It’s been said that you always hear yourself better in quiet places.
Away from the noise and chatter of the city, they say that if you intentionally soak yourself in nature, God seems to speak to you more clearly. I flew to Davao briefly last week, to find myself some peace and quiet because I wanted to do precisely that — create the space for some quality and quiet time with God to hear myself better.
I wasn’t disappointed.
From the airport, we traveled for an hour on excellent roads towards the city of Tagum in Davao del Norte where Hijo Resorts Davao sits on some 177 hectares of the the oldest banana and coconut plantations in the country. Rich in history, it was the first banana plantation that made a shipment of Cavendish bananas to Japan in 1969. In 2012, Hijo Resorts Davao established itself as the first and only eco-agri tourism destination of the country, using the property’s natural landscape as a way to increase awareness and promote sustainable tourism and nature conservation.
As soon as I got to the resort, I headed for the hammock that was swinging gently in the fading afternoon light, and looking out into the vast and peaceful Davao Gulf.
I parked myself on the hammock for a good half hour just looking up at beautiful blue skies framed by the leaves and branches of century old trees while listening to the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore.
Getting up from my hammock we walked around the Plantation House which was the original plantation home of the estate, and built in the 1920s. In this part of the resort, you feel as though you have traveled back to a much simpler time and place. The Plantation House has a vintage feel to it, except that it has a lovely infinity pool, embraced by coconut trees that look out into the Davao Gulf.
From the Plantation House, we moved to the Banana Beach Casitas, inspired by traditional Philippine architecture, and designed by renowned architect Angelo Mañosa. The casitas are airconditioned, and perfect to come home to at the end of a warm day. Davao heat can be dry and punishing so the cool air inside the well-designed and very spacious casita was such a joy. I slept so well that evening and the night after.
For dinner that evening, the resort set up a nice table for our group right by the sea. We feasted on fresh seafood and grilled meats that were prepared so lovingly it felt like we were guests at someone’s home. Dining under the moon and the stars with the cool breeze blowing, and listening to the waves was truly magical. In the city you can hardly see the stars anymore, but in Hijo that evening, it was as if God laid out a blanket just for us, and we were covered by a canopy of a thousand stars.
The following morning, the day began with breakfast on the porch of our casita, and a few hours later we were touring the banana plantation. The resort has guided tours that take you throughout the intricate, yes intricate process of banana planting, harvesting, and packing. I now have a greater respect for the banana after learning so much that morning about the Cavendish banana and all the hard work that goes into cultivating the best ones.
From the banana plantation, we motored to another part of the resort and took a boat ride on the Madaum River where four kinds of mangroves can be found — pagatpat, api api, bakawan laki, and bakawan bae. The Madaum River has been declared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as a key biodiversity area. Mangroves of course are of great importance because at some point in their lives, 70 percent of all commercial fish come from mangrove areas.
The highlight of my morning, and perhaps my visit to the resort, was this lovely and peaceful 45 minute cruise through the Madaum river as we sailed through gentle waters, sheltered by century old mangroves. Overhead, I would catch sight of an occasional egret or heron, the wind blew gently, as I sat on the boat’s bow, watching the sunlight dance on the river. Manila, and all my cares seemed to be so far away in that moment. I could’ve stayed on that boat for hours, just enjoying the beauty of all of God’s creation, and taking in the peace and tranquility that you can only find away from the city.
After an hour on the water, it was time to head for lunch which proved to be another visual feast and memorable Hijo experience unlike any other.
The Spot Halal Restaurant offers locally sourced cuisine inspired by the indigenous people of Kalagan and Tausug. Prior to dining here, I had never eaten Halal food in my life, and to be honest, I was a bit wary. The anxiety over the food though was unfounded. The entire meal from start to finish was perhaps one of my best and most memorable meals among all my visits to Davao.
At The Spot, you sit in between two lakes surrounded by little Nipa huts, and there is an islet at the center of the lakes. It was a little overcast when we were there, and a slight drizzle added some drama to my afternoon. I felt the breeze carry away whatever cares I had brought with me to Hijo, as if God was saying to me, “Hand it over to me, and I’ll carry it back to heaven…” The raindrops that fell on the lake created gentle ripples, adding even more tranquility to that already sacred space. As you sit in the center of The Spot in quiet reverie, before or after a meal, your mind clears, your spirits lift and your heart quiets down. Only the sound of birds singing in the distance breaks your solitude, and you feel as though you are on holy ground.
God speaks to us so closely through all of His creation. I was reminded of this truth once more in the 48 hours I spent at Hijo. When I allowed myself to be still and be awed by the beauty of everything He has made for me, I was reminded of His great love and faithfulness, not just to me, but for all of us. It’s true what they say that God is everywhere — I found Him in the banana plant, in the tallest of coconut trees, in the rain forest, in the middle of a lake on a rainy day, in century old mangroves that line a peaceful and majestic river, in the smiles and warmth of everyone I met over those two days — He spoke to me.
I left Hijo with a much lighter heart, and a head bursting with ideas. In the quiet of my heart, above the clouds, on the plane ride home, I could hear Him say, “All shall be well, my child.” I was ready to dive into life once more.
Special thanks to Kris Porio and Ms. Lani of Hijo Resorts Davao for their excellent service and hospitality. And to Ryan Absin @thegaywanderlust for his photographs.