A treasure trove in the heart of Mindanao
“The misimpression that Lanao is a perilous province to visit is a preposterous calumny.” Thus says Gov. Mamintal “Bombet” Adiong, Jr. of Lanao del Sur as he steers his province and its people towards progress with peace as a necessary ingredient.
The people of Lanao are known for their warmth, vibrancy, creativity, and diligence. This, we experienced during our recent visit. In the thick of preparations for the 50th founding anniversary of the province, we were jolted by the energy and joie de vivre so thick and rich, there was no way you could resist it.
We were whisked to see and enjoy what the locals called the “festival route” and the “scenic route”. The colorful Maranao costumes worn by street revelers simply leapt out before our eyes. No matter which way we looked, the fascinating vista left us mesmerized, awed, and reminded of the rich culture and natural resources that the province has taken great pains to maximize and preserve during the past 49 years.
There were the pulse beat and the rhythm that made visitors like us thank Heavens (and Allah) for the unspoiled beauty of creation. After experiencing the wonderful panorama of sights and sounds, we just had to take our hats off to Gov. Adiong, Jr, and his gracious First Lady Raifa for both of them are gifted with the proclivity of genuine reforms, change and progress.
The scenic route brought us to majestic Lake Lanao which is wreathed in the lush and productive mountain greenery of the province, and the Provincial Capitol. Inside the Capitol, we toured the various offices and saw that each of them had that distinct character of richness and diversity.
The Provincial Capitol tour also gave us the opportunity to sample unique Maranao delicacies. One is the famous kiyoning or yellow rice mixed with rich coconut milk and powdered kalawag (turmeric). Tivateg, on the other hand, is made of rice flour, coconut oil and brown sugar. It is strained for thinness, dropped in hot oil and rolled or folded. It is eaten with the fingers. Tiyateg looks like shredded wheat of the Westerners. Another dessert is doldol, a thick pudding made of coconut milk, rice flour and dark sugar cooked for three hours.
We learned that for the Maranaos, food is generally eaten with bare hands while sitting on the floor. On special occasions, the floor is covered with woven colorful mats and food is served on brass trays called talam or tabak.
The most prominent traditional wear in the province is the malong, a large, colorful woven cloth wrapped around the body. One common way women wear it is around the waist with its folds draped over the left arm. Men wrap it around the waist like a skirt.
The malong has many uses depending on the need of the wearer. It can be used as a cape, coat, blanket or umbrella. Maranao or Maguindanao women wear the malong over a blouse called arbita. Also, they wear a turban called kombong made of muslin fabric. White is used as kombong when the wearer has been to Mecca.
What followed our sumptuous side trip to the Capitol was the cultural presentation wherein performers in their colorful and shiny garbs interpreted the Maranao Festival called kalilang that begins with the parade of dignitaries and their retinue and members of royalty with their colorful and bejeweled parasols (payong-a-diyakatan) who all walked to the beat of drums and gongs.
Children were also busy with Maranao games such as sipa-salama wherein one gets to kick a rattan ball to reach a goal.
To lure local and foreign tourists, Gov. Adiong, Jr. says: “Come world and view the beauty of Lanao. We would be more than happy to show you. It has been 50 years and things are only looking up. Lanao Del Sur is indeed the land where treasures grow.”
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—Northern Mindanao’s tourism industry could get a boost with budget carrier Cebu Pacific’s opening of its Davao-Cagayan de Oro route, a local tourism official said Saturday.
The new route is a “good connection” for international flights to Davao City, which is fast becoming Mindanao’s international hub, with direct flights from Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore, said Catalino Chan, tourism director for Northern Mindanao.
Davao City is also the country’s main link to the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), he said.
Chan said the expected increase in tourist arrivals would also spur the economies of nearby tourism service-providing localities in Northern Mindanao such as Camiguin, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte.
The Gokongwei-owned carrier opened the 50-minute Davao-Cagayan de Oro route last Thursday, with flights every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Using a 72-seater ATR aircraft, the flight leaves Davao City at 6 p.m., and returns to the city at 7:10 p.m.
Before Cebu Pacific opened the route, tourists going to Northern Mindanao have to fly to Manila or Cebu before flying to either Butuan or this city.
For those flying into the country via the Davao Airport, the only option then was land transport, which takes about eight hours to this city.
In Ozamiz city, Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. said Cebu Pacific also announced that it would open a Manila-Ozamiz flight.
Cebu Pacific’s vice-president for marketing and distribution, Candice Iyog, confirmed this, saying the new route would start on June 16, with an Airbus A319 aircraft.
The route will likely be serviced four times a week, she said.
The Manila-Ozamiz route is currently served only by Air Philippines, another budget airliner.
For us at Klub Natur, photo expeditions are a favorite escape. In this time of the year when many ride away the summer to exciting destinations, the ultimate thing for us is to travel to the most remote island sanctuaries, following the hottest season as it moves around the countryside.
Prior to our Babuyan Islands expedition, we celebrated curious moments that made the trip compelling: “Would we find cetaceans? … catch malaria? … survive the ordeals of the sea?” Most of us never knew but we were experiencing the pre-travel jitters we could all relate to.
Camiguin Norte, one of the four islands comprising the Babuyan Group (Calayan, Babuyan Claro, Dalupiri) is separated from the coast of Luzon by the Babuyan Channel. Fact is, there are no regular boat schedules to the islands. To avoid missed-boat woes, we chartered a lampitaw (outrigger boat) from Camiguin.
After traversing the channel where undercurrents met from all directions of the ocean, the sea and the Cagayan river, Camiguin Norte began to take shape; Mount Camiguin stood tall. Having passed the cliffs of Magas-asok Point, we set foot in Naguilian at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Naguilian smelled of summer, old farmhouse and salt air. Citrus trees like dalandan, suha, and caburao had grown with abandon. The hushed open field was disturbed only by the sound of animals.
In the house, neither would you find noisy bedsprings, locked doors nor windows. Outside, the toilet would leave you squatting on the floor. There was no bathroom except the brook.
In the evening, we took turns in charging up our phone and camera batteries from the generator we leased. Fact is, there is no electricity in Camiguin. Kerosene and Coleman lanterns are used.
Eventually, kloobers agreed that more sleep would be better for the next day. The girls slept in the house, the boys in the tent. At midnight, I had my initiation of the primitive lifestyle I was in the hunt for, a nature’s call out in the vast open space.
Boarding the lampitaw, we routed three directions the next day. At Sitio Banwa, the seawater was a clear aquamarine and everything was a quiet charm. In Pamuktan, the lowland forest has a natural freshwater lake where bangus and tilapia are grown. The overpowering smell of sulfur from the shore of Sitio Sisip announced itself, filling fractures and voids under the sea waters. Just as when most kloobers were busy taking pictures, I joined several fishermen cooling out under the thatched-roof dampa. One fisherman talked big about the bannias (monitor lizard) he had caught and tied around the tree. According to him, its protein is a delicacy. Oftentimes, it is dished up with alcohol or liquor. Its bile is believed to cure bodyaches and illnesses.
Southwest is Tangeb, a sea cave sheltering hundreds of balinsasayaw or glossy swiftlet species. In Pinon Island, a cornucopia of lagaylay had grown thickly everywhere, confirming claims that when in season, a kaleidoscope of butterflies is seen fluttering at the shoreline.
Day three, we battled kilometers of legwork and missed bread as we pushed for Sitio Pagitpit. Just as our throats became dry as dust, we grumped over buko juice. Then, we resumed walking, passing by golden rice fields and purring tractors.
In time, Dakkel a Balay, an edifice of stonework, revealed the primitive efforts of its makers. For whatever architectural value it may have, it may have served as an old bastion for the Japanese Imperial forces, until the Battle of Babuyan Islands in 1945.
Sailing to the heart of Camiguin, Balatubat, offered us the opportunity to wolf down on steamed lobster, curacha, and lapu-lapu on day five. Even those who refused lobsters due to health reasons had a mouthful.
The structures of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish and the Dominican Missionary House validate that majority of the people are Catholic. Elementary schools are cut up in the three barangays of Minabel, Naguilian, and Balatubat. The two high schools, National High School (Annex) and Lyceum of Camiguin are in Balatubat. Students have to go to Aparri for their college.
Few meters from the shoreline is the kamposanto. One may wonder whether the loved ones had perished from boat accidents or natural death. Remember, roads are rare and transportation is limited to walking, animal-drawn carts and boats. But, to those who live in the forests and mountains, cases of dog-, mosquito- and snakebites are common causes of deaths too.
After three days of stranding in the island, we boarded the lampitaw Saturday morning. As we traversed the waters, we remembered the Humpback whales which are a main attraction in Camiguin. Sadly, however, we were not lucky to see one. Probably, migration season might be over.
Indeed, Camiguin Norte presented tidy rural flavors for my search of a primitive lifestyle experience. Though time was so fickle that when you need it, there was too little of it, Camiguin gave me many choices about living: that I didn’t have to rub my hands with cream to stay soft … no need to smell expensive or exclusive … no need to care much on how I look. Never did I shave in that amount of time nor cut my nails that had already grown like chicken claws. For days, I never saw myself in the mirror.
Throughout the week, I slept under the stars, by the beach, under the trees, amidst the mist. I even left my poop on wherever corner of the world I chose to. If that would build character, so be it.
I held one reflection though: that while I dreamt to have that primitive lifestyle experience, there were islanders that also hope for the luxuries of civilization. Sadly, primitivism values even a loaf of day-old bread in an island where there’s something for everyone, yet not enough for some.
My choice might actually make a difference.
Klub Natur has slated another adventure trip to Babuyan Islands (Calayan and Camiguin) on 8-17 May. Open to anyone. Limited to 15 participants only. For trip details and to reserve your slot, visit www.klubnatur.org or you may call or text Allen Mayor (expedition team leader) at 0921-7111519 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Grace Glory Go With photos by GGG & Frances Lim Updated May 03, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – Ever since Pearl Farm opened in the southern part of the Philippines, with guestrooms, suites and cottages sprawled over the Samal group of islands that stretch out over a land area of 28,000 hectares, I have had an open invitation to visit this beach resort owned by the Floirendo family.
Well, months rolled by and even years! First, I was looking for time because The Philippine STAR was still at its infant stage and there were a hundred million things to do. Then, I was hoping to have interesting company join me to fully enjoy this rumored lovely resort. Finally, after nearly fifteen years, the young managing director of Fuego Hotels, Alfredo Roca, was able to entice me to make time to visit Pearl Farm.
Frances Lim, my favorite travel mate (because, aside from being a truly nice person, she also doesn’t snore…haha!), and I boarded PAL business class for Davao. It was the very first time for both of us to fly to Mindanao. We were surprisingly met by the personal speedboat of the even younger GM Karl Frederick Sims. Though Karl has a Chinese sounding surname, he is very much European, a mixture of German, Spanish, British?
Instead of the normal 45-minute boat transfer from the Pearl Farm Beach Resort’s Davao Marina to Samal Island, we were there with our hair and our skirts flying in a most enjoyable windy 15-20mins ride on the GM’s speedboat and welcomed personally by Karl. Not only was Karl there to welcome us, he had late lunch with us (very Spanish) and every meal thereafter in our two-day and two-night stay at Pearl Farm. (Of course, I’m never up for breakfast…hehe!)
We were given “le-grande tour” right after a leisurely buffet lunch, which gave us a chance to inhale the fresh air and exercise away some of the calories. Both Frances and I were surprised that Pearl Farm was much larger than we thought! Although we were partly driven around, we also had a chance to walk the grounds, which, aside from the famous Parola Wharf and Bar, consist of the Maranao swimming pool and restaurant, the Ylang Ylang soothing lounge, the salt water pond and the waterfalls near the Ylang Ylang Spa.
Aside from the numerous Samal houses standing on stilts alongside the waters of the white sand beach, there are two large hilltop buildings with a conference room and game room in between, and of course, it was occupied by a convention group! We also walked by the Mandaya House with its own pool and jacuzzi, and we were told that aqua sports, beach volleyball, jogging trails, tennis and basketball courts are all available depending on the guests preference.
Lucky for us, we were upgraded from the Samal suites, which were five-star in itself, to one of the seven exclusive villas of the resort nestled in the secluded island of Malipano located only a few hundred meters from the Samal Island. Frances and I were indeed fortunate to enjoy the private villa of Margie Moran-Floirendo, our former Miss Philippines who won as Miss Universe.
We were told that each of the villas belonged to one of the Floirendo children and each was decorated according to each of the children’s taste. We can both attest to the fact that Margie has six-star taste to our delight! We both felt totally spoiled as we luxuriated in this private villa and unadulterated island, with a view facing the Pacific Ocean that was both soothing and colourful to the canvass of our minds.
Although there are no restuarants on Malipano island, you can order room service, which we ended up doing on the afternoon of our departure for Davao City to spend a night at Marco Polo Davao owned by our family friends, Sonny and Bols Dominquez. Pearl Farm’s F&B manager, Marcel Tambis personally brought our orders on the speedboat inspite of a brief downpour due to a passing thunderstorm, and he also took special care to prepare all my meals due to my sensitivity to shellfish throughout my stay there.
But, of course, the sun shore most of the time we were there, and the Malipano island also has its own white sand beach. I thoroughly enjoyed soaking myself in its clean clear water while Frances tried to catch some sun on the diving deck.
One of the joys of sleeping in these villas at Pearl Farm is hearing the surf washing up and down the beach beneath your bedroom floor, lulling you to a sweet night’s sleep. Karl often teases me by text that I must return to pick up my soul because, only after two days in Pearl Farm’s Malipano Island, I can’t help but feel that I had left my soul right there in paradise.
Seeing something majestic almost always leaves people speechless, even breathless! At least that was exactly how I felt the instant I laid my sights on Davao’s rich aquatic resources, and more. The experience is utterly difficult to translate into words when none of it would ever suffice to describe its beauty and splendor.
Located in the Southern Mindanao region, journalists had a sneak-peak of Davao city’s teeming natural wonders from underwater to above the surface landscapes in a “Dive the Gulf” adventure sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DoT) recently. A three-day escapade to a paradise waiting to be explored that sent us chasing the thrill of adventure on the island and the adrenaline rush in the highlands.
DAY 1: INTRO DIVE
For someone who doesn’t know how to swim, it would seem like a challenge to submerge one’s self into the open waters of Samal Island, the best site for underwater adventure. But no. It’s rarely a requirement. All one needs is a brave heart.
According to Wind and Wave dive master Randy Pascua, it’s a common misconception for first timers (like us!) but dive masters are competent enough to wade for two. Just don’t forget to breathe through the air regulator.
Our first dive site was at Marissa Reef, named after Marissa Florendo who was one of the proponents of underwater photography in Davao of which Pascua is a member of the auxiliary team. It is an underwater mountain with a sudden drop that could send diving neophytes into panic. I guess I was lucky to have reached 15 feet.
Likewise, buried in the deep waters of Samal Island are World War II Japanese battle vessels that go as deep as 90 to 115 feet, making it ideal for shipwreck dives.
“This location is ideal for macro diving, or underwater photography adventures. Underneath, there are a lot of water species still unnamed and are yet to be discovered,” injects dive master Johny Lee of the Hongkong Technical Diving Association. Lee has been traveling back and forth to the Philippines, specifically in Cebu and Hongkong at least thrice a month to teach scuba diving to a variety of students. Right now, they’re looking at the prospect of bringing his students to Samal Island to explore its diverse marine life.
DAY 2: LIKE A PRO, ALMOST
There are more than 23 dive sites in Samal Island that opened up to the public in 1993. Apart from Marissa Reef, the Coral Garden located in Talikud Island, just five minutes away from the beach is the next most visited site. It is an underwater cliff that spreads up to a five-kilometer stretch of corals boasting of colorful underwater vistas. To get there, boats and launches are available at Sta. Ana Wharf and km. 11 Wharf in Sasa.
Acclimatized and confident this time with what to expect and how to solve the common problem of water getting into my swimming mask, as well as dealing with the constant buzzing in my ear each time the dive master goes a notch down, this writer was able to reach up to 22 feet and enjoyed every minute of the less than an hour dive. Clown fish and dory became my best pals as they played with me at the palm of my hand. Also spotted were nudi branch, a tiny fish that crawls underwater, a sea turtle that was swiftly swimming away, and a pygmy seahorse, pregnant one at that!
The experience was exhilirating! Thus, I couldn’t help but ask, how much would a person need to do it all over again? According to Rhea Delfinado, one of the dive guards for Wind and Wave, their services for introductory dive costs P750.00 per head that includes underwater photos, souvenir shirt, food on board, briefing session and 30 to 45 minutes actual underwater dive. Likewise, the group holds three-day certificate dive for those who are interested to teach diving lessons and making it a living. Check out their website at http://www.windandwavedavao.com/home.php.
BACK ON LAND
On the second night, we were treated to a slight detour of conquering the depths and heights of Davao in a feast called Caracoles Festival held at Sta. Ana Wharf. It was the first time in many years that the celebration was held in a different venue as it was previously done in Samal Island from sunset to sunrise.
The occassion proved to be an interesting one with various designers competition that aims to promote the national government’s advocacy campaign of preserving the environment.
The group was met by Davao’s tourism regional director Sonja Garcia who explained the organization’s ongoing efforts.
“Davao Gulf is a hotspot which means areas that have marine mammal strandings and they are declared marine protected areas. It is also included in the Coral Triangle Initiative along with Indonesia and Malaysia. Thus, we’re doing our best to preserve it not only for tourists but for the future generations as well,” Garcia tells.
DAY 3: ENTERING THE GARDEN OF EDEN
There are many other wonderful adventures to engage in while in Davao. Apart from scuba diving, the city offers water tubing in Sibulan River in Davao del Sur and caving in Kapalong Davao del Norte.
But for a more sedate kind of exploit, I suggest visiting Eden Nature Park for an adrenaline rush, cool weather and organic food.
The 60-hectare expanse owned by Jesus Ayala boasts of a thriving forest area that serves as an animal sanctuary, and a plethora of lush flora, mangosteen orchard, giant ferns, macademia and native durian trees. Located in Mount Tolomo within the administrative district of Toril, it is currently one of the greenest ecological tourist spots in the Philippines.
In addition, tourists and guests can enjoy comfortable villas, cottages, and rooms, where they can stay overnight while enjoying the beautiful sights all over the place.
And while there, don’t fail to try the “Skyrider”, a 60-feet, 200-meter zip line ride that can’t easily be found in other travel destinations. The tagline wasn’t lying when it said, “Heaven is a little closer in Eden.”
In the jungles of Sulu, hostages who are mysteriously found abandoned by their captors are widely suspected to have regained their freedom through the payment of ransom. In the case of the mostly European hostages taken from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan, the Abu Sayyaf band led by Ghalib “Robot” Andang reportedly earned a whopping $30 million, with the bulk of the amount contributed by the Libyan government. That lucrative caper, suspected to have been brokered by certain government officials who were in cahoots with the bandits, led to more kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf.
The bandits’ main group later ventured all the way to Palawan to seize hostages from a resort. In that incident, several Filipinos also mysteriously walked free as the Abu Sayyaf dragged the remaining captives deeper into Basilan. Those who regained their freedom denied paying ransom. Left behind were several Filipinos and three Americans, one of whom was decapitated.
Today, the Abu Sayyaf leadership has been decimated, but what’s left of the group is still engaged in kidnapping. Earlier this year the band operating in Sulu seized three volunteers of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Filipina hostage was the first to be freed. The other day it was the turn of the Swiss hostage to walk free. The official version is that he managed to slip away from his captors as government forces were pursuing the bandits. The talk circulating in Mindanao is that the Abu Sayyaf had abandoned Andreas Notter after ransom was paid. Denials were issued yesterday by different offices starting with Malacañang. The fate of Italian hostage Eugenio Vagni is unknown, despite government forces supposedly coming within just 500 meters of the bandits before Notter walked free.
Paying ransom to secure the safe release of a hostage is fine if the payment also leads to the capture of the kidnappers and recovery of the ransom. Allowing bandits to enjoy the proceeds of their caper guarantees more kidnappings. In the Zamboanga peninsula and Basilan, groups apart from the Abu Sayyaf have entered the game, snatching teachers and other civilians and demanding ransom. It’s not enough to secure the release of hostages. Their captors must be found and neutralized, and any ransom paid must be recovered. Anyone who benefits from a ransom payment must be punished.
MANILA, Philippines—North Cotabato’s provincial board on Tuesday asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to reject the idea of inviting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as an adviser in the Mindanao peace talks.
The conflict in the South is a purely internal issue that can be solved through dialogue among the stakeholders, said Vice Gov. Emmanuel F. Piñol in a statement.
Following a speech from Piñol, titled “Thank You, Mr. Tony Blair, But No Thanks!” the provincial board Tuesday passed a resolution asking the President to drop the idea of involving foreign intervenors in the peace process.
The government panel negotiating a peace agreement with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front earlier suggested that an eminent persons group be created to advise the peace process, to include Blair and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The suggestion was taken up by Malacañang which issued a statement the other day, following a meeting between the President and the visiting Blair, saying that Blair’s “charisma and charm that brought peace to Northern Ireland may be needed to put an end to the conflict in the Southern Philippines.”
“The statement that Blair’s charm and charisma could end the trouble in the South is a perfect example of the jaundiced perspective of our policy makers and peace negotiators of the true cause and root of the problem in Mindanao and the solutions that could bring an end to the conflict,” said a resolution from the 14-man provincial board.
“Signing a peace agreement with the MILF will not end the problem but addressing the roots of the problem that led to the birth of groups like the MNLF and the MILF will bring us true and lasting peace,” it said.
Piñol said the conflict in the South is a result of “deep-seated biases and prejudices between Christians and Muslims which can be healed through education, the failure of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to function, massive corruption in the region, absence of justice and the failure of government to address poverty, deprivation, the lack of opportunities and hopelessness.”
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. meanwhile said he did not believe Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, would be of much help as the Mindanao conflict was not his field of expertise.
He said Blair should think twice about “coming into the picture” as he noted that the latter’s knowledge of the Mindanao conflict was “peripheral.”
He said Blair would be “overstretching” himself if he agrees to help mediate the Mindanao peace talks. With Christine Avendaño