If Dumaguete City was a musical, the hum and whine of a motorcycle engine would be its chorus.
I have never seen so many two-wheeled commuters zipping in and out of traffic. Scooters, dirt bikes and even the occasional Harley can be heard rolling down Rizal Avenue, the town’s main boulevard.
On just about every street corner in this town you will find rows of parked motorcycles.
“Are these bikes for sale or rent,” Meg asked pointing to a row of motorcycles about 150 feet long and two deep in some places. “There is so many of them.”
It seems to be the vehicle of choice for the locals. It allows for quick travel through narrow and crowded streets where traffic crawls along at 15 miles per hour, if you’re lucky.
OVERWHELMED FROM SEEING MY OLD NEIGHBORHOOD AGAIN IN 30 YEARS
The drive from the airport to our hotel was an eye-opener for me. Thirty years is a long time to be away and I could barely recognize my old neighborhood.
It looked like every open lot in the city has been bought and built on. The house of my youth now has an internet cafe on the front yard where we used to play catch. Smoke from a grill billowed out back as we drove by and my guess is that they are selling food in there as well. Where there used to be mango trees and old acacia trees there are only houses and hostels, popular with young European backpackers and adventurers.
My town has grown old. Wrinkles and blemishes now dominate her once smooth radiant skin. She seems to be carrying more weight than she ought to. Her streets are packed with motor vehicles. The buildings lining them look tired and even desperate. She has even picked up the big-city smell of diesel exhaust and rotting garbage.
Thank God for the sea breeze. The gentle salty air blowing in from the Tanon Strait feels good. It is cleansing. It blows the stench away even for just a moment.
SHOPPER’S PARADISE: CLEAN FLOORS, TINY BLOUSES AND STARBUCKS MUGS
After more than 40 hours traveling, we decided to get our bearing in Dumaguete and went for a stroll through downtown.
That was a hoot.
From the colorful shops selling clothing to the souvenir vendors, one thing surprised me. We did not get one aggressive sales pitch.
It seems the work of polishing the tile floors inside the Lee Super Plaza in the heart of downtown is never completed. In the middle of a Wednesday afternoon and workers were polishing every one of this superstore’s five floors. This place sells everything from microwave ovens to stationery supplies to lumpia. If you’re a Starbucks fan, you can have your very own coffee mug with Seattle-based company’s logo for 199 pesos or roughly $2, depending on who changes your money.
Stepping outside to the damp humid air, we walked in a couple of clothing stores. Meg was especially attracted to the colorful fabrics that were being used.
“Except everything here is so tiny,” she said showing me one of the colorful blouses. “I’ll never fit into one of these.”
We never checked the prices thinking we’ll walk around some more in the next couple of days and get a better idea of what constitutes a good deal.
THE BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS? DEPENDS ON WHO TALK TO
As we walked down Rizal Avenue you can see a city’s growing pains.
Shakey’s Pizza has been shuttered, it seems for a while now.
An old restaurant building sits vacant dust accumulating on its once proud facade.
But farther up the street workers are busy erecting a new sign for a dive shop. Construction workers are sanding and varnishing an outdoor bar next door to the Mexican tapas bar. Business seemed to be going well with tourists and locals dropping in on the handful of restaurants and bars along the boulevard.
Some things never change. Young local women hanging on to the arms of older, much older, European and North America men. Some are tourists and some are living here in retirement. Everyone seem to be having a good time.
Every where you go panhandlers are there as well. You can’t lose them. Desperation does not need an interpreter.