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Sarangani, Philippines: Sarbay Fest 2014 (Or, #ILoveMyJob 2014)

“Coming through!”, a voice bellowed from behind.

I instinctively jumped out of the way. A runner bathing in her own sweat rushed past. Judging by the way her race number painted on her arm was smudged, I assumed she had been at it for a while. It was barely eight in the morn yet Sarbay Fest’s venue, the stunning Gumasa Beach, was already abuzz. My slumbering senses, regenerating after the insanity that is the white water tubing in New La Union we did the day before, were jolted awake.

Early birds.

A handful of fellow bloggers and I followed our group of guides assigned by Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon’s wife, the affable Michelle Lopez Solon, who invited us and personally gave a tour of Sarangani on our first day in the province. Access to the beach from the road was cordoned, leaving a tight squeeze for an entrance and exit monitored by the police. This was only the main thoroughfare though, for Gumasa beach can actually be accessed (at your own risk) through various shrubby paths that lead to the shore.

Admission, free!

Off to a good start.

The wide path to the beach was lined with food stalls. Smoke from the countless barbecue grills formed teensy clouds that hung in the air long enough to lure passersby. I secretly wished they serve us something grilled for brekkie.

Where To Stay

First order of business though was to register for our tent at the Tent City. Tent City, obviously, was an area designated for attendants who brought their own tents. And within such area, there was a VIP section wherein one could buy a spankin’ new, SarBay Fest 2014-labeled tent (yes, you get to take it home) that had already been pitched. Although we were checked in a guesthouse in Glan, we were provided our own tent which we could use for (their words) a siesta.

Resorts at Gumasa aren’t aplenty. If camping ain’t your thing, it’s wise to book a room way ahead of time. Look up: Rosal Beach Resort, Coco Beach Resort, White Haven Beach Resort, Isla Jardin Del Mar and Brod Louie White Sand Resort.

Also, look up accommodations in Glan’s town center (you’d have to ride a jeep/hire a habal or trike to get to and fro Gumasa Beach though). We stayed at Lucy’s Pension House (call 09064862676 or 09493921387).

SarBay Fest Activities

“It’s the biggest beach party in Mindanao”, I was told. The superlative injected into that statement provided it much weight, my expectations were sky high. I briefly browsed the schedule of activities prior the trip. The two-day affair looked packed with a myriad of recreational stuff that suits all ages. In all honestly, seemed too good to be true.

Sarbay Triathlon finish line.

After a Beestop brekkie (didn’t get something grilled but their garlic fried chicken’s to die for), we were drawn towards the beach by a rambunctious local crowd cheering for someone/something in/on the water. We soon learned about the ongoing bancarera (boat race). Fisherfolks sure loved that one. I did too.

Skim boarding clinic.

Further down east of the beach (facing the sea) from the main stage, we came across the skimboarding clinic, the morning Zumba session and a beach volleyball game. All surprisingly well-attended. On the west of the beach was the sand sculpture competition. Didn’t find the beach football game, paddle board clinic, poi and zip clinic, however. Maybe we just didn’t look hard enough.

Sand sculpture competition. This is my fave entry.

The rest of the day was a cycle of eating, people-watching, eating, and people-watching.

Color splash that is my Yak Pak bag/survival kit. And lookie, a Sarbay Fest 2014 sunblock!

We saved most of our energy for the two highlights (at least for us) of day one: Bay Bodies 2014 and the foam party. Sarangani Bay Festival doesn’t mask itself as some deeply rooted cultural event. It is simply a gathering of merrymakers, locals and aliens, celebrating not only Sarangani but also the rest of Mindanao. It is not only for younglings out to do heavy episodic drinking, but also for whole families who picnic and spectate. It is a rousing mix of the upper, middle and working class.

It swept me off my feet.

… Especially during sunset.

VIP passes allowed our group to be at the forefront of the action that evening (only a limited number of VIP passes were sold on the same day at the Sarbay Fest secretariat’s booth for P250 each). I remember shrieking, in a way I’m not proud of, almost the entire Bay Bodies 2014 show. I was pinching my seatmates too. I was having that much fun.

Winners of Sarangani Bay Festival Bay Bodies 2014.

I remember dancing to songs I never danced to (in public) during the foam party. I remember the icky suds between my toes, on my hair, in my pits. I remember hugging people I just met. I remember not wanting to leave at midnight but my weary body was begging to rest. And we had to leave, so we could have enough strength for the next day’s shenanigans.

And the fun had begun.

Day two was a repeat of day one. Except in the evening, when the two highlights were the fireworks display and a performance by Kamikazee. To be honest, my memories of the finale night’s ablur. I can’t recall exactly how I ended up standing on stage next to Kamikazee’s singer Jay Contreras (I do remember a lot of drinking before getting in the VIP area), in front of thousands and thousands. “I’ll close my eyes now, you can kiss me anywhere you want.”, he said on the microphone after making me chug rum from its bottle. What the fudge?!

Well I kissed him on his sweaty nape.

Yeah, it was that kind of night. Ludicrous and a bit comical. I’m sure it was the same for hundreds, or thousands of others who were also on that beach.

Jay gamely poses for a GoPro shot after I gamely chugged a bottle drank a shot of rum.

Unfortunately, most attendees forgot about cleaning up after or uhm, chose to forget. And it was something that the organizers took care of soon after the event concluded. The coastal cleanup lasted two days. Gumasa was like a gorgeous woman being stripped of her make up, who eventually turns into that raw beauty again.

The calm after the storm.

Impressive how Sarbay Fest 2014 turned out. I’m not surprised why it was recently recognized as the Best National Tourism Event in Sports, Adventure, and Wellness by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) and Department of Tourism (DOT). Well-deserved. I reckon it’s time you guys experience it for yourselves. I myself would love to do it again.

Gay Emami
When not backpacking, she teaches her daughter sight words and belly dancing (even if she's not good at it). She's currently eating her way around some hippie town in Australia. She loves talking about herself in the third person.

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