SEEKING WEEKEND RESPITE AT ARAKAN VALLEY

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.

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…and the great Einstein was right!

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.

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The Rolling Hills of Arakan

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.

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Arakan Valley, North Cotabato

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.

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My love and fascination with Arakan Valley started in 2012

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.

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…because I love my country! And i love 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.

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Being here brings me closer to nature and its Creator.

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.

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See! The hills are alive in Arakan!

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.

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BEHOLD the loyal brotherhood of WEEKEND WARRIORS!

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.

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AMAZING PHOTO, right! Thanks Jem for this. This is a gem to me.

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.

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BEHOLD the twin falls of MATIGOL.

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.

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MATIGOL FALLS is the worth the 4 hour death-defying trek.

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.

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Seeking Simple Respite

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.

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Nature has its own way of amusing and even healing tired souls.

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.

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…cascading waterfalls give meaning to my existence!

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.

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CAREFUL. Be very extra careful. One mistake and you’re DONE! Photo by Javie the Lakawero.

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.”

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The Weekend Warriors surviving Arakan’s Matigol Falls.

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.

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I AM A FREE SPIRIT. I BREATHE IN THE GOODNESS OF THE UNIVERSE.

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.

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Sitio Inamong, home of the gentle Manobo Tribe of Arakan Valley. I belong!

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.

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The Travel Teller, the Weekend Warriors (Jonallier, Jayvie, Fra, Dan, Kikit, Deejay, Abdul, Jem, Erwin) and the Manobo Kids

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.

FEATURED PHOTO: In the Eyes of a Manobo Child

“SMILE baby! Smile!” That was already a repeat plea. We were aiming to get her interest to playfully pose and smile for us in front of our cameras. But this little girl seemed to care less. She was just so innocent. She was one of those adorable kids we met at Arakan Valley in the Province of Cotabato.

Arakan Valley is the home of the remaining descendants the Manobo Tribe who were the early settlers of these vast mountain ranges. In fact, the word Arakan is derived from the Manobo term “ARA” which means abundance of natural resources in the valley and “KAN” which means heroism, bravery and valor of the early Manobo leaders and settlers of the area. Manobo are proud people. They are proud of their heritage and their culture.

Today, these remaining members of the tribe commune as one in the Sitio Inamong of Barrio Matigol and lived together in peace as one community. When they are visited by visitors, they happily welcome them with their innate courteousness and genuine warmth.

This little girl along with the other Manobo kids of Arakan Valley greeted and welcomed us happily during our worthy visit to their tribal village – a visit that we can never forget.

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CHASING MATIGOL FALLS OF ARAKAN VALLEY

Hidden within the lushes of verdant foliage and golden grassland of Arakan Valley in the Cotabato Province lies a stunning waterfalls called MATIGOL.

MATIGOL FALLS also called BANI FALLS is just among the many astonishing waterfalls there is in Arakan. As this part of the town borders the nearby Marilog District of Davao City, this is one of the most visited natural attractions in the whole Arakan Valley.

Matigol Falls is a multi tiered waterfalls with an astounding height of about 500 meters from its first tier down to its final basin. It has five major cascading tiers and each has a basin that serves as its natural pool.

Going there is accessible. From Davao City, we took a CDO-bound Rural Transit Bus and dropped off at Campo Uno situated along the highway of Davao-Bukidnon Road more popularly known as Buda. Bus fare from Davao City to Campo Uno is Php 100.00. At Campo Uno, we hired a habal-habal and headed to Barrio Matigol. The habal-habal fare from Campo Uno to Barrio Matigol is around Php 40.00.

Barrio Matigol is the starting point of our trek. From there, we hike for 20 minutes going to Sitio Inamong, the jump off site going to Matigol Falls. Sitio Inamong is the home of the peace loving community of Manobo Tribe, the Indigenous People of Arakan Valley. Tribe’s members are welcoming. One of them served as our guide going to Matigol Falls.

From Sitio Inamong, our day trek going to Matigol Falls commenced. We passed by the thick bushy grassland of the mountain range of this part of Arakan down to the stream that serves as the first tier of Matigol Falls. The stream serves as the base of the waterfalls. There is a natural pool there so enticing for a cold dip. Being at the first tier, the waters that gently flowed and fell off deep down the other tiers can be clearly seen. It was a very spectacular site to behold.

Done with the first tier, off we headed back to the same trail going to the other side of the valley. The trek uphill was exhausting. On the other side of valley, we passed by steep and cliffy trails. Bushy grasses are up to our waist. Our final destination this time was the last hill that overlooks the whole view of 5 tiered Matigol Falls. This hill can actually be seen from the first tier. To get there, we endured the challenge of trekking others hills and slopes leading to our final stop. It was already exhausting as the trek took almost two hours from the first tier to the final stop.

When we finally reached the final hill that overlooks the whole beauty of Matigol Falls, all our exhaustion just faded away. There was a soothing feel of that view that immediately calm our tired senses. The view of the 5-tiered Matigol Falls that was laid before our eyes was a like perfect work of art. It was like a perfect painting – perfect backdrop of a beautiful mountain landscape. Everything was just right. And there was I, at one side of the hill, staring at this beauty so overwhelmed with its very fascinating view.

Matigol Falls is indeed one of the most important natural attractions in the whole Arakan Valley. Going there truly entails a lot of efforts and strength but undeniably every bit of it is worth it. The hills, the grassland, the valleys, the plateaus – everything that surrounds Matigol Falls make it worthy to be explored and visited. Tiresome as it may seem, if given a chance, I shall come there and for once, enjoy the beauty not just of Matigol Falls but everything encircling it.

TO MY TREKKING BUDDIES: Caroline EspejonEdwin LasquiteLeo Timogan and Ariel Macatiog, it was fun trekking with you!

THE GOLDEN VALLEY OF ARAKAN, COTABATO

“The hills are alive,
With the sound of music
With songs they have sung
For a thousand years”

It never crossed my mind that one day I will be singing this Sound of Music’s theme while trekking a mountain range of hills that are truly alive and of valleys that are vividly gold. I was singing this the whole time was trekking the majestic mountains of Arakan Valley. I never knew that this part of Mindanao has been like that – a mountain haven of blissful surprises.

Arakan is one the 2nd class municipalities of the Province of Cotabato, formerly known as North Cotabato, a landlocked province in Mindanao belonging to the SOCCSKSARGEN Region. This eastern town of Cotabato borders the land area of Davao City particularly the Marilog District which is accessible through the Davao-Bukidnon Road more popularly known as Buda. Hence, getting to Arakan Valley from Davao City is conveniently within reached.

Armed with cameras and passion for great adventure, together with my equally daring friends Caroline Espejon, Edwin Lasquite, Leo Timogan and Ariel Macatiog, we braved the challenge of trekking the jagged vast valleys and hills of Arakan for one whole day.

It was 5:30 in the morning when we left downtown Davao City aboard the CDO-bound Rural Transit Bus going to Campo Uno, the jump off point going to Arakan Valley which situated along the highway of the Buda Road. It took us an hour and half to get there. Upon arrivals, we immediately hired habal-habal to take us to Barrio Matigol. It was from here that we started hiking going to Sitio Inamong to meet and greet with the community of Manobo Tribe, the indigenous people of Arakan, communing in this part of the Valley.

We were warmly welcomed by the Tribe’s Chieftain upon arriving at Sitio Inamong. The Manobo kids excitedly greeted us with their winsome smiles. We brought some pieces of bread and cookies and share these with them. The kids were so adorable and friendly. They loved being photographed. The adults on the other hand were so helpful. The chieftain assigned one of his men, Marcus, to be our guide as we trek the valleys and hills of this part of Arakan.

From Sitio Inamong, the next hours were spent trekking to some of the scenic mountain landscapes of Arakan. The whole trail was bushy. The grassland of cogon grasses were up to our waist. At first glance, the whole place reminded us right away of the grassland of Mount Pulag, the highest mountain in Luzon. That resemblance immediately ignited our excitement to enjoy the picture perfect view of the whole place.

Our point of destination that day was the Matigol Falls also known as Bani Falls. Matigol Falls is a multi tiered waterfalls with an astonishing height of about 500 meters from its first tier down to the bottom. It has five major cascading tiers and each has a basin that serves as natural pool.

Going there entails a lot of effort. The bushy and steep trails made it difficult to go uphill and down. There were trails with a cliff on a side. Most part of the trek is on the open trail though. We were just lucky that it was a cloudy day when we get there; otherwise, the castigating heat of the sun would be unbearable.

Along the trek, we met other members of the Manobo Tribe passing by the bushy trails. They were kind and courteous they greeted us their infectious smile. Some kids were happily playing around the grassland. I felt so happy seeing them enjoying the landscape of the vast valley that nurtured them and their community. They playfully posed when they were asked for a photo opp. We all adored these kids.

Going further, the trails became a bit exhausting. Luckily, we have Manong Marcus who was kind enough to tell us about the story of his tribe, his community and their ancestral domain. It didn’t bore us. At times, we would stop and rest. Unfortunately, among the five of us, I was the one who got leg sprains. It was too unbearable especially that we had to endure steep trails before getting to our final destination.

We were so tired and starving upon reaching the final hill that overlooks the whole view of five-tiered Matigol Falls. But seeing the beauty of the Falls in full glory rejuvenated our tired souls. It was just so picturesque that all of us couldn’t help but worshipped its beauty. Imagine a golden valley with a backdrop of a magnificent falls – it was just awesome.

Contended by view of the whole environs, we paced back to a shaded area to feed our starving stomach. An old Manobo lady joined us and shared her stories about her land. It was a rare experience communing with nature while talking to an old tribe’s lady. She was a very pleasant woman.

When the old woman left, we also then decided to go back to Sitio Inamong and prepare to go back to Buda before the sun set. Still suffering from a leg sprain, going back to the camp was difficult. We had to halt for awhile and regained enough strength. At the end, we reached Sitio Inamong, Barrio Matigol and back to Campo Uno safe and sound. Though tired and exhausted, all the five of us commended that our experience at Arakan Valley is a perfect start of the many exciting adventures and thrilling travels we will be making for 2012.

THE FAB FIVE TREKKERS

Aboard the bus going back to Davao, the Sound of Music was still my last song syndrome. Joyfully, in my head I was singing:

“I go to the hills
When my heart is lonely
I know I will hear
What I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed,
With the sound of music
And I’ll sing once more.”

Farewell Arakan, we will see you soon.

PHOTO CREDITS:
Leo Timogan – Photos 1 & 3
Caroline Espejon – Photos 2 & 13