Let’s go south.
I’ve heard this line a lot of times before whether I’m in Cebu, Manila, or other parts of Luz-Vis. However, I’ve never really done this in Mindanao mainly because back in my childhood days, Mindanao, especially the areas going further away from Central Visayas, were given an image of “danger” and poor security.
A lot has changed since then. Although the first time I set foot in General Santos my parents were quite scared at first but when Davao’s rising popularity as a safe city finally got to them I successfully convinced my family to visit other parts of Mindanao aside from Davao.
This time the S.O.X. Bloggers, through Kuya Avel’s leadership, took this whole thing a whole lot further by bringing us all the way to the edge of the Philippines. I could actually say I have been to the BUTT of the Philippine Map. (Go see the map and search for Isla Jardin Delmar Resort to see why I said this)
Before I begin, I’m going to warn you THIS is a long post. If you want to see the summary itinerary go down to the bottom of this post.
S.E.X. Tour 2016
Running for already a few years, the Soccsksargen Experience Tour (bless your filthy minds) aims to share the beauty of the south-central side of Mindanao through food, tourism, culture and camaraderie. I signed up for this because even if I’ve been to Mindanao a couple of times (twice for South Cotobato and General Santos) I never really felt like I’ve seen much of it. Lake Sebu was pretty much the only I got to immerse myself with and I knew there was much more to see.
For this year’s tour Kuya Avel decided to make it more interesting for the group by launching some sort of Social Media amazing race where we had to contribute to user-generated content for each of the venue we were visiting. We were also encouraged to do Facebook live videos so as to really share our experience. I guess it’s safe to say my competitive soul got me making Facebook live videos for the very first time!
Armed with my cameras, a curious soul, and minimal knowledge about this part of the Philippines, I headed off to a road trip that I would never forget.
Day 1 – Let’s Start with Gensan
To get to this part of the Philippines from wherever part of the Visayas or Mindanao you are, take a flight to General Santos International Airport. From Metro Manila it’ll take you around 2 hours but from Cebu just an hour less.
The bloggers from Manila arrived just half an hour after we (Sinjin and I) from Cebu arrived. Being near to the equator, you have to be prepared for a very hot weather in the city compared to the more northern parts of the country. When you see General Santos City you can’t help but have an impression of a city that is just brimming with potential. The vast plains and undeveloped flat areas just seem to stretch on and on! Just like my first visit, I also chanced upon a mobile transportation of a Bahay kubo along the highway. I’m definitely in Gensan!
You will also notice that the highways and the roads in Gensan are nice and wide which is definitely something I appreciate in the developing cities in the archipelago. With proper road planning like this they won’t fall into a traffic mishap like Cebu (will write about this soon).
Lunch at a Halal Certified Restaurant: Tambilawan Kamayan
To mark the beginning of the #SEXtour4bloggers2016 we had our lunch at Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant which served the most delicious Bitangkol Soup and Nilagnap Soup! Both soups are chicken broth soups with the Bitangkol Soup made of coconut milk (this one is on my favorite list for this round) and the Nilagnap being a soup made after roasting the chicken. Our lunch concluded with a buko halo halo. I learned that this was apparently something usually served in a lot of Filipino restaurants in Gensan.
First Night Stay at 3G Garden Hotel
Our first night accommodation was sponsored by 3G Hotel, a nice and cozy hotel isolated from the city proper with no noise or disturbance from the hustle and bustle of city life. Contrary to its name, our cellphone signals still got to reach 4G and LTE in the rooms and in the hotel.
Taste of the Town Center: Plaza Heneral
In order to feel the festivities of the Tuna Festival season, we were brought to Plaza Heneral as well as to see more of the town than just the confines of our hotel. The Plaza Heneral had two statues of prominent historical figures: Jose Rizal, our national hero, and General Paulino Santos, the namesake of the city and the founder of the city. Trivia: the locals are called “Heneral”.
Most interesting to me was the obvious discipline that the locals have with their public places. The Plaza was filled with lots of plants and areas of grass. NOBODY (except for us outsiders who initially had no clue) stepped into the grassy area. Everyone used the assigned steps available and no trash or bits of trash were seen anywhere as well. Davao may be clean and orderly but I can see Gensan is getting up on its game as well.
Just in time for the Tuna Festival activities, there was a parade of floats that went by the plaza while the sun was setting. Back in Cebu, the contingents celebrating the sea or sea creatures always had the most colorful costumes and displays.
Nightlife Choice: Gensan Highstreet
When a city gets more and more developed it tends to follow the footsteps of Metropolitan cities across the globe or in this case, our own country. The Gensan Highstreet feels very much like what Cebu has: the City Time Square.
Though it is small and still quite new, it has several choices of food such as your budget fastfood-ish meals, boutique café desserts and drinks, a superclub: Wave Superclub, a KTV bar: Music Play, and their must-try PBA Sports Cafe
Dining at a Sports Café
Dinner was sponsored by PBA Sports Café and although I was expecting the usual ribs and chicken wings which most American-inspired sports cafes serve, this one surprised me by serving a good number of local dishes including Tuna belly, sinuglaw, what looked like a pork liempo with bicol express and a Tuna salad that left a lingering taste of goodness in my mouth.
Even with all the food that was already being set in front of us, the restaurant continue to overload us some more with their Paella Valenciana and Paella Negra (I LOVE Paella!) I just had to decline another serving because their serving sizes were huge!
Themed Rooms at Music Play KTV
Accoustic nights are usually played during weeknights in the sports café but we decided to satisfy our need for Karaoke at Gensan Highstreet’s Karaoke bar: Music Play KTV.
With more and more KTV bars mushrooming all over the country, this particular one in Gensan took a more unique turn by decorating and naming each room based on a particular musical artist. There was Madonna, Taylor Swift, Elvis Presley, One Direction (the room we were in), and even Bruno Mars. Much to our surprise we were delightfully entertained by one last song by the owner himself, Lynton, before we called it a night.
Day 2 – From Fish Port to Sarangani Bay
Being the Tuna Capital of the Philippines it was only right that we were to check out the fish port. NOTE: Wear closed shoes and pants if you visit the fish port. You CANNOT enter if you don’t follow this protocol. We got to see the largest catch of the day and this was my first time to see a whole Tuna, uncut and fresh from the sea, being laid out in front of me.
Truth be told I also felt kinda sad. As a freediver, I really wished to see this creature in the wild. I understand where livelihood is important but seeing this fish give life to hundreds and thousands of Mindanaoans, it only reminds us to strive harder to protect the seas and our marine life. NO TO OVERFISHING
Road trip to Sarangani Bay
This is the part where this trip truly becomes a road trip as we head off to the “butt” of the Philippine Map: Sarangani Bay! I was quite silent the whole time but deep inside there was excitement building up because this was going to be my first time see Sarangani Bay, a HUGE bay that opened up to the Celebes Sea.
Okay let me just emphasize what this means to me. My childhood had parts of the Celebes Sea mentioned in the text book. All I ever got to experience about this huge body of water was that it was written in the text book and even as I grew up I never got to read up much about it. Much as well with Sarangani Bay I only got to see this name in the labels of the jars of fish we have at home. NO W I’m finally here and I’m finally seeing it!
Viewing Sarangani Bay
Our lunch was taken care of by Belmar EcoPark and Resort which provided a nice view of the bay! While you’re enjoying their Tinubuok Manok soup or their Buko Halo-halo (see I told you they love this) you get a nice clean view facing the sea. Here’s a tip, if you’re just there for the restaurant and not staying for the night, try to go down to check out the mangrove forest. There’s a wrecked boat there which makes for a good photo shoot.
In order to get a taste of nature and a different view of the bay we proceeded to the Mangrove Central Nursery of Glan, Sarangani.
The Mangrove Forest’s bamboo walk-through was a good four-minute walk to get to the edge of the forest which had a viewing deck that faced the sea. Just beyond the horizon was the Celebes Sea and you can already feel the excitement of Ace who couldn’t hold her excitement. The CIVICS textbook topic was finally a reality to us!
An Oasis along the Highway: Carlito
You’d think that after that heavy lunch at Belmar Ecopark we would still be too full to have another meal but no, this little cafe surprised us with some very sweet treats in the middle of, what a city boy like me would call: nowhere! Joey calls it an oasis.
Chill place with board games, books, and hipster food, Carlito is perfect for someone who decided to go a little modern with choices of snacks and drinks. There were frappes, deep fried oreos (Dear cebu, why you no haz this!?) and corn dogs. Yes, in this far far south part of the Philippines we have corn dogs.
The Cebuano Side of Glan
There is a barangay in Glan, Gumasa, that was actually full of locals of Cebuano heritage. This was particularly noticeable when they served us Puto Maya, a sticky rice dish originating from Cebu and best served with hot Tsokolate.
Eating non-stop. THIS is how you do a road trip, and to think it’s only Day 2.
Chasing Sunsets at Isla Jardin Del Mar
“Dali dali! Di na nato maabtan ang sunset!” – Kuya Avel
(Quickly quickly! We won’t reach the sunset anymore!)
We had to rush to Isla Jardin Del Mar Resort which was our host for our second evening. Sadly we were not able to catch the sunset anymore and shades of purple and orange filled the sky to tell us that our major star has crossed the horizons.
Even then, it was amazing to see such a scenic view of the sea and then sky that seems to stretch further and further with no signs of touching land.
SMART Dinner at the Resort
Okay here’s a small section of my road trip experience where I have to thank Smart for that delicious Tuna dinner in the resort. We had Tuna sashimi which was so delicious and smooth that even if you had no wasabi or soy sauce you could already enjoy it! It felt like the Tuna melted in my mouth.
I can’t also fail to mention that unforgettable Tuna Panga (jaw) that was grilled perfectly and when I took one bite I knew I have never tasted Tuna Panga like this ever in my life. Even writing about it now makes me salivate. The taste of tuna that doesn’t have a “pungent” taste or anything unpleasant, the tenderness of the meat as it breaks down in your mouth; you’d wish that feeling would last forever.
The group a nice round of beer thanks to SMART before we all went back to our rooms to sleep early. Sunrise call-time was mandatory so shut-eye was required.
Day 3 – A Glan-morous Sunrise and Back to Gensan
True to the 5 am call-time, Kuya Avel leads the group to the Sunrise boulevard where we were to catch the rising of the sun. The Philippines is gifted with several islands, being an Archipelago, so we resorts having both a sunset AND a sunrise view is not in fact too rare.
With much determination Kuya Avel presses on for the group to continue walking through the rocks at the edge of the beach. A sign that said “DANGER: Keep off! Landslide!” hung above the pathway. Kuya Avel takes a quick glance, adjusted his eyeglasses and then shoves away the sign.
Getting up in the morning was quite an effort because we were only having so little time for sleep but the effort was quite worth it because the morning greeted us with view that had a combination of a perfect Chinese painting: mountains, sun, and sea.
As if the scene wasn’t enough we were surrounded with clear waters teeming with marine life! My two-month sea-drought would’ve been ended right then and there if I only had a dive buddy.
NEVER DIVE ALONE.
Breakfast Before Byahe
Judge a resort by its breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day right? I mean, its like the meal before the grand road trip continues. So how did Isla Jardin Del Mar Resort fare? Pretty good actually.
They have all the basic breakfast food if you’re looking for the usual rice egg and ulam (viand) combination. They also had pancakes and French toast (this one was a winner) if you’re into that sort of thing.
Back to the City Proper
Like a lot of beach resorts in the Philippines there was a water problem (fresh water was not available in between 10pm to 10am during that time). So with some of the group nicely imbibed with the essence of the sea, the great barkada road trip van drove off to the city.
To get us closer to the activities and festivities, Anchor Hotel was our host. This cute maritime-themed business hotel had a nice cozy interior and although remnants of its original old structure and designs were existent, there hints of renovation to a fresh look most especially in their lobby. This business hotel is quite close to most important locations so it’s a choice hotel for travelling businessmen or solo travellers who want to get a glimpse of Gensan.
“Hao Chi de好吃的” Hao Chuan
Finally, some Chinese food. I’ve been craving for some Chinese dishes since this is a very important cuisine in my usual food trips. What surprised me though was how different or unique the food turned out to be. Hao Chuan is a modern Chinese restaurant located in SM City Gensan.
If you’re looking for some classical chinese food this isn’t your restaurant of choice. Hao Chuan, by Charl Angderson, is actually a modern Chinese restaurant that works on the fusion of Filipino favourite tastes with Chinese cooking.
Highlights of the meal had to be the Spring rolls and yes, the Wicked Oreos (again Cebu why you no haz this!?) I almost wish I could’ve brought this with me while we were to continue our road trip.
Malling as part of Road trip
Malls are an important part of Pinoy society. You will see that this is made obvious by the massive malls you can find all over the Philippines and is almost always full of people. One of the most popular mall brands in our country is SM.
So what better way to continue this Barkada Road Trip down south with a trip to the… mall?
SM Gensan gave us a nice tour of their department store with a rather detailed explanation as to how they do their set-up and their sale. They even described all their services including their gift registry. I felt more learned after that department store tour. I daresay it was the first time in my life to have a tour…. in a department store. (Yes, complete with a tour guide, and a sequence of “sights” to visit)
Seriously though, thank you SM because it’s always nice to learn something new.
Final Snacks at Fonti’s
And just like the past few days you cannot go to dinner without at least having a snack stop before dinner, because you know, food. Fonti’s just filled it in for us with their delicious moist chocolate cake and their grilled native chicken. (we call this bisaya na manok back in our town)
How good was their cake? Note: I don’t like moist Chocolate cake in general.
I ate it.
Sugbahan sa Dalan 2016
The people of General Santos wanted to continue evolving the Tuna Festival so only recently did the local government organise a gathering for the festivities which involved a series of grilling (Sugbahan) along a street (Dalan) reserved for the evening’s grilling activities.
Always the curious and hyper person that I am, I decided to initiate the actual preparation of the grill along with two other SOX bloggers (Ralph and ). Proud to say that we got the coal lighted up and the fish grilled even if the resources present were quite limited.
Sugbahan sa Dalan, I’m scratching you off my list of travel tasks. I successfully grilled fish along the streets of Gensan!
To go with the musical performances on stage there were also Poi or fire dancers that entertained the crowd. How fitting! Grills, fire, and dancing.
I’ve seen several fire dances before but they added a few elements which I find interesting. One thing, the main dancer: Jay, swallowed the flames right after. Bravo! Then in the final sparkly finish, they didn’t just use the sparklers like most finales do, they used fireworks! It was a display that looked dangerous and grand! Thankfully no one was hurt so I guess it was pretty safe (I was only 20 feet away from the dancer).
When I was in Gensan a few years back the only nightlife I knew then was a small karaoke-carenderia which served us our healthy dose of Tanduay 45 and Coca Cola. Fast forward to today and we’re greeted with the hottest new superclub in town (and I think the ONLY one in town): Wave Superclub! They’re known to bring celebrity DJs and is the only place where you can have your fix of a superclub nightlife, the closest you can get to what’s currently happening in Manila or Cebu. For that evening we had Ashley Rivera grace the stage with her music and her dances. By the time we got there, if I can remember anything in that night, I believe she was dancing on the DJ’s table.
Just like any good night out we ended the evening by having our quick hydration stop at a nearby convenience store. Once again the discipline instilled in Gensan was obvious when I observed the cashier insist to a customer that the Liquor ban (it was 12am + that time) was in effect and that alcoholic beverages were no longer allowed to be sold over the counter. The customer, though obviously bummed, did not argue and out he went. Good job mga Heneral!
Day 4 – Koronodal City and Lake Sebu
Again we’re leaving the city for another road trip to a different city, one I haven’t been to: Koronodal City! We did a quick drop by here in Koronodal City’s FB Hotel (no, not Facebook hotel).
After we left our stuff we were once again off to a rather familiar place to me: Lake Sebu! This lake and its people always have a special place in my heart for several reasons. There are so many things I want to share about the T’boli tribe, their culture and the beautiful land which they call their home. For that reason alone I will spare you details and put it up in another post.
But just a summary of that Lake tour, a briefing was given by a T’boli local working at the tourism office, awe had lunch at the Punta Isla Lunch Lake Cruise, checked out the surreal weaving dreamweavers at their COWHED (Cooperative of Women in Health Development) HQ which was like a traditional house of theirs, and concluded the day with fried frogs legs and Durian shakes at Gardens by the Lake.
If it weren’t raining heavily that time we would’ve had the chance to do the zipline as well. TIP: check the weather before scheduling a zipline trip or your adventure cravings will be dampened
Dinner was hosted by the Cinco Niñas, a restaurant owned and managed by literally Cinco Niñas (five little girls) Unfortunately I only got to see two of the petite five. But don’t let their size fool you. These woman are full of energy and excitement as they happily shared the history of their family’s business. We even got to tour their huge waterpark: Paraiso Verde. They couldn’t help but also show off their huge wave pool which they turned on just so I could see some waves even if the waterpark was already closed. On a side note if you get to visit Koronodal City within the next few months they are opening their Paraiso Verde Hotel, a business hotel just next to their waterpark. We got a glimpse of it and I have to say it’s pretty cool and convenient. Fronting the hotel is a huge bonsai display, no pictures for now because it was already dark when we got there.
There was much to say about the food prepared on the table but highlights are definitely the garlic Crab (I mean you just can’t go wrong with Crab) and the Yema cakes! That night I just gave in and stopped counting the food on my plate. I just gave in. Last night na eh.
The Niñas definitely knew how to host a dinner by insisting we had a round of their Beer Below zero, and mind you it WAS beer below zero. Cold beer after a Filipino dinner, this is the life!
Last Night, Last Chill
Like every good barkada road trip, it has to end. Sadly, for me it was to end earlier than the rest of the group because work beckoned. I had to go home.
To end the whole road trip, the entire gang chilled at the indoor pool of FB Hotel. It wasn’t much for a pool but it was nice and perfect for a chill dip and chat kind of pool. They even had a cute little waterfall where you can wash your trip’s weariness away.
Day 5 – Going Home
FB Hotel’s buffet breakfast filled us up real good before Kuya Avel announced the winner of the #SmartBrokada contest: ME. Hahaha, sorry, and THAT is why my facebook friends suffered 4 days of constant facebook live videos, because I had to win a contest for a prize (which I had no idea was).
Check-out, final pack-up, and the gang was on the go.
I didn’t want to get emotional about it but I felt happy and sad. Happy because I discovered so many new things about the Southern Edge of the Philippines and sad because I have to leave the people I have grown to appreciate and enjoy.
The van made a stop at the public station at Polomolok. I tried not to look at the gaze of my fellow bloggers who were still off to finish the last part of the trip. I took the van going to Sinawal. Gensan still continued to surprise me with hospitality as the driver and the other passengers in the v-hire enthusiastically suggested how I can go to the airport. When I got off at Sinawal, just in front of a motorcyle waiting station, the habal-habal driver quickly offered a flat-rate of 150php from Sinawal to Airport.
With the wind blowing my face, the sun touching my skin and the same open fields greeting me one last time just like they did on my first day here, I made a half-hearted farewell Facebook live video.
“Magandang umaga! Magandang Gensan!”
Soccsksargen, I can’t wait to show everyone that MINDANAO is safe, beautiful, and brimming with possibilities.
– The Crazy Juann
General Santos City
Lunch at Tambilawan Kamayan
Coffee at Coffee Lover, Gensan Highstreet
Dinner at PBA Sports Café
Karaoke at Music Play KTV
Fishport, Tuna Weighing
Lunch at Belmar Ecopark and Resort, Sarangani
Mangrove Forest tour at Glan, Sarangani
Snacks and Chill at Carlito
Cebuano treats at King James Hotel
Check-in at Isla Jardin Del Mar Resort
Dinner at the Resort (TUNA Panga!!)
Sunrise at Sunrise Blvd (Isla Jardin Del Mar Resort)
Head back to Gensan
Check-in at Anchor Hotel
Lunch at Hao Chuan, SM City Gensan
Malling at SM City Gensan
Snacks at Fonti’s
Dinner at Sugbahan sa Dalan 2016
Night out at Gensan Highstreet, Wave Superclub
Check-out, head off to Koronodal City
Check-in at FB Hotel
Lake Sebu Tour, Lunch Cruise
Quick Visit at COWHED HQ
Snack stop at Gardens by the Lake
Quick tour at Paraiso Verde Resort (and future hotel)
Dinner at Cinco Niñas
Breakfast at FB Hotel
Check-out of hotel