WATCHING pigeons in the plaza of Valencia puts me in mind of waves purling froth and crashing and withdrawing from the shore, endlessly.
On the second to the last day of last year, we ended up in Valencia, seeking “tinowa (fish stew)” for breakfast. The municipality is only about nine kilometers west of Dumaguete City but these two Negrense communities are distinct enough to seem like siblings raised by different guardians.
Coastal and central in the traffic between Cebu, Negros Island and Siquijor, Dumaguete has over the years become quite a hub. In the 1980s, Dumaguete was a laidback soul that dutifully stirred itself up and clocked in during the week, slowed down on Saturday and closed shop for family and worship on Sundays and holidays.
As a transient, I learned to stock up on food to tide me over weekends, Lent and New Year. When the air of desertion hovering over silent streets made me oddly miss the infernal buzzing of tricycles, Dumaguete seemed to urge me back to Cebu as I had no Negrense hearth to go home to.
These days, everyone is welcome to Dumaguete. At 8 a.m. on a weekday that happened to be the first day of the year, baristas were already taking special instructions for personally designed coffee and bars were serving hangover miracle brews.
So when my Negrense friend Y. suggested exploring Valencia market for tinowa, I assented even though the town is ensconced in a crucial watershed area, with the twin peaks of Mt. Talinis, the “Huernos de Negros (Horns of Negros),” overlooking the Hispanic-influenced cluster of town center, church, “agora (market)” and plaza.
Given its centrality, Dumaguete may have better fish catch. In Valencia, we missed the fish (an entire cauldron snapped up by Rizal Day attendees) but landed a carinderia owner who retired as a teacher to take up storytelling as new calling.
Weaving her family’s recipe for the classic Visayan dish of braised pork “humba” with tourist foibles at the local Casaroro Falls, her family’s blessings from the town patron Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken) and Valencia’s flirtations with tourists drawn to her waterfalls, hot springs and crater lakes, this local historian reminded me of a time when conversations with locals regularly seasoned meals taken in an earlier Dumaguete.
We ate homemade ice cream at P10 for two scoops before a flock of pigeons that rose and settled and crested again like foam-flecked waves on the plaza grounds. I have seen the remains of giant clams unearthed near mountain peaks. That primeval seas covered the earth at these elevations are mutely attested to by these shells. In Valencia, I have seen the Dumaguete I knew.