Last September SouthCotabato.Org launched the 1st SCT Blog-Writing Contest: The South Cotabato Experience in partnership with the Provincial Government of South Cotabato with the help of South Cotabato Tambayan Admins and Moderators and supportive members. Here's the winning entry of our 1st Prize winner Jr Lopez Gonzales of Iligan City.

Supremely Surprising South Cotabato!

“Ano? Taga-Cotabato ka? Hindi ba magulo doon?” I was kinda used with these questions after hearing me say where my home province is…I replied, “Yes, I was born and raised in South Cotabato. Hope you can visit my home turf so that you’ll realize why my heart solely belongs to that place”.

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For almost six years now, I have been away from my home. I merely have the opportunity of going back to South Cotabato once a year (and if sometimes I get lucky, twice). I blame the insufficient bank account and the bottomless pits of work for this. Waay abi sing damo nga kwarta mo. (Transliteration: I have no lots of money, that's why).

Life is not a piece of cake especially if you’re living alone in a far-off place where you grew up. After finishing four years of my undergrad education, I decided to study law here in Iligan City while working at daytime as a college teacher. Working like a dog in this city, a half-day-bus-trip-away from your folks, simply meant a “challenging” life.

Spending some sixteen years on my home province gave me a sense of affection towards it; a thing hard to believe by people whose minds were inked with negative notions of Cotabato being unsafe. I remember an appalled co-teacher who said: “Ano? Taga-Cotabato ka? Hindi ba magulo doon?” (Transliteration: What? You’re from Cotabato? Is it safe there?).

I was kinda used with these questions after hearing me say where my home province is . Somehow getting the hang of it, I replied, “Yes, I was born and raised in South Cotabato. Hope you can visit my home turf so that you will realize why my heart solely belongs to that place”.

Somehow after an ample time of staying away from home, I developed my nostalgia outlet. I often grab the opportunity of going back to the Municipality of Tupi on the two-week long Christmas breaks. After the vacation, my loneliness would spring to life and a coping mechanism, I have musings of turning back time to when I had my wonderful moments at my Southern turf.

Since my two-week vacation is a few months away (it will already be October tomorrow!), let me share to you some of my happy moments and my stress-relieving escapades at my home province...

On a bus ride upon reaching my place, I can instantly tell if I’m nearing South Cotabato just by a quick glance outside the bus window. How? If I see the stretches of wild grass, trees and ricefields which are interrupted with occasional sea of pineapples and cornfields, I know I’m close to home.

Formerly among the country’s dormant provinces, South Cotabato is progressing significantly with the lure of exciting activities drawing a record number of both local and international tourists alike. Although South Cotabato’s claim to fame on the international tourism stage came in the form of the highly lauded Lake Sebu, the province is fast gaining fame for its numerous activities on its other municipalities, too. Lake Sebu and Tupi towns will be the focus of today’s musing. First stop will be Lake Sebu.













I’ve had my first taste of Lake Sebu back on my high school days. We had a provincial journalism seminar scheduled at the town and I was one of the delegates. I never knew that it was grandeur as it is.

We took the Tupi-Marbel bus trip and hopped to another going to Surallah. From there, we had a short trike ride to a jeepney terminal bound to Lake Sebu. From Tupi, it would take more than 3 hours to get there. (If you’ll be starting off from GenSan, it will take more than 4 hours). But the trip is twice engaging, especially while on the jeep trip to Lake Sebu.

I still can’t forget that feeling even it happened a couple of years back. The jeep going up to the lake-town was slogging heavily on the snaky road, probably due to its heavy cargo and passengers. It was pretty slow but as I with the delegate went upwards, the cool South Cotabato wind can be felt. Thinking about this reminds me of my Tagaytay escape last year.

Staying at the Punta Isla Lake Resort, for three days, I never missed the opportunity of seeing the golden sun rise as it reflects on the mirror-like surface of the idyllic lake. There and then, I appreciated the beauty of this picturesque cozy haven. And with luscious huge lake tilapia dishes for our meals, both my eyes and stomach were deeply satiated.

The Lake Sebu experience seemed was not enough for me that after a few months, upon hearing that the 2004 Provincial Scouting Jamboree was to be held at the same town, I quickly enlisted myself to scout there hoping to visit the place one more time.

You may experience riding on a habal-habal (motorbikes on steroids of quick trips) as substitute to the dawding jeepney trips. I’ve experienced riding on those grand prix motorcycles on my second Lake Sebu outing.

I’ve had the opportunity of traversing through its glorious seven falls. The hours of hike may get arduous but for adventurers out there to help you for the trek, I've got a tip: secure a cane (mine was a makeshift cane from a kakawati trunk). But when you finally reach the seven interconnecting falls, you’ll surely appreciate this great work of The Almighty.

I’ve enjoyed my five-day camping there by enjoying other exhilarating activities such as rock-wall climbing, rappelling, and kayaking. One can also enjoy the 700-meter zipline dash there. Tourists can also visit huts where the native T’bolis interlace indigent threads on a loom to make the famous t’nalak cloth. It is the inspiration for the joyous month-long festivities of the province thus calling it “T’nalak Festival”.

Lake Sebu was truly a dreamlike place for people on an eco-vacay. No wonder this “South Cotabato Summer and Tilapia Capital”, was acclaimed internationally considered by the German hiker Jens Peters* as "the country’s most beautiful lake". It was even featured by Discovery Channel one time. As a South Cotabateño, it truly made me proud.

While the pristine Lake Sebu is South Cotabato’s top tourism jewel, my hometown of Tupi was also making the news. This is our second stop. Tupi is not just a sleepy town where buses plying the Koronadal and GenSan routes stopped only briefly at the bus terminal to load and unload passengers.

A municipal forest park called “Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape” in Barangay Linan, Tupi is making high notes for wildlife tourism. And why wildlife tourism?

Bohol = Sole home of the tarsiers? Now, it doesn’t hold true anymore. It was recently discovered that a throng of the world’s smallest primates were naturally breeding here in Mindanao – and that’s in my hometown of Tupi. Those adorable bug-eyed ET-looking creatures are now protected by the townspeople and last year formally made the landscape a protected area open for tourism business.
Tupi, known in the region as the home of Mt. Matutum and the “Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Basket of South Cotabato”, boasts many surprises too. The now tourist center, Barangay Linan, is a mere 5-kilometer ride from Poblacion. A few years back, I’ve visited Linan hotsprings and it is a good thing the local government is making ways of promoting and developing this environmental fantasyland.

Clearly, Tupi’s pride can stand up to par with Lake Sebu, given the potential attractions of the Bailinan River, pineapple plantation, orchards, its eleven falls, caves, springs, and pilgrim hills. Tupi’s Linan is a haven for relaxation after one’s fast-paced leisure activities, indeed.

Springing back to reality, reliving my precious trekking experiences at South Cotabato never failed to refresh me. South Cotabato is one of the country’s fastest rising tourist destinations. The question of the province’s security is never an issue for people who use good sense, I believe. Well aside from my mom’s delish home-cooked meals and Tupi’s fresh fruits, meeting Linan’s tarsiers will be a thing I will surely look forward to.

So if you're planning for a place to visit, my serene home province is obviously a sure hit that would take your breath away. You may check out www.southcotabato.org for your awaiting unforgettable escapade. Or better yet, you may inform me A.S.A.P. and don't forget to prepare your camping gear, backpacks and fare.
This December, you will be sitting beside me on the bus.






Read the full article at The Official Weblog of JR Lopez Gonzales

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