By Ramon Jorge Sarabosing
“If you ask me, what grade-from 1 to 10- would I give my hosts, I would give 8,” a middle-age lady balikbayan from the United States told me over a cup of coffee in a cafe of a new hotel beside the city library.
The lady is an alumna of Father Saturnino Urios University decades ago and actively participated in their alumni gatherings and other events hosted by the city government through the city tourism office.
“We enjoyed them thoroughly,” she declared. ” I don’t regularly come home but it’s a pleasure to be here especially on fiestas.”
She, however , declined to have her name divulged.
Three of her co-balikbayan barkada (gang) from Europe and the US who came to join us, declared the same thing.
“Ay! I’ll keep coming home, every two years at least now. We’re treated special, so endearing!” lady balikbayan number two said.
When I asked her to mention her name in this story, she replied, “Never mind, just named me a contented Balikbayan.”
The two other ladies said the same thing: to keep their names a secret. They said they cherished the reunions and the city and regional tours availed to them, “with no pay, which is amazing!” they chorused.
They said it was touching to be warmly welcome by the community.
“The tourism people were charming and did their job well. We were brought to the city’s exciting destinations. We never thought they exist and it’s something to be proud of,” my first lady date said.
They visited private farms and gardens including the Taguibo dam which is the city’s water source. “Oh, so interesting! a tour worth it. Butuan has really progressed, not only commercially but in terms of lifestyles and pursuits,” confirmed lady date 3.
Beyond Butuan and towards the region’s natural wonders, they hopped to Britania group of islets and beaches and Tinuy-an falls in Surigao del Sur.
There was also the Turtle Island in Barobo that captured their imagination (after reading it in Bai Magazine, a local people, travel and environment magazine).
“Those destinations are world-class, I swear,” lady date four said.
On the other hand, history and culture when rediscovered, according to lady date 2, “made my skin crawl.”
She said it was fascinating to be reminded of Butuan’s glorious past. “Call me OA or over the top but the visit to the Balangay shrine and museum, the Bood promontory and the Shell Midden were unmatched, and where can you find a homecoming visit so varied and surprising.”
Out of curiosity , I asked them if anything they feel they missed. They shook their heads.
“The food was heaven,” quipped lady date 2, “but hey! we missed real ethnic-inspired dancing! We thought, we see them at the Balikbayan night but there was none. I hope next year we get a doze of them.”
We raised our cups and proclaimed, “cheers on that!”