(Mis) Adventures Going South – First Leg: GenSan

Or my five-day vacation trip to the Southern Philippines – my first proper vacation in two years, and the first one I’ve had outside Luzon. I was invited to tag along with my friend’s visit to her family’s homes in General Santos City and in Davao City.

As I’ve written before, my ideal vacation has always been one where I’d just laze about and not do anything. I’m not really adventurous (or active, even) so this was my first time to travel to several different places (GenSan > Davao > Samal Island > GenSan > Sarangani) in just one vacation. But I enjoyed it immensely, despite some misadventures on my part. I had great company – which to me is one of the most important factors to an enjoyable vacation, more important than where you actually go or what you do. Great company makes an ordinary destination/activity awesome, but an awesome/top-rated touristy destination/activity can be effectively ruined by bad company 😉

The flight to General Santos City from Manila was about an hour and a half to two hours. We arrived in GenSan in the afternoon and Gem’s sister took us to Sarangani Highlands Garden, where we had a late lunch/merienda of adobo, chop suey and rice. Simple enough fare, but with some interesting differences from the usual way they are cooked in Manila. For one, the chop suey had black and white fungus (varieties of edible mushroom), and the adobo had what I had thought were string beans. It was when I ate a whole piece that I realized they were skinny green chillies. It was only the proud Bicolano side of me (that I got from my mom’s family) that prevented me from sputtering and losing my composure. But those disguised chillies were HOT.

♪ ♫ Sarangani Highlands….♫ ♪ The place has its own theme song, that would waft into the dining area every once in a while. It sounded like a Chinese opera, and we thought the lyrics were in Chinese. Until I recognized the last few words as “…at Sarangani Highlands…” ♪ ♫ ♪

View from Sarangani Highlands Garden.

View from Sarangani Highlands Garden.

Sarangani Highlands Garden also has civet coffee. You could order a cup to enjoy there or buy a pack of ground coffee beans to take home. None of my companions were brave enough had a hankering for caffeine, so we didn’t order any. (Flash forward, though — I would get a chance to try the coffee myself, but much later).  For those who are not familiar with civet, or alamid, coffee, this is reputedly the most expensive coffee in the world. An alamid would eat the fleshy part of the coffee berries, but swallow everything, including the beans (seeds). Its digestive enzymes would naturally “process” the beans and these will pass out of the alamid otherwise unharmed. Coffee farmers will then gather these beans, wash them, and roast/grind them like any other coffee. Yes, we are talking cat poop coffee here. As I understand it, this coffee is expensive because the alamid are wild and the “harvested” beans are gathered in the wild (in the mountains of Bukidnon, if I am not mistaken).

So, next best thing to coffee is …

Lovely, pinkish purple drink! Dragonfruit shake at Sarangani Highland Gardens.

Lovely, pinkish purple drink! Dragonfruit shake at Sarangani Highland Gardens.

Something pink and girly. Maybe equally scary as cat poo coffee. We tried dragonfruit, or pitahaya shakes. I’ve never had the fresh fruit myself, but I’ve heard it has a mildly (bland) sweet taste, and that it is actually good for people with diabetes. The shakes we had were already sweetened and were somewhat creamy (so I guess they had milk or cream in them), so they were ok.

By the time we were finished with lunch, the sun was already setting and we were able to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. It’s not everyday you can see mountains, the sea, the sky, and lots of plants and flowers all in one place (especially if your everyday environment is the city’s concrete and steel and smog).

Almost sunset at the Sarangani Highland Garden in Tambler, General Santos City.

Almost sunset at the Sarangani Highland Garden in Tambler, General Santos City.

View from Sarangani Highlands Gardens. The sky, the sea and the mountains :)

View from Sarangani Highlands Garden. The sky, the sea and the mountains 🙂

Love the bonsai in Sarangani Highland Gardens. If ever I get my own bonsai, I would put little felt fairies/elves/diwatas around it :)

Love the bonsai in Sarangani Highlands Garden. If ever I get my own bonsai, I would put little felt fairies/elves/diwatas around it 🙂

There were a lot of interesting things to look at. There were a lot of flowers — it was a garden, after all.

Pretty golden yellow blooms. In Sarangani Highlands Garden.

Pretty golden yellow blooms. In Sarangani Highlands Garden.

A large gumamela (hibiscus) at the Sarangani Highlands Garden.

A large gumamela (hibiscus) at the Sarangani Highlands Garden.

Lovely flowers at the Sarangani Highlands Garden.

Lovely flowers at the Sarangani Highlands Garden.

Flowers, or to the uncouth botanist -- plant vajayjays. Those are very fragrant ylang-ylang blooms at the bottom right.

Flowers, or to the uncouth botanist — plant vajayjays. Those are very fragrant ylang-ylang blooms at the bottom right.

An uncommon variety of santan (well, I rarely see them.) The blooms are smaller, with pointy petals.

An uncommon variety of santan (well, I rarely see them.) The blooms are smaller, with pointy petals.

There were unexpected things, too, if you take time to notice them.

Found this little fellow hidden among the shrubbery. For some reason it reminded me of History Channel's "Ancient Aliens" -- I swear I could hear the ancient aliens theorist dude saying, "There's no other possible explanation for this but --ALIENS!"

Found this little fellow hidden among the shrubbery. For some reason it reminded me of History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” — I swear I could hear the aliens dude saying, “There’s no other possible explanation for this but –ALIENS!”

I love the "dendro-manic" chairs at Sarangani Highland Gardens.

I love the “dendro-manic” chairs at Sarangani Highlands Garden.

It was a great first day, even if especially because it was so relaxing to not be doing anything work related. The sun was sinking below the horizon when we finally left, and headed for Gem’s sister’s house, where we were to spend the night before heading out to Davao the next day.

A lonely tree on a hill in Tambler, General Santos City. View from Sarangani Highland Gardens.

A lonely tree on a hill in Tambler, General Santos City. View from Sarangani Highlands Garden.

Next leg of my (mis) adventures going south — Davao City and the Island Garden City of Samal.

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