Text by Vic Albornoz Lactaoen
Photography by Robert Altamirano
“Hindi ba delikado dun kuya?” (Isn’t it safe there sir?) my trusted and loyal housemate asked when he learned I would be traveling to Malaybalay in Mindanao. I guess the situation is similar to foreigners who have never been to the Philippines and have nothing to base their impression on but what they see on CNN. I wasn’t too worried though. Anything can happen anywhere if it is meant. I have to admit that I knew very little about the province. Save for its mountainous terrain and endless trees, the guidebooks nor didn’t the internet travel websites say much about this only landlocked province in Mindanao, 8.294 square meter province in the heartland of Mindanao. Together with my photographer, Robert we flew in to Cagayan de Oro for Bukidnon for a three – day tour of wandering, sightseeing and unguided bliss.
Cagayan De Oro City is your entry point by air to reach Malaybalay City, Bukidnon’s capital and one of two cities that the province has. There are no direct flights to Bukidnon, but the province has several private airstrips used by agricultural and corporate planes. It is about two hours’ drive from Cagayan de Oro Airport. Upon arrival to Malaybalay, we were met by our guide and host representative, Ruth and Juliet, two “motherly” women who saw to it that the visit wouldn’t have any glitches along the way.
Seeing Bukidnon for the fifth time still strikes me as a pleasant surprise to say the least. The place is still quiet, peaceful – a definite break from stressful Manila. People looking for activity and action may be a bit disappointed but it was the perfect place for me for a few days. Seeing green mountains (with more of Benguet pine trees, actually!) was relaxing enough. And there are quite a few monasteries there which we noticed as we drove along the many municipalities we visited. But what took my attention as we were brought all over the province was the abundance of natural springs and waterfalls.
Visiting Bukidnon, which translated literally is “people of the mountain,” is a lot like being in Baguio, but a little bit warmer or in Tagaytay, but with more trees and less dining or entertainment establishments. There were no signs of mass transport, except for the red Rural Bus Line, that runs all over the province and connects to Cagayan De Oro or Davao to the south. They also had their “easyrider” – a three wheeled, local version of the local tricycle.
In the heart of Malaybay, our first stop was at the Kaamulan Park, where the annual Kaamulan festival is celebrated. If you think Bukidnon is only about pineapples on a plateau, you got it wrong. The province boasts of seven ethnic tribes, each one bearing its own unique culture and history.
You get to see them all in their costumed finery every first week of March, in honor of their ancestors. During this period, expect the Bukidnons to go tribal when the streets of Malaybalay take on that familiar fiesta theme. Banners, banderitas and beer will be the norm, as well as the sweet, haunting sound of native music. All this revolves around the Kaamulan Park, just behind the Provincial capitol, where most of the activities are performed.
Bukidnon’s tribes are known for their graceful dances and dignified bearing – a perfect compliment to the quiet provincial character of the capital city. Kaamulan Park is also a good place for camping, jogging and rodeo activities.
Bukidnon is one of the few provinces in the country were they can boast of huge tracks of land containing virgin forests. We were fortunate to see some of the provincial government’s ongoing reforestation projects including those at the Bukidnon Forest Inc. with their seedling and nursery farms and their exotic collection of flowers in bloom. There was the Impalutao Reforestation Project were we ascended to some of the highest points of the Impasugong, and saw two of Bukidnon’s majestic waterfalls – Dila and Gantungan.
Much as we wanted to go to Kitanglad National Park and see Mount Kitanglad from its base, the weather was not cooperating due to a looming tropical depression. Mount Kitanglad is the second highest mountain in the country. It offers a challenge to mountain climbers to reach the summit. Ruth, our guide mentioned that Mount Kitanglad contains an extensive flora and fauna as you go through its genuine virgin forest. At the base of the mountain one can spot some of the wild Philippine eagles.
The cool weather of the province, maybe also be one reason why religious orders have chosen this province for their monasteries. One such example is the Monastery of the Transfiguration, ran by the Benedictine monks whose lives are stories of transformation. It has become a tourist destination because of its “sweet-singing” Monastery Boys Choir, which unfortunately has now disbanded. A visit at the abbey’s chapel, designed by national artist Leandro Locsin is still a treat though, as one can have a “monastic” view of the countryside and a place for quiet solitude. Don’t forget to pass by their commissary for the Monastery’s latest best selling product – Monk’s Blend. The Monastery has produced one of the best coffee blends in the country, which has been commercialized and is now available at any Figarro coffee shops carrying the same brand.
South of Malaybalay is Valencia, home to the 25 hectare Apo Lake, ideal for boating and fishing. At nearby Maramag municipality, there are three popular resorts to chill out in, if you’re missing out on the beach. There’s Edlimar Spring Resort with its well spread natural spring pools. Then there is MGM Spring Resort and its Olympic size pools. Check out the tree house. And the latest addition to the brood – Wahig Spring Resort which features a Cable car to ferry guests from the top to the pools below.
Going around Bukidnon, one sees the province’s vast, fertile plains and realizes that it is predominantly an agricultural province, the most popular export being the world-famous Bukidnon pineapples. Bukidnon’s biggest attraction, in fact, is the huge 34,000 hectares Del Monte pineapple plantation owned by Del Monte Philippines Inc. It straddles five municipalities from Manolo Fortich to Impasugong, employing 3,000 people from planters to packers. The plantation is considered to be the biggest pineapple plantation in the Far East.
After having spent several days in the province, I thought, who needs to come back to reality if you’ve discovered this mountainous paradise while communing with nature every single day. Think of the bragging rights. Who needs to come back to stress when you can stay with the monks or build yourself your own little nipa hut ala Robinson Crusoe? If you ever had a deserted mountain view fantasy, now is the time to experience and try it out. Hello – look at the expansive view!
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific offer daily flights from Manila to Cagayan De Oro City. A two to three hour bus or car ride will get you to Malaybalay, the provincial capital of Bukidnon.
Haus Malibu, Bonifacio Drive, Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Tel./Fax No.: 841 2714
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