My first out of town trip this year was to South Cotabato to attend the wedding of my cousin. I was so excited for this trip because it would be 20 years since I have visited my cousins’ hometown of Banga, South Cotabato. Because we arrived a day earlier, my family graciously toured us around. We are a pasalubong-loving family and the itinerary of “one day South Cotabato tour” centered around the things we would like to bring back to Cebu.
There is a story behind why pasalubong would be my first item in my “what to do in South Cotabato” list. My daddy, my mother’s eldest brother, married an Ilongga from Banga, South Cotabato. My first visit to Banga was when I was three years old and all I can vividly remember of that visit was me looking down upon a “lake” where lots of white swans were swimming. My second visit to Banga was after graduation from elementary school when I was 12 years old. The journey to Banga from Cebu took 24 hours and included an overnight boat from Cebu to Cagayan de Oro, a 12-hour bus ride from CDO to Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, and another hour or so (I could no longer recall from the fatigue) by van to Banga.
My daddy is a big pasalubong bringer. He would bring us any kind of pasalubong items from South Cotabato — from the most popular such as pineapples, rambutan, tuna, to the exotic such as an eagle! He would bring us homemade achara, fruit jams. He would bring my grandmother live plants. Because I love listening to my daddy’s tales, that is why I always look forward to visiting Banga again. That never happened and I could not believe it has been 20 years since my last visit.
This time, I was relieved to learn that travel time to South Cotabato has been substantially reduced because of the opening of the Cebu-General Santos Cebu Pacific route. The General Santos airport is located far from the main highway and expect to pay 150 pesos for a taxi to the main highway. We arrived at the General Santos Airport at 7:20 in the morning, Mt. Matutum giving me just a tiny peek of its peak. Our first agenda for the day was to eat breakfast at our relatives’ house. Of course, we were having tuna and I almost could not stop eating because, freshly caught, tuna is sweet and delicious.
Having our belly filled with (tuna) belly, we drove to Polomolok to the Trappistine Monastery at the foot of Mt. Matutum. The road going to the monastery is flanked both sides by pineapple plantation. My cousins have tried going to the monastery by tricycle. It should be fun, except the road is unpaved and if you treasure your ovaries, you should not dare. The Trappistine Monastery is known for its baked products. My cousin recommended the chocolate crinkles. My favorite is the pineapple biscotti. Aside from baked products, the monastery is also a good place for a retreat and some soul searching.
After buying almost everything at the Trappistine Monastery shop, we went to the Durian Farm, along the South Cotabato-Saranggani Highway to have lunch. We had to wait for the food and while waiting,we toured around and check out the condition of their ostrich. It was my first time to see a durian tree and I did not realize it could be very tall. Sorry! I was thinking all the while that durian trees are my height. I was looking for fruits and did not bother to look up higher. The food was unexpectedly good despite the humble-looking nipa restaurant. I loved their lumpiang shanghai. Because it’s a durian farm, they have durian pies and cakes, and ice cream. I did not taste them though because I am not fond of durian and I was eating buko pie my cousin brought from Laguna.
To shed off the extra calories, we checked out the Sunflower Farm in the hopes of getting lost in a labyrinth of golden flowers. It was unfortunate that almost all parts of the sunflower area of the farm had dead sunflowers. Skye, a toddler who was with us, commented that the zombies arrived ahead of us. I bet the farm would have been more charming if we arrived earlier than the zombies. After the failed attempt at getting lost in a sunflower labyrinth, we decided to buy fruits at the official fruit stand along the main highway with Mt. Matutum serving as a backdrop.
Our last stop was Marbel, just one town from Banga. My cousin had her nails done at the KCC (Koronadal Commercial Corporation) Mall while my other cousin and I browsed around the department store. After my cousin’s much-needed beauty sleep at the salon, we walked to Bean & Grape to enjoy a fishbowl size of fruit punch and a really good iced coffee for me. We went to Kablon Farms’ outlet store in Marbel but it was already closed. (The shop closes at 5PM). I went back the following day, early morning, and got my fill of their jams, coconut sugar, coffee, chocolates and cocoa butter.
I packed a three-kilo bag for four days and went home with 13 kilos more in pasalubong. Next time, I would buy the 20-kilo excess baggage.