Keziah Marie Pestaño
Region VII

On the day we were supposed to set sail to Davao, an earthquake greeted us at the sea port. It was not anything colossal, but I certainly found myself staring at the ceiling and expecting it to fall at any moment. What an inviting greeting it was.

As we boarded the boat after a six-hour delay, I immediately went to the top deck and the view didn’t disappoint. Athletes from different regions filled the deck, running, training, and dancing as the sun died behind them. It was a sight I made sure not to take for granted.

Although the scenery was camera-worthy, the accommodation that our third-class tickets provided was not nearly as pleasant. Yet, we had to make do with what we had. All I can say is that it was not the most comfortable nine hours of my life.

The moment the boat docked on Cagayan de Oro’s shores, I was more than relieved. I finally got to enjoy the plush seats of our bus and drink some water. So much happiness flooded my system that I did not even mind the almost two=-hour delay of our departure.

At last, I got to have the sleep I desperately needed, only to be waken up by the sound of a guy talking to a walkie talkie, or whatever adults call it. Apparently, one of the buses almost fell down a cliff. The bus’s steering wheel got stuck so the driver could barely turn it, but he hit the brakes just when the bus was a few meters away from free falling down the hill. All worries aside, the situation was taken care of properly.

At that point of our journey, I had absolutely no idea where we were. All I could see was an endless stretch of mountains and the sun rising between their crevices. Needless to say, I stayed awake for the rest of the ride to relish the beauty of the land of promise. One thing that caught me off guard, though, were the trees lining the road that bore flowers reminiscent of of Japan’s cherry blossoms. I don’t think I’ve taken enough pictures of them.

Davao City was a paradox. It was everything I expected and nothing I anticipated.

When we arrived there, the first thing I noticed was the abundance of police officers and men in uniform. I nearly forgot that Mindanao was under martial law. What surprised me though, was that I did not feel fear of them at all. I just felt like they were there to give us directions and help us cross the streets (which they actually did).

Davao was indeed safer, cleaner, and more disciplined than my home province, Cebu. Davao may be less prosperous, but frankly, I’d rather be safe than wealthy. I do not mean to compare, because Cebu is stunning in its own way, too. It just baffled me how much I trusted mere strangers that I met on the street. I was comfortable using my phone in jeepneys, and when I walk the streets at night, I felt nothing but security and a sense of belongingness.

My “feeling” was further validated when we were given the chance to explore Magsaysay Park, which has an entire street lined by multiple bahay kubo built by the different indigenous groups in Davao. You can enter these kubo and explore their heritage by seeing the layout, designs, and handicraft that clearly depicts each group’s culture. According to a woman from the Bagobo tribe, they were personally sought by the government in their ancestral lands just so they could showcase their culture and traditions to tourists and fellow Dabawenyos.

This is what I will always applaud Davao for: their acknowledgement and appreciation of their ethnic people, and the amount of respect and value they have for their roots. I guess this is why they bore fruits of progress in the land of promise. In Davao, I met unity.

Even the pigeons, who thankfully did not defecate on me, felt at peace with their surroundings. Never in my life did I imagine that I would see those birds flocking at a gasoline station. It was quite a sight to behold.
When we were given a tour in the city hall, and we entered the different offices without prior notice, everyone welcomed us with open arms and lunch boxes since some of them were still eating. They were all smiles. Although tired and spent from all the travelling, we mustered all the energy we could to smile back. Kindness breeds kindness.

I was in a foreign place, but I have never felt so at home.

However, just like all cities, Davao is not without flaws and shadows. We have had only one unpleasant experience here, and it involved a particular tricycle driver whose personal details we regretfully have no knowledge of.

He was supposed to stop at the Central Bank, like we always did, but he instead turned around and dropped us off to another place. We do not know why he did it, but we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

We found ourselves lost in the middle of a city whose roads we knew nothing about. We talked to the ever-reliable locals and managed to find our way to our original destination, but it was still an experience we never thought we would go through in a place we already learned to trust.

Although quite stressful, that encounter was not enough to dampen our spirit. It took an entire storm to do that. A literal storm that dampened our spirits.

Because of the heavy rain, we were stuck in a small waiting shed inside Sta. Ana Elementary School in the middle of the night. The “shed” somehow failed in its purpose because we still got wet from the droplets that managed to worm its way through the little holes in the roof. Shaking from the cold and unable to go anywhere else because of the flood, we were effectively stranded for about an hour.

Eventually, a jeepney did come to get us and dropped us off at our billeting school, Davao City National High School. However, the driver could not go past the designated parking area, so we had to do what I never imagine I would.

Because of the heavy rain, the sports journalists from Region VII had to run towards their building barefoot last May 1, 2019. This event was unfortunate, but will always serve as one of the most unforgettable moments of their 2019 Palarong Pambansa journey. Photo by Rethey Jane Lapis

We took our shoes and socks off, in an effort to save them from the onslaught of the rain, and walked barefoot to a nearby stage. There, we devised a game plan. My three other co-journalists would go ahead on their own while my coach and I had to stay behind for a while.

Born with a disease that renders me night blind, running across the field with a rocky terrain and multiple canals that I most probably would not see is practically suicide. There was simply no way for me to reach the building on my own, or even with my coach’s guidance, without getting soaked and injuring myself.

So, my coach decided to just carry me piggyback style. I’m a relatively tiny person, so breaking his back was not really an issue, but I did not want to be a burden. Yet he reminded me that it was the most practical and quickest way to get to our building, so who was I to complain?

Running towards our building with the rain pouring on my back and laughter escaping from our mouths while clutching my shoes in one hand and holding on for my dear life with the other, I have never been so alive.

The two weeks I have spent in this city were brimming with unexpected events. Things did not always work in our favor, and there were certain moments where I just wanted to go back to my hometown and hug our dog. But if I had to do everything for the second time – the good, the bad, and the worse – I would do it again with a smile plastered on my face.

I do not know what will greet me on our way from Davao to Cebu. The sun may be high in the sky, burning my eyes. But I do know that this time, I would not have to wait for the sunset to bring beauty and invaluable memories into my life, because Davao already gave that to me.