After a butt-numbing whole day habal-habal tour around town, me and my buddy retired on a roadside shack that serves food and booze. The modest eatery had the perfect view of Lake Sebu with its glowing reddish orange skyline. And it was perfect; the sun setting on the highlands of South Cotabato while we were starting to booze up. A kilo of freshly caught crispy fried Tilapia landed on our table, and then everything went black (rotational brownout in Mindanao), and then a romantic candlelit drinking sesh.
South Cotabato wasn’t part of the original plan. We scored a roundtrip promo fare from Manila to GenSan (P1100) thinking about basking in the intense heat of Sarangani beaches when somebody mentioned Lake Sebu, then light bulbs.
To my surprise, there are three lakes on this part of Mindanao; the biggest of which is Lake Sebu (also the name of the town), next is Lake Seloton (the deepest) and Lake Lahit. The easiest way to go here from General Santos City is traveling by AC vans stationed at Bulaong Bus Terminal at P150. It will take roughly 2 hours or more to get to the town of Lake Sebu.
We intended to stay on the only resort in Lake Seloton, Sunrise Garden Lake Resort, for the first two days. I fell in love with it that our plans of exploring more of the lakes and waterfalls were easily dismissed when the tranquillity of this middle child lake hushed us to calm down and relax a bit.
I effortlessly woke up on our second day with hopes of witnessing a great sunrise (which is famous on this side of the town). It was not as majestic as I would imagine it to be but what stood out was the laidback and peaceful vibe of it. The fish pens at Lake Seloton were dotted with white herons that seemed to be playing hide n’ seek with Tilapia fishlings. The morning burning pits at the edge of the rolling hills added the perfect dramatic feel. There’s a fisherman revving up for the day as he glided through the lake with a traditional dug out wooden boat. The sunrise was, well, typical but the scene made it exceptional; a not-so-ordinary way to start the day.
And just like a dream it came to an end. The dreamlike countryside scenery at Lake Seloton was really hard to leave. It calmed my senses and almost sedated me; a natural high of some sort. It's my favorite among the three.
And as if on cue, we were transported back to reality when we started the butt-numbing and backbreaking habal-habal tour around town. We got the services of Kuya Eric Aguilar (0935.970.1986) for a whole day tour (P500). So me and my buddy squeezed our not-so-tiny bodies on his motorcycle and explored Lake Sebu.
We started on looking for place to stay that night and asked Kuya Eric to bring us to the cheapest one in town. The Municipal Tourism Lodge has one of the cheapest starting from P60 per bed on a dorm room to P300 for a private room (for 2 persons). Not bad eh?
Our private room was basic; two beds and a private bathroom. It didn’t have fan or whatever but the nippy weather at night made me wrap myself on a blankie. Perched on a hill, the view from the lodge was amazing; the beautiful landscape of Lake Sebu.
We just dropped our bags and then went ahead with the tour. First stop was a lunch lake cruise courtesy of Punta Isla Lake Resort. An old vacation house turned into a resort, it pioneered the resort industry at Lake Sebu in 1995. Since then, it has become the leading resort to offer accommodation, restaurant and cruise.
At eleven in the morning, on a Saturday, Punta Isla Lake Resort was packed with guests and diners. We booked for a lunch lake cruise and waited for it on one of the cottages overlooking the lake with some beers. We had to booze up this early, blame it on the lovely view.
We had pre-ordered our food and were stunned on the different dishes dedicated for Tilapia, I counted twenty. We asked for the bestsellers, the Chicharon Tilapia (P260) and Sinanglay na Tilapia (P235) and then added Crispy Pata ng Punta Isla (P390) to balance it out (the food triangle. haha).
Our table was empty except for the two of us. The other tables were filled with big groups who seemed to be too excited for the cruise. Our food arrived right before we sailed on.
The Chicharon Tilapia was crispy on the outside and soft (flaky) on the inside. The prawn crackers brought about the right texture to complement the fish. The Crispy Pata was also a hit and should be eaten while it’s hot.
The winner for me was the Sinanglay na Tilapia. The coconut milk-based dish was reminiscent of Laing in Bicol but in a unique way. The filleted Tilapia was wrapped in cabbage leaves together with onions, tomatoes and ginger and went swimming on a coconut milk and native green chilli-based sauce. The chilli provided the perfect kick for the creamy coco milk. Steamed rice is essential here.
The one-hour lake cruise felt fleeting and we had to move on.
Next stop was the famous Seven Waterfalls of Lake Sebu. We had to pay P20 each for the entrance fee. We hiked towards Hikong Alo, the first of seven. It was almost summertime so the 35-feet high waterfall wasn’t raging. We did a couple of snaps and went ahead to the second waterfall which could be reached by either hiking 700+ steps or the zipline.
It was the highest and longest zipline in the country. The Seven Falls Zipline runs at 180 meters above ground (which is 300 meters above sea level). The first line covers 740 meters for 40 seconds while the second one is 420 meters for 20 seconds. Prepare P250 on weekdays and P300 on weekends per person for the ride (superman style).
Me and my buddy were strapped and suspended. We were calm and started to set our cameras to burst mode. The ride was fascinating and we were constantly taking snaps while searching for the waterfalls. It was so fast and the waterfalls were shyly gushing in the middle of a lush tropical rainforest. It’s the first time that I wished it was wet season for we could probably have seen all the waterfalls in full rage.
The second zip was the same; it was so fast that we didn’t have enough time to appreciate everything. I am so blaming this feeling to our Treetop Jungle Explorer in Laos where we spent two days trekking the deep forest of Bolaven Plateau and experiencing 4-minute self-directed ziplines overlooking great lush tropical rainforest and dozens of waterfalls.
After the 1-minute 250-peso ride we hiked to the second of seven, Hikong Bente. The 70-feet high waterfall was standing grandly amongst rocky hills. The misty foggy effect of the water felt like we were on a dream.
The other five can be reached by a whole day trek with a guide.
Next stop was the house of Lang Dulay, the master dreamweaver. Started at the early age of 12 years old, she became the best T’nalak weaver as she expressed her dreams through her unique designs. A Philippine icon who used abaca fibers in expressing her feelings rather than words; truly a Philippine treasure. Too bad we’re a year late, we should’ve met her if we came years before.
Her house was now turned into a memorial and a souvenir shop. The pricey T’nalak cloths were beautiful. I wish I had some extra moolah to buy a meter or so.
To cap off the day, we asked Kuya Eric to bring us to a roadside overlooking Lake Sebu eatery or store that sells beer. He brought us to Aguilar Eatery where it exceeded our minimal requirements; it had some booze, food (crispy fried Tilapia ftw!) and a great view of Lake Sebu at sunset. What a perfect way to end a lovely day.
We woke up the next morning feeling great. We asked for a pick-up from Kuya Eric to be dropped off at the van terminal going to GenSan. It was 10 minutes before 6:00 am and we hopped on again on his habal-habal with our backpacks and camera bags. The misty morning wind roughly brushed against my face as we manoeuvred through the zigzaggy road of Lake Sebu. It was three days of lake life plus unending Tilapia escapade. I promise not to eat Tilapia for a month after the trip. Haha.