Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
I recently visited Mati, the lone city of Davao Oriental. I had been to this place – about five hours by bus and only three hours by van or private vehicles – several times. This time around, I learned three basic things about the city.
First of all, Mati is positioning itself as one of the diving destinations of the Davao region. After all, it is facing the Pacific Ocean and is part of Davao Gulf, which has an area of 308,000 hectares. It cuts into the island of Mindanao from the Philippine Sea.
“Davao Gulf has a beautiful and varied underwater terrain,” says Harry Morris, a marine biologist who heads the Trinity Project based in Banana Beach in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.
Morris describes the gulf, which has an area of 5,200 square kilometers or about 520,000 hectares, as having “dive sites for all levels, with healthy corals, varied fishes, and amazing topography.”
When one speaks of diving in the region, people always talk of the Island Garden City of Samal, which is composed of seven islands. It is strategically located in one of the most dive-friendly locations in the world.
If only Mati City was not far from Davao City, it could be the top diving destination in the region. After all, its three bays are among the world’s most beautiful: Pujada, Mayo, and Balite.
“Pujada Bay is almost a virgin paradise,” said Bruno Bodard, founder and manager of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Organization. “It is much more beautiful than we expected. The Philippines is a very nice country. You have the jewel in Pujada.”
Guy Rousset, the club treasurer who accompanied Bodard for the validation, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer of Pujada Bay: “This place beguiles and inspires, sedates and stirs, where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and you will be able to catch glimpses of the divine or the infinite as you are united with nature.”
Rousset was also impressed by the two other bays. “I will call them Mati Bays,” he said. “Your bays are very nice. You must be proud of your bays.”
These impressive bays are indeed the best dive sites. “The City of Mati has very good diving sites that are rich in coral reefs,” said Francisco Juan Diaz Martinez, a foreign diver from Buceo An Cabo de Gata company.
“People who want to pursue diving in Mati City should go to the tourism office first for arrangement so that we can arrange the logistics,” says Tourism Officer Dashiel Indelible, Jr., referring to boats, tanks, compressors, and dive guides. “For the master divers, we will recommend to our partner dive shops in Davao City.”
There are several places near the dive sites where divers can stay overnight or for several days. “Some are exclusive for a group, although there are also places for backpackers,” says Kyra Ravelo Espinosa. “We have something for everyone,” adds Van X. Casil.
Both Espinosa and Casil, who accompanied us during our recent visit, are with the city tourism office.
If you want to be alone and never bothered by anyone during your stay in Mati, you may prefer Tropical Kanakbai.
In Bobon, you can stay in any of the following: Surf’s Up Resort, Sheepy’s Surfside Resort, or Praia Vista Resort. All three are exclusive places where a group of divers can stay. The diving sites are also nearer as it is only a walking distance going to the beach fronts. No problem with foods as they serve, too.
Some may prefer Aloha Beach House, where the guests and visitors can stay. Aside from food, they can enjoy the swimming pool after diving in areas where they come from. It is peaceful, too, as there are no neighbors around.
Blue Bless Resort has a number of rooms to accommodate their guests. It is perched on the bluff overlooking Pujada Bay.
However, if you just want to visit Mati City for its beaches, try to go to the Menzi Beach Park and Campsite, along the shoreline of the popular Dahican Beach. The place, which is about an 18-minute drive from the city proper, can also be used for prenup, parties, and birthdays.
The waters of Mati are also known for its marine biodiversity. The Dahican Beach is a nesting area of the endangered marine turtles. Studies have shown that every time the female marine turtle nest, she always returns to the place even if she is thousands of miles away from the area.
A female pawikan would drag her bulky frame into the sand and build a nest, and to eventually lay eggs. The nests are flask-shaped cavities dug in the sand by the shoveling motions of the nesting turtle’s hind limbs. One nest may contain as many as 100 eggs.
In the wild, the period after hatching is a fight for survival. After they are hatched, it’s a race from their nests in the sand to the water. Once they are in the waters, it’s survival of the fittest as some of them may be eaten by other marine creatures, including fish.
“For every 100 pawikan hatching we release into the waters, only one of them will survive in the open waters,” says Winston Plaza, who works at Amihan sa Dahican’s Save Our Seas Project.
Mati is also home to a wide variety of other marine mammals like dolphins and dugongs.
During my third visit to the city some years back, I had the opportunity of joining a group of journalists. One early morning, we left Dahican Beach looking for marine mammals. True enough, we saw a group of dolphins. They popped up from nowhere. Unfortunately, they didn’t jump and twirl, just like in a dolphin show or in the movies.
George Plaza, who was our guide that time, said they didn’t because they may be full. Jumping and spinning, he said, has a purpose. The dolphins are actually hunting for fish. One group of dolphins chased the fish, scared them with all the noise they made, while others waited. But even if they did not jump and twirl, we were satisfied to see them in the wild.
Mati City is also known for Mount Hamiguitan, which was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2004. Ten years later, it was added by the United Nations Economic, Scientific, and Cultural Organization to its World Heritage Sites. Aside from Mati, some parts of the range are located in San Isidro and Governor Generoso.
At the foot of Mount Hamiguitan in sitio Catmonan in barangay Macambol is the Darrporrt Campsite. It is perfect for witnessing the sunrise. But the place is noted for its diverse reef and ridge, natural wonders, and majestic river.
If you’re coming from Davao, once you enter Mati City, tell the driver to drop you at the junction of Dawan-Macambol Road. It is about 20 kilometers away from the highway. If you don’t have a vehicle, you may rent a habal-habal (motorcycle) stationed at the bus stop. Travel time is about 45 minutes.
You can stay for the night at the Darrporrt as it has private rooms that can accommodate up to six people. It also has an open-air dorm type with hammocks and beds. Foods are not available, but you can cook your own meals at the kitchen provided for the guests and visitors.
You can ask some staff of the campsite to serve as guide in scaling some parts of Mount Hamiguitan. “It would normally take an hour,” says Daruel Porlares, the man behind the campsite. “However, it’s irresistible not to take photos when you are surrounded with so much beauty.”
Mount Hamiguitan has several unique species of century-old miniature trees. The climb includes crossing rivers, walking over boulders, and rock scrambling. “Since there are only bonsai trees at the peak, it can be difficult to find shade,” Porlares reminds.
Not far from the campsite is the Tinikaran Pygmy Springs, where you can swim in its cold waters. The water, which comes from Mount Hamiguitan, is so clear that you can see your feet if you are standing from its depth.
If you have the time, try to roam around the place and marvel at the bonsai trees, wild orchids, pitcher plants, and other fascinating flora.
From highlands to oceans, that’s what awaits those who visit Mati City. Make it Mati, then on your next trip! – ###