Sunday, March 16, 2008


Biloxi, Mississippi
March 17, 2008

Being from Mindanao sometimes connotes a certain reputation when one introduces himself/herself as from Mindanao to another Filipino especially here in the US. But such responses do not bother me anymore since I am proud to be a Filipino by birth, and prouder to say that I was born and raised in Mindanao. The region of Mindanao, Sulu, TawiTawi and Palawan has a lot to offer to all types of tourists, both locals and foreigners. There are a lot of places to visit and enjoy while you are in Mindanao, including but not limited to the following:
  • Hot springs in Camiguin
  • Surfing in Siargao
  • Whitewater rafting in Cagayan de Oro
  • The brass and handicraft industry in Tugaya
  • Maria Christina Falls in Iligan
  • River Cruise in Agusan River
  • Offshore fishing in Davao
  • Nearshore fishing in Illana Bay
  • Pasonanca Park eateries in Zamboanga
  • Barter Trade Zone in Zamboanga
  • Jose Rizal Park in Dapitan
  • Nearshore Seaweed Farms in Sitangkai
  • Boat Houses in Isabela
  • Underwater caverns of Puerto Galera
From The Butuan Global Forum: Recently, the city of Butuan introduced a unique cruise along the Agusan River to attract foreign and domestic travelers. The river cruise on board a replica of a balanghai, a water vessel that dates back to some 1,700 years ago, sails along the Agusan River.

Our party of 28 family members experienced a similar two-hour cruise in a floating restaurant with lots of food (pusit, lukon, alimango, pansit, lato, manok, isda, boiled rice) and live music of Yoyoy Villame along the Loboc River in Bohol in June 2006. Loboc is the home of the smallest monkey in world-Tarsier. There were live Tarsiers on display at the small petting zoo. A small gift shop sells several types of relatively cheap gift items as pasalubongs.

From MSUan Recto Puno: We had the chance to make a trip to northern Mindanao some 2 weeks ago. Met some MSU friends (mostly members of the msu skylarks). My family enjoyed the white water rafting in Cagayan de Oro, the different springs in Camiguin, and surfing in Siargao island. Mindanao is truly blessed with a lot of things but foremost of which are the warm people you meet everywhere.

From MSUan William Adan: If by chance you are back in Pinas - I mean especially for those who are freezing today in the land of milk and honey - try the challenge of the rapids of Cagayan de Oro River. It will loosen your creaking winter-challenged bones!

It is cheap. Only P500/person in about 3 hours of exciting adventure.

MSUans are all over Mindanao, so if you have the chance, please send a paragraph and a current picture of trourist attractions in towns or cities you recently visited in Mindanao. Tell us about the location, attractions, amenities, months, days and hours open, prices per head and website.

Thank you.


Fred Yap said...

f you happen to be within Northern Mindanao during the Christmas season do not fail to visit Tangub City in Mis. Occ after sundown. The whole town center becomes aglow with the Christmas displays. Its almost magical. Tangub bills itself as the Christmas Capital of Mis. Occ., but I think the City can rightfully consider itself Christmas Capital of Mindanao if not the Philippines! Click on the following links to see what I mean:

Carlos said...

Here is my share for this post. I will let the author do it for me though, hehehe.

Caloy Cuanan

Savoring Sarangani
KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson
Friday, March 28, 2008

Coming home with souvenirs is one of the better features of travel, however brief — like, say, a couple of days and nights at the southernmost towns of Mindanao, namely the seven blessed municipalities of Sarangani.

The province’s name alone evokes exotica. Oh, we pick up the export-quality Sarangani Bay bangus from supermarket freezers, but not too many of our countrymen may yet be aware exactly where it comes from, let alone had the chance to visit Sarangani.

Last week’s turn of fortune led to an initial foray into an alluring landscape, and a haul of goodies to savor — with the tongue, eye and spirit. These include daing na bangsi or flying fish (which I dare say may soon join premium bangus in those freezers, here and abroad), coco sugar made from tuba, mangosteen bars, durian tarts, black river stones, painted bamboo tubes, an antique amber bottle marked 1776, a rock CD album, and recipes to die for, from an excellent lady chef.

Come to think of it, often we associate destinations with food, especially the kind that doesn’t regularly grace our table. Well, I’ve come away from Sarangani with enough memories of “burpfests” to last until a return. May it be a quick one.

But let’s expound on the non-edible items first. The black stones came from a stream in Maitum, one of the seven towns that make up the far-flung province that was carved out of what was formerly South Cotabato. Its elongated bay divides Sarangani into two parts, with the towns Kiamba, Maasim and Maitum in the west, and Alabel, Glan, Malapatan and Malungon in the east.

Also cutting the province into halves is the politico-geographical imposition of a city that’s neither part of Sarangani nor neighboring South Cotabato. This is the boom town called GenSan, for General Santos City, of late associated with national darling Manny Pacquiao, tuna bounty, fine eateries, and a first-class airport as well as other excellent infrastructure said to prove that indeed the area serves as a “lily pad” for the US military.

I recall a first visit way back in the late ’60s when it was still called Dadiangas, a busy port town full of Muslim traders. It must have been in 1969 during the campaign for Marcos’s reelection, else what I would I be doing there, but as a fledgling reporter. From a rocky beach back of a bustling fish market was where I took a dip, sunned, stared farther south to sea, and gained inspiration for a place poem on Sarangani Bay. That poem was scribbled on the inside of an emptied cigarette pack, paying a paean to our southernmost spaces. But it’s been lost, eventually replaced in the associative memory banks with the phrase “the Bad Boy of Dadiangas” that referred to boxing champ Rolando Navarrete of the ’80s.

Getting back to Maitum, it’s the farthest town in Sarangani’s western half. Say “Maitum” to an Indiana Jones fan and he’ll tell you it’s the site of a notable archaeological find in 1991: the 2,000-year-old anthropomorphic jars or secondary burial jars discovered at Pinol Cave, and now finding their final resting place at the National Museum, along with pottery shards found in Sitio Linao that are said to be 3,000 years old.

Replicas of these Maitum jars and shards from our deep past are displayed at Mayor Elsie Lucille R. Perrett’s office at the town hall, shown us by municipal accountant and guide-for-the-day Beth Ramos-Palma Gil.

Of course it helped that our visit was on an invite from good friend Paul Dominguez, former Presidential Consultant on Mindanao, and whose 30-year-old son Miguel just happens to be Sarangani’s reelected governor.

Beth also took us to a stream where we picked up the distinctive black stones that gave Maitum its name. Well, they may not be centuries old, but hey, Pinol Cave is half-a-day’s trek up in the hinterlands, so we were glad to settle for the glistening pumice specimens. And the daing na bangsi.

Maitum is also getting famous for its whitewater tubing down Pangi River, which recently placed among the cleanest rivers in the country. For only a hundred pesos, one rides a large black tire tube that’s been tied up in parts to resemble a circular sausage, with the hole giving way to a spider web design the river guides themselves created. That’s where you sit or recline, while a guide navigates behind you, on his own tube.

The 12-kilometer whitewater stretch is negotiated in an hour, with a brief picnic break halfway downriver. All for a hundred pesos! No wonder word of mouth has drawn hundreds of visitors monthly, and that over 30 river guides have been trained for the barangay-based operation.

It was the former Maitum mayor’s younger brother, sporting enthusiast Vincent Yabes, who discovered the delights of whitewater tubing. Unlike with Cagayan de Oro’s whitewater rafting experience, the Pangi River was found to lend itself better to individual tubes.

The president of the river guides’ association, newly elected kagawad Jimmy TaƱedo, recounts that it was Governor “Migs” Dominguez, as dynamic as they come with youthful good looks, energy and vision, who saw the tourism potential and provided the operation with safety equipment such as life vests and helmets. Now the agricultural community of New La Union, born of Ilocano settlers from the 1920s, has found another source of considerable income.

Maitum has always been a model town, gaining awards for its outstanding program for the promotion of children’s rights, and as Most Business Friendly Municipality. Over lunch hosted by Mayor Elsie Perrett, we learn that it could also soon figure in a culinary map for its daing na bangsi, recently developed as a cottage industry, thanks to a special marinade with a secret ingredient added to the usual vinegar and garlic.

The flying fish are caught with gill nets, says Mac Perrett, the half-American, half-Thai but homegrown husband of the mayor. After the marinade is applied, the bangsi are sundried only so much, to retain flesh dampness. The town hopes to acquire cold storage facilities so that fishermen can just keep on hauling in the flying fish whenever allowed by good weather. As it is, the bangsi stock is quickly bought up, at 50 pesos a kilo, so that not much makes it to GenSan where it’s gained a demand.

The first Bangsi Festival is being planned for the last week of January. Some of the bangsi are also turned into chorizo and patties, which we had for the sumptuous lunch that also featured the uncommon managat, a kind of perch that’s a delicacy. I had only heard about it from Madame Judy Araneta Roxas, who suggested trying to catch it fresh at one stall in Farmers Market in Cubao. I never did, so tasting it at a dining room of a hilltop cottage overlooking vast fields of coconut and the bay beyond now counts as a memorable experience.

In Kiamba, it was Mayor Rommel Tomas Falgui’s turn to treat us to binignit, what we know as ginatan, for merienda. Purplish with ube, the coconut sauce alone called for seconds. The mayor’s lolo had joined the second Ilocano migration in 1926, after the first in 1922. His lola, still erect and hearty at 92, joined us to contribute more lore. Could be the binignit that accounted for her longevity, we wanted to say. Or maybe it was the coco sugar, cooked and compressed from collected tuba while it’s super-sweet, before it turns six hours old.

The mayor took us on a walking tour of Kiamba, which in 1972 was adjudged the most beautiful town in the country. Evidence remains among its art-deco wooden houses, the Gabaldon school building, and the former Tama movie theater. Conservationists would do well to pay Kiamba a visit and help restore or preserve some of these structures, including a 1956 church thought to be an early work by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin.

The municipal port, soon to be upgraded, supplies 30 percent of sashimi-grade tuna that goes to Japan through GenSan. Natural attractions include the Tuka Marine Park fringed by a white-sand stretch, Badtasan Falls for its hydro massage (only a 15-minute walk from town), Nalus Falls, and another cascade known as Bocay-il, which is T’boli for “clear water.”

In Glan in the eastern half of Sarangani, Dr. Tranquilino “Dodong” Ruiz II regales us with tales of migration that saw the coming of the Sangirs from Indonesia, the Maguindanaoans, the Americans and the early Christian settlers that were mostly Ilocanos and Cebuanos. They would all augment the indigenous peoples or IP’s — the B’laan, Tagakaolo, Kalagan, T’boli, Manobo, and Ubo — to make of Sarangani a home to what’s called the “tri-people of Mindanao.”

The rich ethnic diversity is represented in the Colono Marker in town, which shows American military officers with B’laan chieftain Mangalaw, a Datu Wara, and early settlers, including Dr. Ruiz’s lolo, Tranquiino Bartido Ruiz, who was the Agricultural Colony-9 superintendent from 1914 to 1936.

The Ruiz family memorabilia that Dr. Dodong maintains in his residence includes vintage photographs and furniture, including an elegant commode handcrafted by a Japanese master carpenter in the 1930s. The display room also became the source of the latest addition to someone’s old bottles collection, together with a pair of geometrically painted bamboo containers.

Glan has a long stretch of white-sand beaches dotted with modest resorts, among them the White Haven owned by Ernesto Adarna. These face the Celebes Sea, with Indonesian isles only an eight-hour rough ride away by boat.

On the beachfront was a staple feature of the Sarangani coastline: skewered coconut shells painted in wild colors and standing like totems in a row. Obviously, the creativity of local artists and craftsmen take inspiration from the exuberance of flora, led by the ubiquitous African tulip tree, the occasional caballero (still flowering in November!), the durian with its sprays of white crown flowers, roadside neem trees, rambutan, lanzones, and varieties of euphorbia or koronang tinik on every barrio street, competing with the bougainvillea.

On our last night, Gov. Migs’ buddy Butch Baliao, former chef of Ziggurat in Makati, and who has come home to open the Hookah Bar for kebabs in GenSan, cooks up a storm at the Alcantara-Dominguez families’ plantation. The Petron group led by Nick Alcantara is in town for yet another school building donation. Together with Dole Philippines and the USAID with its GEM infrastructure program, Petron has been a caring stakeholder in the province.

Gov. Miguel Rene Alcantara Dominguez joins the family affair. Growing up in Davao City and Anabel while shuttling between his parents’ farmlands, he was educated at Ateneo de Davao all through grade school and high school before earning an AB economics degree (major in economics and minor in rural development) at Boston College in 1999. Coming home, Migs served as a product development manager and later as the national sales and marketing manager for Alsons Aquaculture Corp., which gives the world the Sarangani Bay premium milkfish. He’s also chaired Creative Concepts Food Services, Inc. (CCFSI).

And so we come full circle. A bachelor who tools around on a BMW 650 so that he’s visited every hinterland barangay (which accounts for his popularity), Gov. Migs himself loves to cook. It’s a skill inherited from his mother Rosie, who’s written up enough recipes for several cookbooks. She graciously shared four of these with us when we complimented her on her fine paella on our first dinner. Rosie’s Paella, Rosie’s Perfect Chicken Adobo, Iberian Chicken and Chap Chae will eventually be served on our own table, once we find the time.

For now, we still savor the memory of the sinampalukan na kambing (goat’s head) at Cassado, a billiards bar run by Mike Calixto. Unofficial bouncer Pando Sacdalan, a dead ringer for the late Ronnie Poe, is an onstage feature whether you like it or not. They’re said to be the self-appointed musclemen for the young gov, whom they had mentored in biking and beer drinking. They’re also caterwaulers of the first water, so that we enjoyed our post-midnight hours in GenSan, especially when the regular Sunday performer, Bert Moralde, sang the popular ditty extolling Cotabato.

Among our souvenirs is a rock-n-roll CD by the upcoming MIGS Band (said to be an acronym for Musically Inclined Group of Sarangani). Its lead song has the following refrain:

“Sarangani/ Halina’t tuklasin ang kagandahan mo/ Sarangani/ Nasa iyo ang pag-asa ng bukas/ Sarangani/ Ikaw ang tunay na lupang pangako...”

This promised land is currently celebrating the MunaTo Festival, starting last Friday with “Fabli Gu Ni,” B’laan for “I am selling this” — a trade fair of native artifacts. Coinciding with Sarangani’s 15th foundation anniversary, the MunaTo (a native term for “first people”) fest gives homage to cultural diversity by showcasing traditional arts and crafts, dresses and dances.

I may not make it back early enough this week to catch the Pearl of Sarangani beauty contest, but I hope to make it for the street dancing with the fabulously costumed B’laans and the rest of Sarangani’s first people. (First published in Philippine Star - November 25, 2007)

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