Thursday, July 15, 2010

Issue 5 of Northbound Magazine is online!

Northbound Magazine Issue 5, which came out during the summer, is now available online! Sorry this took a while since things have been really hectic. In this issue, we featured nine adventure destinations in North Philippines including sandboarding in Ilocos Norte, kayaking and spelunking in Cagayan, surfing in La Union, island hopping in Pangasinan, trekking in Tarlac and Pampanga, horseback riding in Clark, off-road go-karting in Benguet, and zip-lining in Subic Bay. Northbound Magazine is a publication of the North Philippines Visitors Bureau. You can download the online version from the NPVB website.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

General Santos: Dinner at Euro Kitchen (Tiongson Arcade) and visiting the General Santos Fish Port

General Santos is the jump-off point for Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, and Glan (Gumasa) and Maitum, Sarangani. After whitewater tubing in Maitum, I was back in General Santos. I had one more night before my flight back to Manila the next day. So that was enough time to try out at least one restaurant and visit the General Santos Fish Port early the next morning.

The city has some good dining options. So I made sure to try out one restaurant in General Santos for dinner. I was told there are several restaurants which serve really good steak. After getting some leads, I asked for directions from the front desk. When I told them I wanted steak, they suggested this new restaurant called Euro Kitchen.

So I went to the Tiongson Arcade area by habal-habal. Tiongson Arcade is a long stretch of outdoor grills and restaurants such as Gio's Mongo Grill which serves Mongolian bowls and Gusteau's which I heard serves really good crab. If I had more time, I would have explored more.

Euro Kitchen is owned by Finnish chef Henrick Stork and his wife May, which explains the Finnish translations in the menu. The serving sizes are really big which is why I'd give the restaurant a two thumbs up for value for money. I ordered the T-bone Steak with Rice (which ranges from Php300 to Php500 depending on the weight of the steak) and Pork Kebab with Rice (Php90) which I really had a hard time finishing since the serving size was just too much!

The next morning, I woke up early to visit the General Santos Fish Port. I didn't know that they had very strict rules to enter. You can't wear shorts, slippers, or sando. Plus if you want to get in the market area, you need white rubber boots. They won't accept any other color of boots.

We were able to borrow white rubber boots at the hotel. Unfortunately, I did not bring any pants during this trip and was hoping they would allow me in. But the guards were very strict since there was a camera monitoring the gates. So I ended up buying something at the nearby ukay-ukay just to get in.

It's arguably the cleanest market in the country and if you are fascinated by markets, this one is worth the visit. You can even buy your fresh tuna there if you want. The earlier you visit in the morning, the better since the supply of fish comes in quite early. And the better stocks are gone really quick.

With the visit to the fish port settled, I returned to my hotel to prepare for my flight back to Manila. Now I'm craving for sushi and sashimi!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sarangani: Whitewater tubing, anthropomorphic pottery and pawikan in Maitum

Sarangani is very popular because of Gumasa Beach, a powder white sand beach in Glan. But on the opposite end of the province is Maitum, which has the Pangi River whitewater tubing, Pawikan Sanctuary, and a small museum dedicated to the anthropomorphic pottery that was found in Ayub Cave in Brgy. PiƱol.

From General Santos, it's a three hour drive to Maitum. Unless you plan to stay overnight in Maitum, it's best to hire a vehicle going there since the Pangi River in Brgy. New La Union is several kilometers inland. Thanks to Go Sarangani Travel for arranging a vehicle for me to get to Maitum.

It's a really scenic drive. As you cross over to Sarangani from General Santos, the landscape changes abruptly. The rocky hills with a sparse cover of trees actually reminds me of some areas in Spain. This rocky landscape slowly changes into green forested mountains as you move ahead towards Maitum.

When we arrived in Maitum, we first visited the Maitum Municipal Hall where an exhibit of the Maitum anthropomorphic jars is located. Although the pots on display are replicas, the exhibit done by the National Museum is very educational and worth the visit.

Before proceeding to the Pangi River, we dropped by the Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary in Old Poblacion. There were several hatchlings ready for release but since it was early in the afternoon, it was too hot to release any of them. Hatchlings are best released early in the morning or late in the afternoon. There were green turtles (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), and the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), which is also known as the Pacific Ridley.

After the visit, we rushed to Pangi River in Brgy. New La Union for some whitewater tubing. I wanted to reach the jump-off point early in the afternoon just in case there were mid-afternoon rains that would fall that day.

It costs just Php120 for a 30-minute run down a one-kilometer length of the river. There's a longer 45-minute run which costs an extra Php50 but you have to do this in the morning when the guides are still well-rested since it requires them to carry the equipment further up stream.

Anyway, the only things they will advice you are to stay cool, not to panic, and to hold the handles of the rubber tube as tight as you can. This will keep you from falling off the tube. I did two runs and despite several near falls, stayed afloat because of my tight grip on the rubber tube handles.

It would have been fun to go for a third run but it was another three hour drive to General Santos. More from General Santos in my next entry.

Go Sarangani Travel
Partridge BLDG, 66 J. Catolico St. Gen. Santos City
(083) 552-8015 or 304-4398

Saturday, July 10, 2010

South Cotabato: Lake Sebu's Seven Falls, Zip Line and Lang Dulay

Lake Sebu, South Cotabato has several cultural and natural attractions which makes it a worthwhile destination for tourists who look for more than the usual destination. After making my way to Lake Sebu from the General Santos Airport, I spent the afternoon exploring the town's different points of interest.

First on the list are the Seven Waterfalls or Seven Falls which is a series of majestic cascades lined-up one after the other. The easiest to reach is the first falls (named Dongon Falls or Hikong Alu in the local language) which requires minimal walking. While the last two are the most difficult to access since it requires a long hike down to the valley floor to see them.

The Provincial Government of South Cotabato has made efforts to cement walking paths which is fine since it makes it easier to walk. But unfortunately, the designs of the infrastructure that accompanied the project, particularly the welcome arch and function halls beside the second falls, which obviously was not given much thought, make the falls area look like a cheap theme park. What do you expect of government engineers anyway? You may not realize it but the Philippines has some of the worst-designed government infrastructure in the world because we let our engineers design things and not architects.

It's quite unfortunate because each of the seven falls has a T'boli name that describes each waterfall. And if the provincial government had vision, they should have used T'boli-inspired designs for the welcome arch, function halls and huts which they built. When creating infrastructure for tourism attractions, local governments have to give it much thought and ensure that the designs blend with the environment they are built in or are representative of the local culture. Because if they do things haphazardly or without taste, they destroy the very attraction people come to visit.

That being said, the Seven Falls are still worth the visit since although there are now some structures in the area, the views are still free from obstructions. But it would have been better it they injected a lot of T'boli culture in the designs of tourism infrastructure.

Anyway, I'd like to stress that T'boli is a language and not a dialect. I hope people stop referring to our different languages here in the Philippines as dialects. As I mentioned, the seven falls have T'boli names which describe them. Also known as Dongon Falls, the T'boli name of the first falls is Hikong Alu which means passage falls. The second falls, being the highest, is called Hikong Bente or unmeasurable falls. The third one is Hikong B'lebel which means coil or zigzag falls. The fourth falls in Hikong Lowig which means booth. The fifth falls is Hikong K'fo-i which means short falls. While the seventh and last falls is Hikong Tonok which means soil.

From the first falls, you can walk down several hundred steps to the second falls. But the second option is flying over the the second, third, fourth and fifth falls and down to the foot of the second falls by zip-line. The zip-line costs Php250 and they usually do it in pairs. Although you can try requesting for a solo flight which is what I did. It's arguably the most picturesque zipline in the country.

As I mentioned, the end of the zip-line is the foot of the second falls, arguably the most photographed of all the seven falls. Since the rainy season had already started, the force of the falls was too strong. So I could only take photos from a distance. But despite being relatively far already, mist still hit me. In fact, the mist from the falls was forceful enough to reach me while I was on the zip-line.

Going back up is another story and I was told we climbed close to 700 steps to return to Dongon Falls. It usually rains in the afternoon and it started to drizzle as we neared the top. We were quite lucky that the downpour hit when I was trying to catch my breath at the top. So we had to wait it out at one of the stores before we proceeded to our next destination.

After it stopped raining, we proceeded to the house and weaving school of Lang Dulay, a t'nalak weaver and National Living Treasure. The NCCA notes, "There are a few of them left, the traditional weavers of the t'nalak or T'boli cloth. It is not hard to see why: weaving t'nalak is a tedious process that begins with stripping the stem of the abaca plant to get the fibers, to coaxing even finer fibers for the textile, then drying the threads and tying each strand by hand. Afterwards, there is the delicate task of setting the strands on the 'bed-tying' frame made of bamboo, with an eye towards deciding which strands should be tied to resist the dye. It is the bud or tying of the abaca fibers that defines the design."

Lang Dulay is currently in her nineties. They say she doesn't remember her exact age but previous interviews of her say that she started weaving t'nalak at the age of 12. I also got to interview her myself for posterity and purchased one of her t'nalak cloths for a souvenir which usually ranges from Php500 to Php1000 a yard depending on the design. Minimum length is usually four to eight yards since they don't like cutting the t'nalak.

From Lang Dulay's place, we stopped at the Santa Cruz Mission School to check out its charming architecture which is very much reflective of the local culture. I hope the local governments of Lake Sebu and South Cotabato use this as an example when they build tourism infrastructure. In fact, I mentioned that the school can host cultural performances in its quadrangle in the evening or during weekends which could be another tourism activity for Lake Sebu.

Before calling it a night, we stopped by a traditional brass casting artisan who made intricate T'boli designs such as bells, figures and boxes. They use the lost-wax casting method, creating the work in wax first then covering it with clay. Molten brass is then poured into the clay cast which melts and replaces the wax to form the finished product.

The next morning, I was up early since I wanted to be in General Santos before lunch. This time, I took public transportation. From the resort, I took a habal-habal to the bus terminal in Surallah. Along the way, we stopped for a photo at Lake Seloton, one of Lake Sebu's three lakes. From Surallah, I took a bus to Koronadal. Then I hopped on a bus to General Santos from there. Then it was off to Maitum, Sarangani for some white-water tubing!

Go Sarangani Travel
Partridge BLDG, 66 J. Catolico St. Gen. Santos City
(083) 552-8015 or 304-4398

Lake Sebu Tourism Office
Michael (0906) 3890328

Friday, July 09, 2010

South Cotabato: Getting to Lake Sebu

If there’s one cultural landscape in Mindanao that I can’t get enough of, it’s Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. A cultural landscape according to the UNESCO definition, is a distinct geographical area or properties that "represent the combined work of nature and of man." And Lake Sebu is definitely a good example of the perfect balance between man, culture and nature.

From the General Santos Airport, it’s about two to three hours away depending on what mode of transportation you’re getting. It was great that Go Sarangani Travel was very nice to arrange a van for me which picked me up at the airport and brought me straight to Lake Sebu. They also did reservations for my one night stay in Lake Sebu and linked me up with the guides at the tourism office.

If you plan to take public transportation, it will require four connections. From the airport, you will have to get to the bus station in General Santos. At the bus station, you take a bus to Koronadal. At Koronadal, you board another bus to Surallah. And at Surallah, you could take a van (which may take long since it waits for passengers) or hire a habal-habal to get to Lake Sebu.

As soon as I checked-in at the Punta Isla Lake Resort, we proceeded to the tourist information center to arrange a guide for the afternoon to help me get around Lake Sebu’s natural and cultural attractions. Aside from the guides, they also arranged a habal-habal that would take us around for Php250 the whole afternoon.

Back at the resort, I ordered my lunch at the restaurant then went on a 45-minute boat tour of Lake Sebu while waiting for my food to be prepared. The boat rental at the resort is Php400 regardless of how many you are and can comfortably seat up to 15 to 20 people. They have local guides on the boat who explain the background of Lake Sebu and the different points of interest around the lake.

After lunch, the guides arrived at the resort to pick me up. I was surprised to see two guides and wondered if they hired two motorcycles. It turns out, we were all going to use one motorbike and thus, there were four of us including the driver! That number could even increase when a wooden plank is added which gives the habal-habal another moniker, the skylab. We managed to get around anyway and got to visit the Seven Falls and the Lake Sebu Zipline as well as Lang Dulay, a t'nalak weaver and National Living Treasure. I'll share details in another entry. You can also read the entry from my previous visit: An afternoon in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Part 2: Lake Sebu's Seven Falls, Zip Line and Lang Dulay

Go Sarangani Travel
Partridge BLDG, 66 J. Catolico St. Gen. Santos City
(083) 552-8015 or 304-4398

Lake Sebu Tourism Office
Michael (0906) 3890328
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