Kapatagan – A Sneak on Mt. Apo’s Peak

Few minutes before sunrise, we were traveling along the road of Davao del Sur from Agusan. A jolly conversation ended when someone asked if we already have been in Kapatagan. I only knew the town of Kapatagan which is in the province of Lanao del Norte. I was so curious for I didn’t hear such place.

We rerouted to a new unfamiliar road. We turned right from the main highway before reaching Digos City proper even we were all first timers. The road to Kapatagan was already cemented and developed. It was believed that sunrise was best seen here on the lake that mirrors the peak of Mt. Apo. We traveled more than 30 minutes with winding, downward and most upward hilly roads. This remote barangay is a village situated on the highland. Our ears felt the changes on atmospheric pressure.

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Our first sight of the peak was so amazing. We stopped on the road side and took a beautiful view with the peak of Mt. Apo as the background. We didn’t reach the lake nor catch the sunrise. However, the romantic and beautiful place was already worth discovery.

We were not familiar with the place but as long that the car’s wheels were still touching the cemented road, we were still on the track. We decided to see the proper village for breakfast. We traveled far and it was not good to return back while our stomachs need refueling. The last restaurant we sighted was still on the main highway.

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Along the road, we noticed few numbers of car parked on the signage of Dhen Yho’s Place. We thought of a restaurant so we decided to stop and walked uphill. The site was so marvelous as we never expected it. There was an entrance fee but we didn’t know who is collecting and where to pay. We headed to the restaurant but it only serving coffee and packed crackers.  There was a swimming pool and we also saw tents as there were groups who stayed overnight. The towering pine trees covered the place’s hidden attractions. The place is a must to visit to see an artistry landscaped hills with a big letters sculpted “Land of Peace”. Due to lack of research, I just found that it was the Kublai Art Garden, a master piece of a well known Mindanaon artist. We saw the Bagobo’s tribal ways of living through displayed sculptures.

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We really enjoyed few minutes of our free tour and left the area as we oversaw the village proper from the site. The peak of Mt. Apo was already covered by clouds. We took our affordable but heavy breakfast at the village where we found that it was a drop point for sacks of newly harvested vegetables such as potatoes and cabbages.

As we were heading home, we asked if there was a strawberry farm and a local told us to visit Hillside Resto Civet Farm. We confirmed the existence of a strawberry farm. We noticed that the place was actually Mt. Apo Highland Resort and we were on the altitude of 1,160 meters above sea level. The resort has also bee farms and started materializing their honey-coffee production. We left the resort after a sip of their cheapest brand of the world’s most expensive civet coffee.

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Kapatagan is another starting trail of mountaineers who wish to visit the inactive Mt. Apo aside from Kidapawan City in North Cotabato.  It became famous because of its majestic beauty, nature friendly environment, and cool climate. The fogs covered the road as we were traveling down back to our normal route.

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The Faded Pink Sand of Sta. Cruz Island

At 6:30am, we found ourselves back at the Paseo del Mar for the berthing point to Sta. Cruz island or locally known as Las Islas de Sta. Cruz. This island claimed to have pink sand. We registered and paid P25 per person which includes the entrance and terminal fees. The boat rental was P1000.

There is a limit to the number of visitors to the island. Visitors will be entertained on first come, first served basis. Besides, it is an environmentally protected island. In every group which will go to the island will be accompanied by a tourism police. It is for the security purpose. There was a history of bandit attack on the island. Thus, overnight staying is not allowed.

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We left the berthing point at 7:20am and we arrived at the island after 15 minutes. The traditional vinta colored sail greeted our eyes from the shore. The “vinta” boat is the trademark of Zamboanga. The beach was not pinkish as seen on blogs and websites but there was a little pink particle found on the white sand. We rented a small open cottage and ordered our food. There were locals selling crabs, shells, and fishes. They will also cook and deliver it to the cottage at a very cheap amount.

The place is so quite and peaceful. We asked the island’s tourism staff, who also work for the government, for the special heritage place in the island. He guided us to the preserved Badjao majority tribe cemetery. There were also other tribes laid peacefully on that place. The Badjao, known in the history books as the dwellers of the sea, is one among tribes of Filipino Muslims in Mindanao. He explained the tribal ways and beliefs of burying dead. He also explained that the pink color of the island is also seasonal. There is a special specie of corals which naturally contributed to the pinkish color of the sand and their reproduction take times. However, we saw that the waves left the shore with the pink sand.

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The island is protected by the government. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is leading on funding its preservation. A group of environmentalists and nature lovers were sighted on their scuba suits monitoring the newly planted corals.

We enjoyed the serenity and the water on the beach. However, extra precaution was needed for kids and non-swimmers because of the sudden depth of the seabed. We left the island at 11:30am to give way to other tourist who wishes to visit the island. Bringing back of all the garbage that we brought was our contribution to preserve the island and its environment.

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Environmentalist planting corals

Bienvenidos Zamboanga

We traveled for around five hours from Pagadian to reach Zamboanga, the only Latin city of the country. As noticed, some of the stores’ names are written in an uncommon word and the dialect used is “chavacano” which is almost related to Spanish language.

Location: Zambonga City, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Casa Canelar

Buddy: Group (5+)

DAY ONE

We checked-in at Casa Canelar and offered us a spacious family room on the 3rd floor for P1,800. The hotel didn’t offer the usual bed and breakfast scheme. The reception at the ground floor was the backdoor of the Gerry’s Grill Restaurant. The best thing here was, the reception collected our ordered foods and the restaurant’s staff delivered it directly to our room.

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Fort Pilar, Zamboanga
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Marian Shrine, Zamboanga

In the afternoon, we roamed on the busiest street of the city which historically witnessed the war siege in 2013. We visited the Spanish era buildings of the municipal hall and its neighboring establishments. We walked on the aisle and waited for the romantic sunset at Paseo del Mar. We also visited and increased our spiritual reflection on the mass held in the shrine of Fort Pilar, an old fortress built by Spanish long time ago.

DAY TWO

We had an island tour in the only pink island of Zamboanga in the morning. The details was on the different post, The faded pink sand of Sta. Cruz island.

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In the afternoon, we headed to the City’s Barter to buy souvenirs. Zamboanga products are characterized by Muslims textiles symbolizing its colorful culture. The different designs of “sarong” and “malong” are the best buys. We enhanced our bidding and bargaining skills for there were so many stores to choose.

After buying souvenirs, we visited the Butterfly Garden. I’ve been to several butterfly sanctuaries but only on that garden I saw and encountered so many live butterflies.  We also visited the nearby museum, El Museo de Zamboanga. Unfortunately, the museum was already closed.

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Iligan, the City of Waterfalls

The most industrialized city of Northern Mindanao is the best description for Iligan City. This is home for thousands of alumni graduated from Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.

Location: Iligan City, Lanao Del Norte, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Staylite Pension House

Buddies: Group (5+)

There are so many changes on this place since I left. It is more crowded and establishments like hotels and restaurants are visible on the before vacant lots. The Gaisano Mall and the integrated terminal are also added on the list.

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The Maria Cristina Hydroelectric Plant was again visited. At this time, the gate controlling the dam was opened enough to have the joyful background of the falls. Bathing was never allowed on this place because of strong current and turbines used in converting electricity. It has now a small restaurant and more like a park than an electric generating plant.

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The Tinago Falls is actually the most known and a must visit falls. The most inclined stairs that must step on before seeing this falls was the most tiring. However, the fantastic view will assure to remove all complaints. The water drops and the sound of nature will massage both ears and eyes.

As what I observed, the place was became famous. These became advantage to the city because of tourism. So many people wanted to see this place from different regions. No doubt, Tinago was the most beautiful falls in the country. However, disadvantage is also goes with it. It will be ruined and might damaged if the visitors are not taking responsible for their garbage. We found left over foods and litters as people flocks and made the site as a picnic ground. A tourist from Manila told a young staff  as she found a broken bottle in one of the cave. “Please take care of your surrounding, especially this place.” I agreed with her. For the kid’s future. This place is so wonderful to let the next generation have a chance to see it.

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The best “lechon kawali” I tasted was ordered in Gerry’s Grill Iligan Branch. And the most talked “pasalubong” is the unbeatable Cheding’s toasted peanuts. They have now spacious store.

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Wandering in Camiguin

There are so many tourist destinations in Camiguin. Gladly, I could say that this island is with full boost of natural wonders. One traveler said that roaming in Camiguin can be done for a day but for me it’s not enough.

The White Island is the most photographed site and became famous as background for any traveler who have been in the island. It is a white sand bar that can be accessed by renting a  motor boat situated in Marina port near Paras Resort, the most known resort in the island.

By paying 650 pesos as rental, the motorboat brought us to the white island. It is a long sand bar with actually nothing. No trees, no plants. There were so many tourists, both foreigners and locals, but couldn’t fill the entire place. Nobody stayed longer in the white island because there was nowhere for shade. We’re still lucky, the gloomy sky kept the sun hiding from the clouds.

After an hour, we asked the staff to call our motor boat to fetch us. The staff is the man having handheld radio and stationed in the center. It took few minutes before the motor boat came and brought us back to the mainland. Before we left the dock, everyone availed the shower rooms for a fee of 5 pesos per head.

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The Walkway. A few minutes drive from the port is what they called Walkway to the Old Volcano and Stations of the Cross. The group stopped just to buy souvenirs and not part of the itinerary. As we were curious of what was on the place, we stepped on the stairs and paid an entrance fee. As we are moving upwards passing station 3, we met a staff and asked her if what services they are offering on the hilltop and how many minutes to reach the last station. It looks like the gap between stations are quite few meters. She told us that there is a volcano crater on the top and might reach there within 30 minutes. We didn’t have so much time, so we agreed to go down and continued to our next destination.

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Standing on the exact location of the real cross of the Sunken Cemetery

The Sunken Cemetery. Whoever thinks that it was an old ruined cemetery. Beneath the water lied hundreds of dead people. I thought that we will just pass by after taking photos with a big cross on the water as a background. But there was a twist on the visit.

I was invited to do snorkeling on the sunken cemetery. It was a weird thing. Swimming on top of the cemetery! Hesitated,  but I agreed and we did the stuff. There we have to pay the environment fee and the guide. The area was a protected area since long time. But who dares, it still a cemetery!

The next thing happened was the nicest experience I did. Swimming on top of the colorful and different types of corals, big shells and fishes. I personally saw the real cross under the water and some of the evidence that there were buildings on this part of the sea. The area is no longer a cemetery. For me, it was the most remembered place of Camiguin. However, I didn’t have underwater camera to prove what I saw under the sunken cemetery.

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Old Church Ruins. A few minutes from the sunken cemetery is the old ruins church which was damaged when the volcano erupted in 1871. A candle lighting on the unseen altar was done with a solemn prayer. At the back of the old church was a tree which was believed to be more than hundred years old.

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Majestic Katibawasan Falls

Katibawasan Falls. We moved back passing the town proper ascending up to the mountain to see the famous Katibawasan Falls. After paying the entrance fees, we directly headed to the magnificent water falls.

The water drops made the entire place covered in humidity. It looks like it is always raining. The water from the falls was so cold that nobody can stay longer. I noticed a rope as caution. I asked the guard if what was the rope for. He told us that getting near the fall was restricted for the falling water was sometimes with rocks.

After the whole tiring day in Camiguin, we spent our last hours in Ardent Hot Spring. We enjoyed the day exploring one side of the island. Camiguin has still more wonders so it has more reasons for me to come back and continued rediscovering this wonderful island.

On the next day, we woke up early for our long road trip back to Central Mindanao.

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Beautiful island of Camiguin, Northern Mindanao, Philippines

Camiguin is a Paradise

Camiguin island is situated on the Northern part of Mindanao. Its geographical location might be considered as hindrance for us, from Central Mindanao. The island is not easy to reach.

The gate point going to the island is through Balingoan pier in Misamis Oriental. It was less than two hours travel when coming from Cagayan de Oro City (depending on the transportation). But in our case, from Central Mindanao, it was a continuous nine-hour land travel. However, we managed to be in the pier before 1pm. A ship was already boarding but unfortunately no more space for our vehicle. So, we waited for an hour for the next trip. We finally left the pier at 2:10pm.

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The Ro-Ro (Roll of, Roll On ships) schedule is in every two hours. There are three shipping lines operating Balingoan-Benoni route. The port entry is so congested because of passengers and vehicles whose waiting for their turns to enter. We’re in a big group with two toddlers, three kids and two senior citizens, so we have an advantage. Priority lane is sometimes practice in some ports.

We arrived in Benoni Pier, Mahinog in the island of Camiguin after two hours. As we’re not familiar with the place, our gadget with GPS did the work. But we’re sure, we will not be lost. Camiguin island is a small island and there’s only one main road surrounding the entire island.

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A dorm type room at Villa Paraiso Resort & Apartelle

Location: Mambajao, Camiguin, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Villa Paraiso Resort & Apartelle

Buddies: Group (15+)

We directly headed to our hotel in Mambajao, the capital town of the island. A 30-minute travel from the sea pier. We booked the dormitory room of Villa Paraiso Resort & Apartelle for P3,000. We spotted a good hotel which can accommodate a big family like us. The toilet is separated from the shower, so it was another advantage for a big group. They also have common toilet/shower rooms, so time management was not a problem at all.

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For it almost night, everyone insisted to relax in the water of Ardent Hot Spring. At first, it seems very far from the town but it is actually near once we started moving in Mambajao. All places are just connected and very accessible.

In Ardent Hot Spring, we soaked our tired body to gain more energy. The water temperature, which is naturally heated by vent from volcano, was so relaxing. It was the best place to gain friends and hear great stories

Rushed to Lake Sebu

While seated together with siblings, we talked about foods and places we like to visit. At first, going to Lake Sebu was only a suggestion but it just like everyone packed things and prepared to go.

At 02:30pm, we left our home in North Cotabato and few minutes stop over in Tacurong City’s Jollibee to calm our budging stomach. We then continued our travel passing towns of Sultan Kudarat province. The Lake Sebu is one hour travel from the town of Surallah, South Cotabato.

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The lake at dawn

The Lake Sebu is a mountainous town where one of the country indigenous people, B’laan is living peacefully. The area could be compared to Baguio City because of cold weather, pine trees and rice terraces. The town’s name is derived from the natural and protected lake which is abundant of fresh water species especially the tilapia.

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Punta Isla Lake Resort

Location: Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Punta Isla Lake Resort

Buddies: Group (5+)

RESORT. We booked the Punta Isla Resort, the most known resort in Lake Sebu. The dormitory type costs 1,600 pesos which is good for eight persons. We arrived at almost 6pm and was surprised that we were the only group who has booking. They were obviously expecting our arrival because their restaurant staffs are waiting at the reception. They offered a lot of menu but most of them, the raw ingredient was tilapia fish. Their best sellers were chicharon and kinilaw. They also have floating restaurant but a staff told us that we could dine there in the morning if we want to. The Floating Restaurant is normally open for lunch buffet.

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The hotel has swimming pools but without water and not for use. They also have many guest houses and restaurants. The room price was cheap so we didn’t expect much amenities. The room was so basic with old and thin bedding, towels and blankets. Since the area was on the lake side, insect repellent should be applied all the times. There were many mosquitoes, so we directly closed the room’s door once open.

The fantastic view of the lake greeted us in the morning. We only stayed in the resort overnight and didn’t have enough time to wander the whole area. However, I have pictures as souvenirs.

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We visited the known seven falls in Lake Sebu for adventure. The first falls was accessible through the road. The 2nd to 5th falls could be seen by riding two zip lines for a price of 250 pesos. The sixth and seventh were so far and in different sites. This was my highest zip line adventure so far which claimed to be the highest zip line in Southeast Asia at 600 feet above the ground.

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The 5th Falls as highlight of zip line adventure.