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