Thinking of your next big vacation? Divert from the usual tourist traps such as Palawan, Cebu, or Boracay and experience the unique culture of SOX. Short for SOCCSKSARGEN, it’s the development cluster referring to 4 provinces and 1 city in central Mindanao, namely South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City. If you’ve ever wanted to explore Mindanao, then this is the perfect time to visit as SOX has so much to offer.
GENERAL SANTOS CITY
GenSan, the city synonymous with our Phil. boxer Manny Pacquiao, is usually the starting point for any traveler. Here are some of the spots you have to check out when you come visit:
Adrenaline junkies, take your pick from the ATVs or buggies to get to the next cultural destination. I chose to drive an ATV myself on the way to Lamlifew Cultural Village in Sarangani. The travel time is 1-1.5 hours passing through scenic rice fields and involves crossing two rivers. The drive itself was fun, perfect if you already know how to drive a car or a scooter as it’s pretty easy.
Tip: Wear trekking sandals as you will get wet! Don’t forget your sunblock, too.
Proudly the first farm tourism site accredited by the Department of Tourism, it serves as an organic farm and learning center. Owned by retired pilot Capt. James Fos Reamon, the farm is home to 6 winning inventions including the Aerodynamically-designed Gizelle Windmill and REX Compost Tea Brewer.
Capt. Reamon explained that this is a technology-based natural farm where everything is 100% organic: pigs, chickens, and other animals are free-range and not given the typical animal feeds but eat organic plants instead. This leads to healthier animals, a sustainable farming environment, less waste, and no stench! Also, Felicidad Farms propagates the natural habitat of insects in lieu of using harmful chemical pesticides to ward of pests.
Here’s a sampling of our breakfast that day with all ingredients picked at the farm. This is the Felicided Salad made of succulent watermelons, pineapples, and lettuce greens adorned with ternate edible flowers.
Sarangani is the southernmost tip of Mindanao and used to be part of South Cotabato until it was made an independent province in 1992. Being in Sarangani means you are only 6 hours away from Indonesia via motorboat.
Mindanao has impressively preserved most of its culture and you must visit Lamlifew to experience the Blaan traditions and witness their amazing craftsmanship. Spend an afternoon here and see the Blaan women laboriously weave and perform amazing beadworking in their small community bamboo hut.
Their Gumabal (weaving center) houses 2 traditional expert weavers who create colorful malong skirts called gintlo. Each 400 cm skirt takes 4 days to create with the women intricately weaving 9 hours every day.
In true Filipino hospitality, they served us their local food served in eco-friendly sustainable anahaw plates called smat. I thoroughly enjoyed the alnolot anuk (native chicken, ubud sa saging, ginataan) paired with sweet camote, and then finished off my meal with local coffee. Utterly delicious and so filling!
On the other side of the community is the Lamlifew Village Museum that houses a small but important artifact collection comprised of weapons, brass accessories, gongs, and antique Blaan garments. Launched in November 2008, this is the only community-initiated museum in the Philippines that is endorsed by the National Museum.
Gumasa White Sand Beaches
Touted to be the Small Boracay of the South, Glan in Sarangani boasts of a long stretch of white sand beaches. While I honestly do not think it’s going to be like Boracay anytime soon, this is actually a good thing as you can enjoy the place all to yourself. In other words, it’s not teeming with tourists. You can rest, relax, and just enjoy the unspoilt beach front and rock formations.
I would advise visiting during high tide so you can swim and snorkel, otherwise you might risk stepping on the corals and sea grass. There are lots of cute chocolate chip starfishes in the shallow parts, make sure not to take them out of the water!
Dubbed as “Land of the Dreamweavers,” South Cotabato is a full sensory overload experience. There’s something for the adrenaline junkies, the culture vulture, and the foodie.
7 Falls Zipline
The Philippines is a goldmine of ziplines with the 7 Falls Zipline in Lake Sebu the highest in Southeast Asia at 600 ft above ground, Bukidnon is said to have the longest, with Iligan having the fastest. For years, I’ve been staying clear of Lake Sebu mainly because I am completely terrified of heights and drops (heck, I cry during rollercoaster rides), but when in Lake Sebu you definitely, imperatively have to try the zipline!
There are 2 ziplines you have to conquer, the first is 700m and you’ll see 5 falls, the second one is 400m. If you’re lucky, you’ll also feel a cool mist of water from the falls as you glide across. Keep your eyes peeled for rainbows, too! This zipline was definitely one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life. And yes, I cried.
The story goes, the designs of the T’nalak (abaca-based cloth) are only dreamt by the best T’boli Master Weavers (aka Dreamweavers) who translate these mystical dreams brought forth by their ancestors into the designs we see today. A T’nalak has great signifance for the T’bolis that stepping over a weaving process may bring illness or death, cutting of the fabric is not allowed unless done according to tradition, and when the cloth is sold a brass ring is attached to appease the spirits. Weavers must also practice abstinence during weaving to preserve the purity of their art. (source)
The labor-intensive process starts by stripping abaca fiber from the tree, cleaning, drying, and separating into strands. These strands are then hand-tied and rolled into balls.
Natural vegetable dyes of black, red, and brown are used to stain these hand-spun abaca fibers. A cowrie shell is rubbed onto the cloth to give it a nice natural sheen.
The Lang Dulay Center was created in memory of Boi Lang Dulay who passed away on April 30, 2015 at 91 years old. Known as “The Dreamweaver,” she was given the “National Treasures-Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan” award for developing and mastering the art of the T’nalak cloth of the T’boli tribe.
It’s been reported that Dulay knows a hundred designs, including the ‘bulinglangit’ (clouds), the ‘bankiring’ (hair bangs), and the ‘kabangi’ (butterfly). She has since passed on these designs to her children and grandchildren who are now in charge of continuing her legacy at the center. (source)
Traditional Brass Casting
Here’s a nice love story: Brass casting is one of the popular livelihoods in Lake Sebu. Conia, one of the experienced blacksmiths, says her husband Datu Bundos Fara gifted her with a brass bracelet of his creation during courtship. They are now happily married with 7 kids and continuing their legacy of brass casting. Personalized with her beautiful name, the bracelet is now 31 years old with just minor signs of tarnishing and wear.
On the left is the finished brass bracelet, on the right is a wax model.
Using traditional methods, it takes 1.5 hours (depending on intricacy of design) to finish the bracelets from molding, casting, finishing.
Aside from bracelets, they also create bells, brass figurines, and other accessories take days to create. Datu Bundos Fara is a 3rd generation craftsman who learned his skills from his grandfather, he is now joined by his son as apprentice.
Santa Cruz Mission School is a non-stock, non-profit Catholic institution built in 1961. It aims to assist the Indigenous Peoples (T’boli, Manobo, Blaans, Ubo, Kalagans and Maguindanao Muslims) and provide them with formal and non-formal education. The goal is to help alleviate our tribes from poverty, oppression and exploitation.
Their dance group won 1st Runner Up at this year’s Kudong: Headdresses of BIMP-EAGA Stage Dance Competition during the 1st Budayaw Festival.
This is Mayin, a 9th grader, whose radiant smile was something I really needed to capture. She was beaming the entire afternoon we were there, such a warm welcome for us tourists.
The Santa Cruz Mission School, Inc. is also in need of benefactors. If you or your company is interested to support, please leave a message and I’ll connect you with their President, Maria L. Gandam.
Tupi Food Park
Dubbed as the fruit basket of South Cotabato, Tupi Food Park offers the freshest and most affordable fruits and juices. My picks are sweet corn (sprinkle with cheese powder for extra oomph), durian (yummy!), and their passion fruit and guyabano juices from Kablon Farms.
You won’t miss this as it’s just along the National Highway. Buy your pasalubong here or take a quick merienda break. Here’s another bonus, behind Tupi Food Park is the famous Mt. Matutum!
There is still so much to enjoy and discover, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the beauty of Mindanao. Are you excited to visit SOX? Let Belle Horizon Travel Ventures, Inc. and Wakay Batanes Travel & Tours handle your itinerary.