To locals, General Santos is simply called as Gensan, where the finest tunas in the country come from. To sports aficionados, it is known as the hometown of three boxing champions: Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire and Rolando Navarette. Miss Universe 2011 third runner up Shamcey Supsup also hails from this city. But there’s a lot more to this city in the far south
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY HENRYLITO D. TACIO
As a tourist destination, General Santos City, popularly known as Gensan, beckons. That was what we discovered when we visited the gateway to Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, and South Cotabato. Historical sites, ecotourism destinations, beguiling festivals, captivating beaches, and mouth-watering foods – name it, the city has it.
General Santos is a highly urbanized first class city, and is the 15th most populous city in the country. As early as 1970, Gensan has been tagged as the tuna capital of the country. “The total daily catch of adult and juvenile tuna unloaded in the city can surpass that of any other fish port or even the entire unloading of all other fish ports in the country combined,” its tourism brochure claims.
Over 22 metric tons of tuna are being dispatched every day from the General Santos Fish Port Complex, which lies along the shores of Sarangani Bay; it is about 17 kilometers south of the city proper. If you come early in the morning, you can catch those people carrying those huge fish in their arms.
Tunas are large, migratory oceanic fishes. There are 21 tuna and tuna like species in the country but only six are commercially important. Among the big tunas, the important species are the yellow fin tuna (albacore), the big-eye tuna (tambakol), and the skipjack (gulyasan).
Gensan is known for the powerful swimmer yellow fin tuna, which rarely ventures into dirty and murky water, making it one of the safest fishes to eat. This species has a bright red flesh with meaty flavor. It is so versatile that you can grill, bake, broil, or sauté it.
Sashimi-grade tuna are exported to Japan, Canada, United States, Hong Kong, and Korea. These are also sold to leading hotels in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao and other parts of the country. In the Philippines, tuna is the main ingredient of kinilaw.
As fishing industry is the main engine of the city’s economy, Gensan celebrates Tuna Festival during its anniversary, which happens every first week of September. The week-long celebration features different events and activities focusing on the tuna industry of the province.
In February, Gensan comes lively as it observes the Kalilangan Festival. Derived from the root word “Kalilang”, the fest literally means “celebration” in the Maguindanaoan dialect. The month-long festivity features assortment of sports tournaments, native Filipino games, cultural shows, barangay gatherings and other special interest events.
But there’s more to Gensan than just tuna and festivals. If you love extreme adventure, you better go to the Fifth Mountain Adventure Park located among the highest peaks of mountainous barangay Olympog. It takes only 27 seconds to get to point B from point A. “It is so fast and so high that all you can do is scream,” said Gensan blogger Avel Manansala.
Although a gateway, Gensan has its own eco-tourism destinations. Once such destination is the Kalaja Karsts Land (derived from the word kalaha, which means “a frying pot”), located at the northeast part of barangay Conel. The place is surrounded by karsts formation that was carved millions of years ago, which has now produces caves and waterfalls.
It is said that during the World War II, the Japanese colonies made this land their ground defenses which is why there where pieces of artifacts from the Japanese that were found in the place. Tunnels did exist during the early years but they are now unavailable due to some developments in the place
For those who want to have some actions and fun, see the 12 waterfalls of Amiskong. Going there was very interesting. First, we drove 11 kilometers from the city proper to barangay Conel. From there, we rode a truck following not a road but rather some dry parts of a river. “During the rainy season, this river is flooded,” we were told.
After 45 minutes, we arrived at our destination. Since it was still 10 in the morning, we decided to start our hiking going to the Amiskong Waterfalls. The trek was about 30 minutes. Then, we started doing rock climbing from one waterfall to another waterfall. It was fun but risky. The longest fall is measured 30 feet while the shortest is three feet.
After the hiking, swimming, and rappelling, we went to the camp where a B’laan chieftain, and his wife and children, welcomed us. He showed us the indigenous way of cooking rice and pork using freshlycut bamboo. When they were cooked, we tried the food which we found to be delicious (not because we were hungry).
But if you don’t like going out from the city, you can always go to the Plaza Heneral Santos. A promenade of the whole family and meeting place for friends, it offers wonderful fountain, lagoon fish (where there is a bridge over it), green environment, beds featuring rock garden, flagstone pathway, and steel chairs scattered throughout the park. A must to behold: General Paulino Santos monument.
Manilay ancestral house
Another must-visit place: the ancestral house of the Manilay, which stands at the secluded purok Malakas in barangay San Isidro, some four kilometers away from the city’s plaza. The ancestral house is a sight to behold. Sort of a museum, priceless collections abound inside the house: old typewriters, telephone, radio, bottles, cabinets, paintings, necklaces, and various memorabilia, among others.
That’s not all. You can also find some of vehicles from the past: 1917 White truck (with half of its body made of wood), 1965 red mustang V8/289 engine, a Ford Falcon 6 cylinder 1962 car, a 1972 Mini Cooper, and a 1979 Mitsubishi Minica.
Feeling hungry, well there are many places where you can eat to your heart’s content. On top of the list is the Sarangani Highlands in Tambler, which has an awesome view of Sarangani Bay and downtown Gensan. On a clear day, you can see the majestic Mt. Parker and Mt. Matutum. Whether you are looking for breakfast, lunch, dinner or just snack, there is always something delectable to order.
The Ranchero Grill and Seafoods Restaurant at the National Highway offers the best baby back ribs in town and the mouth watering kinilaw na tuna and sizzling bulalo. Delectable chickens are best served at the Chicken Hauz in South Osmena.
Where to stay
Looking for a place to stay? Try Roadhaus Hotel, the stay-in accommodation owned by Manny Pacquiao. Aside from being a cozy place, you get to see also a lot of memorabilia such as photos and trophies from the boxing matches of the owner.
Other places where you can sleep for the night include East Asia Royale Hotel, Sun City Suites, Antonio’s Apartelle, Phela Grande Hotel, Sydney Hotel, MLoft Business Hotel, and Sonly’s Suites.
The B’laan people are the original settlers of the area once called Dadiangas for thousands of years. In 1939, General Paulino Santos led the first and largest batch of settlers organized under the National Land Settlement Administration to the shores of Sarangani Bay. The 62 pioneers, who mostly came from Luzon, industriously tilled Cotabato’s fertile expanse of land. After this first influx of pioneers, thousands more from Luzon and Visayas migrated into the area.
The territory became a municipality in 1948 and was named Buayan. In 1954, it was renamed General Santos as a tribute to its great pioneer (a park near the city hall is built in his honor). It gained its status as a city in 1968.
Gensan is served by the General Santos International Airport. It has flights from Manila and Cebu. You can also ride a bus from Davao City going to Gensan; travel time is about 4 hours.
“The Fifth Mountain Adventure Park ride is so fast and so high that all you can do is scream”
December 2017 Health and Lifestyle