Nature has a way of arriving unannounced. Either you take it as a great surprise or transgressed demise would highly depend on the way you perceive the unexpected. In the end, whatever is meant to happen, will happen; we only need a deeper means of understanding that everything laid out is for the good. And this, my friend, is what we call as… faith.
It started as a fine day. We travelled straight from General Santos to Surallah and was awed by the peace and order exhibited by the province – ironic to how media emphasized Martial Law in Mindanao. A well play of progress without forgetting its culture is exhibited in South Cotabato, which made me rethink how poorly these places were advertised. From Surallah, we rode a van to Tboli. After knowing that we’d be heading to Lake Holon, the driver volunteered to directly bring us to their Tourism Office where we will register, contact a habal-habal driver, and pay the necessary fees for the hike – very kind gesture of welcome from people often labeled negatively by most of us. A short orientation was given by the staff of the Tourism office before they led us to the group of drivers who were tasked to send us to the jump-off station. What struck me most was the way they reiterated to the drivers the importance of bringing us safely to our destination and how they prayed over for our journey and wished for a memorable experience. We didn’t know that the “memorable experience” was not just about the hike, but as well as getting there.
While most write-ups about Lake Holon would center on the seven kilometer uphill hike, I’d like to clarify here that the hike is not the most struggling part of the journey; rather, it’s the long and bumpy, one and a half hour habal-habal ride. It would at a normal cadence on asphalt roads which would later on traverse to a bumpy and muddy trails in between a huge plantation of bananas, before finally ascending to an almost ninety-degree rocky roads. Believe me, there were times we would plead to the driver that we’d just walk our way on some areas in fear that we’d fall, but most of the time they’d refuse so as not to put a halt on their momentum. I have been to a number of habal-habal rides, but as of this writing, nothing could compare to the roads leading to Kule. What made it more thrilling was the sudden change in the atmospheric condition; suddenly, it rained so hard. Our other companions were forced to find shelter among the locals while the lead pack waited almost thirty minutes in the Receiving Area in Kule. We were assured by the barangay captain of the tribe that our other company were safe after phoning over the other patrol groups. After finally regrouping, we had our lunch and was offered with Arabica coffee by our guide – perfect for the cold weather. When everything has been settled, we then started our hike to Mt. Melibengoy.
As we were trailing behind our guide, Kuya Pastor, we overheard a comment from a local who was peeking through the window of his house. “Uwanon mo didto,” were his words, forecasting a heavy downpour that would come upon our way. Looking ahead, it was disheartening to hear. The stakes were high – grey skies, strong wind, and drizzle from time to time – but we didn’t travel from Cebu and endured long hours of travel just to be chickened by an ugly weather. So, off we go. To calm our systems, Kuya Pastor led us into a short prayer – funny how never did understood a thing from the words he uttered but we felt the sincerity on it. It then fueled us to keep going even if there’s no assurance that they’d be a clearing at the summit.
The trails were actually established. In fact, trail signs bearing the face of Dora is posted in every hiking station. The rain continued pouring but as we went along it slowly moderated. Signs of exhaustion were already visible on the faces of my comrades. Unlike me, it was their first hike outside Cebu – one that would be comparable to a major climb if taken into consideration the length of time spent and the difficulty of the habal-habal ride and steepness of the trails. Moreover, it was only prior to that day that we’ve learned that Wilma, Badeth and I’s long time travel companion, was pregnant! Extreme care and precautions were practiced and each one truly prayed for everyone’s safety all through the journey. We kept the pace slow and steady and diverted our energies into teasing each other and marveling upon the beauty surrounding us. I volunteered to be the sweeper of the group, so as not to pressure Wilma and her husband. And after several hours of pauses and breaks, we reached the viewing deck of Lake Holon. They were all exclaiming with joy and gladness upon seeing the beauty of Holon without any string of cloud covering it. No rain, no fog. Everything was perfect!
But the battle was just half done. From the summit, we had to go down the lake and camp there. While going downhill is usually my favorite part of the hike, it was otherwise for them – most especially to Wilma. Good thing, there were railings mounted in going to the lake that provided ample support when going down. After going down, we embarked on a canoe that would cross us to the other side of the lake where the campsite is located. Since it was a Sunday, most of the hikers of the other day have descended so we ended up owning the whole site for ourselves! HAHA. Joke, there were actually two other group of campers who came after, but in all, there were only less than twenty of us of such massive space.
After pitching our tents, we were asked by Kuya Pastor if we wanted to try their local tilapia which only grew on the lake. We were adamant at first, given that we have brought food with us. However, since we are already in the area, why not give it try? And good thing we did! I’m quite picky in terms of food, but their tilapia is totally juicy and delicious! No spices and seasonings were added. After catching them, the locals immediately grill them! Yes, the fish is still jumping while on top of the charcoal!
The following day we exited via Salacafe Trail. Compared to Kule, its width is estimated to accommodate four wheeled vehicle. It is the trail used by locals when they have to transport goods and raw materials using their horses. Kuya Pastor happily shared unto us several practices and beliefs by locals. We learned some similarities and differences among the tribes living in South Cotabato, and we even joked Wilma that she has to name her baby after a Tboli name. HAHA. I think Agustine, her husband, was just calming himself in silence so as not to choke Grethel, Ivah, and I. HAHAHA.
Among all the mountains I’ve been to, Mt. Melibingoy has one of the most beautiful summits – that if gifted with clearing and fine weather. But more than its beauty, I believed that what transpired among us during the hike and camp was way more beautiful. We were not vocally saying it, but we knew deep down that we were silently praying for the weather to be better and that everyone – most especially Wilma – will be safe all through the journey. This act of faith did not ended up as a mere lip service, but was lived out so as to make the adventure going; and in turn, the universe conspired to make it happen. So when daunting and seemingly difficult challenges are coming, we have to be reminded of My Chemical Romance’s lyrics: we’ll carry on; we carry through the fears and disappointed faces. We’ll carry on. We have to.
How to get there?
- From General Santos (can also be accessed from Davao), ride a bus/ v-hire bound for Surallah.
- From Surallah take the v-hire bound for Tboli. Head to the Tourism Office and pay ground rental, environmental fee, and all others.
- Habal-habal ride for an hour and a half to Salacafe or Kule Trail (depending on where you’d like to take. Salacafe is longer but easier, Kule is shorter but steeper. We prefer Kule because it has a better viewing deck and allows visitors to try the canoe as well. But of course, you can always do the traverse.
- Guide fee depends on your generosity. I highly recommend Kuya Pastor Legal as he is well-versed in Bisayas, Filipino, Ilonggo, and English. He can sustain very good conversation and knows a lot of information about the species in the locale. You can contact him thru 0938-553-8979 or 0965-417-9314. As signal there is not that good, you can just request for his assistance when you arrive at the Kule Receiving Area.
- Estimated Expenses:
- P200 – registration and ground rental
- P300 – tent rental (or you can bring your own – these are beach tents so imagine how cold it is at night HAHA)
- P450 – habal-habal fare to Kule ( we were astounded with the price at first, but if treated wisely, this is but a small amount for the effort exerted by the drivers; habal-habal fare to Salacafe is way cheaper P300)
- P50 – canoe fee
- P50 – per stick of tilapia (approximately 6 – 10 pieces – a must try)