Friday, September 24, 2010

Lake Sebu, South Cotabato: Beneath the surface

Lake Sebu - Seloton Foggy Mountain Morning Fishing
Lake Seloton Foggy Morning Fishing
One of the fringe benefits of waking up before the sun awakens from its slumber is seeing a world slowly being roused by the changing light, the quickening of the breeze, the lifting of the shroud of fog, and the beating of oars.  At Lake Sebu, where over a hundred hectares are devoted to tilapia cages, and nearby Lake Seloton also dubbed as the sunrise lake with 26 hectares of fish cages, the day begins before dawn when fishermen in their bancas carved from a single piece of log break the stillness of the mirror-like waters.
Lake Sebu - Fishnets and Fisherman
At least 26 hectares of the 75-ha Lake Seloton are dotted with tilapia cages
Before long, the lakes are alive with people in transit -- students in their uniforms, housewives carrying supplies, men on their way to work -- using the waterways as we cityslickers would traverse concrete roads.  Inland, the incessant chirping of birds is disturbed only by the occasional passing of motorcycles, the rather loud blare of a not so distant karaoke and the chatter of locals.  As it turns out, a growing number of "locals" here are not really locals in the strict sense of the word but rather transplants from the lowlands.
Lake Sebu - Bird on a Palm
Cool Lake Sebu mornings are blessed with the incessant chirping of birds
Lake Sebu - Bright Colored Mosque
Mosque near the poblacion
Nothing really wrong with welcoming migrants except that according to an acquaintance, a growing number of T'bolis are relinquishing their claims to their lands, which are ancestral domain, and giving way to migrants mostly Christians from the Visayas.  Exposure to outside cultures have also somewhat diluted the T'boli traditions, perhaps none more evident than in T'nalak designs that pander to international tastes rather than culled from the nature-inspired dream states of its weavers.

As with any place that hopes to attract more visitors, there are struggles with giving in to development as well as concessions being made -- the construction of an unsightly clubhouse near Falls One; the plans of adding a cable car to the zipline overlooking five of the seven falls;  the proposal to add a rock climbing facility on Falls Two.  The list goes on.
Lake Sebu - Tropical Scene from the Roadside
An invigorating roadside view of the distant mountains framed by palm trees
Local tribesmen consider Lake Sebu as nothing short of miraculous, never drying up even with the comings and goings of droughts and El Niño -- an important thing to consider especially since it is a vital water source for (drinking water and irrigation) both South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. I hope and pray that even with the increasing onslaught of tourism and outside influences, the idyllic, eden-like nature of the lake along with the purity of T'boli traditions will not dry up as well.

Attribution: Philippine National Statistical Coordination Board 
Recommended reading: "Losing Paradise" by Luis Francia, PDI, 2008

Read my other 2010 Lake Sebu posts:
Zipping through five falls in (about) 60 seconds
Meeting the master dreamweaver
Reflections on a journey back to the land of lakes, falls and dreamweavers

Friday, September 17, 2010

48 hours in Ilocos: Light in the northern towns

Ilocos Norte - Kaangrian Falls Luminous Tree Silhouette
Kaangrian Falls, breathtakingly luminescent in the dappled overcast light
Going to Ilocos Norte took the better part of the night and morning but as for me, the road back to these northern parts took me the better part of five years.  I remembered my first trip in 2005, driving for hours on end, fighting off sleepiness and fatigue but taking in all the wonderful scenery. Fastforward to a recent long weekend when the trip just happened, materializing on its own.  I really had no plans of heading up north but I guess like life, trips just happen.  For a change, it's fun to go on a short (two days only) roadtrip with a very relaxed itinerary (and no driving for me).  As much as I love photography, at times, I just feel like relaxing my grip and  savoring the moment.
Ilocos Norte - Kaangrian Scale
Kaangrian cascades dwarf Kitz
Ilocos Norte Bangui Windmills Blues
Bangui Bay Blues
First stop, Kaangrian Falls.  With only a few hours of sleep while in transit, we stopped at the police station in Burgos to look for Julius, our guide for Kaangrian.  The policemen were kind enough to escort us to the jump-off but  we bumped midway into guess who, but Julius himself.  With no time to go back to buy trail food or snacks, lunch had to wait until evening as we spent the late part of the morning and most of the afternoon at the falls.

Finding the falls took us an hour and a half of hiking thru the forest.  The sun shone brightly for most of the afternoon which gave us some time to slack off, then as if repentant, it gave us a brief reprieve with some overcast conditions that allowed us to shoot the falls and admire its beauty.  I've heard so much about this falls but never got the opportunity to go and see it for myself until now.  According to our guide, Kaangrian means foul-smelling in Ilocano since the waters are tainted by guano but nevermind, the falls is breathtakingly beautiful and more than makes up for the hike.

Bangui Bay at sunset.  The allure of what I call the "Big Iron Giants" still draw the tourists in droves, nevermind if the sky was grey.   Who would've thought that giant wind turbines would not only generate much-needed power for Ilocos Norte but also generate tourism?  We shot for a while and then checked out the mini-windmill souvenirs right along the shore.  The habagat season often means less than stellar sunsets and this afternoon was no different but what the hey, we thank our lucky stars for giving us a window of overcast lighting at the falls so who are we to complain?  Besides, lunch and slumber beckon at Villa Fernando in Bangui town proper.
Ilocos Norte Kapurpurawan In the Sunrise
Kapurpurawan in the early morning light
Sunrise at Kapurpurawan.  It was raining when we woke up at 3am.  Will the fiery sunrise we saw along the road yesterday replay itself?  Or will the rains continue and we ought to go back to sleep?  We decided to take a chance and drove to the rocky coast of Burgos. At the turn from the highway, the trail narrows with tall grass mostly obscuring the path.  Our photographer-friend from Dagupan, Kitz, surmised that with the rainy season, maybe fewer and fewer people are visiting as the vegetation is reclaiming the land.
Ilocos Norte - Bojeador Reflection
Bojeador reflection
Lantaw and I were singing James Taylor and Carole King songs while waiting for the light to shift while Kitz jockeyed up for position elsewhere.  Ahhh, save for fishermen looking for crabs, we had the place all to ourselves, the quiet intruded only by the waves lapping on the nearby shore and our occasional quips.  The reward was seeing this otherworldly rock formation in a new light as the sky wore subtle hues of red, pink and yellow against an ocean of blue.

Noon at Bojeador.  In keeping up with the relaxed pace, sleep was inserted somewhere in the itinerary between Kapurpurawan and Bojeador.  Lantaw and I were mulling over the fact that this cultural heritage structure is a mirror image of the San Antonio lighthouse on Capones island when three busloads of college kids from Manila arrived.  It seems to me that the significance of the place was lost on them as most came up for a cursory glance and then went on a posing binge for a Facebook profile.  Mang Ben, the caretaker, wasn't around so it's off to the next stop.
Ilocos Norte - Paoay Church Bathed by the Sunset Light
Paoay Church looks resplendent, bathed in the golden sunset light
Paoay at sunset.  After enjoying some food (the mandatory empanada, of course, at Batac) along the way, we had to get our share of soul food as well.  This we got at Paoay, where we caught the beautiful baroque facade of St. Augustin church seemingly aglow, bathed in the late afternoon sun.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site never fails to draw the tourists in even with the lateness of the day so much so that I can't help but notice the rather upscale looking cafe and a bed & breakfast inn (with free Wi-Fi to boot) in front of the church getting good business.  Even passing through Vigan later where we had our bagnet dinner, there were plenty of visitors eager to get a taste of the cultural experience.  And perhaps like us, eager to explore and discover the hidden wealth, natural wealth that is, of Ilocos.

With apologies to the 80s group, Dream Academy, for borrowing the phonetic sound-alike title of their song, "Life in a Northern Town".  Lagalog thanks Mon Corpuz, Kitz Ferrer, Wyatt Gavina and Allan Barredo for helping make this trip happen. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gumasa: Escaping to the white sand beach down under

Gumasa - Dramatic Morning Shadows
Dramatic morning shadows over the white sands of Gumasa

Days of staying at high elevation can make you get used to the cool, crisp, 22 degree Celsius daytime clime.  So much so that by the time you get to the lowlands, you can tell you're closer to sea level just by the hot and dry feeling.  By the time we got back to Gensan, it was a dry 34 degrees.  Good thing we already plotted out an escape in advance -- to Saranggani's not-so-secret getaway place, Gumasa.

White beach bummin' - Getting to Gumasa entails some creative haggling with the drivers of the vans parked at the terminal near KCC Mall.  If you're not careful, you can get charged as much as P3,500 for the hour-long trip to the Glan terminal which is still around 15 minutes away from Gumasa.  Instead of paying per head, we rented out a whole van for half the popularly-quoted price.
Gumasa - White Haven Big Banca Morning II
Beached boat separating White Haven Resort from Rosal
The over-an-hour trip takes you to a stretch of concrete highway until the turn towards Brgy. Roque Adarna where there is a short stretch of rough road. We arrived at Gumasa to find the Rosal Beach Resort fully-booked so we ventured over to the neighboring Coco Beach Resort.  Planting our weary feet into the powdery white sand half-sealed the idea of staying there.  Getting a 6-bed, air-conditioned room with T&B for P3,500 a night sealed the deal for us.
The owners said that during summer, the resort can be filled to the rafters with guests from all over but mostly from Gensan and Davao.  But now, in the off-season, the beach is deserted which is just the way I prefer it.
Glan Adarna House - Babae sa Bintana
Glan - Babae sa Bintana
Glan - Home Cinema Double Feature
Glan's home theaters
Detour to Glan.  The kind owners loaned us their pick-up for a trip to the Glan town proper where we can view old houses still being used and lived in.  Some are owned and maintained by members of the Adarna clan, relatives of the owners of the resorts along Gumasa.  We got lucky to have been welcomed inside the Cariño house where the furnishings and the ambiance looked and felt strangely familiar (tableware and sulihiya chairs uncannily like my mom's; Radiowealth TV, all-steel electric fans like my grandparents').  Funny that at the height of the Ms. Universe fever, we were snooping around in old houses in an unfamiliar town.  

There were curiosities, too, that are priceless to note such as the "home cinemas" showing DVD movies like Angelina Jolie's "Wanted" and Stallone's "Rocky IV" (Glan has no movie theater) and the sweet, sweet mangosteens we regrettably bought too few of from an ambulant vendor at around P110 for 3 kilos.
Glan Adarna House - Facade
Glan Adarna House: a look at a bygone era
Back to the beach.  The habagat season means sunny mornings are almost always followed by rainy afternoons and wetter evenings.  We got back to Gumasa to anticipate a decent sunset but the weather had other plans.  What better excuse than to put away the camera and borrow a volleyball for some games and later, a dip into the waters.  We also spent a bit more time giving our feet a "sand spa massage," enjoying the always-cool sensation of the powdery white sand. This may have prompted not a few to call Gumasa the "Boracay of Mindanao."  Considering the over-the-top development and commercialization of Boracay, I pray Gumasa remains to be the way it is.
Gumasa - Copra Maker sa Kalsada
Copra-making is one of the province's chief industries
Info:  Gumasa is located in Saranggani, Southern Mindanao.  It is about an hour's drive away from Gensan, reachable via private vehicle or public transport.  Getting there: Depending on where you are coming from, you can usually find a bus that will take you from your cheap Davao hotel to the KCC Mall in downtown Gensan. Davao is about 2 hours away so it is smart to leave early. You can either ride a motorcycle going to Gumasa or ask a bus driver to take you down there for a good deal. Remember to haggle, and most of all, haggle with a smile. • Accommodations: We stayed at the Coco Beach Resort which has a lot of accommodations to choose from.  Food: It's smart to buy supplies in Gensan or Glan town proper.  If you plan to eat in Gumasa, do advise the resort hands well in advance.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lake Sebu: Zipping through five falls in (about) 60 seconds

Lake Sebu - Zipline II
Intrepid adventurers launch into the green void from Falls One
I wasn’t really keen on getting on the zipline, much less lugging C-Dreepio, my Nikon DSLR, for the ride but that was the way things panned out. After the rains had come, the usual long line of kibitzers and gungho tourists have petered out. Our group was odd-numbered so it was a shame to let one of our participants zip by her lonesome.

I got paired off with Abie, the most animated and loquacious in our contingent and once we took off, she wasted no time in asking where we should look. Here we are suspended over 700 feet above sea level and zipping across 740 feet of wire and we were actually having a casual conversation.
Lake Sebu - Zipline Qai and Agnes
BP participants Qai and Agnes came in for a soft landing
Well, we didn’t exactly jumped into a void as once we got past the clearing, we found ourselves hovering above an expanse of forest. Each succeeding increment of the short ride revealed falls after falls otherwise hidden by forest cover.
The roof of the Falls One Clubhouse stands out among the green
Spotting Falls One was a cinch as the red roof of the clubhouse was a giveaway. Falls Two was identifiable by its tall cascade and dramatic sheer rock walls. I later learned that the series of cascades that snake through the jungle were falls three, four and five.

The ride was over before I can even contemplate on getting scared out of my wits or start ruminating on the meaning of life but it was one incredibly scenic ride. Perhaps, it’s the only way to get a glimpse of the hard-to-trek-to series of falls but I’m amazed at how much forest seems to be intact.
Lake Sebu - Falls Two Layers of Textures
Falls Two's dramatic layers of textures
From the viewdeck, there’s another, shorter zipline to take us to the jump-off for falls two about 400 meters away. The falls was as awe-inspiring as I remembered it, the raging cascade made more thunderous by the rains.

Plans are afoot for providing rock climbing activities for Falls Two and a cable car ride across the five falls. I just hope that these wouldn’t be unsightly distractions like the clubhouse of Falls One. But I must admit, the zipline and jumping into the green void were swell ideas. After three years of being away, the falls of Lake Sebu bid us a splashy welcome.
Lake Sebu - Falls Two Cascade View from the Roadside II
From a distance, Falls Two evokes raw power and beauty
INFO: The Lake Sebu Zipline is acknowledged as the highest in Asia at over 700 feet above sea level. There are actually two ziplines: the longer one (740 meters) takes one from Falls One to a viewdeck overlooking a portion of Falls Three to Five. The second zipline (around 400 meters) takes the rider to Falls Two. Fee: P300/pax. Operating hours: 8-5pm except during storms or heavy rainfall.

Coming up in Lagalog:  Gumasa: Escaping to the beach

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lake Sebu: Meeting the master dreamweaver and the future of dreamers and weavers

Lake Sebu - Lang Dulay
Lang Dulay, Manlilikha ng Bayan, Master Dreamweaver
The Bajaus have their colorful mats, the Yakans their equally hue-filled cloth, and the T'bolis have their T'nalak.  I'm not much of a souvenir collector or a memento keeper but I find these crafts fascinating.  Most are a bit pricey (I'm such a cheapskate) though I understand that each is painstakingly crafted by hand.  For a deeper appreciation of the T'nalak, we got a firsthand look into how much labor of love goes into making this cloth during our trip.
Lake Sebu - Lang Dulay Name on T'nalak
Finished T'nalak with Lang Dulay's name woven into the pattern
But first, let's meet a living treasure.  Lang Dulay is already in her 90s but she looks sprightly for her age.  Her vision may not be as good as before and prevents her from weaving but she still oversees the designs herself as well as teaches the younger women the craft.  After all, she's still the master dreamweaver, the one bestowed with divine inspiration by the goddess Fu Dalu during slumber.  She is a treasure-chest of designs with knowledge of over a hundred designs from clouds (bulinglangit) to butterflies (kabangi).  Not surprising that she is considered a national living treasure with the honor of being a Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Artist) bestowed on her by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 1998.  Meeting her was a privilege.
Lake Sebu - Weaving at Lang Dulay's Longhouse
Lang Dulay oversees the design and weaving
We went around her gunu bong or longhouse (the quintessential T'boli abode built on stilts) which I believe is also the training venue for her students.  One section was devoted to the making of the patterns; another to the weaving manned by her apprentices.  Her progeny and descendants, both biological and cultural, mill around the longhouse while we admire her works.  What language failed to communicate, her designs were able to bridge. We walked away with newfound respect for this living treasure and optimism that the art of T'nalak weaving is alive and well.
Lake Sebu - Lamdalag Longhouse Red Weaver
Weaver in a pensive moment
Weaving 101.  Next, we ventured to Bo. Lamangdalag, about an hour away from the poblacion via motorcycle passing through dirt and rough roads, to learn and appreciate how much work goes into the T'nalak.  This is a longhouse help built by Lang Dulay and the Cowhed (Cooperative of Women for Health and Education) through the auspices of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Explaining the process is tedious in itself; the making of the T'nalak more so.  The abaca plant is first stripped of its fibers. The fibers are then sifted by hand and dried.  After that, these are tied to form threads later wound into balls.  Next, the threads are stretched across a bamboo frame where the pattern maker define the design by meticulously putting plastic straws on parts of the thread.  The threads are then boiled in vegetable dye with the portions tied with plastic straw left un-colored to produce the pattern.  These are  then dried.  If the design requires more colors, the process of putting straws on parts of the thread, boiling in dye and drying are repeated again and again.

Then the weaving begins with the dyed fibers stretched across a loom with a backstrap to give tension to the weave. Depending on the complexity of the design and length of the cloth, the weaving can take anywhere from three to six months; the cloth for a wedding dress can take up to a year to finish.  The fragile nature of the abaca fiber also dictates that weaving be done during the cooler hours of the early morning or evening when the fiber is less brittle.  When finished, the cloth may be ironed with a shell to give it a luminescent gloss.

Spinning yarns and weaving beliefs.  The making of the T'nalak is fraught with beliefs and practices that give the cloth an even more textured story.  Like the weaver is not supposed to walk over and across the outstretched threads so as not to get sick.  The cloth shouldn't be washed with soap since it is sacred.  When weaving certain designs, the weavers forgo months of intimacy perhaps so as not to disturb the flow of divine inspiration.  Hmmm, this last one is one I find most interesting for perhaps, one can put a price on cloth but cloth with patterns spun by tradition and shaped by dreams?  That's priceless.

Thank you note: Backpack Photography thanks the ILO staff of Lake Sebu, Cowhed (Cooperative of Women for Health and Education) and Sta. Cruz Mission for allowing us to gain insights on the T'nalak making process and the cooperative of T'nalak weavers.  Attribution: National Commission for Culture and the ArtsWikiPilipinas

Coming up in Lagalog:  Zipping over five falls in (about) 60 seconds


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