REVISITING CARAGA CHURCH OF DAVAO ORIENTAL

For another year, I am invited by the LGU of Caraga, Davao Oriental to be one of their guests for the annual celebration of the town’s Founding Anniversary and its Parochial Town Fiesta celebrated every 16th day of July. Caraga is the oldest town in the Province of Davao Oriental.

Situated in the eastcoast of the province, CARAGA is a laid-back town teeming with natural attractions, colorful culture and rich history. Being the easternmost town in the country, it is famous as the Sunrise Capital of the Philippines as the sun shines here first particularly in Pusan Point. The town also takes pride as home of the Mandaya Indigenous People, one of the most interesting and fascinating IP groups of Mindanao where culture and traditions are still intact even to this day.

Another fascinating thing CARAGA is so proud of is the SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO CHURCH, the Parish Church of the town, as it is known as the oldest Church in the whole Davao Region. Long before the arrivals of the Spaniards in the Davao Gulf to conquer what is now Davao City in 1848, Caraga is already established as a town and was part of Caraga Province (referring to CARAGA Region). The town served as a mission station of Spanish Missionaries in propagating Christianity in eastern Mindanao. San Salvador Del Mundo Church is the legacy and heritage they left to Caragenos.

Built on the promontory that overlooks a spectacular view of the great Pacific Ocean, San Salvador Del Mundo Church is mainly made of rubble – irregular pieces of rocks and corals – but the upper portion is built with hardwood. The aged door in the opening bears insignias that symbolize of the Holy Name of Jesus. The construction of this church began in 1877 led by Fr. Pablo Pastells, SJ and Fr. Juan Terricabras, SJ and was completed in 1884.

In 2012 during the town’s Parochial Fiesta, the San Salvador Del Mundo Church was declared a National Historic Site, a distinction given by no less than the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. The declaration was made 128 years after it was built in 1884 – something that every Carageños should be proud of, including me who hails from the same province.

San Salvador Del Mundo Church has survived the tests of changing times and has remained a beacon of Catholic faith in this side of the country.

CHASING THE SUNRISE OF CARAGA

There was once a writer who said that “sunsets are windows to heaven”. And so I keep chasing sunsets. And every time I see a stunning sun setting whether into a sea or a mountain, I would imagine heavens opening their windows down to men. But I forget that there are sunrises too. And so I asked, “what are sunrises for?” My question was finally answered when I went to Caraga in Davao Oriental.

Caraga SunriseMy lovely province of Davao Oriental is coined as the Sunrise Capital of the Philippines as this is the easternmost Province of the country. However, the old town of Caraga in its eastcoast side is the easternmost town and the Pusan Point is the easternmost point of the country. In the dawn of welcoming the new millennium in 2000, the Pusan Point took center stage as it welcomed the Millennium Sunrise being the first point where the sun shines everyday. The event gained the town of Caraga the tagline as home of the Millenium Sunrise.

Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 104To be honest, I always consider myself as a sunset person. I love photographing sunsets. I can even stay for hours on a beach waiting for the striking sun to set. This is because I am never an early riser. I have a hard time waking up in the morning, how much more of waking up at 4 AM and wait for the sun to rise. But my recent visit to Caraga was an exemption. First, I know for a fact that Caraga is where the sun shines first in the country and second, I take pride of it as one of the beautiful towns in our Province of Davao Oriental – these are two enough reasons for me to fight the enticing morning call of the bed, brave the morning chills and patiently wait for the sun to rise.

Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 71Thanks to Bango Beach, staying with them provided me the perfect venue to witness the picture-perfect dawning of the day. The old mangrove trees, the white coastline, the rocky sea bed, the rock formations on the sides and even the red swing swaying from the old branches of mangroves trees – they’re all there too waiting to be bathed by the golden rays of the rising sun.

Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 21
The Daybreak. 4:45 AM.

On our first night in Caraga, I had doubts if I can wake up early on the following day. But Good Lord, at 4:30 AM, I found myself stepping out from our room half-awake going towards the beach. My friends were still in their deep sleep ignoring the loud sound of the alarm clock from the phone. At an instant I could feel cold sea breeze hugging me. It was still dark. The urge of going back to the room and burry myself back in bed was so tempting but I was already there on the beach, barefoot, with my toes kissing the sands of Bango.

Daybreak on my First Morning in Caraga
Daybreak on my First Morning in Caraga

I sat on the sand and prepared my camera hopeful to capture the first sun that shines in the whole country. The horizons from vast waters of the Pacific were partly covered with clouds. I prayed that it would vanish so it won’t hinder the sun from peeping in the Pacific Ocean.

The different orangey rays of the sun that first came out from the horizons
The different orangey rays of the sun that first came out from the horizons

Few minutes of waiting, the heavens were slowly lit. The sky gradually lightened. It was the different orangey rays of the sun that first came out from the horizons. It was so beautiful I lost for words to describe its magnificence. And then I realized that the clouds I prayed to vanish were there for a purpose – it seemed to me that they formed there so that the sun can create the most spectacular ray formation I’ve never seen in the whole life before. It was mind blowing. The scene was like no other. Slowly, I was consumed with full admiration.

The most spectacular ray formation I’ve never seen in the whole life before.
The most spectacular ray formation I’ve never seen in the whole life before.

I remember the many times I cried for seeing so many awe-inspiring sunsets in my life. But never did I cry for sunrises. But at that moment when I saw those startling rays, I couldn’t help myself but wept in astonishment knowing that I was given that opportunity to witness that glorious daybreak.

The rays disappeared and the sun began to shine.
The rays disappeared and the sun began to shine.

It took minutes for the sun to finally come out. I felt like the heavens conspired for me to enjoy that outstanding scene. And when the sun finally came out, the rays disappeared and the sun shone in its brightest. It was very dramatic. The orange turned into gold. I look around and witness how everything bathed in the glorious golden colors of the first sunrise of the day. It was so beautiful I forget I was there already there for more than an hour.

Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 79 Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 83 Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 94 Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 98As the sun rose up, I decided to walk on the beach and allowed the gentle waves to touch my feet. The rough feel of the sands and the cold caress of the seawater were so therapeutic. I looked around and realized I was alone in the beach since I got there. I was the only person who was there to witness such spectacle. And I felt like I owned the world and the world owned me.

The orange turned into gold.
The orange turned into gold.

As I was walking, I asked myself the same question that I often ask when I have the chance to see sunrises: “If sunsets are windows to heaven, then, what are sunrises for?” Now I know the answers. SUNRISES ARE GATES TO HEAVEN.

Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 105 Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 109 Sunrise in Caraga Davao Oriental 111On my third and last day at Caraga, I woke up again at 4:30 in the very dawn. This time I woke up filled with sheer excitement to witness another opening of the “gate to heaven” for that day – the SUNRISE. And I concluded, yes, from now on I will not only chase sunsets. I will also start chasing sunrises just like how I chased the stunning Sunrise of Caraga.

THE PACIFIC SCENT OF BANGO BEACH

 

I was gently swaying my red-painted swing as I stuck my eyes to the vast cobalt seas of the Pacific. The afternoon sea breeze caressed my face. Its relaxing scent soothed my senses. I was listening to the music on my playlist and it seemed to perfectly compliment the scene. I continued swaying and bit by bit I drowned myself the best kind of state I always long to be – the unhurried pleasures of living by the beach.

Caraga, Davao OrientalThis is the kind of state that the pristine beach hideaway in the quiescent town of Caraga, Davao Oriental took me while I was there for a couple of days. This little beach paradise is called Bango Beach which is surprisingly located in the town’s Poblacion.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (174)Bango Beach is nestled in the secluded cove about 5-minute ride from the heart of the town. Although it is part of the Poblacion, the white sand beach is isolated from the town’s commercial area; hence, it is not touristy and does not have any huge commercial establishments at all except of course for the huts, cottages and rooms built by the owners of the property. But the beach has maintained its laid-back charm – the kind of beach destination I always wanted to be at.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (156) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (124) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (122)The property is about 3 hectares and mostly covered by coconuts and other vegetation. The coastal portion of the property is endowed with a 500-meter beachline draped in white sand beach and different rock formations on the sides. Adding to the beauty of the beach are the huge yet gentle waves from the Pacific Ocean kissing its sands and rocks. During high tide, the waters devour the rocky sea bed and signal the perfect time to swim and enjoy the waters of the great Pacific. Honestly, until now I can still smell the ocean breeze scent of Bango Beach.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (164) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (199)Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (208) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (221) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (226)Although the town center lies on the eastern seaboard, most of the coastlines are rocky and not so ideal for swimming unlike Bango Beach which boasts of its lengthy white sand shoreline. Thus, it is considered as the most favorite beach hideout of the Caraguenos especially those who live nearby.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (138) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (140)I was very fortunate to meet one of the owners of Bango Beach who also hosted my whole stay – Mr. Remus Burgos Lumaya. I learned from him that Bango Beach was called such because of certain flower-bearing trees that thrive in the area many years ago. Locals say that the scent of flower possesses a heavenly scent that can be smelled even from afar. Locals then started to call the place Bango Beach because of those sweet-smelling flowers. In one morning, I crazily tried to find that tree hopeful to breathe its scent but to no avail. I swam in the clear crystal waters instead and enjoyed the scent of the Pacific Ocean.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (258) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (259)Staying at Bango Beach is not a problem. Campers are welcome. You can bring your tents and pitch them near the beach. They have cottages and rooms too. Non-AC room is Php 1,500 and that’s good for 6 persons while AC Room is Php 1,500.00 good for 2 persons. Entrance fee is very minimal at Php 10.00 while Php 15.00 for overnight stay. There are no restaurants the beach. Bring your own food, cook it fresh. Do not look for kayaks, scuba rentals or jetski. You cannot find it there. But I tell you Bango Beach will never disappoint you. Frolic in the sands, kill time just swimming, sit on the swing and swing like a kid, content yourself with the tropical magic of the Pacific or grab a book and read it under the old huge mangrove trees, these and more are the best things you can do while in Bango.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (185) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (10) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (11) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (121) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (35) Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (38)In year 2000, the town of Caraga came to fame as the first town in the whole Philippines where the first rays of sunrise of the new millennium was viewed. Caraga is where you can find the easternmost point of the country, the Pusan Point, which can be seen from Bango Beach.

Caraga, Dav Or 2016 (87)During my stay, I braved the cold mornings and the call of the bed to wake at 4:30 in the very dawn and waited for the sun to come out from beautiful horizons of the Pacific Ocean. For two mornings, I was greeted by two spectacular sunrises worthy of waking up in the very dawn. I was never sunrise person but seeing that glorious sunrise before my very eyes give me the reason to start own quest of chasing beautiful sunrises. The two sunrises I captured right in the shores of Bango Beach are among the best things that make my stay in Caraga unforgettable.

Caraga Sunrise 1 Caraga Sunrise 2I have been to Caraga a number of times. I have visited the long coastline of black and grey sand of Barangay San Luis and even bathed at LikSim (Likod sa Simbahan) – two of the other most loved beach spots in Caraga. But when I visited and stayed at Bangao Beach, swam and lounged for hours in its waters and sands, undoubtedly it is the most prized beach spot in this oldest town of Davao Oriental.

For bookings and reservations:

BANGO BEACH RESORT
Poblacion, Caraga, Davao Oriental
Contact Person: Remus B. Lumaya
Contact Number: 0939-912-4305

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Caraga Sunrise 3I would like to thank Mr. Remus Burgos Lumaya for hosting my 2D/2N stay in Caraga and Bango Beach. Thank you Sir for the warm accommodation, good food and great company. To dearest friends Sakina Arnado and Reil Labasano, thank you guys for the patience and for bringing me to stunning places like Bango Beach. To Engr. Jun Dela Rosa, thank you for the vehicles you lent us, very generous of you. Salamatay guys and looking forward to go back to CARAGA because truly, it is CARAGANG KAY GANDA.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH

There are many reasons that make Davao Oriental one of the most interesting provinces to visit in Mindanao. Aside from its famous beaches, majestic waterfalls, verdant mountains and pristine natural wonder, another addition to these fascinating reasons to why discover this province is the San Salvador Del Mundo Church, one of the oldest known stone churches in Mindanao.CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (20)

San Salvador Del Mundo Church is located in the town of Caraga in the eastern coast of Davao Oriental. The town is considered as one of the oldest towns in the province and had once served as mission station of Spanish Missionaries in propagating Christianity in this side of Mindanao. San Salvador Del Mundo Church is the great remnant of that past glory.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (19)I have visited the whole 11 municipalities of the province and have marveled some of its churches but visiting Caraga’s old church was my first. But even back then, I already learned the great significance of Caraga’s San Salvador Del Mundo Church as cradle of Christianity in this eastern part of the Philippines. And so getting there meant getting close to a piece of history in our province.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (7)CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (9)Too far from what I thought, San Salvador Del Mundo Church is a simple old structure built on the promontory that overlooks a spectacular view of the great Pacific Ocean. The façade of church along its sides is mainly made of rubble – irregular pieces of rocks – but the upper portion is built with hardwood. The aged door in the opening bears insignias that symbolize of the Holy Name of Jesus. According to research, San Salvador Del Mundo Church was built in 1884 by the Jesuit Missionaries (Society of Jesus) and played a significant role in spreading Christianity in the eastern side of Mindanao.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (11)Withstanding the tests of time, the church has undergone series of renovations but has generally retained its original structure. I was stunned to see two centuries-old giant seashells still used as stoup (basin for holy water) for churchgoers. I also noticed an old marble baptismal font kept on the side of the main door. I learned this was used during the Spanish time. Some of interesting pieces that can be found inside the church are remnants of 19th century Spanish regime – which now considered antiquities of importance.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (41) CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (43) CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (45)The most stunning feature I dearly admired inside San Salvador Del Mundo Church is the church’s altar. The influence of Spanish colonial altar is still there, something that all modern churches in Davao Oriental do not have. It is similar to those baroque churches in Visayas and Luzon.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCHLast year, in time for the Caraga’s Parochial Fiesta, the San Salvador Del Mundo Church was declared a National Historic Site, a distinction given by no less than the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. The declaration was made 128 years after it was built in 1884 – something that every Carageños should be proud of, including me who hails from the same province.

CARAGA’S SAN SALVADOR DEL MUNDO PARISH CHURCH (25)Today, San Salvador Del Mundo Church has withstood the tests of time and even survived the strongest typhoon to have hit Mindanao. With God’s divine grace, it remains to be a great remnant of a glorious past and a beacon of Catholic faith in this side of the country.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Caraga, Davao Oriental is approximately 5 hours land travel from Davao City and 3 hours away from Mati City, the capital of the province. There are buses and passenger vans that regularly travel to the town plying the Davao-Tagum-Mati road. San Salvador Del Mundo Church on the other hand is located in the heart of the town’s Poblacion. Everybody knows the place.