Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting away to GenSan City (Part 2)

Visiting the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines” isn’t complete unless you get to experience how its most sought-after commodity is being traded. And the best place to catch where the action is...where else but none other than the General Santos Fish Fort Complex in the village of Tambler, facing Sarangani Bay.

I’ve been there twice a few years back but never got the chance to catch a glimpse of how the fish trading was done. For this recent sojourn, I made sure I’d get to explore the fish port anew, going there as early as 6:30 in the morning after learning that I’d get to see the prized catch at that hour. 

GenSan pays homage to its most popular produce through the annual Tuna Festival
Entrance to the GenSan fish port
Being an early bird paid off. I witnessed firsthand how tons of yellow-fin tuna got weighed, graded, sold and shipped to local and international markets, particularly Japan and the U.S. It‘s exciting to watch how fishermen, stevedores, inspectors, buyers and haulers do their thing there. Now, that’s no fish tale, eh?

GenSan’s fish port maintains a high standard of safety and cleanliness in compliance with international requirements for export-quality tuna. Tourists are welcome inside the complex provided they wear the prescribed safety gear. It’s best to go there in pants and boots; shorts and slippers are a no-no.

Bringing in the day's fresh catch

GenSan's precious commodity
I had no idea about those rules beforehand so I came in sandals. I thought I wouldn’t make it inside the complex. Good thing, the people there guided me. There’s a tourism center inside where I was able to rent a pair of boots for only Php20. Wearing the proper attire, I was then allowed to roam around.

I relished every moment of my stay at the facility, taking pictures of anything I fancied. So did the other visitors who were there that day. People working at the fish port are used to having tourists around so they don’t mind being shot. Some even gamely flashed their smiles with their catch.

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One of GenSan's must-see and must-try food strips
After that, I was craving for fresh seafood so I asked around for the best eats and all fingers pointed to Tiongson Arcade in the village of Lagao, a must-see, must-try foodies’ paradise. Frequented by locals, the chain of food stalls treats food lovers to a wide variety of dishes made from fish, squid, shrimp, prawns, etc.

Diners get to choose which seafood they’d like to be cooked.  Those who prefer meat need not despair since the stalls there have bulalo (beef shank soup), pork barbecue, grilled liempo (pork belly) and other meat dishes. But when you’re in Tuna Country, it’s best to forgo the meat and go for the seafood.

After visiting one of Congressman Manny Pacquiao’s mansions in the vicinity, I went to Tiongson Arcade where I ended up feasting on kinilaw na malasugue (blue marlin ceviche), sinigang na hipon (shrimp in sour soup) and ensaladang lato (seaweed salad). Geez, I was sweating all the time I was eating!

Kinilaw (tuna ceviche)

The verdict? Two thumbs up for KuyaKoy’s! That’s the name of the food stall where I had my dinner. The dining experience there will probably go down in this foodie’s history as one of the simplest yet most spectacular gastronomic events he’s ever had in Tuna Country!

A participating float during the annual Tuna Festival

GenSan is not only synonymous with tuna but also with boxing. Most Pinoys tend to associate the city with its most notable son—Manny “PacMan” Pacquiao. Like other visitors, I’ve been raring to go to the legendary champ’s palatial home so I visited it before heading for Tiongson Arcade.

From what I’ve gathered, he has two mansions, one of which is in the village of Lagao where he grew up. I visited Pacquiao’s Mansion 1 because I was able to find its exact location through Google® Maps. Sitting on a one-hectare property, the stately residence is just a few blocks away from where I had dinner. 

Pacman's Mansion No. 1
En route to Mansion 1, I hesitated at first about proceeding since I might be mistaken for a private eye, a stalker or a paparazzo, with camera, tripod and all. Still, I forged ahead. Arriving at the mansion, I was surprised to learn that Pacquiao allows his fans to go inside for a look-see and picture taking. 

How I wanted to see PacMan and have a photo op with him. Too bad, the incumbent representative of Sarangani Province no longer lives there, according to the guard on duty. That didn’t ruin my moment because I’ve already met the People’s Champ in person during one of my sorties in the past.

In 2008, I attended an island-wide sports event among Mindanao-based utilities that took place in GenSan. The affair, which my ten-man team and I covered, not only enabled me to take a much-needed respite from the daily grind but also offered the chance to visit my friends and relatives.

Little did I know it would also offer an unexpected encounter with the boxing icon. We caught up with Pacquiao—he wasn’t as famous that time as he is now—live in the flesh, up close and personal at that while he was busy preparing for his bout against David Diaz for the World Boxing Council’s lightweight division. 

Instead of practicing his punches within the confines of a luxurious fitness studio, he preferred to sweat it out in a makeshift gym which, to our delight, happens to be just a stone’s throw away from our hotel. Star-struck, we waited patiently for our chance to snap ourselves with the famous pug.

PacMan didn’t disappoint us. It was definitely well worth the wait. Tired as he was from his routine, he still found time to accommodate us, gamely posing before the cameras even if he was so drained. A humble man, he shook hands with all of us who were gathered in that gym that afternoon.

Manny Pacquiao during one of his practices
Awed as I was, I managed to take some shots of the People’s Champ—rare pics which count among the precious treasures I’ll cherish forever. Good thing, our idol’s stellar presence didn’t knock down my worn-out camera. Whew, that encounter was truly the icing on the cake of my GenSan escapade that time!

For years, Manny Pacquiao ruled the international boxing arena until Timothy Bradley toppled him during a highly controversial fight a few years ago. Many boxing experts and aficionados believe he should have won that bout. Later on, he also lost to Juan Manuel Marquez during their fourth rematch.

The People's Champ

Pacquiao prepared for his fight against Rios
in this three-storey boxing and fitness gym
After those two defeats, I thought his boxing career was over. Good thing, he was able to redeem himself recently against Brandon Rios. Win or lose, I still take my hat off to the People’s Champ who’ll probably go down in history as the greatest boxer of this generation and one of the Philippines’ pride. 

All told, my vicarious “encounter” with PacMan in his home count as the most memorable episode of my recent sojourn to GenSan. Now, as he faces one of his biggest challenges, that is, fighting the country’s publicans, I can only wish him all the best.  Fear not, Manny, you’ll rise above this one. :D

Monday, December 2, 2013

Magnetized by Mati City (Part 2)

Mati holds a special place in my heart. There’s something about the capital of Davao Oriental that seems to have magnetized a part of me. Perhaps it has something to do with those precious memories of my childhood that had taken place there so many summers ago. As a young boy, I used to spend not a few vacays in Mati where some of my maternal relatives used to live. 

All these years, I’d been hankering to visit the city anew. True enough, this came to  fruition last June when I, together with a group of high school buddies, went on a weekend wandering to the city (see my post at It was, however, an overnight trip so we had little time to roam around. 

Landmark at Mati Park and Baywalk
So, I promised myself I’d return to Mati before the year ends, with or without travel buddies. After so many starts and stops, I pushed through with a lone—but not lonely—journey into the heart of Coconut Country. It was a bold decision that gave me cold feet for weeks prior to the trip, lasting up to the very day of my departure for the city! Go or no go?, I kept asking myself many times. 

Part of the zigzag road
What’s so scary about Mati? Absolutely nothing! It’s only me who has some unresolved issues that have kept me from exploring it on my own. Blame it on childhood traumas I haven’t conquered that time. As a kid, I remembered puking each time the bus started to negotiate through the serpentine stretch leading to the town. The rough and rugged condition of the road that time made it all worse.

Pujada Bay as seen from Badas
Lest I give the wrong impression, be assured that it’s safe, secure and stimulating to take your vacay in Mati. If one is coming from the cities of either Davao or Tagum, the well-paved stretch to the city is arguably one of Mindanao’s smoothest—so much so I was driving at speeds ranging from 80 to 110 kph at certain points! Good grief, traffic enforcers would have skinned me alive if I did that in our city!

It was truly a helluva catharsis for this vagabond who hasn’t run a car at those speeds for the longest time. What made me uncomfortable though was driving over the homestretch—the eight-kilometer zigzag road starting from Badas all the way to the city center. Surely, the sight of picturesque Pujada Bay and the distant cityscape of Mati would take your breath away but that’s not the issue here. 

One more look at Sleeping Dinosaur Island
Those who’ve driven a Mati-bound vehicle know how intimidating it is to navigate through that part of the road network. Definitely no room for error; any miscalculated maneuver by the driver on the way to the city could send the vehicle skidding into the edge of the ravines and—heaven forbid!—end up in a lethal fall down below. Now, that’s the part that really scared the hell out of me!

Archway to City Hall
But I was determined to conquer one of my fears. I’ve made a pact with myself that whenever I turn a year older, I have to overcome at least one of the things that had been sending shivers down my spine. Mustering up enough courage, I went on with the solo sojourn to Mati, which, to my delight, ended up as one of the most exhilarating stunts I’ve ever pulled in my whole life!

Fresh seafood stew for the soul
Mati Pylon
Having survived the gut-wrenching episode at the gorges, I felt new reserves of courage circulate throughout my nerves, arming me with renewed confidence to win the battle against self-doubt. Geez, I’ve freed myself from one of my greatest fears!, I heard myself saying. As a fitting reward for that feat, I treated myself to a hearty meal at one of my favorite seafood restos in town—Seaside Grill!

Dahican Beach
Surrounded by two bodies of water—Pujada Bay and Mayo Bay–Mati is admired for its white-sand beaches, foremost of which is Dahican Beach, which I, together with my travel mates, explored last June. Located about ten kilometers away from the city proper, the beach, known as the country’s Skimboarding Capital, attracts hordes of swimmers, skimboarders and other sun-worshipers. 

On this recent escapade to the city, however, I missed out on the captivating beach as I spent more time roaming around the downtown area. Instead of staying at a resort in Dahican just like the last time, I billeted myself in one of the old hotels in the city center so I can easily explore the interesting places there. I wanted to revisit a few landmarks and visit the new ones I didn’t see last June.

St. Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral
On top of my itinerary was going to St. Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral to say a prayer of thanks for a safe journey to Mati. Too bad, all the entrances to the church were locked that time so I proceeded to City Hall, which, I forgot, was also closed for the weekend! Whew, I ended up taking shots of two nearby landmarks I saw, the Mati Pylon and the City Hall Archway. Not bad. 

Pujada Bay at dusk
Later that afternoon, I went to the park and baywalk, which are just a few meters away from my hotel to watch the sun go down. Dusk was about to settle and I wanted to capture the fabulous event. Got to have my own take of that picture-perfect scene, I thought. To my dismay, the sunset over Pujada Bay turned out to be a bummer for me! It was a far cry from the picture-perfect snaps I’ve seen from various websites.  

Looking back, I take comfort at the crowning glory of my sojourn, that is, seeing two of Mati's three islands—Pujada and Wanibanalbeit from a distance from a lookout point near Badas. Of the three, Pujada is the biggest, Waniban is next while Oak is the smallest, visible only at low tide and vanishes at high tide. I’d been raring to capture all of them in one frame but managed to snap only two. Too bad, I didn’t get to be in any of them.

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Undoubtedly, the second coming to Mati this year was a dream come true for this dyed-in-the-wool thrill-seeker. It was a personal feat that upsized my sense of self into something I’ve never imagined. It was an exhilarating joyride that gave me not only a gritty taste of personal triumph over one of my fears but also a grisly aftertaste of life on the edge (pun intended…LOL!) while driving on my own. 

That confidence-building solitary sojourn to Davao Oriental’s capital arguably boosted my spirits.  I now feel more adequate, competent and empowered to mount yet another sojourn around Mindanao’s cities. After Mati, could Butuan, Iligan, Surigao, Tandag, General Santos and the others be far behind? Hmmm, the idea of driving my way to all of them thrills me to the max! 

A day after my Mati escapade, I came across these  wonderful, inspiring lines which I thought of quoting to wrap up this post. I couldn’t agree more with whoever wrote them. For me, it hit the nail right on the head. So, I say, many thanks, Mati, for helping me “cheat on one of my fears, break up with my doubts and get engaged with my faith. Now, I’m married to one of my dreams.” :D