The Tuna Fishport of General Santos City, Mindanao, The Philippines: More than the usual (Part 1 of Series)

One of the marked tuna at the GenSan Fishport

General Santos City or GenSan in South Cotabato, Mindanao is well-known among Filipinos as the hometown of the best pound for pound boxer in the world, Manny Pacquiao. However, before Manny became the legendary boxer that he is now, GenSan has been known for its most popular local commodity, the tuna. Hence the tag, Tuna Capital of the Philippines.

Lots of huge tuna!

When I went on a 2 month backpacking journey across Mindanao way back December 2008, I made a mental note not to miss the GenSan Tuna Fishport. Of course it’s not as huge or as busy as the Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan. Still it’s a place worth visiting while in GenSan.

Weighing the tuna. Some of it were around 70 kilos.

We were at the Tuna Fishport before 7am as suggested by GenSan locals. All tourists need to log in at the Administration Office, get a written permit to take photos and wear white rubber boots provided.

The tuna is bigger than me! Not as heavy I suppose.

While inside the Fishport, I can’t help to take a lot of photos as I’ve never seen so much huge tuna in my life! Some are even bigger than me! Most of these tuna are for export overseas. The lower grade tuna are of course, for local consumption.

Not your usual tuktuk passenger!

I feel pitiful looking at these men. Imagine carrying 70kg on one shoulder, from the boat to the fishport! I discreetly took photos since I know carrying those huge tuna is not an easy task.

A thin metal tube was inserted to check the quality grade of the tuna meat. Some of the tuna were cleaned, gutted and placed on iced containers. Ready for selling at the market.

Unfortunately, fresh sashimi is not available at the Fishport. If you want to have some, you have to buy the whole fish! Maybe in the market, which I wasn’t able to visit. The next time I visit GenSan, I’ll make sure to go during the Tuna Festival. Don’t forget to bring wasabi and soy sauce!

The Philippines: More than the usual* (Introduction to a series)

Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue, Mountain Province. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Philippines is a country blessed with amazing natural wonders. However, tourist arrivals don’t even come close to that of Thailand. I have read several round-the-world blogs yet a visit to the Philippines is almost always not included.

Clear blue-green water and limestone karsts in El Nido, Palawan

Why is that so? I have spoken with backpackers from all over the world whom I’ve met when I traveled around Mainland Southeast Asia last year and asked this question several times. One obvious answer is that the Philippines is not part of the mainland. Honestly, I half-heartedly believe that. Indonesia is also an archipelago, farther than the Philippines from the mainland yet tourism statistics is better?

The most amazing sunset I've seen in the Philippines. Saud Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

The main reason is definitely the security concerns in the Philippines. With all the news about kidnapping and terrorist attacks, who would want to fly in? But then, the same things happen all over the world, even much worse!

Fish pens in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

I am also almost a victim of my ignorance and almost didn’t see the beauty of Mindanao. When we were planning a 6-month backpacking trip around the Philippines in 2008, I was adamant in not including Mindanao. I’ve never been to this infamous island yet I believed all the things people have been saying that the whole of Mindanao is unsafe and that the Muslims are not kind-hearted people. Though it’s true that foreign and local tourists need to avoid very few places with continuous political instability in Mindanao, but just like everywhere else, being alert and common sense is necessary.

Bongao Peak, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Mindanao

Looking back, I was glad to make that trip to Mindanao. We even ended up staying for 2 months! It was in Mindanao where I met honest tricycle drivers and strangers who welcomed us to their homes expecting nothing in return.

The old city of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yes, one have to be truly adventurous enough to book a flight and hop on a plane to visit the Philippines. Those who do are pleasantly rewarded.

The magnificent Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I’ll be sharing my photos and (mis)adventures during my 2008 backpacking trip in the coming posts. From way up north in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, all the way down south in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi. Exploring most of Southeast Asia intimately for more than a year gave me a deep appreciation of my country and being Asian. It was a pleasure to see the Philippines first and I would love to share its beauty as I see it.

*More than the usual.. This line was part of Wow Philippines Tourism campaign which was successfully launched in 2002. Several well-made 30-seconder plugs were aired in CNN and other international channels. The line perfectly described what Philippines got to offer. More than the typical Asia that everyone knows.

Summer in the Philippines! Part 2

Have you read the first part?

3. Panglao Island, Bohol

Bohol is fast becoming one of the top local & foreign tourist destination as #2 Boracay due to budget airlines flying to its capital Tagbilaran. A round trip ticket from Manila may just cost PhP2,200 (US $44) including taxes if you book at least 2 weeks in advance.

Budget lodging is available at the main street of the Alona Beach area. Both times I went to Bohol, I stayed at the Bohol Diver’s Beach Resort. First time was at these attached cottages for PhP 1,200 (US $24).

The second time I went to Bohol was last 2008. On a much tighter budget, we stayed at the Citadel Alona Inn for the first night. The cheapest room they have is a double room with fan and shared bathroom for PhP550. The place is very well-kept. There is also a spotless kitchen where guests can prepare their own meals. Unlimited coffee, tea and distilled water on a dispenser is available for guests too.

However, we still prefer to stay near the beach so for the second day, we transferred to Bohol Divers Beach Resort. Behind the cottages I stayed at last 2006 are budget double rooms with fan and attached bathroom for PhP 500 (US $10). The room is tiny yet tidy. The cheap cost includes use of the swimming pool so it was a good deal. One thing though, make sure to bring earplugs lest you wake up from roosters as early as 4 o’ clock in the morning.

The early morning dolphin-watching would have been a great experience if not for the 20 other boats rushing to see the dolphins. Some boats, well, our boat was guilty of it too, even cut the dolphins’ path just to get close. You can ask the boatmen to stay at the area a little longer after all the other boats leave to bring tourists to snorkel. We did and saw the dolphins having their morning meal. You would know when you see their tails up on the surface of the ocean.

The restaurant at the Bohol Divers Resort offers inexpensive yet delicious local and international dish. At night, you may choose to dine al fresco near the beach. I recommend the curry crab for PhP 180 (US $3.60). Heavenly and finger lickin’ good!

For those who crave a bit of luxury but on a tight budget, you can go to the Panglao Island Nature Resort for a day tour. The consumable entrance fee of PhP 250* (US $5) per person includes use of the infinity pool, jacuzzi, lockers and shower rooms (* price may have changed as this was last 2006). A portion of the entrance fee may be used for any food and beverage purchase.

4. Camiguin, Northern Mindanao

Unfortunately, the political unrest in Southern Mindanao particularly at the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) hindered local and foreign travelers from adding any part of Mindanao or even the entire Philippines from their travel itinerary. It is actually unfair when the outside world perceive the entire Philippines as dangerous when conflict happens only in ARMM, barely 1/4 of Mindanao.

I was guilty of that misconception too. When we decide to include Mindanao in our travel itinerary, I was apprehensive. Thinking in an exaggerated way that I’m putting my safety on the line by going to Mindanao. Almost 2 months of traveling from the North to the Southernmost island of Mindanao, my mistaken belief was totally corrected.

First stop in Mindanao and top 4 on my list is the volcanic island of Camiguin. I have heard of its charm and I wasn’t surprised it would exceed my expectation.

The Seascape Resort used to be the old Jasmine by the Sea cottages. If you prefer rustic and economical yet clean place, then this is the place for you. Half of the duplex can be rented by 3 people for PhP 700 (US $14). It was the low season so the local owners gave us a 30% discount.

The resort serves great tasting western food like the Chicken Cordon Bleu with a side dish of potatoes for PhP 180 (US $3.60). The fish on the menu is always a good choice too. Ask first though if the restaurant have fresh catch.

A 20 minute boat ride would get you to the White Beach or sand bar. It’s an interesting patch of white, powder-fine sand in the middle of the sea because the surrounding coastline of Camiguin have dark, fish egg-like sand granules. According to the locals, the sand bar has shrunk due to overseas pirates stealing the white sand. I never knew sand is valuable since it’s all over the Philippine Islands!

Plan an early morning day trip if you wish to avoid the harsh mid-day sun. There’s no place to hide yourself from the sun unless you bring your own umbrella.

Fishermen would drop some of their day’s catch at the sand bar when they see tourists around. A kilo of fresh fish, which they can grill for you as well, would cost around PhP 200 (US $4.

For those who had enough of the sun and sea of Camiguin, natural hot and cold springs are alternatives.

An hour motorcycle ride from the Seascape Resort would take you to the Santo Nino Cold Springs. Entrance fee is PhP 40 (US $.80). The cool and clean spring water is a perfect respite from the year round humid weather. You may also try a fish spa free of charge! Schools of little fish swim with you in the spring water. If you stay still, you would see them eat off dead skin from your body.

Imagine yourself swimming on a pool of 7-Up! No, the water at Camiguin Soda Water Spring doesn’t taste like the famous soda drink but the little bubbles touching your skin feels like you are doing so. Locals would say that the water do taste like soda water. I tried a bit from the pipe where fresh water continuously flows. Maybe I drank too little to even taste anything. The water is deep and I didn’t notice any lifeguards around so swim with precaution.

A visit at Ardent Hot Springs by nightfall is a good way to end a whole day of riding the motorcycle. The 35 to 39 degree water temperature is relaxing enough to calm tired muscles.

To be continued…