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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Bye Maldives Paradise

We woke up with the same daily routine. Added to our morning rituals was fixing and packing of our things. All in to our trolleys were the items as remembrance of our stay in Maldives. We enjoyed the hospitality of the resort’s staffs and the privacy they gave to each of the guest.

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Surely, I have one thing I missed to do! The time never give me a chance to snorkel the diving site. I asked the reception to join the daily scheduled snorkeling tour. It was twice cancelled because it requires of at least four guests. How unfortunate I am! However, I enjoyed the water, fishes, and sharks in the resort’s snorkeling site. For that, I still have a reason to come back!

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We left the resort at noon for our 4:40pm flight by Oman Air. The next boat transfer from the resort was at 4pm. It was better to stay longer in the airport than to miss our flight. The flight screen at the airport entrance was saying that we can only check in starting at 1:30pm. The airport was small so they limit the number of passengers staying inside. We took our lunch at the airport’s restaurant and entered the terminal at almost 2pm for check-in. We headed directly to the pre-departure area and we were surprised that the Oman Air started boarding passengers too early at 3:20pm. Only 22 passengers were counted and we noticed that the newly landed airplane was still full of passengers. As announced by the stewardess after final flight inspection at 3:40pm, the flight we were in was departing to Colombo. All the new passengers were surprised. The plane had a short stop over in Colombo before heading to Muscat.

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We arrived in Muscat at 8pm, one hour late from our booking details. We looked for a good place to stay for those five hours transit. I approached the Plaza Premium Lounge as walk in costumer and paid 10 Omani riyals per head for a lounge pass. We went out from the lounge when our flight to Dammam called for boarding.

Bonding in Paradise Resort

The ringing telephone hidden under our bed put my little kid on alert. We are normally hiding the telephone once we are in the hotel because the toddler loved to play with it. The hotel receptionist informed us that our check out time would be 10am. We were advised to meet our travel agent who booked our next resort accommodation in Maldives before 11am.

The booking was made by Island Voyage, the travel agent we knew online by chatting while surfing Maldives resorts. At first, it was uncomfortable conversation. If we should believe on these people or not. We’re thinking the possibilities of an online fraud who victimized travelers. However, we decided to try. The agent only request a 50% down-payment. The remaining would be paid upon arrival in Maldives. As they are sending vouchers and receipt with a legitimate company address, we determined that the agent was recognized and legal.

At 10:30am, we left the hotel going to the airport. The hotel driver assured that we will meet the agent. He led us to the booths area where the agent was waiting for us. We paid the additional 50% payment, and he gave us the hotel accommodation check in voucher. He then transferred us to another booth to prepare the speedboat transfer going to the resort.

The speedboat departed from the airport at 11:20am. Together with us were the group of Chinese family.

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Location: Lankanfinolhu Island, Maldives

Where I Stayed: Paradise Island Resort & Spa

Buddies: Family

After 20 minutes, we arrived at the resort’s jetty. A staff greeted and guided us to the reception which was a few minutes by walk. At the reception, they gave each of us forms to fill in information and a welcome drink. After a short introduction, the bellboy guided us to our beach front bungalow room. We actually preferred water villas but it’s not safe for kids. Anyway, beach bungalow was wide and spacious. The toilet was so spacious and there was an outdoor shower.

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Paradise Island Resort and Spa gave us the most relaxing days in Maldives. Our daily routine for three days was so luxurious. We started the day with snorkeling at the jetty, buffet breakfast in restaurant, relax inside the room, and beach bathing in the afternoon. Our night ended sitting at the jetty walkway watching the group of stingrays and sharks after a buffet dinner.

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The snorkeling sites on this resort are at the jetty side and in water villas. The beach at the water villas was the safest ground for small children. The water was shallow and also not busy from water sport activities.

The best thing we did at  the night was watching for sharks and stingrays during feeding time. It was my first time to meet small sharks while swimming. They said, they don’t bite and will ignore human.

Recommendation

This was only based on my personal experience. Don’t stay in the resort for longer than three days if you are a food critic. I observed that the menu was repeatedly served on the third day. The drinks on the night are not free. A bottle of water is not free too.  Some resort, like Paradise, doesn’t offer free wifi. Only US dollars and credit cards payment are accepted.

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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.

 

Re-routed to Plantation Bay

I received a call from Cebu Pacific that they cancelled our early morning flight to Caticlan because of typhoon. They gave us options on how to deal with our flight. It’s either in form of full refund or re-booking without fees. I asked the staff if possible to join the flight on the next day but he told that it was already full. Besides, the typhoon was still in the region and flights might be also cancelled.

I decided to change our plan or else all our efforts and time will be wasted. I booked Plantation Bay Spa and Resort through their website, www.plantationbay.com for two nights.

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Comfortable bed of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa

Location: Mactan, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, Mactan

Buddies: Family

The resort check in time started at 3pm. They can give room to early arrival if available. We arrived in the resort at 12:30n, and they immediately gave us Windward Room for the resort is not fully book and its non peak season.

The Plantation Bay Resort and Spa is an 11 hectares land developed and having man-made lagoons with fresh and salt water. It also has small beach to cater for those beach lovers. However, the sand is not so white and only covering the beach portion. The sea shore is black as seen during low tide.

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The area was so wide but we managed to walk and have access to all amenities. There was a routine resort cab transporting guests to any part of the resort. The pathway in the middle of lagoons in the center was also a short cut to the beach and restaurant.

The resort is the favorite destination of Korean honeymooners as proof for most of the guests are from there. I also spotted a Korean couple having their wedding pre-nuptial.

The resort also offering indoor/outdoor games, water sports, island hopping, massages, and spa. I tried the kayak and the stand paddle raft.

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FOOD. Aside of having four restaurants to choose from, the resort also has a food buffet every night and with different theme. On our first night, the theme was Spanish, so the food and the graceful performers were also related to Spanish culture. On our second night was From Middle East. So beautiful belly dancers, hot fire dancers and Arab cuisines were expected.

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The buffets and the performances could be experienced by calling the reservation desk and paying 1,250 pesos exclusive of drinks. However, the food for me was considered average in the fact that it was rated five star. I sorted it below my expectation because I worked in an Arab country and tasted most of the Arab foods. On the other hand, the Kilimanjaro Kafe, served the best breakfast buffet in the resort. The Filipino and Mexican breakfast during our stay were both memorable. We really enjoyed it and the foods were all tasty.

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SAFETY. The resort pool has a life guard from 8am to 8pm. Beyond that time, guests using the pool will take their own risks especially those having kids. Rooms also has direct path to water, so guest having small children should understand well all safety precautions.

CONCLUSIONS. The resort was so amazing with traditional and modern twists of culture. All ages will be entertained here because of so many activities they are offering.

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The no tipping policy was unusual but this resort is continuously practicing it. The staffs always greeted us every time we meet. We are also thankful to the nurse on duty when we called her early in the morning to check our son who was suffering from fever.

The rate was expensive for an ordinary local tourist. However, they have a day tour which costs 3,000 pesos per head. These will include a buffet lunch and free use of resort’s amenities.

 

Enjoying Novotel and Bahrain Museum

We checked out from Holiday Villa Bahrain Hotel and transferred to Novotel Resort to enjoy more the freedom we have in Bahrain.

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Comfortable bed of Novotel Al Dana Resort Hotel

Location: Manama, Bahrain

Where I Stayed: Novotel al Dana Resort Hotel

Buddies: Family

The reception area is part of my dream house. I booked on this hotel a month ago through their website, so we availed a promo of free breakfast. I was shocked on its normal price as seen in the room price brochure. I paid half of the price. They gave us the room overlooking the sea and the Bahrain museum.

Novotel al Dana Resort Hotel is on the right side of Hamad Causeway when going to the airport after the Bahrain Museum. The hotel has its own pool and beach. The room is so spacious with an old style design. We’re surprised for a music playing when we entered our room.

A 15-minute walk from the hotel entrance is the Bahrain Museum. From the room’s window, the museum is just a few meters but when we walked, it took us for more than half an hour. The museum is open up to 8pm.

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We entered the museum at 6pm with an entrance fee of one dinar. The museum is the short way if you want to know the history, cultures, and traditions of  Bahrain. The museum offered a lot of knowledge about this country. From the wedding rituals up to burying of dead. The museum is nice but there was no guide offering assistance to enlighten us. What we needed was fast and good reading comprehension to understand all descriptions written on every display . We stayed in the museum for an hour and went back to the hotel for our dinner.

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The hotel offered buffet style of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The price varies. On dinner, the buffet costs BD11 per head and lunch is BD7. Breakfast mostly are free.

Conclusion. Bahrain is the smallest country in the Middle East. However, it has something big to offer to tourists like us and with family. It’s not cheap considering taxes paid in hotel reservations.

The taxi is available and cheap looking because of low numbers read in the meter. The taxi flag rate varies from BD1 to BD1.2 depending on the location you’re coming from. The currency conversion confused and surprised us that we have no longer money in hands. The highest bill note I have during this travel is only BD1. Saudi Riyals is widely used here, so it’s not necessary for us, staying in Saudi, to change money.

Bahrain is open for other cultures. Despite of being a Muslim country, there are other religions too. The stores are open during Salah time. However, the Shariah law is still strictly implemented.

Bahrain is a great country with hospitable locals. There are still more attractions I missed to visit.

 

Lantaw Marbel & the Road to Gumasa

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This is a family outing planned for two months. For this is a peak season, we are obliged to pay the full amount on room reservation at White Haven Resort in Gumasa.

We left the town of Mlang at 7am. We are expecting to pass provincial roads of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, and Saranggani. We estimated a continuous four-hour of land travel to reach the beach capital of the south.

 

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On the way, we got a 15-minute stopped over and visited the highest place of Marbel, South Cotabato. The Lantaw Marbel is a park on the hills of Marbel giving us the panoramic beauty of the city. The cages of birds and fish ponds are the first attractions the park can offer to tourists for free.  The park has no entrance fee. There is also a restaurant overlooking the city but they have no customer that time.
There is on going building construction that might be offered for wedding and big events reception. It may be soon to open.

After an hour, we reached General Santos City. We stopped at RDEX Food shop to buy frozen tuna, their best seller, for our dinner. Gumasa is more than an hour away from the city according to locals. And finally, we reached White Haven Resort in Gumasa, Saranggani Province at 3pm.

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Location: Gumasa, Glan, Saranggani Provice, Philippines

Where I Stayed: White Haven Resort

Buddies: Big Family (13+)

The White Haven Resort is the first resort which lies on the Gumasa shore before Rosal Resort. We reserved the beach front Pagoda House for our entire family of 13 heads including three children. The Pagoda House has two rooms. One room can accommodate three persons and the other rooms can carry five. The place is wide, so there is no problem for having a big group. It also has open cottages with shared toilets and kitchen for day tour visitors.

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The Pagoda House is a typical one room native house with veranda and a hall which commonly used for dining. The other room is wider and separated from the main house. Only the main room has comfort room. Included in the vicinity is the grilled station with gas stove for cooking. There is also a refrigerator inside a wooden cabinet for storing foods. All these properties are inside a wooden fence, so the feeling of comfort and security is great.

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The beach has white fine sand that’s why travelers named it as “Boracay of the South”. Though on our arrival, the beach was so messy. We asked the staffs if what happened to the place. They too couldn’t answer but I saw them cleaning the entire beach front and shore line.

The beach is good for family retreat. If you’re looking for relaxation and peaceful place in Southern Mindanao, this place can be recommended. Just don’t forget to bring a lot of foods. Both raw and cooked.

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At night, we remained calm and quite as the staffs kept on reminding. This is to give other visitors the best and relaxing rest, and respects to what they talked spirits whose taking care and maintaining the beauty of the place.

I didn’t have time roaming the entire beach even the neighboring and sister resorts, Rosal and Coco which both owned by the same family.

We left the resort at 10am next day and stopped over in General Santos City for meeting long time not seen friends. We finally departed the city at 3pm.

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Best Buy. On the way back to Marbel, we stopped over in a highway (town of Polomolok) to buy pineapples. Polomolok and neigboring towns are home for sweet pineapple plantations of DOLE Philippines.

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DOLE Philippines pineapple plantation