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

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