After a couple of hours of ragged joyride along the scenic Upi-Lebak National Hi-way, we finally reached the town of Lebak as darkness starts to take a bite of the remaining sunlight. We were there for enough time to stretch our legs, because as quickly after we shook off our cramps we boarded a tricycle for a six kilometer trip to the next municipality of Kalamansig. As the beautiful scenery we encountered on the way to Lebak wasn't enough, we saw the sun as it slowly fades away in the horizon as we passed by the vast green rice fields. Rolling smoothly on the highway I saw the towering trees deeply rooted at both sides with branches extending and touching each other at the center of the road. Looking up I could see the welcoming party already.
It's been a long day since we arrived with the sunrise in the city of Cotabato aboard an AirPhil Express flight and with almost nada of a sleep the previous night, we walked out of the heavily guarded airport like a bunch of extras from the Walking Dead. All that has been replaced though with a new found zest, as if we downed a case of Red Bull energy drink when we visited the Golden Mosque earlier in the day. During lunch time, we were treated to a sumptuous meal at Pagana Kutawato by Miss Gurlie Frondoza - a tourism officer in Cotabato City.
Surprisingly, we found an inn at the heart of the town. It's called JV Lodge and was manned by a marine looking friendly man who told us we were duped by the conniving tricycle driver and his co-pilot when we exhibited gullibility and paid them 150 pesos from Lebak, on what should have been only 80 pesos. A warning light bulb lit up inside my head, reminding me its "Duped # 2", with the first one courtesy of our tricycle driver in Cotabato City who brought us from the airport straight to the Golden Mosque earlier.
After resting a bit we met up with Miss Zhea Apatan and Kana-Anne, both sweet girls were employee of the Municipal Government, where Zhea works for the Information Systems Office and Kana for the Office of the Vice Mayor. We had dinner at probably the only still open establishment within the town at 8:00 pm, located beside the road. We talked about the plans for the next day as they promised to take us around their quaint town.
Our room comes with an AC, a cable TV and dozens of mosquitoes for only 500 bucks. I was planning to watch the second game of the PBA but had grown weary of the bites i'm having from our little room guests so I decided to just shut my eyes off. Lauren - tired from the day's traveling also fell asleep like a baby. She would by snoring cutey sounds an hour later.
The next day started at 5:30 am, we first saw Kana as she lives near the lodge we're staying. She took us inside their Municipal Hall and into the town's plaza and the mini zoo, the highlight of which is when one of the caged monkeys attempted to snatch Lauren's bag in two rapid moves.
We met Zhea at the plaza and proceeded to the market to buy our breakfast consisting of Pastil - a Mindanao delicacy made up of steamed rice with flakes of chicken, beef or fish and wrapped in a banana leaf. For 10 pesos each, you could have a decent meal already.
Beside the market is a small fish port, where we saw a lone boat unloading the early morning's catch. Kana told us the waters of the Moro Gulf and leading into the Celebes Sea on the horizon of Kalamansig is teeming with aquatic life. Some of the giant tunas being unloaded each morning at the GenSan fish port is said to even come from the waters near Kalamansig.
We had our breakfast at Poral beach, where small nipa cottages are built and some are still being constructed. The sands at Poral ain't that clear, but fine and powdery nonetheless suitable for a long emo-walk against the backdrop of a setting sun. Where we've headed though is called White Beach, so original I know. I think Filipinos have grown tired of naming a beach characterized by blinding white sands and crystal clear waters, that they just refer to each as White Beach.
Though, I've been to many white beaches before, I was still excited at the thought of swimming into one of the finest beaches in Sultan Kudarat. I never even expect myself to be traveling to this part of Mindanao a few years ago. Back then I imagine Mindanao as some war torn island, with violence ranging left and right. A number of incursions however briefly, into Mindanao the last couple of years have really changed that mis -guided conception.
We spent half of the day just lounging and learning to perfect our freestyle and butterfly stroke at the beach. We get to know more about the two girls same as they learned that I wasn't a Muslim. I just looked like one because of my long beard. We also learned that in Sultan Kudarat, both Muslims and Christians live together in harmony, something our mainstream media here in Manila never bother to report to us.
It was a short yet lovely trip to this part of the world. Lauren and I had a great start to our 6 day Western and Northern Mindanao trip. Since she's off to migrate to Canada in a few days time, it is paramount for us to create these memorable experiences together to catapult us into looming long distance relationship. Also, we picked up a couple of new friends as well. A week later after we arrived back in Manila, we learned from Zhea herself, that she's in Manila too - to try and experience working here. And yes, we plan to meet up with her before Lauren flies off to Montreal.
Sukran Sultan Kudarat.