This one’s for the Cebu Pacific Blogging Challenge announced months ago in WordCamp 2008. I don’t know whether I could win the contest sponsored by Cebu Pacific since I’m not a very good (travel) writer, but we’re talking about roundtrip tickets here. – Marocharim
* * *
About six years ago, me and my fellow staffers from the high school paper boarded a flight bound for General Santos City to participate in the 2002 National Schoos Press Conference. The place was just about an hour away from Manila, and the idea of riding a plane made the experience even more exotic. As soon as we landed on the runway and disembarked from the plane, we were greeted by high school students dressed in their native costume, performing dances to the tune of Mindanawon percussion instruments.
There were those lush, verdant, forest-covered mountains that surrounded the city by the bay. The city was bustling, yet serene. It was in GenSan that I bought my two Rammstein albums, which were my taste in music back in the day. I really felt like a tourist, buying souvenir shirts and all sorts of curios from Gaisano Mall. The only things that remained of my GenSan shopping expedition was a long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved GenSan souvenir shirt, and that long orange tubao that, as luck would have it, is still with my ex-girlfriend.
The city-sponsored motorcade made me feel like a celebrity, waving at the friendly folk who went out of their way to greet the student journalists from up North. I was mesmerized by the sight of giant tuna fishes being hauled off to the fresh fish markets. I bought a lot of daing, dried squid, and an entire crate of unlabeled canned tuna. Well, that made for an interesting day at the school we were billeted in. And an interesting day of packing and boarding the plane afterwards.
If there was any one amazing experience I had six years ago, it definitely had to be the best sinugba I ever had. On our last day at GenSan, figuring that we may have had enough of the familiar foods we were served, the teachers at the host school decided to serve us the most appetizing grilled dish I have ever had. The lightly-grilled tuna cheeks, lightly salted and flavored with just a hint of lime, is a taste I will never forget. To this day, I have never had sinugba as good as I had it six years ago.
As soon as we left for Manila, I promised myself that one day, I’ll return.
Much has happened to General Santos – and to myself – after six years. I do not know what happened to General Santos City years after the bombing of Gaisano, or when Manny Pacquiao put this city on the map. Perhaps Gaisano stands again, and the Tekken 3 machine (if it at all still exists) still has my record. Perhaps the tuna hauled off the trawlers are bigger and more succulent than I have had them. Perhaps the people are as friendly as I saw them, some of whom even greeted our delegation in Ilocano. Perhaps the sinugba tastes just as good as I have had it a long ago… perhaps even better.
I want to go back to General Santos City not as a tourist, but as someone who has been there before. Not as a stranger, but as a traveler who has seen what this beautiful city has to offer. I want to return to General Santos and relive those experiences not as a high school kid going on a field trip, but as a young writer starting from scratch, looking to experience and live a full life in his own country. To experience it, to live it, to write about it.
Most of all, I want to have that yummy, delicious, succulent, delightful sinugba once more. Well, so much for the drama.
Not many of us like to leave our comfort zones, thinking that a “trip around the Philippines” can be done from postcards or from books or travel guides. It seems that when someone takes a good picture of a destination, like say, General Santos City, you view it and you seem to have already been there. If there’s anything I learned six years ago in General Santos, it’s that the best way to explore your country is, well, to explore it. You have to walk all over it, find great things to do, and of course, taste the best things to eat. You need to get out from your comfort zone, pack your bags, and seize every opportunity to can to go back… or at the very least, hope for return.
Six years after I first set foot in GenSan, I hope to return.