Once again, I had the privilege to be given another out-of-town assignment. This time, it was in beautiful General Santos City in Mindanao. Mindanao may have a shady reputation because of the many negative news about it but we looked forward to this trip, nonetheless. Plus, the side of Mindanao where we were going was peaceful. We thought that this was also an opportunity to take on a different kind of adventure, to see sights that are unique to this region.
We were dismayed with our previous Cebu trip because of the lack of time to roam around, thus, we were determined to make our Mindanao trip worthwhile.
We arrived in General Santos City on a Thursday. The lack of sleep didn’t douse our excitement in any bit. Our friend Rose Celis, the Account Officer from the branch which we are inaugurating, picked us up from the General Santos City International Airport. We were to meet the rest of the branch officers for brunch, Rose told us.
The ride from the airport was a long one but it was also a chance to marvel at the beautiful Mindanao countryside with its rolling plains and pastureland.
At around 10 AM, we arrived at the well-known Sarangani Highlands, a beautiful oasis amidst the bucolic landscape. Rose introduced us to the rest of our colleagues who were already waiting for us.
After just a few moments, we warmed up to the hospitality of the people around us. Before our lunch, we were toured by the owner of Sarangani Highlands and we saw the magnificent hand-painted doors of the rooms and the lush gardens within the property. The sleeping quarters had the feel of a villa; these were constructed using indigenous materials. The owner also showed us the room where Ms. Universe 2011 3rd runner up Shamcey Supsup stayed at during her visit to the place.
It was past 11 AM and we were all hungry. We ordered two of Sarangani Highlands’ bestsellers — Arroz ala Sarangani and sizzling bangus belly. Likewise, we ordered the famous Alamid coffee. Needless to say, the food, the coffee, the ambiance and the view of Sarangani Bay were absolutely perfect. After our sumptuous meal, we headed to the branch and spent the rest of the afternoon working.
By 4PM, we decided to buy some stuff that we will use for the inauguration the next day. Plus, of course, we wanted to visit one of the landmarks of GenSan — KCC Mall, perhaps the most well-known shopping center in the area. Everything about KCC Mall reminded us of SM — the layout of the stalls, the department store, the grocery area at the basement and also the green plastic bags.
After our chores for the day, we were treated to a dinner – no, a feast! – in one of the humble restaurants in the area. We had Grilled tuna panga, clam soup, a great-tasting fish whose name I forgot, and bihod adobo. Bihod or fish roe has always intrigued me because it seemed so rich and tasty whenever I read about them.
Day 2 at Mindanao
The following day was all work. The inauguration went well, with local flavors served during dinner. However, the highlight of the event was the whole fresh tuna displayed at the branch. It was carved right in front of the guests and served as sashimi.
Day 3 at General Santos City, Saturday
Now it was time for some serious adventure. Rose and Felix met us at the branch at around 1PM. From there, we drove all the way to Sarangani Bay in Gumasa, Sarangani — around 2 hours of continuous driving from General Santos City.
We arrived at Sarangani Bay at a little past 3PM then ordered lunch at Isla Jardin Resort. We’ve had fish belly – perhaps the best way to really savor the taste of this coastal province is to sample its fish dishes – which was fresh and flavorful.
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the white sands of Sarangani Bay and taking shots of the horizon as well as the mangrove trees.
By 5:30 PM, we thought it best to head back to General Santos City because of the long drive back. We were at the City by 7PM, and very hungry. We bought isaw and barbecue at a local shop. We then proceeded to the Tiongson Arcade where they sell fresh produce like meat, fish, clams and seaweeds.
You may have your seafood cooked the way you like it. After placing our orders, the cooks were immediately busy doing their magic in the open kitchen. Food must be very good here as the place was packed that night. We bought clams, tilapia and another type of fish. In a few minutes, clam soup, crispy-fried tilapia (they call it fish chicharon) and buttered fish were served. Once again, it was gastronomic heaven.
After the splendid dinner, it was time for some dessert and coffee. We drove to Blugre Coffee at Robinson’s for our sugar and caffeine fixes. I ordered ice-blended durian coffee with whipped cream. It smelled like authentic durian and it tasted good. I just didn’t like its consistency which was a bit too thick so you quickly get thirsty with each gulp.
Sunday, our last Day at General Santos City
Rose met us at the lodge after our breakfast. We were to go to South Cotabato, specifically at Mt. Matutum. We were to attend Mass at the Our Lady of Mt. Matutum Trappistine Monastery at the foot of the mountain. On the way to Mt. Matutum, we traversed a road that cut through a seemingly endless field of pineapples. I later found out that this was Dole’s pineapple plantation. It was a monotonous view but it was charming, nonetheless.
We arrived at the Monastery just in time for the Mass and the first thing that greeted us were the angelic voices of the nuns. After the Mass, the people trooped to the Monastery’s store to buy pastries. The nuns sold cookies, handicrafts and other baked goodies to supplement their income.
Our flight was at 3PM that afternoon so we still had time for a quick lunch. And quick indeed was our lunch at Jollibee. Rose and his younger brother accompanied us to the airport. We wanted to stay a bit longer in Mindanao but, alas, we had work waiting for us in Manila. We promised Rose that we will see each other again in more adventures. We had Corregidor and Tagaytay in our priority list. I promised myself that I would again be back in Mindanao someday.
A few moments later, we were air bound. We slept through the entire flight because we were tired from all the driving and nights out.
We were in Manila by 5:30 PM. Later that evening, we were at Rayne’s house for dinner and a few drinks in celebration of his birthday.
It was a weekend well-spent; full of unforgettable food, places and new acquaintances.