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Thursday, June 7, 2018

SARANGANI BAY BOAT TOUR: A Day Voyage to Underwater Wonderlands

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We are now just about a month and a half past since the fateful order was given to shut down the resort island of Boracay for six months, for the sake of some badly needed environmental rehabilitation measures. So until October 2018, Filipino resort vacationers and overseas tourists will just have to find their warm and sunny seaside getaways elsewhere. Many people in Southern Mindanao have no hurry to go elsewhere when they already have a wonderful sea destination so close at hand, a bay with a coast shared by GenSan and the province that bears its name: Sarangani Bay.
Due to its partly enclosed position, Sarangani Bay is capable of serving as a sanctuary for marine life from the larger expanses of the Celebes Sea to the south. This enables a remarkable amount of biodiversity in the creatures living deep in its waters, from corals to fish, all a boon for the fishing communities living on its coast. The bay’s quality as a natural harbor is helpful to the growth of GenSan along its indentation to become a booming port. And parts of the shore also boast white-sand beaches that tourists love; that’s why Sarangani holds the Sarbay Fest.
Still, for those tourists who would like to explore Sarangani Bay a bit further out more than just swimming from the beach, then perhaps you might want to consider taking a tour of it by boat. It’s a lot more accessible than one might think. Most major resorts in the area, like GenSan’s London Beach Resort, already operate tourist craft ferrying passenger groups for a runaround in the bay, visiting nice swimming and snorkeling spots for timed tours. They in particular have a boat tour lasting three hours, which my team and I have had the pleasure of trying out.
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Our London Beach Resort Boat Tour vessel was a sturdy outrigger boat, capable of comfortably carrying up to 15-20 passengers with both main and sundeck. It was replete with the necessary amenities: bathroom and shower stall (with freshwater storage); kitchen facilities from gas-powered stove to side-hanging grill; a kayak and sound system. There’s even a folding stairway for swimmers and divers’ easy entry into and exit from the waters of Sarangani Bay. Our crew of three was friendly, all were competent men of the sea, and we were happy to be having them take us out for our three-hour tour.
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I cannot stress enough how helpful the London Beach Boat Tour crew has been. At one point we had one of them row one of our team ashore at a fishing community to buy rice to cook for lunch; they were gone and back in less than ten minutes it seemed, and we were back on course without much time lost in the day. Our first destination was a reef formation called S’nalang, and it happened to be just directly offshore from the Pac Man Beach Resort of Senator Manny Pacquiao. Thanks to its marine sanctuary status, we were able to enjoy what came next.
With our boat safely anchored just over the reefs, our team went right on to having fun under the sun. While our rice was cooking on the stove and our lunch roasting on the spit, we took turns jumping off the boat, diving with snorkels to check the coral and fishes swimming amidst them, and lazing about on the kayak. Our crew even gave a showcase of their fishing background by catching fish on a line using bits from our own fresh fish before they were grilled. Our meal was delicious under the summer sun.
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After lunch was done, but with over an hour left on our tour time, we headed for a second reef location called Tampat, close to the cliff shore of Sarangani’s Maasim municipality. Erosion has eaten away at the cliff face where we lay anchor, next to a large boulder formation on the water, reachable from the boat. Tampat reef was notable for its sheer contrast in shallow areas interspersed with deep blue filled with fishes; several local fishermen were in the area when we arrived, and the crew caught a few more themselves. Our team spent what time we had left on our tour exploring the surroundings like we did at S’nalang, before speeding back to London Beach as the sun began to go down.
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Having gotten back to firm ground, I find myself looking back at the events of our trip, immortalized in the many photographs and a few videos we took from the many cellphone cameras between us all. To think, in three hours we visited two spots in Sarangani Bay filled with wonderful marine life, but there are many others beyond the scope of our one trip. Our team is looking forward to a chance of exploring more of the bay that is part of our home, and we would like to invite others from the rest of the Philippines and abroad to come over and check this out for themselves. It is no Boracay island, but it does not need to be. It is Sarangani Bay.

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