SOCCSKSARGEN or South Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos Region has just about everything that the adventurous would give their eyetooth for; except that its perceived proximity to conflict areas is like an invisible barrier locked for good measure with negative travel advisories.
But that doesn't mean that the locals are giving up as they launched their tourism campaign, #SoxIsNext, inviting visitors to try their outdoor activities, especially in Sarangani Province. #SoxIsNext is anchored on the premise that people all have their top of mind destinations. With the top of mind destinations done with, Socsksargen is next.
During the long weekend that marked the Labor Day celebration, Sarangani launched its Dive Safari as the Department of Tourism 12 headed by its Director Nelly Nita Dillera positions the province as a premier dive destination.
It was a power-packed team of divers who joined, with mermaid coach Aabelle Jimenez from the national capital, the youngest multi-awarded underwater photographer, 15-year-old Garri Immanuel Tadlip with his father Oleg Emmanuel Tadlip from Cebu, and couple Alieth Bontuyan from Cebu and Uwe Michaelis from Germany, and this writer representing Davao City.
Joining them is Michelle Lopez Solon, wife of Sarangani Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, and Lemlunay Resort owner Paul Patridge in Maasim, Sarangani.
“We are trying to recover the negative impressions of Mindanao, and through you, we can change this reaction and promote Sarangani as a new dive destination,” Dillera said.
"We are doing marine preservation efforts as we are in the middle of a protected seascape," Gov. Solon said.
Under then President Fidel V. Ramos, Sarangani Bay and a portion of the municipal waters of Maitum, Kiamba, and Maasim in Sarangani Province were declared as Protected Seascape under Proclamation No. 756 to protect and maintain its coastal and marine resources.
While the waters, which goes out to Celebes Sea is for the more advanced divers because of strong currents and the bluewaters offshore reefs, it is definitely a destination divers should put in their must-go list.
For one: It's the only dive destination that boasts of giant bumphead parrotfishes (Bolbometopon muricatum) in just over 20 feet depth. The sight can be astounding, even shocking, especially when you meet a school like we did. The flickering white lights of the sun reflected on the surface could turn dark and before you realize it, you are facing a school of fishes as long as human beings but much wider stirring up the sand. Our first encounter was a school of around eight full-grown bumpheads off Tuka beach. The second encounter was with a lone bumphead on my last dive just off the house reef of Lemlunay, while finning from the sandbar to the resort wall.
The night dive just down the stairs from Lemlunay was awesome with just about every critter a macro photographer would want to take a photo of.
For those who are not inclined to diving, there is the popular paragliding at Safi Ranch 1, Sitio Seguil, Barangay Tinoto still in Maasim, Sarangani Province.
Zip through the seven falls of Lake Sebu and settle down to appreciate the weavers, dancers, and chanters that have brought about the dreams from which the t'nalak cloth designs have come from. While there, drop by the Land Dulay weaving center as well. Explore further the Tawsuvan Falls in Magpet and the Asik-asik Falls in Alamada. Camp out at Lake Agco in Ilomavis, Kidapawan City. Visit the villagers of New Israel in Makilala. Enjoy the softer than soft white sand beaches of Gumasa in Glan. Go river-tubing at Wali River in Maitum. Immerse in the Blaan culture at the Lamlifew Cultural Village in Malungon.
There's the tarsier sanctuary in Tupi. For the birders, the favorite destination is the Baras Bird Sanctuary in Tacurong. There's more. But this initial list should already convince you that indeed, Sox should be next in your list.