, "Paddle up, forward" or "Paddle back" in a timely manner that squares up our raft as it passes through the violent whirlpools of each rapid. Each time we make it over a rapid without capsizing, everyone celebrates with a high five by raising our paddles in the air.
The river was generally calm for long stretches, but the predicted rapids, numbering to around 15, still generated enough whirlwind motion to spin and even toss our raft into the air. To our delight, our raft did so in a clockwise and counterclockwise movement. We would have flipped if our guide hadn't given us precise paddle directions.
With magnificent greens and rocky formations on either side, it's tough to concentrate on the rapids ahead since you'll find yourself pausing and just taking in the scenery. Other than the gorgeous backdrop, the tweeting birds and the rushing water of the river made for a pleasing outdoor auditory environment.
Our entire river rafting activity lasted approximately four hours, leaving us both famished and with a slight ache in our arms. After we disembarked from the rafts, though, we all agreed that it had been an incredible experience. Even though I’ve experienced river rafting twice in Cagayan de Oro already, I was still glad to have racked up yet another fun rafting experience.
Our next destination seems to surprise some of our foreign guests at first. Franziska asked in a bewildered tone “Are we kids going to a waterpark?”. True enough, a few minutes after having our lunch at Seven Seas Waterpark, she, David, Sarah and the others went back to being kids gleefully taking multiple rides on the waterpark’s the Cyclone, a water slide that involves riding a 4-person circular raft that drops from a six-story launch tube spinning and walloping vertically into a funnel wall towards the pool below.
Guests of the Seven Seas Waterpark and Resort in the municipality of Opol, about an hour outside of Cagayan de Oro City, can choose from a variety of water slides. There are a number of enormous amenities that provide thrills, such as the Cyclone, the open spiral slide Pira-Chute, the boomerang-shaped slide Riptide, the wave pool Buccaneer Bay, and several other giant slides and themed pools.
A trip to the "City of Golden Friendship" would not be complete without sampling some of the local fare. Residents of CDO, also known as Kagay-anons, are very kind and welcoming, and they frequently go out of their way to provide mouthwatering cuisine for visitors.
We were fortunate enough to dine at two of the city's best restaurants, Cucina Higala and Kagay-anon Restaurant, both of which specialize on traditional Mindanaoan delicacies.
Combining the words “cucina” which in Spanish means “kitchen” and “higala”, a vernacular word that refers to friends and families, Cucina Higala serves Northern Mindanao dishes with a twist. The restaurant’s specialties that were served on our table, such as beef rendang, sinuglaw, humba, kinilaw with dilis, chicken pastil, kare-kare, and sural chicken, understandably became instant hits with the famished guests.
While there, we met one of the owners, Jan Uy, who walked us through the restaurant’s many ways of uplifting and promoting the Northern Mindanao gastronomy, including its advocacy for local producers, manufacturers, and suppliers through the use of locally grown ingredients and its dual role as a venue for showcasing the works of local artists.
Kagay-Anon, being one of the oldest restaurants in Cagayan de Oro City, has maintained its reputation as a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts. The restaurant features a tastefully decorated interior, complete with traditional Filipino wooden furniture. The ambiance of the restaurant perfectly complements the delicious Filipino cuisine that it serves to its guests.
When I tried their ostrich salpicao for the first time, I knew it would become one of my favorite dishes. The restaurant’s loaded halo-halo, served inside a giant coconut, and the specialties such as pinakbet, sinuglaw, and grilled tuna belly, to name a few, were the other highlights of our mouthwatering culinary experience in the restaurant.
For our two-night stay in Cagayan de Oro, Seda Centrio provided us with comfortable accommodation in one of the best locations in the city, just a few steps from Centrio Mall and other commercial establishments in the city.
This 150-room hotel offers a balance between the comforts of city life and the excitement of its proximity to outdoor activities with its modern designs and sufficient amenities like an outdoor pool, gym, a relaxing lounge, and an in-house dining spot.
Water adventures, check. Local cuisine, check. Mountain views, check. Despite missing out on the paragliding activity at Amaya View, the Cagayan de Oro leg of our trip proceeded wonderfully. It became obvious that my foreign companions had an amazing time in the City of Golden Friendship. Off to our next stop: Bukidnon.
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