There are places that I’ve visited and stayed that remain so close to my heart. Places that have been etched not only because of their sheer beauty and grandeur but because at one point these places brought me to find deep comfort and reassuring solace in the most unexpected way. In fact, everytime I find myself troubled and burnout, I would think of these places and pick up those moments hopeful that they can ease up, mellow down my mental exhaustion.
Just like everyone else, even seasoned traveler would find themselves lost at nowhere and would try to find and meditate for answers and meaning to things hampering their journey. Whenever I get caught in the middle of this, I would simply wish to be at those places, reconnect my soul to those days and imagine their healing powers that made me get through whatever it is that I feel.
Arakan Valley in North Cotabato is among those places I considered so special. It is so dear to me that everytime I need a breather, I think of it as an immediate place of gentle respite – primarily because of its proximity to where I live and secondly because it is where I can easily find comfort and consolation communing with nature and its gentle people. And one weekend, along with my peers who pledged to be loyal to the brotherhood of the so called Weekend Warriors, I went back to the rolling hills of Arakan to find breathing space away from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.
To be honest, there were many things that were running in my head days before our trip to Arakan. I was caught in between deciding things that would matter my future and so my present. I was preoccupied by such thought that I hated bearing it every day. I was never a worry freak but it is slowly consuming me and the thought of it seemed to make me one. Thus, a weekend break was what I needed. But have I not been roaming around places every weekend? I asked. And so, I told myself to go back to a place that had once left indelible marks in my heart and perhaps from there find enlightenment to things that needed to be illumined. Arakan popped up in my head. Thus this epic trip.
Arakan is not new to me. In fact, this trip was my third. My first visit back in 2012 was melodramatic. That was after two great losses I had that shaped the better person in me now. I went to Arakan that time filled with grief and consumed by anger. I went there to supposedly pour out everything that was inside me – to burst out and perhaps loosen up. But it never happened. Just when I thought it is the right place for such, the serenity of the valley seemed to possess an enigmatic power that calmed my senses and eased up my dog-tired heart. I can hear the sound of the hills echoing from the distance whispering thoughts I never ever wanted that moment. “Let go. Let go. Let go.” I was crying for I know it wasn’t what I wanted but it was the best thing to do – to let go and move on. And there I was submitting myself to that realization that it was time to move forward. Arakan helped me realized that. And that was how I become so connected to this place.
And now I’m back. I’m back not because I’m mending something broken. I’m here to clear my mind – to think, to breathe, to find enlightenment. But what I thought to be a weekend of respite turned out to be an adventure so tough only the bravest can last.
Like my previous visits, I was at awe seeing the magnificent landscape of Arakan Valley. The verdant hills, the green plateau and copious grassland – they’re all made up to make this land so magical bringing me closer to nature and its Creator. Every step I made traversing narrow trails reminded me of how very small I am compared to this vast scenery I was walking. And I realized, “Yes. I am so small. So does the thought bothering me these days.” Every step I made made me realize something.
Arakan came to fame not only for its imposing valley but for its majestic waterfalls that lure many nature worshippers to come to this place – the Matigol Falls. This was our goal. To get down and marvel at this most beautiful cascading waters of Arakan. But getting there is no joke. From Sitio Inamong, the jump of point, getting there takes about two hours passing though rugged trails, sharp rocks and steep terrains not to mention slippery boulders and gushing streams. But then the prize of all these is the astounding beauty of the twin falls.
My friends were armed with enthusiasm to reach the place and being first timers I can feel their excitement with this exhilarating adventure. I, on the other hand, was taking my time slowly forgetting all the thoughts I was carrying while I was there. But I knew it deep inside me, there will be lessons I’ll learn submitting myself to this nerve-wracking adventure. And with the company of my equally adventurous friends, I was much assured of one great unforgettable moment.
Trekking for two hours braving the rugged and muddy trails, sharp rocks and steep terrains was easier said than done. As we trekked down deeper to the woods, unto the streams, deep into the bushes, I sensed there was no turning back. As we moved down deeper and deeper, the trail was becoming treacherous. Thanks to captivating scenery encircling us, we could stop for a bit and relish nature at its best – and then trailed forward. Even how hard it was, the trek had to continue – I had to move forward. That was something so meaningful to me – that whatever decision I’ll make in life, I should stick to it, be firm and more forward. Silly, this trek was becoming so significant to me.
After two hours, finally we reached our goal – the basin of Matigol Falls. The sounds of the cascading waters were so loud but it sounded like music to me. I waited for no second. I hurried to the edge electrified to marvel at its astounding allure. And when I got there, my eyes were instantaneously glued to the most striking Twin Falls I’ve seen so far. It was so beautiful. I yelled out at the top of my lungs with joy and praises and slowly drowned myself to admiration of such splendor before me. And then inadvertently I started crying. I wept for I know this prize of seeing such grandeur was the most beautiful prize a nature worshipper would want. My tears began flowing but they were easily washed away by the refreshing mists sprinkled on my face. And then another realization came – that whatever I’ll do, I will always find beautiful reward at the end. Although I’ll journey rugged roads but I know I’ll get precious prizes worthy of all the pains and hardship I’ll gain along the way. And then, I was crying again – crying because I was enlightened. Soon after, my friends came and thanks to the mists, I hid my tears. But my heart beamed for I now knew the answers why I was there.
The Twin Falls of Matigol is exceptionally eye-catching it will leave you breathless and speechless. We wanted to stay longer but we had to leave and start another challenging trek this time to reach the main base about 90 feet above the basin of the Twin Falls. Looking at it from the basin, all of us doubted if we can make it climbing the trail close to 90 degrees. But everything begins with a single step, thus, we took the challenge.
We were catching our breath panting like forever as we trailed up to reach the base. The trail wasn’t that established. We were trailing over loose soils, sharp rocks and had to hold onto weak twigs and even bushes for support. The trail is about two hours but it seemed like eternal to me. Nevertheless I had to move up and never look back. Doing so would trigger the panic attack in me. I told myself to consider it as a major test in dealing what I’m going through these days – trapped in major decisions. I had to move forward, to climb up and reach our goal – whatever it takes, I should get there.
Halfway to the top, we halted and cooled down at one tier of boulders where waters were freely cascading. Our bodies were tired and warm but soaking them in the cold waters was a great reward. I was enjoying the cascades, enjoying life right at that moment when out of the blue I got leg cramps. It was the most excruciating physical pain I ever felt in years and I felt like I was paralyzed at an instant. Thanks to my friends’ help, the pain mellowed down. I tried to rise up thinking the pain was gone but the moment I moved my legs the pain went back. So I sat down looking up the base half way from where I was seating. “Can I still make it there with this leg?” I murmured. While a part of me doubted, deep inside me knew that I was going make it – I had to get there and finish this whole thing.
And so again it began with another single step – this time with my right leg stretched to the ground. I had to do it because whenever I bend it the pain got worse. And the further we climbed, the more difficult the trail becomes. Loose friable soil made the trek harder. There were times I had to crawl to survive one challenging trail. I had to use all my strength and endure the difficulty of reaching the top. And I kept reminding myself not to look back. Everything I did there seemed to have meaning. That life is simply like this – life is made up of challenges but once I make it, there’s a great reward waiting for me. I was thinking of that thought as I braved this death-defying treacherous path.
Finally we were at the most challenging part of the trail – wall climbing with no harness or safety gear at all – one mistake and I’m done. All I have at that time was my determination to finish that trek and go back to the camp. With my right leg still aching, I used all my strength to survive climbing that 20-feet wall to finally get to the top. And when I got to the very end of the wall, I looked back this time gazing down savoring the triumph I made as I braved one of most difficult trail in my life. And then I smiled and whispered, “I can always survive. I can always win.”
And so there I was along with my friends savoring our feat reaching the base of the Twin Falls of Matigol. It was a sweet achievement for each of us who went there gained our individual story – our individual triumph. It was a kind of trip and experience we will all cherish.
As I hiked back to the camp, I recalled that minute that we had to cross the cascading waters with current so strong that each step we make had to be exact and precise otherwise we will fall, it made me understand something. That in life we don’t have to go with the flow all the times. Sometimes we can go against it for us to test our strength and will to get through life’s challenges – we just have to be precise. I guess this is all what I needed – this the message of this trip, an enlightenment I just needed.
So I say, wherever this life takes me, I always go back to those days I traveled so hard for I know some answers are there waiting for me to realize.
Thank you ARAKAN. You’ll always be special to me.
HOW TO GET TO ARAKAN VALLEY:
From Davao City, take a bus plying Davao-Bukidnon Road (BUDA). Ask the driver to drop you off at Campo Uno. Bus fare is around Php 100.00. Once you get to Campo Uno, hire a habal-habal that will bring you to Sitio Inamong where a community of Manobo lives. Habal-habal fare is Php 80.00. Sitio Inamong is the jump off point to expereince Arakan Valley and Matigol Falls. Manobos can also be hired as your tour guide going to these places. They know well the place.