Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kozy Time in Koronadal City

Want to be in a kozy place because you have some extra time on your hands? Then hit the road until you reach 6.4974° N, 124.8472° E. And where in the world exactly is that? Where else but the City of Koronadal (that's the official name), the fast-growing urban center in South Central Mindanao! 

Gateway leading to the poblacion

Mind you, the triangular-shaped city has several interesting attractions that can help you burn your boredom to the max. In recent years, this bustling capital of South Cotabato has come into its own identity as a progressive and peaceful city—a gateway to wonderful experiences that make it a fascinating destination. Take it from me, I recently made it to the city—for the nth time!—and whenever I’m there, I always have a blast!

Kozy? Yes, it’s kozy, not just cozy. People, events or places are said to be kozy when they evoke feelings of warmth, acceptance, friendliness, good humor, coolness, etc. I can’t think of a more suitable word to best describe the place and the positive vibes we felt when I, along with some coworkers, spent time in Koronadal to attend the island-wide sports competition among water utilities a few days ago. I bet you’d find it kozy, too, the moment you step into the bustling capital of South Cotabato.

Interesting tales often surround the names of many cities in the Philippines. Koronadal is no exception. Before the arrival of the early Christian migrants, B’laan and Maguindanaoan tribes used to populate the place now known as Koronadal. What is considered to be the poblacion today was once called Marbel, whose name was derived from the B’laan words, malb-el, meaning “muddy water”, perhaps in reference to what is now known as Marbel River.

Time was when I’d associate the city’s name to the Latin word “corona” or crown. Its appellation, however, resulted from the fusion of two B’laan words, koron (cogon grass) and nadal (plain). Roughly translated, Koronadal is a “plain of cogon grass.” Perhaps banking on the crowning glory of the city’s name, its drumbeaters, however, seem to be promoting it not as some grassy field but as the “Crown City of South Central Mindanao”.

Alunan Avenue: one of Koronadal's main thoroughfares

I guess they’re on the right track as Koronadal is fast emerging as the “center of power and governance in the entire SOCCKSARGEN Region, the conglomeration of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City.  As the region’s new administrative hub, the city is the center of social, economic, and political activities in the province.

Strategically located in the heart of Central Mindanao, Koronadal lies in the intersection of two major road networks: the Pan Philippine Friendship Highway and the Koronadal-Banga-Isulan Road, which connect the city to other destinations in SOCCSKSARGEN and the rest of Mindanao. Less than an hour’s drive from General Santos City, Koronadal serves as the crucial economic crossroad not only for the province but for the region and the whole island as well.

Moby Wave PoolParaiso Verde's most sought-after aqua attraction

Hiligaynon, the language of the Ilonggos, is widely spoken in the city. But the people also converse and write well in Cebuano, Ilocano and Tagalog. Years ago, I used to frequent Koronadal, either to do some research work or assist in the conduct of workshops for local government units. Good thing, I can understand Hiligaynon, hence, it wasn’t that  difficult to interact with the locals. 

Made up of twenty-seven barangays (villages), the city occupies the northwestern part of the province. Koronadal, however, is relatively small (in terms of population size) compared to the other regional hubs in Mindanao—just a little over 174,942 people called it home in 2015; with average annual population growth rate at 1.93%. Even so, it has grown in popularity since it became the administrative center of SOCCSKSARGEN in 2000 by virtue of Republic Act 8803 and hosted the Palarong Pambansa (National Games) in 2007.

Round Ball: Koronadal's most popular rotunda

Koronadal sizzles with an interesting fusion of urban chaos and rural charm. Although a huge part of it is still predominantly rustic, its poblacion, which most people still call by its old name, Marbel, has been experiencing urbanization recently, spawned by the spate of commercial, agri-industrial and residential developments taking place all over the city.  

In this most recent sojourn, I noticed that traffic along the rotunda, which the locals affectionately call “Round Ball”, has become much heavier than the last time I went there. Surely, there were more cars, trucks, buses and vans going to and fro the regional center these days. If this could be considered an indicator of progress, then, by all means, Koronadal is one of the island’s highly progressive cities!

Bed numbers are on the rise in Koronadal

From what I’ve seen, tourism has taken off and the number of accommodations is on the rise obviously in a bid to keep up with the influx of transients and tourists. Revisited after quite some time, the city impressed me with the stunning metamorphosis of its landscape. New hotels have risen, including FB Hotel and Convention Center and The Farm@Carpenter Hill.

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Koronadal also prides itself with a new tourist attraction that would surely give swim fans and sun worshippers the thrill and fun they crave for especially during summer—Paraiso Verde Resort and Water Park. The world-class resort, which made a big splash when it opened a few years ago, offers several aqua-based attractions, most popular of which is the Moby Wave Pool.

Paraiso Verde has open cabanas, airconditioned cabins, a food court, a 300 person-capacity pavilion, a café, a souvenir shop and a lush garden, among others. A few months ago, the resort has opened its own plush 40-room hotel! We stayed there for a few days and really enjoyed the experience to the hilt! 

But it’s the awesome wave pool that really impressed me the most. At first, it looked like an ordinary pool with a gradual slope just like a beach, until the waves started coming. It’s one of the most exhilarating aqua adventure parks I’ve seen in those parts. Now that’s something that would surely make you find Koronadal kozy when you’re in town!

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Paraiso Verde's spacious hotel lobby 

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Moby Wave Pool

Truly, Koronadal has so much to offer these days that can really make the world-weary see it as kozy and comfy. Mall rats, for instance, won’t get bored as they have a new shopping complex, Gaisano Grand Mall to explore. Also, the old KCC Mall has undergone a major face-lift, perhaps in a bid to keep up with the competition. 

For foodies, Cinco Niñas is a must-try. For me and my colleagues, it was a delight eating there. Although plain in decor, the service was nice and yes, kozy! The eats were awesome in that old town fashion and had us wishing our tummies had room for more.

Several other diners and restaurants offering their own specialties are found all over the city (Mesa Filipino Moderne, Kuya J, Razon’s, Tambilawan Native Halal, Nadie’s Chicken, Francheska Grill, Sa Balay Bistro, Apareja, Mi’Grande, among others) but the roadside resto was truly a tasty surprise, serving up a hearty lunch that warmed not only our hearts but our souls as well. After our meal at Cinco Niñas, we felt jolly and roly-poly 'til sundown!

If you're fond of first-rate meat products, then a visit to Aloot Meatshop is a must. It’s reputed to be the major producer of the best-tasting tapa (dried or cured beef) in the whole province! You're either a sadist or a saint if you can walk out of there without buying one of their products such corned beef, chorizo (pork sausage), embutido (local meatloaf), and of course, the famous tapa).

South Cotabato Sports Complex: venue of the 2007 Palarong Pambansa

All sojourns have their letdowns. If there’s something I’d consider as one, that would be the current state of the South Cotabato Sports Complex. I was there for several days and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it what it has become. The facility needs a major upgrade if only to make it a more competitive and attractive venue for big events in Mindanao in the future. With Koronadal playing a larger role in both the local and national scenes, I guess the local government should make it one of the city's priorities, if only to restore the complex to its former glory.

From a mere plain of cogon grass to a bustling regional center, Koronadal has truly come of age. Although I’ve been there on a number of occasions, I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this wonderful city. So much more to discover, yet so little time on my hands. If time and resources permit, it will surely be one of the places I’d like to revisit. Who knows, I might be back in Koronadal sooner than expected! 😃

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bolting out to Bolinao (Part 2)

Adventurer-novelist-poet Jack Kerouac, known for his book On the Road, nailed with this quote what I believe is the perfect mantra for weekend warriors who can only afford to engage in epic weekend adventures: “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” 

Bolinao Falls 1

So what? You might ask. Indulge me. I’m an avid fan of this quintessential iconoclast who’s behind several literary masterpieces regarded as classics of the genre. I’m a bum at heart who loves to hit the road on weekends, making spontaneous sojourns to discover something odd and novel in destinations little known or unheard of, if only to delight my creative senses.

Lazing around Bolinao's Balingasay River

That’s why this sequel to my first post on Bolinao has to have something Kerouac-ish in it. Writing this, it felt like I’ve taken on an iconoclastic stance during my solo sojourn to the resort town given that it happened during Lent, supposedly a time for self-abnegation from cravings that are carnal and mundane—that includes the itch to gad about! 

Call this sojourn then as a sweet temptation as far as this adventure junkie is concerned; a diversion that made me depart from my original plan of doing the rounds of Metro Manila’s old churches for my visita iglesia. It was difficult to ignore the call of the nature that is Bolinao. Like a seductress, once you know her, you can’t get her out of your system!

The centuries-old Bolinao Church

Good thing, I still managed to keep some of my spiritual obligations even as I indulged in my secular explorations in the remote hideaway in Pangasinan whose fabulous sunsets and fantastic attractions were featured in numerous blogs, magazines, TV shows and even films. 

To get around Bolinao, I hired tricycle drivers (mind you, they charged me modest rates for whole day tours!) who took me around the alluring attractions in the resort town during my 4D/3N vacay. So here are some more of the “treasures of Bolinao” which I explored to the hilt.

Bolinao is blessed with numerous falls

Bolinao Falls 1 and 2

If there’s one thing I least expect to find in the resort town, that would be a waterfall. Most cascades I know can be found only in islands (e.g. Katibawasan in Camiguin) and on mountainous terrains (e.g. Seven Falls of Lake Sebu) where waters are expected to drop into streams, lakes and rivers. The town is far from being like that; the surrounding areas are mostly flat and are generally composed of farmlands. 

To my surprise, Bolinao is not only has one but several waterfalls! Three of the most popular are eponymously named after the town (and numbered in accordance to their distance, if I’m not mistaken). So far, I only managed to take a peek at two of the three known waterfalls. Again, I hired a tricycle for Php1,000 (roundtrip) to take me to those falls and back to Punta Riviera.

Found in the village of Samang Norte, Bolinao Falls 1 is at least 20 kilometers away from the town proper and takes between 30-45 minutes to reach, depending on your ride. The road going to the falls is mostly unpaved, dusty and quite stony, with so few paved stretches. Good thing, I brought along a towel to cover my face; otherwise, I could have been coated with dust by the end of the ride!

The first falls can be reached through a short hike—less than five minutes—from a clearing which also doubles as a parking area for vehicles. Visitors need to descend through an old stone stairway. On the way down, you’ll be greeted by the noisy murmuring of Bolinao Falls. 

There was nothing spectacular about the falls that time. The drop was rather moderate since it’s summer. There was hardly any current in the wide basin below it. The water in the natural pool is shallow at first but gets deep quickly as you start heading towards the middle. Still, there were a lot of swimmers enjoying the cool waters.

Too bad, the place was teeming with people when I came. All the makeshift cottages were crawling with tourists! I didn’t linger for all I wanted was take a few shots of the falls.  Quickly, I took out my Nikon and began capturing the natural beauty of Bolinao Falls 1. What caught my fancy were the intrepid young people, mostly in their teens, who dared to jump from the top of the 20-foot cascades—such daredevils!

From the first falls, the driver took me to the second one, which is located several meters away. To get to the falls, you’d have to go down a flight of makeshift stairs made from dirt and bamboo poles. Good thing, it was summer when I went there. Otherwise, it would be one difficult descent if the path were muddy during the rainy season.

Bolinao Falls 2

Also, you’d have to cross some short bamboo bridges that were attached to the rocks strewn all over the stream before finally seeing the second falls. There were several trees along the rocky landscape to shield yourself during the quick trek.

Unlike the first one, Bolinao Falls 2 is rather short and small. But the sight of it was enough to take my breath away. Like the first falls, it was also crawling with summer frolickers. Several daredevils were also taking a plunge into water by jumping from the top of the falls.

Bathers at Bolinao Falls 2

Like the first one, I guess the second one also goes down deep as there were several rubber floaters where many of the bathers clang to. I then took some pictures of the falls for posterity’s sake and then went back to the resort.

Enchanted Cave Resort

Weekend warriors who’ve made it to Bolinao before would surely agree with me that the so-called Enchanted Cave Resort in the village of Patar is a must-see when you’re in town. There’s something mystical about this oft-visited destination that never fails to attract huge throngs of visitors whose numbers double during holidays and weekends. Missing it will make your trip to Bolinao somewhat incomplete.

Like some of the caves I’ve visited in the past, this natural wonder that has been developed into a resort boasts of an underground lagoon with freshwater within its womb. From what I’ve gathered, it is estimated to be around 6 ft on the average, with a maximum depth of something like 8 ft at the middle of the pool.

Swimmers enjoying Enchanted Cave's underground pool

From the accounts of those who’ve taken a dip into the underground pool, I must say that it was invigorating to say the least, based on the unrestrained laughter and shrieks of the swimmers who took the dare and plunged into its mysterious depths.

What makes the cave “enchanted”? Perhaps you’d understand it better if you yourself explore its inner sanctums and dive into the crystal clear pool. Personally, I felt that the name justifies it and it isn’t all just hype. When I got inside that eerie cave, I felt spellbound, wondering how that wonderful natural feature came to be.

I think what makes the cave extraordinary is the trail of hundreds of corals that have been transformed into rocks over time scattered all over the resort’s vicinity. One of the resort guides told me that millions of years ago, Bolinao was under the sea; the fossilized giant clams locally known as taklobo found all over the place proves it. The underground lagoon itself is supposedly a result of the evolution. Now, don’t you find that enchanting?

Patar Rock Formations

From the cave, I stopped by Rock View Beach Resort, which is said to be packing in the crowds because of its unique attraction not found elsewhere in Patar. I hesitated at first as this wasn’t part of the itinerary that I agreed upon with the driver who took me there. He was so insistent that I had no choice but to relent.

Giving the fellow the benefit of the doubt, I went inside the beach resort which was crowded that time. According to him, some scenes from local films like Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa  and Dyesebel were reportedly shot on those rocks way back in the 1990s.

Patar Rock Formations

So what? Spare me the baloney, I whispered as I tried to hide my exasperation at his insistence which cost me Php70 as entrance fee to the beach resort. Geez, is the fellow trying to hoodwink me to see something I’m not interested in just to get his take?

Stepping inside the resort, I didn’t see anything fancy, except for the fully booked open-air nipa huts (which you can rent for an overnight stay), the powdery white-sand strip, the inviting waters of the West Philippine Sea or WPS (a.k.a. South China Sea) and several clusters of beach habitués engaged in their own thing—sleeping, eating, talking, playing, meditating, sound-tripping and what have you.

And before I knew it, I caught them, staring at me in the face, seemingly asking me why I didn’t want to see them—the formidable assemblage of huge coral rocks that seem to hold their own against the unrelenting assaults of big waves coming in from the deep waters of the WPS. Geez, this is it! Whew, what a sight to behold!

Collectively called the Patar Rock Formations, the stunning rocks that formed into strange-looking little promontories jutting out into the sea caught me by surprise. Some were detached from the beach and looked like islets of gigantic corals. Much to my delight, they were the best thing I’ve ever seen in Bolinao that day!

Not too many tourists knew about these rock formations as this is usually not part of the tour package being promoted by the local tourism office. Whoa, I wanted to give the driver a big hug for taking me there! The breathtaking vista stretches to several kilometers of picturesque rocky formations that are surely a treat to nature photography buffs.

For the next several minutes, I did nothing but point, focus, and click until I felt I had enough pics of those rocks. Mind you, you’ll never get tired of capturing the raw beauty of Patar’s awesome rocks—they simply rock!

Patar White Beach

Found on the western coast along the West Philippine Sea (WPS) southwest of the poblacion, Patar White Beach is blessed with one of the longest white stretches I’ve ever seen in the country, sloping gradually from the shore to the sea, making it the perfect beach for swimming, snorkeling, skim boarding, scuba diving, sailing and what have you.  

Patar White Beach

Open to the public, the beach has remained clean and serene except perhaps during holidays and weekends when large crowds of people from as far as Metro Manila gravitate towards Bolinao for some sun, sea and sand in that part of the country. When I came, Patar Beach was like that—teeming with people from all walks of life.

What makes the beach kinda unique is its location which is where the Lingayen Gulf meets the WPS. Patar’s strip, which boasts of creamy white sand and the aquamarine water that washes ashore, make it one of the best, if not, the best beach in the whole province. That’s why I keep on referring to Bolinao as the “Beach Capital of Pangasinan.”

Beach bums strolling the white stretch

I explored the place and took some snaps of the beach scenes. Toddlers struggling to walk perhaps for the first time on the sand. Kids building their white castles using sand, starfish, shells, seaweeds and whatnots. Beach bums strolling to and fro the pristine stretch. Friends and lovers frolicking in the cool waters. Family members straining their vocal chords to a tune coming from some portable videoke.

The scorching rays of the summer sun were fast becoming unbearable. I fled to Punta Riviera for lack of any available shed to shield myself from the heat. Every cottage there was occupied to the hilt! How I wanted to stay much longer so I can capture the sunset in that part of Bolinao but it was still several hours before the sun dies. 

It was past five in the afternoon when I woke up from a late afternoon nap. I quickly rose and headed for the beach to catch the awe-inspiring phenomenon before it disappeared. At the end of a long day, there’s nothing more relaxing than the sight of Bolinao’s fabulous sunset.

Standing on the creamy white sands of Punta Riviera, I caught it once again. Armed with my camera, I captured as many shots as I could as the dying embers of the sun painted the sky with a kaleidoscope of summer’s colors—golden yellow, bright orange, flaming red, hot pink and electric purple.

In silence, I thanked God for the sojourn to the picturesque town and the chance to explore some of its awe-inspiring treasures, including that rare moment to gaze at one of His most phenomenal spectacles. 

As dusk began to envelop the beach, I walked back to my cottage, my head bursting with so many thoughts about the things I’m going to write about Bolinao. 😃