Saturday, February 26, 2011

Southeastern Mindanao

Southern Exposure
...Sights and Adventure Beyond Davao

I keep coming back to these southern lands. They're different from the other places I've been to. For one, Mindanao's weather pattern is not the same as Luzon's. Some of its flora and fauna are truly endemic. I have long-suspected that the Philippines' best eco-tourism destinations are found in this island, especially in Davao and its surroundings. So for nearly a week, I visited some of the region's best spots. But it wasn't nearly enough, though.

Our Local Niagara

I was told a number of times Tinuy-an Falls was the local counterpart of Canada's Niagara Falls. That was wrong, I thought. Tinuy-an is one of a kind. Most waterfalls plunge into a pool or river. The most gorgeous waterfalls are more than that; there's something poetic about the way the water descends or how the entire place looks like. That's the case with Tinuy-an.

Located in Bislig, Surigao del Sur, Tinuy-an waterfalls is about 20 kilometers away from the main road. Located in Barangay Burboanan, its nearby area is covered in coconut trees, falcata (a slender version of malunggay tree), mangium, and bay-ang (which is curious to look at because its branches and leaves are shaped like an inverted open umbrella). Lorelei Lim, Bislig's Tourism Officer, said that the flow of water in Tinuy-an isn't strong during the third quarter of the year because it's southeastern Mindanao's summer season. But that didn't make the view less attractive; a three-tiered waterfalls isn't a common sight anywhere else in the world.

At first, I stood close to the falls, which was about three meters long and nine meters wide. I kept staring at the gorgeous rock formation. Between the first and second falls was a stream approximately 100 meters long, where there's a wooden bridge. The left bank was the best spot to enjoy the second falls. I didn't cross the bridge just as yet as I wanted to explore the rest of the falls. The second falls was the tallest and most breathtaking. It was close to 14 meters high and nine meters wide. Water poured into a pool that had a depth of about nine meters. There was a stairway nearby leading to the third falls. What I saw was a diminutive canyon of sorts, which may be three meters high. As I took pictures, I noticed that the shallow water below the canyon seemed like a good place to frolic. I also walked to that point where I was a few steps away from the tip of the second falls. It was safe to stand there and the view below was quite awesome.

Moments later, I was at the left bank taking more pictures. I gazed around and thought it would be nice to stay longer to enjoy the falls and observe the verdant surrounds. But Lorelei wanted me to see another popular spot. I climbed up another stairway but this one was longer (271 steps to be exact). Ocean View Park has a restaurant that offers a vista of Bislig Bay. The establishment seemed to be located in a forested area; sounds of wild birds were heard while I munch on fish burger, the establishment's specialty. Several steps away is the International Doll House. It stores an impressive collection of dolls, which owners Werner and Ruelaine Williman bought during their overseas trips. The Barbie dolls were undoubtedly the main attraction, but Russia's Matryoshka dolls were my favorites.

I left Bislig the next day, thinking of Tinuy-an and wondering what I missed out on.

Davao City's Outskirts

Sta. Cruz is located south of Davao City. It only takes an hour to get there by bus. Mount Apo, the country's highest peak, looks imposing from there. I was told that the municipality's main attraction are found near Apo, but I visit the other spots instead.

Pasig Island is a few kilometers away from Barangay Bato. The isle is so small its coastline can be circled in a few minutes. For beach huggers, Pasig can be their little paradise; its white-sand beach glistens on a sunny afternoon and on a cloudless day, they can sit and savor the sight of Mount Apo and Mount Matutum, an active volcano located in the neighboring province of South Cotabato.

Several kilometers away is the Sibulan River, which is renowned in Davao del Sur for its white water-tubing ride. It's really much like white water rafting, except that one rides on a rubber floating tube (locally known as salbabida) instead of a raft. The experience is like that on a roller coaster. I nearly rolled over, but I was so excited I had to take another joy ride.

This visit was also brief as I had to catch the first bus to South Cotabato the following day.

San Pablo Meets Baguio

I expected the bus trip from Davao City to South Cotabato to last almost a day, but it turned out to be shorter. It was a bit humid when the Yellow Bus Line left Davao City. Several hours later, the climate became cooler as it the reached the municipality of Surallah. I boarded a jeep that brought me to Lake Sebu.

Local backpackers tout this town as a must-see in this part of southern Mindanao. It's also home to the T'bolis, one of the region's ethnic groups. Three lakes are found within these highlands. When I saw the first two, I first thought that I was looking at the seven lakes of San Pablo, Laguna. In fact, the biggest was nearly covered with fish cages. Only rows of souvenir stores selling T'boli clothing and handicrafts reminded me that I was far away from Laguna.

There was something beguiling about Lake Sebu. It might be the bouquets of huge bamboos lining up the road. Edna Kely, my guide during the visit, showed me something else - seven waterfalls are found nearby. It's a multi-step type of sight-seeing and the lake is the water source for the cascades. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the area where they were located. However, seeing all of them may take an entire day; it took a walk and a zip-line to glimpse three of them.

First Falls was about 12 meters high. It took us several minutes to hike from the entrance to this waterfalls. Vegetation nearly enveloped it, which made it alluring. Edna suggested the zip-line to see the next two falls. For P250, I got two chances to see cascades sparkling in the afternoon sun, rainbows and Mount Parker - another active volcano in South Cotabato. The were also zip-lines in other parts of the Philippines, but I had a feeling that only Lake Sebu offered this kind of marvelous sight while doing it.

After the thrilling rides, I wanted to get close to the second waterfalls. Dongon Falls was said to be the most attractive of the seven. Water runs along a semi-circular cliff that is about 60 meters tall. I've seen better falls, but Dongon's location - and the lovely sight of water spray - made it one more magical. Dusk would soon set in, so we cut the adventure short to see the lake.

Edna took me to Punta Isla and Monte Cielo Resort, two of Sebu's several resorts. Punta Isla is a good spot to observe the lake closely; tilapia and water lilies abound in its waters, but what I saw instead was a tranquil lake oozing with rustic charm. But it was in Monte Cielo, though, where I appreciated Lake Sebu better. It is perched on a slope overlooking the lake and the nearby mountain range. The view up there is stunning when the sun descends behind the mountains. William and Mayette Sy, who own and manage the resort, are there to make guests feel at home.

I was supposed to visit both places at sunrise, but I woke up late. I bet the view is dramatic, but there should be a next time.

(First published in Zest Air Inflight Magazine on November 2010)


Xang said...

Thumbs up! I super love the place. I hope i can visit there someday. Regarding on the last photo posted, whats the name of the place? and is there any entrance fee? how much?

Cagayan de Oro Philippines

Franz said...

You're referring to Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig? There's an entrance fee, but it costs 10 bucks.