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.