Tara, Go Na to Tarragona

The most memorable trip we took in 2011 was not to a destination that needed a passport or a visa.  It just took us three and half hours drive from Davao City and we did not need to pack a lot of stuff. In fact, we wore clothes that we were most comfortable in since we were kids — t-shirt, shorts, and slippers. We did not plan the trip and we had no prepared itinerary. And it’s the best trip we ever had!

My high school friend, Dr. Rizalina “Isay” Enriquez Mapayo-Arenas, texted me one day if Neil and I would want to go with her to her hometown in Tarragona, Davao Oriental for an overnight visit. Isay is living in Tupi, South Cotabato now with her husband and three kids where she serves as the Municipal Dentist. Tarragona is the hometown of her mother’s family — the Enriquez of Tarragona. And their family owns most of the land there. She picked us up in Davao from Tupi late in the morning and on our way to Tarragona we decided to invite another high school friend, Manny Bayani, and his partner, Melvin Yap, who are both living in Panabo. Then we loaded up Isay’s Everest with lots of junk food and soda  and we were all set.

Tarragona has a better view of the Pacific coast than California

Tarragona has a better view of the Pacific coast than California

We stopped by Mati’s famous Seaside for some freshly cooked empanada and lumpia and promenaded along their Baywalk like tourists. It is so much better than Manila’s Baywalk. For one, the air is fresher and the water is cleaner. And the view is definitely lovelier.

When you google “Tarragona,” you will be bombarded with stuff about a Catalonian city in Spain, a seaside town south of Barcelona. It has all sorts of travel guides and loads of information.  The Wikipedia entry for Tarragona has a line that directs you to “the municipality in the Philippines” and the entry contains these three sentences: “Tarragona is a 4th class municipality in the province of Davao Oriental, Philippines. According to the 2000 census, it has a population of 22,846 people in 4,458 households. Tarragona is politically subdivided into 10 barangays.”  I know. It hardly conjures visions of breathtaking sceneries and exciting adventures. There are no articles about the place, not even bad news.  But you have to believe me when I tell you that it is a trip worth making at least once in your life.

Discovering this hidden infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean made us all giddy with excitement

Discovering this hidden infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean made us all giddy with excitement

When Isay asked us to go to Tarragona, we just came from our U.S. Spring vacation where we took the famous 17-mile drive in Monterey, California.  It is a scenic road through Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach along the Pacific Coastline overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Tarragona coastline, in our opinion, is even more breathtaking than Monterey, and it definitely has much more character.  When we told Isay about this, she laughed out loud and could not believe her childhood playground could be more beautiful than the California Pacific coastline. But it’s true.

Although we had to walk several kilometers through muddy dirt road, wade through lots of thorny plants, and climb over big rocks to get to this hidden natural infinity pool that overlooks the Philippine Sea and Pacific Ocean, it was definitely worth it.

Exploring the hidden caves of Tarragona

Exploring the hidden caves of Tarragona

We saw lots of corals without diving, just walking during low tide. We walked back along the rocky coast and explored hidden caves and swam in its blue-green waters. We picked sea shells with the local kids and bought freshly caught fish from their parents. This is how life is meant to be. And it is absolutely wonderful.

You see, I am not an outdoor type of person who likes “roughing it up.” I am a city girl at heart who wants the comforts of civilization. I never went camping or backpacking. Ever. But Tarragona has charmed me to the point that I even found it very funny that my 2,500-peso one-of-a-kind embellished Havaianas gave up on me in the middle of the muddy trek and I had to walk barefoot the rest of the way and be rescued by a cart pulled by a carabao (otherwise known as “kangga”). Oh well. Walang ganyan sa States! 

Leave those "sosyal" slippers at home unless you want to go barefoot and be rescued by a "kangga"

Leave those “sosyal” slippers at home unless you want to go barefoot and be rescued by a “kangga”

I am not just romanticizing the simple rural life. Tarragona is a real beauty and we were enchanted. You have to go see it soon before the tourism department starts selling it as a “fun” destination.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, January 17, 2011