No Danzig, But Us at Kalamansig | Sultan Kudarat

We arrived in Lebak after a couple of hours of ragged joyride along the scenic Upi-Lebak National Hi-way as darkness began to eat away at the remaining sunlight. We only had time to stretch our legs because as soon as we shook off our cramps, we boarded a tricycle for a six-kilometer ride to the next municipality of Kalamansig. As if the breathtaking scenery on the way to Lebak wasn't enough, we saw the sun slowly fade away in the horizon as we passed by vast green rice fields. Rolling smoothly on the highway I noticed the towering trees deeply rooted on both sides, had their branches extending and touching each other in the center of the road. Looking up, I could already see the welcoming party.

Kalamansig Beach

It's been a long day since we arrived with the sunrise in the city of Cotabato aboard an Air Phil Express flight. 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.

Eileen Campos

Surprisingly, we discovered an inn in the center of town. It's called JV Lodge, and it's run by a friendly marine who told us we were duped by the devious tricycle driver when we paid him 150 pesos from Lebak for what should have been only 80 pesos. A warning light bulb flashed inside my head, reminding me that it was "Duped # 2," with the first one being courtesy of our tricycle driver in Cotabato City, who had driven us straight from the airport to the Golden Mosque earlier.

Levy Amosin

We met up with Miss Zhea Apatan and Kana-Anne, both sweet girls who work for the Municipal Government, Zhea for the Information Systems Office and Kana for the Vice Mayor's Office. At 8:00 p.m., we ate dinner at the town's only remaining open establishment, which was located beside the road. We discussed our plans for the next day as they promised to show us around their charming town.

Celine Murillo

For 500 pesos, our room comes with an air conditioner, cable TV, and dozens of mosquitoes. I had planned to watch the second PBA game but had grown tired of the bites from our little room guests, so I just closed my eyes. Lauren, who was exhausted from the day's travel, dozed off like a baby. An hour later, she'd be making toddler snoring sounds.

with Marky Ramone Go and Lauren Denoga

The next day began at 5:30 a.m., when we first saw Kana, who lives near the lodge where we are staying. She took us inside their Municipal Hall, into the town plaza, and into the mini zoo, the highlight of which was when one of the caged monkeys tried to steal Lauren's bag in two quick moves.

Eileen Campos

We met Zhea at the plaza and went to the market to get Pastil, a Mindanao delicacy made of steamed rice with flakes of chicken, beef, or fish wrapped in a banana leaf. You could get a decent meal for 10 pesos each.

White Beach in Kalamansig

A small fish port next to the market is where we saw a lone boat unloading the morning's catch. Kana informed us that the waters of the Moro Gulf and the Celebes Sea on the horizon of Kalamansig are teeming with aquatic life. Some of the massive tunas unloaded at the GenSan fish port each morning are said to have come from waters near Kalamansig.

Potpot Pinili

We ate breakfast at Poral beach, where small nipa cottages have been built and some are still being constructed. The sands at Poral aren't crystal clear, but they're fine and powdery enough for a long emo-walk against the backdrop of a setting sun. But where we're going is called White Beach, which is quite common in the country. I believe Filipinos are so tired of having to name beaches with blinding white sands and crystal clear waters that they simply call them White Beaches.

Even though I'd been to many white beaches before, the prospect of swimming into one of Sultan Kudarat's finest beaches piqued my interest. I never expected to be visiting this part of Mindanao just a few years ago. Back then, I imagined Mindanao as a war-torn island with violence raging left and right. A number of incursions, however brief, into Mindanao in recent years have changed that misguided perception.

Market scene in Kalamansig Sultan Kudarat

At the beach, we spent half the day relaxing and practicing our freestyle and butterfly strokes. We learn more about the two girls, just as they learn that I am not a Muslim. Because of my long beard, I just looked like one. We also learned that in Sultan Kudarat, Muslims and Christians coexist peacefully, which our mainstream media in Manila never bothers to report on.

Desa Tayting

It was a quick but pleasant trip to this part of the world. Lauren and I had a fantastic start to our 6-day trip to Western and Northern Mindanao. Since she is leaving for Canada in a few days, it is critical that we create these memorable experiences together to catapult us into a looming long distance relationship. In addition, we made a couple of new friends. After we returned to Manila a week later, we learned from Zhea that she, too, is in the city to try her hand at working. And, yes, we intend to meet up with her before Lauren departs for Montreal.