Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cagayan de Oro, a week before the deluge

“In this season of love and kindness, think Cagayan de Oro”
My last night in Cagayan de Oro City last December 10 was a memorable one – and not only because it was raining furiously.

I arrived in CDO, as it is sometimes called, five days before to fair weather. The friendly cab driver, who took me from Lumbia airport to my hotel, however, said it had been raining intermittently all week. He also complained about the pre-holiday traffic, especially in the part of town where I was bound for – near Gaisano Mall.

I spent the next days talking with entrepreneurs in the city, carefully selected for their innovative ways of doing business. I was doing field research for a book on “Product Strategies of Micro and Small Enterprises” to be published by my office, the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation. A wonderful excuse for visiting Cagayan de Oro again, if you ask me.

I haven’t told you yet Cagayan de Oro is my favorite city in the South, have I? I have been there thrice before and my experience left no doubt its tagline as “The City of Golden Friendship” is not just empty sloganeering to promote tourism. Its people are gentle and genteel, warm and hospitable, and yes … always smiling. When they say “kamusta ka,” they actually wait for you to answer! Most of the people I talked with during that trip would pick me up at my hotel and take me back or, if I was going someplace else, bring me to my next destination. I always came away  with gifts of their products in spite of my lame protests “I don’t want any freebies, just discounts.”

One of my best and most admirable friends is from CDO. Her name is Loreta Rafisura , a handmade paper maker, social entrepreneur, Fair Trade champion, poet and writer I met on my first visit there some 12 years ago. She is a survivor of two episodes of cancer, the reason, I surmise, she is always in a joyful and thankful mode, constantly looking for ways to reach out to the poor, like putting up a library and computer center for them. We call each other kindred spirits, which flatters me no end. Loreta is why a trip to Cagayan de Oro is to me always something devoutly to be wished for. In this last visit, she coordinated all my meetings with other business women -- Vivian Libao, abaca bag maker of Puyo fame;  Esmer Gabutina who has wonderful ways with sinamay; and Litlit Mejia who parlayed her mom's home-based ham making venture into a modern, globally-competitive manufacturing industry-cum-restaurant chain known as SLERS.

There are other reasons I love Cagayan de Oro and nurture the secret wish to retire there someday. It is  climatically well situated, being outside the typhoon belt. The temperature is almost never harsh, but fairly cool, at an average of 28 degrees centigrade.

It is also one of the most progressive cities in Mindanao, with a thriving industry and trade community. Easily the most famous is Cagayan de Oro’s ham-making and meat processing industry, with 40 producers as of last count. No visitor hardly ever leaves Cagayan de Oro without a package or two of jamon de Cagayan, the most popular of which are Oro, Pines, and SLERS brands.

On my third day in the golden city during that recent visit, I took a bus to Iligan City for more interviews and meetings with entrepreneurs. An hour and half’s ride from CDO, Iligan is another beautiful , prosperous and pleasant place – but that is another story. Let me just say that there, again, I was blessed with sunshine plus a gracious host by the name of Danny Capin, a fortunate combination that allowed me, at last, a glimpse at majestic Maria Cristina Falls, which eluded me on my previous visit to Lanao del Norte.
From meeting the grand dame of Iligan, I was driven straight to the bus terminal to go back to Cagayan de Oro, where I would spend a last night before flying back to Manila the following day.

That final evening in CDO was unforgettable – not so much for what happened as for what took place after.
Up to that time, I was having amazingly good luck with the weather. But when it rained, it poured -- torrentially.

From the bus terminal, I took a cab to the Fair Trade store, along Velez Street, where I had deposited the bulk of my luggage for safekeeping. The rain started as I was having a merienda of jamon de cagayan sandwiches with the young ladies manning the store. After shopping there for more items for my Christmas gift-giving, I was ready to go to my new hotel a block away. As the rain didn’t show any sign of relenting, I accepted one of the girls’ offer to accompany me to the hotel with a big umbrella.
I must have been beat – though I didn’t feel it – for as soon as I hit the bed in my hotel room, I fell into deep sleep. It was dark when I woke up and I could hear the rain had slowed down into a drizzle.
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