Go Gumasa for the biggest beach party this summer

Tired of the maddening crowd of Boracay? The crass commercialism of Panglao? Or the prohibitive and princely price tag of El Nido?

Save your bed and dine budget and get more adventurous.

Pack those bags and fly farther south for a summer retreat where one gets the most rural of setting, yet lusts for one of nature’s few remaining unspoiled beauties.

Welcome to Gumasa in Sarangani, home to Mindanao’s biggest beach party – the Sarangani Bay Festival.

It is in this part of Mindanao where you can still frolic in the most powdery white sands, watch beach volley and soccer, build sand castles, snorkel and skinny dip in crystal-clear sea waters and party all night long. On the side, shout your hearts out as you cheer for your favorite 5-man relay team swim and race against many others in the shark-infested Sarangani Bay, a distance of 15 kilometers across the channel. (Don’t worry. The sheer number of sea crafts, swimmers and spectators are driving those sharks away.) Oh, lest you forget, watch dolphins playfully swim with the human tankers at a safe distance. When there are no sharks, there are dolphins, period.

Gumasa, they say, is what Boracay was 25 years ago when the world-known tourist destination was not yet, well, as crowded as it is today. When being in with the Boracay beach crowd means spending half a year’s salary for a Metro Manila minimum wage earner for a two night stay good for two.

You can spend half of that and stay in Gumasa for four days. That’s practically more than half the price tag of Boracay! But, dig this. You can happily bring home along with you the bragging rights of telling friends when you grow those grey hairs that you were there in Gumasa when one can practically own the place by his or her lonesome during off seasons. That is one of life’s priceless moments and memories.

Just ask Supreme Court administrator Midas Marquez who was at the bay festival two years ago and was seen tightly clasping a bottle of ice cold San Mig Lights while watching Cueshe live on stage. Or Tina Muñoz Palma who had her moment with youthful Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez along the beach front one breezy and cloudy afternoon the year before.

Dominguez said the late Filipino rock icon Karl Roy once suddenly popped out from the crowd and went upstage to jam with the local band. Eric Gancio of the lamented and missed Yano band is a regular performer here. Eric is a friend of the governor. Recent Pinoy Big Brother fourth placer Paco Evangelista is also a regular at the bay festival.

Sarbay, as organizers have coined it, now proudly owns the tag as Mindanao’s biggest beach party and Gumasa is the resident host of Sarangani Bay Festival.

The festival itself has become the province’s great leveler – where a farmhand can rub elbows with celebrities. Where Sarangani’s officials are part of the crowd – not the crowd.

“I think we can claim it has become the bigger beach party in the country where people party literally from sundown to sunrise,” the governor said.

Dominguez said last year the bay festival was able to attract 35,000 local tourists – up from 6,000 in 2006.

Have you seen your vice governor break dance on stage in your place? Try Gumasa.

The bay festival was one of the first activity concepts pushed by Dominguez immediately after he was elected governor of the province for the first time in 2004.

Sarangani province however shares the bay with nearby General Santos City. (Sarangani’s six coastal towns are evenly separated by GenSan.) After failed attempts to jointly host Sarbay with General Santos, Dominguez gave his signal to proceed with the concept that has now become a buzzword in Mindanao.

Mindanao today. The world tomorrow.

This year’s Sarangani Bay Festival has been shortened to two days – May 18-19. This should give visitors enough time to enjoy the serenity of the place and explore other places before and after Sarbay.

Side tours

The bay fest is adventure enough but if one wants to extend his stay, he or she can para-glide and get an eagle eye’s view of the blue waters of Sarangani Bay. The Tan brothers of SAFII Group of Companies are offering this latest craze to hit Sarangani.

If one is a dive enthusiast and wants to explore the earth’s remaining frontier, there is the Lemlunay Dive Resort operated by the Partridge family in Tinoto, Maasim, also in Sarangani. The Tinoto Wall is dubbed as one of the best dive spots in Mindanao. The wall drops more than 500 feet you can almost “see” the abyss. Lemlunay also offers world-class accommodation with an infiniti pool to drool for.

If security arrangement can be made, a trek into the hidden waterfalls of Kiamba town or a visit to one of the pre-historic burial caves of Maitum will be a big bonus.

But you can still wet your butt in white-water rubber-tubing adventure in La Union, Maitum. Sarangani Rep. Manny once said the 1.5-kilometer stretch of rapids ride was one like he never had before. Unfortunately, until Manny retires from boxing, you will not get to see him at the festival as he often fights during the month.

How to get there and some tips

Travel light. You do not have to dress up and bring your costly gears. After all, Gumasa is a backpacker’s ultimate paradise. Book a flight from your place of origin to General Santos City. There are at least four flights daily from Manila and back and two flights from Cebu on some days.

Taxis at the airport are available. Drivers however are not keen on using the taxi meter, though. Haggle with them. Airport to downtown fare should not be more than P300.

You can ask the driver where to bring you to the hotel or inn that best suits your taste or budget. Don’t look for 5-star accommodation. There is none yet in the city. You can make arrangements with the hotel front desk for transfer accommodation to one of the beach resorts in Gumasa. If you are to join the bay festival, an outdoor carry-on portable tent is advisable if you cannot have prior bookings.

You may inquire with event organizers at stipc@yahoo.com or call Telefax (083) 508-5230 or 508-5244. (Edwin Espejo / MindaNews contributor)