“Gensan? Where in Korea is that?” a friend once asked me.

“No, no.” I quickly replied. “Gensan is just in Mindanao!” I would always have to add that Gensan, as General Santos City is popularly called, is just three hour’s drive from Davao, the more popular city in Mindanao.

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View of Mt. Matutum from the sea

(Photo by Lorraine Anne Lumayag)

That’s exactly how a lot of people used to know Gensan—as the city near Davao. Not many people knew where it was until Manny Pacquaio brought the name with him to the international boxing ring. Called a “Boom Town” in the mid to late 1990s, it has bagged the “Most Competitive City” award in the Philippines three times in the past ten years. General Santos City attracts many investors in the fishing and agricultural sector as it boasts of a very stable climate. Seldom experiencing typhoons, the fertile land (thanks to Mt. Pinatubo’s volcanic activities decades ago) and the vast marine life in the Mindanao and Celebes Seas brought the city this recognition. We could plant anything in our backyards, and it would grow, even without much TLC.

Tuna is the number one export product of Gensan. Or it used to be, until celebrities like Manny Pacquaio and his family, and local stars who got their starts from Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) came along. In the recent years, overfishing in some areas has led fishing boat operators to look elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific Seas. But don’t despair—Gensan Fishport is still a site to visit, as the day’s catch still showcases huge tuna hauls from our seas. Gensan’s secrets, however, should be explored both overland and under the sea.


POLOMOLOK AND MT. MATUTUM

Kalsangi in Polomolok and a monastery run by Trappestine nuns at the base of Mt. Matutum are the less known places to go if you want to get away from the normal city life. About 45 to 50 minutes away from Gensan, one needs to travel past extensive pineapple fields in Polomolok, so make sure you get a driver who knows the way.

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The Kalsangi Golf Course

(Photo by Lorraine Anne Lumayag)

Kalsangi is a lush compound of pine trees, and is an exclusive community of Dole Philippines expatriates or top management employees and their families, consisting of a golf course, a clubhouse, a swimming pool, and a school, plus charming American style wooden houses. It was my life for two years when I studied there. To be able to go inside, you need to get access from a Dole employee since it is closed to the general public.

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If you cannot get in Kalsangi, but are still looking for a quiet place to enjoy, the Trappestine Monastery in Landan at the foot of Mt. Matutum, Polomolok is the place to be. I went there for a retreat back in high school, and remember mostly its pristine environment. You can attend mass and be in awe with the angelic voices of the nuns, who are secluded, by the way. After your self-reflection, you can help support them by buying their rum balls!


GUMASA BEACH

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Beach at the Isla Jardin Del Mar on the Glan, Gumasa Beach strip.

(Photo by Lenilynne Go)

Down south going to Glan, Gumasa beach strip is also becoming popular. I went to the newly opened Isla Jardin Del Mar last December, and the clear waters and white sand brought the words “untouched and virgin” to my mind. Seldom do we see these kinds of places these days. The most awaited event is the Saranggani Bay Feast (May 26 to 29, 2010), which will feature a beach volleyball and Best Bay Bodies competition. Cottages for rent range from P1,300 to P2,500 a night. About one hour away from Gensan, this beach resort is truly a spot you shouldn’t miss, with much more to be discovered. You may call them at (63-83) 893-0032 for further information.


CITY SIGHTS

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Manny Pacquaio (left) and the author

(Photo used with permission from Lenilynne Go)

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As the city's progress continues, Robinson’s Mall has set its sights in getting a chunk of the market from originals Gaisano Mall and KCC Mall. In a year or two, SM will open their own malls as well. These three malls can offer you some retail therapy after those out-of-town trips. For dinner, you can try Rancho Grill along National Hi-way or treat yourself to and enjoy sumptuous seafood dishes at Grab A Crab and Coffee Shop 101 (which are conveniently next to one another). If you want the road less traveled, try the Barbeque Strip (barbecue stalls owned by different people lining one road) at Lagao—since the barbecue’s sold at only P5 a stick, you can get a good meal for under P50. You can easily get around the city in the box-type tricycle unique to Gensan.

I wonder how this once laid-back city would now be viewed by General Paulino Santos, the city’s namesake and leader of the first and largest set of settlers into Dadiangas, as it once was called, according to the city’s website. The city has been blessed and is abundant with not only food, but also world champions like Manny Pacquaio. He may have started to call nearby Saranggani his home now, but he still has many businesses in Gensan. For a night out, go to his JMP2 Building on Aparente Avenue, and you may just get lucky and see the man himself playing pool on the ground floor or just checking in at JMix Club on the second floor. My friends and I had the good fortune to be there and see him last December.


SARANGGANI

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Pawikan (sea turtle) underwater in Saranggani Bay

(Photo by Lorraine Anne Lumayag)

Last and certainly not the least, for underwater enthusiasts, nothing beats the marine life in Tinoto, Saranggani. Samples of underwater life can be seen at GoSarangani.com. The Tinoto Wall is teeming with soft corals, colorful fishes, and on a lucky day, one can see schools of barracuda, mackerel, jacks, and even the elusive napoleon wrasse. You can contact Lemlunay Dive Resort at (63-920) 914-9259 to plan for your dive escapade.


General Santos City boasts an airport with a runway that can accommodate big planes, at par with international standards. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific planes fly there from Manila and Cebu daily. You can also travel by bus from Davao for a day trip, though visiting and fully appreciating all the places mentioned will require about two to three days.

The places mentioned are the places I go when I’m at home. I always order the pompano and tuna panga both at home and when dining out; these are the staples for my Gensan trip. As they say, there’s really no place like home! So what are you waiting for? Come and visit Gensan on your next vacation!

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