October 2014 – Last March, a few friends and I planned to visit and explore what we can of Mindanao, without breaking the bank. We waited for a seat sale and booked a flight to the fascinating island in the southern end of the Philippines. We wanted to visit a few scenic spots and take a break from the crazy hubbub of the metropolis.

First stop: General Santos City. For a chartered city, GenSan had very few stores open in the morning, which was bad news for starving tourists. So we just lugged our heavy backpacks around as we waited for the city to come to life. After two hours of waiting, we had breakfast at (you’ll never guess where) McDonald’s. (We badly wanted to try their tuna, as GenSan’s the Tuna Capital of the Philippines, but most stores and restaurants opened late in the afternoon.)

SM Mall, General Santos
The only tastefully designed SM I’ve been to. (Photo by Grace Anne)

We didn’t have time to explore GenSan as it was only our jump off point to our actual destination – South Cotabato. After buying supplies and snacks at KCC Mall, we rode a tricycle to the bus station to begin our travel to Lake Sebu. (Manong driver reminded us not to give our bags to the porters at the station, as they might overcharge us.) We rode the Yellow Bus Line to Koronadal City (Marbel), where we hopped on another bus to Surallah. At the Surallah Integrated Terminal, we waited for the jeep that will take us to Lake Sebu. (At this point, I must say that I was already very impressed by the transportation system in Mindanao. The jeepney and bus drivers are disciplined, courteous, and helpful, too.)

Around 3 in the afternoon, we arrived at the T’boli School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions (TSIKAT), where we were to stay the night. After unloading our bags, we had a late lunch at Bob Nowong (“pond boat”), which was about half a kilometer down the road. It was the first of many meals that we had tilapia for our ulam—but I’m not complaining! I love fresh tilapia, so I didn’t have a problem with that.

School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions, Lake Sebu
The entrance to our home for the night. (Photo by Lovely)

Crispy Tilapia from Bob Nowong

Back in TSIKAT, Ma’am Maria (09354569359) introduced us to T’boli culture. As I expected, the peace-loving T’bolis are highly creative and artistic. We heard fascinating stories about their weaving tradition, their dances and songs, their crops and livelihood, and their continuing effort to document every aspect of their culture, including their chants.

Ms. Maria of TSIKAT
Look at all those marvelous t’nalak. (Photo by Lovely)

Nevertheless, an afternoon’s worth of stories could not satisfy my curiosity about these people. The history and traditions of the T’boli people are very interesting—I plan to return some day to learn more. Moreover, I want to pursue my love for indigenous textiles by learning as much as I can about the dreamweavers and their t’nalak, which is a fine, woven cloth with various uses. I also want to find out more about their lifestyle, especially how they managed to keep their traditions intact. =)

Me with one of the lolas in Lake Sebu
She doesn’t speak Tagalog or Cebuano, but I could feel her warm welcome anyway =)

Later in the evening, Ma’am Maria told us that some of the kids from the village will visit us and share stories. It was getting late (around 8 PM), and it was a school night, so we did not expect them to knock on our door anymore. We were all tired from the long travel, anyway. To our surprise, the kids still went and visited us, and we spent a good part of the night listening to their songs and stories. We listened to them play their musical instruments, including the hegalong and the enchanting kulintang. They even danced for us! Those charming kids were very proud of their heritage, I could not help but feel sorry for Tagalogs their age who know nothing about Filipinos apart from what they see on TV and what their bigoted teachers and parents may say.

Talented T'boli children
These beautiful children have the sweetest smiles in the world. (Photo by Lovely)

After the kids left, I had a restful, dreamless sleep. I could not ask for a warmer welcome to the beautiful province of South Cotabato.


is a digital marketer in a firm in Makati who loves locally sourced coffee, a bowl of zesty pho, and rusty old trains. She likes to write about the places she’s been to and the places she wants to see.