“This is one of the cities I could probably live in” were my first thoughts exploring the streets of Dapitan City. A city found in Zamboanga del Norte, declared a city not because of its population nor its economic stature but because of its rich heritage. The country’s National Hero, Jose Rizal, lived in this region after his exile in 1892. The mark he left with the place and the people was like an eternal echo surviving through the times. I was in Zamboanga del Norte initially for work teaching a group about photography, but I had time to retrace Rizal’s footsteps and discovered some wonderful places in the process.
It was 2 years ago when I first stepped foot in Dapitan City. A squall prevented us from exploring then but the bits of sites we saw showed promise in this city. And things have definitely changed for the better. Gone are the neon lights and KTV bars that used to line the coastal Sunset Boulevard where baring noise from karaoke fill the air as one drives through. Along the boulevard, the Gloria de Dapitan, a 3-hectare commercial property has reached the pinnacle of development. It houses Gloria’s Fantasyland, the largest theme park outside Manila with about 35 exciting rides. I heard the horror coaster was a favorite.
I visited Dapitan again by a half-hour bus from Dipolog. This time, the afternoon weather was idyllic for walks. The streets were wide and I was like inside a subdivision but with some ancestral houses dotting the street corners. The beautiful Adasa Ancestral Home was a head turner. It was now the head quarters of the local Department of Tourism.
Just a few stretches away, I reached the central plaza busy with promenaders and school students enjoying their time after school. The plaza has existed even before Jose Rizal arrived but he was one of those who beautified the place by adding santan, red gumamela plants and acacia trees, some which are still standing until today.
The imposing St James Church stands right beside the plaza. Built in 1871, it features a dizzying pattern on the ceiling. Rizal used to frequent by the doorway of this church. Just opposite the entrance, right on the plaza a ground is the Relief Map of Mindanao which Jose Rizal helped create as a tool to teach the locals about history and geography.
Heading west to the direction of the sea, a distinguished monument stands, a re-enactment of Rizal’s first landing in Dapitan coming from Cebu. The monument site is also a favorite spot for watching the sunset over the black sandy shores of Sta Cruz Beach.
Crossing over the nearby bridge, I found the Rizal Shrine Park. A sprawling 16-hectare property Jose Rizal bought from his winning lottery money. Replicas of his house, clinic, kitchen and family residence can be found there. The actual waterworks system he built still exists there.
On the border of Dapitan and Dipolog, I also found the Sicayab Cliffs, which I had trouble looking for at first. I had to hire a tricycle to find this dramatic 7-km rocky coastline deep into the residential area of Sicayab-Bucana village. The Sicayab Cliffs has been gaining popularity for rock climbers. In Razo’s Park and Resorts, a wonderful natural arc can be found which is fast becoming a popular backdrop for pre-nuptial shoots or for landscape shooters aiming for the sunset. Who knows? Rizal may have also wandered these cliffs on his way to Dipolog.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.