The Unexpected Pleasures of Staycations

There’s something incredibly rewarding in both the strangeness and familiarity you get as a package in a staycation. I’m not sure how I discovered the concept, but I’ve been doing this for a few years now in Dumaguete — and it has not lost its appeal every single time. It feels like a reward, a necessary change of place to reset without the hassle of travel, and a chance to rediscover your city once more with the oblique perspective of being a tourist in your own place.

For sure, it’s a privilege. Not everyone has access to this chance, to this privilege — and perhaps in a better world we can strive for, all of us can be afforded this pleasurable opportunity to “get away” without exactly going away.

I think it started for me as curiosity for the growing number of hotels and resorts in Dumaguete as well as in adjoining towns. Growing up here in the 1980s and coming to age in the 1990s, I never saw the hotels that were in existence then as areas where a local boy like me was welcome. These places felt like a refuge for the moneyed class, the hub of visiting friends who had cash to spare.

We lived in the Bantayan/Piapi area three times in the course of my family moving houses to rent through the years, and in the early years, my brothers and I, plus some neighborhood friends, would go to Silliman Beach to swim. Once, we had too much fun and barely noticed that the sky was darkening towards evening. I remember that in the dimming daylight, we suddenly saw the lights of South Seas Resort — now The Henry — go up in spectacular sparkle. We heard music, we heard the hubbub of bright conversation. In the darkness of the shore, we spied on the people in the resort, and it looked to me like a completely alien world full of unknown pleasures. I cannot recall what I thought then. Did I respond with awe? Most likely. But I must have felt an inner wish to someday be part of that rarified spectacle — to one day be “someone enough” to stay in a resort or a hotel. It was a strange sort of aspirational wish only a kid could muster.

I don’t think like that anymore — or at least I think I don’t. These days, I go and check in at local hotels to basically “reset.” Everyday living can have its small horrors of overfamiliarity. Being cooped up in one’s apartment can be suffocating. Sometimes one just needs to get away from all that in order to be able to refreshen. And sometimes, this gets compounded by the pressures and responsibilities we need to meet in the name of life and work. When I’ve done my part in meeting those, I long for just rewards: a feast at a good restaurant, or a long massage at a good spa, or a staycation. Dining out and getting the spa treatment are the usual escapes for me — but a staycation is something I do once in a while. That way it becomes somehow special, a rare treat to rejuvenate myself.

On a good queen-size bed with just the right amount of softness, surrounded by fluffy pillows, the air-conditioning steady, the light fixtures brightening the unfamiliar room with just the right amount of bright yellow, I feel most relaxed and excited at the same time. But then again, I’ve always liked hotel rooms. I like traveling for the most part — and settling in our temporary domiciles in strange cities after a long haul is always part of the pleasure.

But a staycation can also be a refuge, not for pleasure, but for work. I find that I cannot really write in the comforts of my own apartment. My own bed is too familiar, too ready, and too near, and I inevitably find myself drawn towards it — so instead of working, I fall asleep instead. Going to a hotel to work solves that because the unfamiliarity gives you a kind of edge. Sure, there’s a comfortable bed within your reach, but knowing that you’re paying for staying here somehow forces you to get right on the work. I know many writers who do this. There’s one playwright I know who goes to a love motel (Victoria Court, if I remember correctly) to write the pieces he needs to submit for competitions like the Palanca. He almost always wins, so these love motels are a significant part of his creative process. I go to hotels to do reports, to crunch grades, to read student papers, to write stories — and when I get hungry, there’s always room service to meet my dietary needs.

On rare occasions, always on weekends or holidays, I just want to feel like a tourist in my own city. Staying in a local hotel completes the illusion I need to take in that touristy vibe. After checking in and resting for a bit, I go out with my old and still trusty point-and-shoot digital camera to explore the neighborhood or street the hotel is on. Of course I’ve seen these Dumaguete neighborhoods and streets a thousand times before, but never with this special scrutiny. I get constantly surprised by what I discover when I look at nooks and crannies for real without the rush of merely passing by them in ordinary days, which blinds us to these things: a wooden house tucked in a small lot with an overgrown garden you’ve always taken for granted before, an old fading mural on a wall you’ve never seen up close, an alley that leads you to the interiors of a block that teems with living you have no idea about. My rule has always been this: stay within the barangay of the hotel throughout the duration of my stay, which includes selecting restaurants in the vicinity when I want to dine out, and going for local sights when I want to go around. The limitation can be fun — and I get to discover new things I would normally not go for.

The pandemic — and the long lockdown — has been an exhausting period for a lot of us. Being cooped up in one’s house or apartment for days on end felt like a strange adventure at first — but I bet, eventually, the grind of familiarity has driven some of us mad. Which is to be expected.

The pool at Rovira Suites

Last November, when things relaxed for a bit in Dumaguete, someone tipped me off that Rovira Suites in Bantayan was offering a weekend staycation promo for locals that included a two-night stay complete with complimentary breakfast, plus a selection of tokens that included a bottle of wine, or snacks good for P500 to be consumed pool-side, or take-out dinner from any restaurant via Food Panda. That was an opportunity I did not want to miss. I’d already stayed at Rovira Suites once before in pre-pandemic days, and loved the well-appointed rooms with their little balconies, the general quiet of Bantayan that embraces the property, and the pool. The exquisite pool was a huge draw. Swimming in it while the evening deepens and the hotel lights give everything a glow is quite an experience. So I took it to get away from the horrors of pandemic days, to pretend everything was all right. I went back again sometime in February 2021 to celebrate an eighth anniversary with the beloved — and as a gift to myself for surviving the harrowing two months preceding that, which led to a kind of breakdown on my part. Staycationing was a way to rejuvenate.

The deluxe room at Dumaguete Royal Suites Inn

A few days ago, I tried out the newly-refurbished Dumaguete Royal Suites Inn, also along L. Rovira Drive in Bantayan. (What is it about Bantayan that calls to me?) This time, it was staycation for work — and the deluxe room we were given by the very friendly staff gave us that space for doing the grind while ensconced in fantastic comfort. The property has been around for so long, and it is only now that it is getting a significant facelift. The renovation shows in the new stylistic choices of bed, fixtures, and bath — and overall, a modern and bright feel for the entire hotel. There is of course the bonus of having one of Dumaguete’s best restaurants just downstairs to give us our fill of a good dinner. We did just that: we ordered the cream of mushroom soup, Hawaiian pork, grilled squid, Yangchow fried rice, and strawberry cheesecake — and did not count the calories.

I’m glad I get to do this once in a while — and it helps to think that we are also supporting the local economy by doing so. The pandemic has taught us that life is too short not to seek escape and pleasure — and if you can find both within your city, and will not break your bank account, I say go for it.

Interpreter of hamsters. Author of Beautiful Accidents: Stories and Heartbreak & Magic: Stories of Fantasy and Horror