Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lake Holon (Mis)Adventure

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

"There is an intense but simple thrill in setting off in the morning on a mountain trail, knowing that everything you need is on your back. It is a confidence in having left the inessentials behind and of entering a world of natural beauty that has not been violated, where money has no value, and possessions are a dead weight. The person with the fewest possessions is the freest. Thoreau was right." ~ Paul Theroux, The Happy Isles of Oceania

For us, to trek a mountain is to relive, to go back worshiping nature and to relish what is still left in this fragile ecosystem. Last Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I made my first journey to T'boli to reflect and visit one of my home town's diverse ecosystem: Lake Holon.

It was an unplanned trip. A spontaneous decision. As they say, “mas mabuti pa ang di planadong lakad, natutuloy.” A day before going home, my parts Eli invited me to join their trek to Lake Holon ( Holon is a T'boli term for Lake. So Lake Holon is redundant! It is also known as Lake Maughan before but I don't know why and when they changed the name)!. Bored,stressed undelayed Mt. Apo climb (that made me so frustrated) and the goal to push my stamina, made me to say Yes even without thinking! How long can I endure the full trek? I was tasked to get the tent in Gensan (General Santos City) but since I finished some work late and my kaartehan of putting blue nail polish took some time, I left Davao quite late and the person can no longer meet me to give the tent. Sorry naman but it didn't deter my spirit. I called and texted all friends and relatives for tent and after several minutes, and the provider is just near: my bestfriend! I was right not to worry since He will provide. :)

All set! Ready and prepared.

Woke up very early, checked the things to be brought and the made some muscle stretching. It's my first time to trek to the lake and also my first time to truly visit T'boli! :)
The South Cotabato Capitol boys- Eli, Kuya Julz and Kuya Dodz and I rode the bus to Surallah then a van to T'boli. We just met some of fellow climbers inside the van. Joining us are the family of Ms. Rowena, her son Jello, niece Clyde, Donna and her husband. A team with unplanned trip but full of moles on their feet. In short, mga lakwatsera/os!! perfect.

A one hour motor ride to Brgy. Salacafe and then the walking begins to Lake Holon. The trip commenced with prayers, jokes and meeting other trekkers. Our team, Kuya Dodz and I are the green horn babies. Kuya Julz of Tourism Office and Eli of PPDO are adept at climbing mountains and hinterlands of South Coatabto as they are part of the documentation team, doing all the AVP (audio video presentations) to promote the province. They shared their recent trip to Brgy. Linan, Tupi with botanist Dr. Nelson Pampolina of UPLB. Brgy. Linan is home to tukay mal (small monkey) or tarsiers (It is endemic in the area and not only in Bohol. :))

Tarsier Sanctuary in Ba' Linan, Brgy. Linan, Tupi, South Cotabato

A two-hour trek of up hill and slippery stones, and a breathtaking view at the water streaming from the lake. Then you'll be greeted by the crater beckoning you to its womb as if saying, "My child continue the downhill trek and you'll be rewarded." True to its sense. The cramped muscles, the beaded sweats are nothing compared at the calmness you will feel when you see it's beauty. Placid. A sleeping giant. The center was said to be a source of strong magnetic field where General Parker's helicopter crashed during the 1990s.

The next day, the sun rose, with clouds billowing, the mountains clear outline, the lake calm yet thriving with life.

Photo by Eliezer Garcia

Some young men were already taking off their shirts, taking a dip amidst the misty atmosphere. Some are patiently waiting for their morning catch. A boulder lush with green sturdy trees serves as a boundary going to Brgy. San Jose, General Santos City. The lake is well protected. Still full of tilapia and other freshwater fishes. Shampoos and soaps are prohibited. It didn't win the title as the 2003-04 Cleanest Lake in the country without strict implementation of the law. And I hope this will be maintained.

South Cotabato, my hometown is rich with diverse flora and fauna. It's my first time to see a frog with two horns we nicknamed “devil's advocate frog”, butterflies in varying colors (bloody red with pointed wings; bright yellow with black and white spots), beetles and still luscious forest.
photos by Eliezer Garcia

Endemic species abounds but are threatened to be endangered by massive 'development' projects coming in.These are God-given gifts, that cannot be easily replaced and valued by money. We as humans must protect, we as stewards of these creations. But sadly, greed, unequal wealth distribution and in the name of 'development', we are willing to destroy these.

South Cotabato with the taunted “biggest copper deposit” in Tampakan is now embroiled with open-pit mining and the strong opposition from the local people. The strong civil society groups pushed for the passage of the Environmental Code that banned open pit mining. Tampakan is part of the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and part of the Proclaimed Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape (Proc.552). It is considered as a watershed and provides moisture all year round for agriculture yet being contested for the rich minerals underneath.

When we destroy one ecosystem, can we build a biodiversity corridor for its replacement?

Once diversity, century-old trees, and watersheds are destroyed, we can not replaced it overnight. It can never be valued in monetary terms. Whilst the 'host community' of mining is small and can be subsidized by the company, how about the thousands of farmers downstream? How about the millions of people needing water? SC critical-minded people are determined not to be victims of a mining-dominated future. but I do hope the legislators will take their part too.

Kuya Julz and I had a lengthy discussion on our frustrations and hopes for the environment. We even talked about the patent issue. I even remembered I was told that our own waling-waling was already patented by a perfume manufacturing company abroad. Kuya Julz also shared that out of several endemic species found/ discovered in South Cotabato, only one was published by a Filipino while 8 was published by foreign experts. We have a few remaining experts. We lost them to greener pastures abroad or to death and negligence as what happened to Dr. Leonardo L. Co (botanist died between military and NPA crossfire). Those who remain are unsupported. UPLB for one have the experts but with lacking and dwindling State support for research, they would rather focus their energies to hybrid product development than study how to protect and preserve the endemic species.

Patent. Copyright. And biodiversity. Where one area of struggle between developing and developed countries continues.

Another concern is the culture and the arts. When Local government units (LGUs) open an area for tourism, how does it ensure that the natural habitat for flora and fauna are not disrupted as well as the people in the community?

Another question on our bubble thoughts: We want to preserve the environment, we aim for sustainability for the next generation but is today's generation value these? Or has the youth becomes too attached to the virtual world? Kuya Julz was so proud with his daughter Lexi, he brings her along to his climbs to let her discover the wonders of nature. We are happy to see high school graduates under SPES program appreciating the nature courtesy with their boss. Youth when taken with proper guidance will rediscover its environment.

Another thing is how do we promote tourism locally? We dream of Hongkong, Europe but have we discovered our own place? :) I vow to promote local tourism,and to know more our hometown beyond Lake Sebu and the famous resorts. Next month, I'm looking forward to my climb to Brgy. Linan.

What struck me is the road. Barangays Salacafe, Laconon and New Dumangas' huge tracts of lands are occupied by Sumifru and Dole for their bananas and pineapples respectively. Yet there is no road improvement. The companies have already started here on 2000, yet the roads are left not much to be desired. Most of the places we went in my work promise paved roads in order to entice people to let the companies enter. But the roads to Salacafe are slowly eroding, turning into a river when rain pours. Very unsafe especially for motorists and its passengers.

One thing this trip taught me is the Pinoy's unyielding, everyday encounter with Death. A natural daredevil, our idea of risk is different. We would not eat fish from the sea where there was a sunken ship (fearing that fishes eat the dead bodies) but we are willing to cross the busy street, and rode a motorcycle no matter how difficult the road is.

Going to T'boli, 2 persons (a conductor and another passenger) rode at the back of the full van.

Going down after our overnight stay at the lake, we rode the habal-habal. All you have to do is shut your eyes real tight, never move and pray you'll still be whole when you arrive downtown. I prayed and thought of my insurance plan. My white blood almost got drained. My heart almost jumped when we pass this treacherous passage and when I learned the motorcycle we are using is even older than the driver! HUWAAAAT??!!?

Risky but very exhilarating. (Part of my work is riding habal-habal; the main course of my field adventures. But that ride in T'boli is relatively 'safer' than my habal-habal/ skylab ride to Brgy. Hagpa, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon). Salapi na lang, langit na!

But despite all of these, I fell in love with the place. I learned to empty my mind and just sit still. I learned that it's not good to talk at night at the campsite (even it sounds like a whisper to me), everybody might be listening.hehe. Trekking is a way to make new friends and renew friendship. It is also a good test for endurance and stamina And having strong-able men as companions will make your life easier. haha!

To the PPDO and OT boys, thank you for the invite. I feel pampered. See you again this May! :)


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