December 28, 2014 Travel

Another one off my bucket list! I finally got to see Lake Sebu.

I have been wanting to visit this place for the longest time. I even tried going there alone last year. My friend's stories about this placid lake in the Allah Valley of South Cotabato and its cultural group, The T'bolis, got me interested. There was also this movie K’Na, about a T’boli woman who became a dreamweaver. Plus, I wanted to meet L’ang Dulay, a T'boli conferred the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) award in 1998 for her high-quality t’nalaks.

So, when Izah Morales of Explore8 posted early this year about their planned SOCSARGEN tour, I immediately decided to join. It was my first time joining Explore8, or any local tour agency, and it was a really pleasant experience. I got to see Lake Sebu, meet Be L'ang Dulay, and buy myself a T'nalak. Plus, I also experienced a lot more about this soulful region.

T’boli Museum

Our first stop in South Cotabato was the T’boli Museum, which was set up by former Lake Sebu Vice Mayor Bao Ba-ayto to preserve and showcase T’boli culture.

We arrived mid-morning after a two-hour trip from General Santos City, where I met the rest of the group. We all took the early morning flight from Manila to General Santos City and had breakfast at Mt. Sabrina Resort, where Izah conducted her briefing for all her guests.

It was my first time stepping inside a T’boli house, and I really liked the layout. The sides are elevated, and the lower central space is perfect for activities, like weaving. The windows open outward and serve as shelves or hanging-out places during the day.

Memorabilia and artifacts are displayed at the museum. After an introduction to T’boli heritage, we were treated to traditional music and dance.

Punta Isla Resort

The street where the museum is located leads to our hotel, so that was where we proceeded next. That was where I had my first sight of Lake Sebu, and it was as beautiful as I expected.


Over lunch, we were entertained by a group of dancers.

Among those they performed, the last was the most fascinating. In that dance, the lady tried to attract a man by swaying and turning while smiling, winking, and sometimes giggling.

Punta Isla dubs itself as the best in Lake Sebu. It does give a spectacular view of the lake. The rooms are modest, though. Do not expect white sheets, folded tissue papers, and nice scents. The hot shower is working, though, and the beds are comfy enough. Plus, they are very kind to accommodate my request for extra pillows so that I can elevate my left leg while I sleep. PWD concerns.

We were allowed a few minutes rest then we took off to our next destination – the Seven Falls.

Seven Falls

One of the wonders of Lake Sebu is the Seven Falls. The first one, Hikong Alo, which is pictured below, can be reached via a footpath.

The main tourist drawers, though, are the ziplines, which stretch over four waterfalls -- Hikong Bente, Hikong B'lebed, Hikong Lowig, and Hikong K'foi. The zipline ride is divided into two legs. The first leg is 740 meters long, while the second leg is shorter at 420 meters.

I made the mistake of staring at my phone during the entire duration of the ride as I was shooting a video. But, if I paid attention, I would have seen the rainbow arching over the waterfalls. Anyway, it was still an exhilarating ride.

After the thrills, we relaxed on a cruise of Lake Sebu at Mountain Eco Lake Resort.

Lake Sebu Cruise

It was a perfect afternoon. We were surrounded by the beautiful lake, served local delicacies, and entertained by Y'egas, the chanting queen of Lake Sebu.

The cruise provided its own tour guide, who enlightened us about the rich culture of the T'bolis. Following this insightful briefing, Y'egas took the stage, chanting about us, her guests, and then gracing us with traditional dances. Lake Sebu served as the perfect backdrop for this cultural immersion.

After the cruise, we made our way to meet L'ang Dulay.

L'ang Dulay

Sitting in front of L'ang Dulay felt surreal. Even in her quiet demeanor as our guide briefed us about her and her intricate weaves, her presence commanded the room.

L'ang Dulay is a dreamweaver, deriving her designs from the realm of dreams. She embarked on her weaving journey at the tender age of 12 and, now at the age of 90+, she continues to pass on this cherished tradition to the younger generation of T'bolis.

Of course, my visit wouldn't be complete without acquiring my own piece of t'nalak. The skilled ladies at the weaving center graciously selected a design for me, known as Mebaga Kelagan, traditionally believed to bring comfort during times of illness.

School of Living Tradition

As dusk settled in, we bid farewell to L'ang Dulay's residence, the Manlilikha ng Bayan Center. Our final destination for the day unfolded at the School of Living Tradition (SLT), where a delightful dinner awaited, complemented by an enchanting performance of traditional dances by the school's talented students.

While the initial plan was to spend the night here, the unexpected influx of visitors prompted a change. I am reserving that now for future stay.

In an SLT, a cultural specialist imparts traditional skills and techniques to students, preserving the rich heritage of arts and crafts. This particular SLT is overseen by T'boli cultural worker Oyog "Maria" Todi-Arroz.


Our second day of the Soulful SOCSARGEN Tour commenced with a visit to the first village museum in the Philippines, Lamlifew. Located at Sitio Lamlifew, Malungon, Sarangani Province, it was a three-hour drive from Lake Sebu, passing through the starting point of our tour, General Santos City.

Our itinerary outlined a packed morning, beginning with a museum tour, followed by a cooking demo, and concluding with a visit to the school of the B'laans. Despite the seemingly busy schedule, all these activities were conveniently situated in the small village.

Upon our mid-morning arrival, we were warmly greeted by adorable children performing traditional dances.

Following their captivating performance, we proceeded to a cooking demonstration. The skilled practitioners showcased a traditional method, slow-cooking rice enveloped in coconut leaves and chicken encased within bamboo poles.

Naturally, we sampled the culinary delights during lunch, indulging in a variety of B'laan dishes, and the flavors were truly delightful.

 Following our delicious lunch, we embarked on a tour of the weaving center.

The B'laans are renowned for their expertise in brassworks, beadwork, and tabih weaving. Similar to the T'bolis, they adorn themselves in vibrant, embroidered native costumes and intricate beadwork accessories. Notably, the B'laan attire includes charming tassels.

Next, we explored the museum showcasing B'laan artifacts within a traditional B'laan House. Our visit was complemented by another captivating performance of local dances, this time featuring the esteemed elders of the cultural community

Manilay Ancestral House

Following our visit to Lamlifew, we proceeded to Manny Pacquiao's farm, checked in at Drigg's Pension House to rest, and later enjoyed dinner at Manilay Ancestral House. It was quite intriguing to discover this ancestral house in the heart of the young city. Purposefully constructed by Mr. and Mrs. Warren Manilay, using ruins from old houses in Laguna and Batangas, the residence served as a home for their expanding antique collection.

Before our evening meal, we were treated to a brief tour of the house. Beyond showcasing vintage cabinets, paintings, and memorabilia, the Ancestral House also housed an impressive collection of vintage vehicles.

GenSan Tuna Port

When thoughts turn to General Santos City, fondly nicknamed GenSan, the iconic images of tuna and Manny Pacquiao quickly come to mind. We immersed ourselves in both experiences on the third day of our tour.

Our first destination was the tuna port, marking my second visit to this bustling location.

It's important to note that this port stands as the Philippines' most modern and extensive facility dedicated to fisheries. Boasting impeccable standards of cleanliness and safety, all visitors are equipped with boots provided by the fish port and are required to pass through a foot bath before entering.

Notre Dame Museum

Moving forward, we continued our journey by passing Pacquiao's stadium and then proceeded to Notre Dame of Dadiangas University's The General Paulino Santos Museum, Inc.

This museum is a treasure trove of memorabilia from General Paulino Santos, the visionary leader who guided the first settlers of General Santos City in 1939. Beyond his legacy, the museum also showcases cultural artifacts and dedicates a section to celebrate the prominent sons and daughters of General Santos City, prominently featuring Congressman Manny Pacquiao

My attention was captivated by the Maitum Jars exhibit, evoking memories of my time with the Department of Tourism.

The Maitum Anthropomorphic secondary burial jars were unearthed from Ayub Cave in Pinol, Maitum, Saranggani Province in 1991. They were prominently featured in an exhibit sponsored by the Department of Tourism while I was still working there.

MunaTo Festival

Following the museum tour, our next destination was the Sarangani Provincial Capitol, where the highly anticipated MunaTo Festival awaited. Excitement filled the air as we prepared to witness the vibrant street dance.

What unfolded before us was comprised of only two contingents — a marching band and the group below. It certainly fell short of the grand street parade I had anticipated.

While the festival may not have met my grand expectations, it was far from a complete disappointment. 

The MunaTo Festival gathers the municipalities of Sarangani to celebrate the province's founding anniversary. Each town showcase their best.

It showcased the MunaTos, representing the first people of Saranggani. It also featured the T'bolis and the B'laans. 

We also had the pleasure of meeting the Tagakaolo cultural group. Their performance included captivating displays of music, dances, and chants.

I was also blessed to meet another master weaver, B'laan Fu Gusiye Buan, who is already 86 years old. She holds the distinction of being the sole active weaver in Saranggani. 

Fu Gusiye Buan joined other weavers and bead accessory makers at the Looms and Beads exhibit.

The festival also highlighted Moro cottages showcasing traditional wedding practices. The vibrant colors were irresistible, prompting me to capture the moment through photographs

As the afternoon rain poured down, we decided to return to General Santos City for some much-needed rest. Our chosen accommodation for the final night in SOCSARGEN was Saranggani Highlands.

On a Sunday, I concluded my 3-day SOCSARGEN journey with a peaceful mass at the nearby Our Lady of Good Voyage and indulged in a delightful buffet at Sarrangani Highlands. Unfortunately, an ulcer attack prevented me from joining the rest of the group for a nightcap. I had to retire early, as the following day brought an early morning flight.

There you have it. While our brief 3-day trip wasn't sufficient to fully immerse myself in these culturally rich experiences, I was treated to truly captivating glimpses of what makes SOCSARGEN soulful.

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