Sunday, January 4, 2015

Getting away to GenSan City (Part 3)

Not too many cities in the country celebrate the long holiday season with a big bang—include GenSan among those which go to great lengths to brighten up their Christmas celebrations and ring in the New Year amidst the specter of abject poverty, widespread corruption, and divisive political upheavals plaguing the nation.

Plaza Heneral Santos

Recently, the city hosted its first Paskuhan sa GenSan  Pyrotechnics Competition as part of its annual Christmas celebration.  It was one holiday extravaganza that provided the perfect atmosphere for both the locals and visitors to come together to celebrate the birth of Christ.

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Sydney Hotel, one of GenSan's oldest and tallest buildings

Participants from different parts of Mindanao and the rest of the country lit up the city’s skyline with a dazzling display of lights and colors for three consecutive nights beginning December 21 last year. To my dismay, I failed to witness the festivities live since I re-scheduled my visit to the city during the long New Year weekend.

Fireworks display on New Year's Eve

From what I’ve gathered, hundreds of people from nearby provinces and cities flocked inside the city’s Freedom Park (popularly known among the locals as Oval Plaza) during the competition to witness the spectacular fireworks which were launched from the nearby campus of the Mindanao State University (MSU). Two contingents performed each night across the skies of GenSan in a myriad of colorful and dramatic displays.

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Even if I missed that event, I still opted to spend the last few days of 2014 in GenSan, hoping to see anew the spectacular panoply of lights and colors as they lit up the skies on New Year’s Eve. And I wasn’t disappointed. A few minutes before midnight, the breathtaking fireworks displays were launched in staccato fashion from different parts of the city. Geez, it was one of the most impressive tableaus I’ve ever seen these past few years.

Rizal monument at Plaza Heneral Santos

The sojourn to GenSan also afforded me the chance to take one more quick peek at some of my favorite hideaways—Plaza Heneral Santos, which is just across Oval Park; the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Church; the black sand beaches of Queen Tuna Park; and the city’s fabulous malls, Veranza, SM City and Robinsons Place.

Olaer Spring Resort

More importantly, I was able to reconnect (finally!) with one of GenSan’s popular destinations which I first saw as a teenager while paying a visit to my father: Olaer Spring Resort in the village of Apopong. What’s so special about this hideaway in a secluded part of the city that’s attracting the crowds? 

Weekend wanderers taking a dip at one of Olaer's pools

Long before the people started malling and spent their weekends in beaches dotting Sarangani Bay's coastlines, they were flocking to this spring resort. Olaer was a byword among the  locals, not to mention tourists, who relish the experience of taking a dip in its icy cold waters, the perfect foil to the sun’s sweltering heat, especially during summer.

Black sand beach at Queen Tuna Park

Time was when weekend wanderers used to frequent the nearby black sand beaches found along the bay, particularly the former Lion’s Beach, which is now known as Queen Tuna Park. Beach lovers still go there today but their numbers have dwindled over the years, especially when the public market was moved near it.

Sarangani Bay as seen from Queen Tuna Park

Back then, the beaches of Alabel and Glan (which are now part of Sarangani Province) and those in the village of Tambler didn’t attract people because the roads weren’t paved yet. The only other choice for them were the inland resorts, the most popular of which was Olaer, the then favorite venue of many birthdays, baptismal and holiday parties and other gatherings.

I really enjoyed my first visit to Olaer so much that I vowed to return there someday. It took me years—so many I couldn’t recall how long!—to realize this but I have no regrets. The moment I stepped inside the resort‘s premises, nostalgia seized me as memories of that summer bonding with my father came flooding in.

Olaer's inviting waters

Ooh-la-laer...the revisit was a wish fulfilled!

Visiting the resort isn’t complete unless I get to take a dip there. After getting myself a small cottage, I quickly changed into my bathing shorts and dived into its cold, inviting waters, swimming and playing there for hours. Believe me, the crystal clear waters of Olaer’s pools were as fresh as the day I’ve first seen and experienced them! 

It was way past 10 o’ clock in the morning when I came to the spring resort. Throngs of weekend wanderers have already settled in various native cottages scattered all over the place. If you’re seeking serenity there, forget it. Olaer isn’t that kind of resort. At that hour, expect all hell to have broken loose!

Peace and quiet are rare commodities in Olaer. Surely, the competing voices emanating from the videoke and karaoke machines will give your eardrums one helluva blast! Me? I didn’t mind the pandemonium. I guess I was just too happy to relive the fun and frolic I’ve had as a teenager many summers ago.

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This early, I’m thinking of spending my next Christmas vacay come December (er, no year  yet!) in GenSan if only to catch up close and personal the awesome festivities that have enthralled me no end and visit once again the top destinations in the City of Generals. :-D

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