LAKE HOLON: A Sacred Place to Commune with Mother Nature

Weekend wanders seem unstoppable over the past few months. Juggling between work and this unceasing travels is becoming strenuous and sometimes all I wanted is to stay at home and do nothing but put my feet up. I must admit, unending weekend getaways can sometimes make me wonder why wander at all times. I wanted to halt for a moment but when one weekend adventure was laid before me, I can’t simply say no. It was a kind of trip I prepared so hard – a kind of meander I would die if I missed. This is my journey to Lake Holon.

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Behold the LAKE HOLON!

Found in the municipality of T’boli, South Cotabato, the majestic Lake Holon is the crater of Mt. Melibingoy, a dormant volcano towering at about 1,750 meters above sea level. It takes pride for being recognized as the Cleanest Inland Body of Water for 2 consecutive years (2003-2004). It is the source of five large rivers in the Region including the vast Allah River. There are two trails to get to Lake Holon. The more established is the Sitio Nabol trail and the harder one is the Sitio Kule. Since our outreach program for the T’bloli Community was at Sitio Kule, our journey to Lake Holon commenced there too. As our trek started, we were informed that what we were trekking through, the Sitio Kule Trail, is a hunter’s trail – a treacherous trail apt for adventure seekers like me.

The Sitio Kule Trail
The Sitio Kule Trail

Lake Holon is about four hour hike from Sitio Kule – that’s three hours ascend to reach the view deck overlooking the majestic lake and another one hour trek going down to reach the lakeshore. I must admit that it wasn’t an easy trek. In fact, it is more challenging compared to other mountain trekking I’ve made in some parts of the country. But the tougher it got, the more challenged I became to reach our goal. Thanks to the gods of the mountains, my physical preparation for this trek really worked.

One Perfect Cloudy Day at T'Boli
One Perfect Cloudy Day at T’Boli

The weather that day was cloudy. There were drizzles in between but it was generally a perfect weather to climb and marvel at this sacred place of the T’boli people. Along the way, we were sweetly greeted by the wild flora and lush vegetations that environed that whole place. In fact, it caused a little delay as we had to make stops and photograph these wild plants and flowers we cannot see in the concrete jungle. And for someone who truly admires everything that is wild and untouched, seeing them was a great joy. The wild orchids, pitcher plants, wild berries, gigantic ferns and more that we captivated us were among those that made the trek more satisfying.

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wild flora and lush vegetations that environed that whole place

As ascended further, the trail got rougher and the slopes were getting more challenging. This time I was beginning to catch my breath. I was panting and breathing so hard and so fast while my knees was shaking uncontrollably. Sharp grasses started to scratch my calf and it went on and on. And as we moved further, I was already carrying bleeding legs. Few steps more and we reached the view deck.

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The neon orange against the GREENS. 🙂
Lake Holon Tbloli South Cotabato 101
The Verdant Forest of T’boli
Lake Holon Tbloli South Cotabato 106
Lush Vegetation Abound

The view deck sits at the topmost point of the hill overlooking the majestic crater of Mt. Melibingoy. The view from the top is so superb that I forget about how I braved so hard to get there. It is so gorgeous and it possesses a striking appeal that all men will adore. It has a bewitching magic that can stop your world for a moment and has the power to ease all tired veins and exhausted body in just a snap. Lake Holon as viewed from the top is so grandiose that left me dumbfounded. Softly I muttered, “Wow! Wow! Wow!”

...that, my friends, is the majestic Lake Holon! :)
…that, my friends, is the majestic Lake Holon! 🙂

I almost glued myself from where I stood savoring the full top view of Lake Holon when suddenly an excruciating pain hit my legs. Just as I thought scratches were enough, this time I was stung by a bee. It was itching painfully I had to go back trail and eased it for a moment. But itching continued. Damn that bee, it ruined my instant romance with the Lake from the above.

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Lake Holon possesses a striking appeal that all men will adore!
Lake Holon Tbloli South Cotabato 131
I was speechless! She’s just adorable!

And so from the view deck, another hour was spent hiking down to reach the bank of Lake Holon. I thought going up to reach view deck was already the hardest part of the trail, to my surprise, going down was worst. The one hour trek was the most challenging that I had to endure bruises and wounds when I slid for four times. I had to use my kung fu skills, tinikling expertise and tarzan-like ability to survive the steep and difficult trail. Yes, it was very difficult I reminded myself, “kay nganong ni-enter?”

A bleeding calf and a leg stung by a bee.
A bleeding calf and a leg stung by a bee.

One hour passed and there I was finally descending down to the bank, down to the lakeshore, down to our main destination, the mesmerizing Lake Holon. And when I finally got to the grounds, I dumped my things at one side and hurried to the lakeshore. There I stood and paused for a long moment staring at the mirror-like body of water murmuring whispers of adoration for such perfect work of nature. It was getting dark when we got there but even dusk cannot conceal the striking exquisiteness of the lake. And I said, “Lake Holon, here I am, an avid fan of yours long before I met you”. And suddenly I felt a cold wind caressing my face. Ah, the nature heard me.

After the 5 hour trek, I shouted for joy to finally reach the shore of LAKE LOHON!
After the 5 hour trek, I shouted for joy to finally reach the shore of LAKE LOHON!

As darkness devoured the tranquil surroundings, the coldness of the night began wrapping us. The lake was still as if it was in deep slumber. I waited for the moon to show up but seemed shy. I listened to sound of nature encircling us. I listened to the giggles of the mountains, the chirping of the wild crickets and the music of the forest. My ears cannot hear them but my heart can. Inside the tent lying so close to the cold earth, I thought of the comfort of my bed. But it was just a thought. I never wanted it for that night. For I was in the comfort of true home – in the comfort of Mother Nature. Lake Holon is Mother’s nature’s great creation. I was being cuddled. It was lullaby to sleep.

A Beautiful Morning Praise
A Beautiful Morning Praise

The chirping of birds woke me up in the freezing dawn. The cold morning mists kissed my cheeks waking my full senses. And when I finally got into it, it was the incredible view of Lake Holon that greeted my implausible morning. The dawning of the day slowly revealed the true and mystical beauty of the lake. My admiration for her grew deeper. As sunlight shone on her, her radiance was becoming spectacular. The greens enveloping her reflected on the water and I felt like I was in a reverie floating in those placid waters.

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Lake Placid
Lake Holon Tbloli South Cotabato 209
…the dance of life, the music of nature!

I grabbed from camera and started photographing every inch of her beauty. I prayed inside me that I can capture her true radiance because my naked eyes can. I prayed I can give justice to her incomparable gorgeousness because she truly is. She is lake placid; she is lake of the gods.

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Mirror Lake
Lake Holon Tbloli South Cotabato 328
Can you hear the call of the Lake? I do.
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The bounty of nature

As the sun rose up, I felt the sharp ray of light hitting my face. But as I looked at the lake and saw the dazzling reflection of azure skies reflected on the waters, I thanked the heavens for giving us such clear weather that day to compliment the beauty of Lake Holon. Stunned, I sat on a rock gazing at the waters that seemed to embody the mystery of nature. And I sat and paused there wishing I could spend more time relishing every bit of her. She’s just absolutely adorable.

my fellow worshipers of nature
my fellow worshipers of nature

And when our time was up to say goodbye to Lake Holon, I took a deep breath and say my own prayer. I thanked God for giving the rare opportunity to be who I am – a wanderer and worshipper of His creations. But I thanked Him more for bringing me to this place and let me be clothed by the wonders of Lake Holon. So thus I pray, I pray harder that this masterpiece of nature will be preserved and nurtured. I prayed that when time comes that I come back there, she is still there at her most exquisite natural beauty waiting for me – untouched and unmolested – for me to worship her again because she’s worth all praises, all admiration. Lake Holon is worth it. Now I understand why Lake Holon along with Mount Melibingoy is a sacred place of the T’boli tribe.

Now I’m a captive of her beauty but I don’t have the intentions to be freed.
I shall see her again.

How To Get To Tboli:

From General Santos City, the Municipality of T’boli is just 1.5 hour away by private ride or barely 2 hours by public ride. If you are traveling from Davao City, it will take you around 3.5 hours to get to General Santos City. Buses and utility vans are available for those who will take the public transportation.

Travel Time and Transportation Fare:
Davao City to Gen.Santos City – est 3.5 hours – P270.00
Gen.Santos City to Koronadal City – est. 55 minutes – Php 97.00 by bus, P75 by van
Koronadal City to Tboli – est. 45 minutes – Php 70.00 by van

WRITER’S NOTE: I would life to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Friends of Holon and Melibingoy (FHM) and theMindanao Tourism Council (MinTC) for organizing this event and for inviting us to be part of it. Special thank you shout out goes to Louie Pacardo and Jonalier Perez.

THE WARMTH AND RICHES OF THE T’BOLIS

We agreed to meet by 11:30 on Friday night but I was still home at this very hour packing up for this trip I’d been preparing so hard the day I got invited to join. I remembered the last time I had this kind of trip, it almost cost my life. This is the only kind of trip I would consider to decline – it’s strenuous and “buwis-buhay”. But how can I say no for such invitation if the destination was among the places I drooled and bucket-listed. I would die in envy seeing my friends up there and me at the comfort of my bed lamenting for not saying yes – because the destination is worth all the pain, all the exhaustion and the hard work.

Destination: LAKE HOLON | T’boli, South Cotabato.
Mission: TAKLADTAMIG | Outreach Climb

Tboli 1It was past midnight when I hurried to Davao City Overland Transport Terminal where my friends waited for the next trip to General Santos City and Koronadal, South Cotabato. The whole travel from Davao City passing through these two important cities in SoCCSKSarGen takes about 5 hours. At 1:30, we left Davao and got to Koronadal City at 7:00 in the morning and from there a tourist bus boarded us bound to our main destination, the Municpality of T’boli.

T'boli South Cotabato (40)
The Very Challenging Open Trail
The butt-numbing drump-truck ride to Sito Kule
The butt-numbing drump-truck ride to Sito Kule

The municipality of T’boli is located in the hinterlands, on the southwestern portion of Province of South Cotabato. With rugged, rolling terrain, valleys and high slopes a top the mountain ranges, T’boli is home to the two important ethnic tribes in the province – the T’boli and B’laan. Our outreach destination is the Tboli community in Sitio Kule, Barangay Salacafe, and jump of point to the famed Lake Holon.

Sitio Kule, Barangay Salacafe
The Quaint Sitio Kule, Barangay Salacafe

TAKLADTAMIG | Outreach Climb is an outreach program of Friends of Holon and Melibingoy (FHM), a group of independent and solo mountaineers in South Cotabato. This year’s program was in partnership with the Mindanao Tourism Council (MinTC), a voluntary non-stock, non-profit organization of private tourism players in Mindanao where I am designated as the unofficial Travel Blogger. Sitio Kule, Barangay Salacafe is about an hour ride from the town’s Poblacion and about 45-minute hike to the sitio proper.

The Welcoming faces of the Children of Sitio Kule
The Welcoming faces of the Children of Sitio Kule
Children beaming as we exchanged morning greetings!
The beaming Kids as we exchanged morning greetings!

It was the genuine hospitality of the T’bolis that welcomed us as we arrived at the Sitio Kule. The elders, the young and the children were all beaming as we exchanged morning greetings. Everyone went outside of their homes lining in the narrow street welcoming us like we were their most valued guests. They spoke their tongue but I knew those were words of welcome and that warmth, that hospitality defines the richness of their culture and their way of life. And it sweetly lessened the exhaustion we endured going up there.

T'boli woman dressed in colorful T'boli apparel.
T’boli woman dressed in colorful T’boli apparel.
Ma Sinam Muan, an elder  and chanter of the Tribe helped me with my scarf.
Ma Sinam Muan, an elder and chanter of the Tribe helped me with my scarf.

As program started, an elder of the tribe named Ma Sinam Muan welcomed us with a soulful T’boli chant. As he chanted, his people were cheering for him yelling out words I didn’t comprehend. But sure those were welcoming words from a very welcoming tribe. I was glued from where I stood listening to him wondering what it meant but so mesmerized by such astonishing ethnic tradition. Later I’ve learned that Ma Sinam Muan is one of the few remaining Tboli chanters. We are so lucky to have heard him chant.

T'boli South Cotabato (75)
With the T’boli Kids of Sitio Kule
TTT or The T'boli Teens
TTT or The T’boli Teens
Just among the many items we give to community. Thank you DONORS.
Just among the many items we give to community. Thank you DONORS.

The welcome chant was then followed by ethnic performances from the members of the tribe. Dressed in the full colorful T’boli costumes, T’boli women started dancing while accompanied by the rhythmic beat of the T’boli gongs. I’ve seen many cultural performances in the city and places I’ve been but this kind of performances only become more significant when played and performed by authentic members of the tribe. I find it amusing seeing them perform these traditional dances that are handed down to them by their ancestors.

T'boli South Cotabato (104) T'boli South Cotabato (108) T'boli South Cotabato (111) T'boli South Cotabato (113) T'boli South Cotabato (116) T'boli South Cotabato (160) T'boli South Cotabato (164)Their colorful woven costumes, headdresses, amulets, anklets, earrings and necklaces beautifully depict their rich colorful tradition. And seeing one little girl dancing gracefully before us made me see that this tribe will flourish and their culture will be handed down to the next generation of T’boli people.

I found a DOLL in T'boli. She's so adorable.
I found a DOLL in T’boli. She’s so adorable.

After the distribution of school supplies, medicines, canned goods, packed food items and slippers to 200 kids and 52 households, the community treated us for scrumptious lunch where local and indigenous food were served. We shared and feasted over local gastronomic finds some of us haven’t eaten in years. Oh, the taste of the local coffee is still fresh and I wish to taste it again when I chance to come there.

Local Food Overload
Local Food Overload
We brought some of these at Lake Holon.
We brought some of these at Lake Holon.
Native na Mais
Native na Mais
I was looking for Ginamos for this.
I was looking for Ginamos for this.

Honestly when I left Davao City that morning, I thought it was only Lake Holon that will mesmerize me. I was surprise to realize that its people can melt my heart. It wasn’t only Lake Holon that made me so connected to this town – but the people who welcomed us, who embraced us with their warmth and kindness. These are their exemplary traits – their riches.

MAY YOUR TRIBE INCREASE!

Oh by the way, I planted a tree at Sitio Kule.
Oh by the way, I planted a tree at Sitio Kule.
Friends of Holon and Melibingoy (FHM), a group of independent and solo mountaineers in South Cotabato.
FHM is a group of independent and solo mountaineers based in South Cotabato.

How To Get To Tboli:

From General Santos City, the Municipality of T’boli is just 1.5 hour away by private ride or barely 2 hours by public ride. If you are traveling from Davao City, it will take you around 3.5 hours to get to General Santos City. Buses and utility vans are available for those who will take the public transportation.

Travel Time and Transpo Fare:
Davao City to Gen.Santos City – est 3.5 hours – P270.00
Gen.Santos City to Koronadal City – est. 55 minutes – Php 97.00 by bus, P75 by van
Koronadal City to Tboli – est. 45 minutes – Php 70.00 by van

WRITER’S NOTE:

I would life to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Friends of Holon and Melibingoy (FHM) and the Mindanao Tourism Council (MinTC) for organizing this event and for inviting us to be part of it. To the leaders and members of Tboli Community, thank you for welcoming us to your homes. To our sponsors and benefactors who generously shared their possessions, namely the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Senator Misis Cynthia Villar sa Mindanao, GUIDE Davao, South Cotabato Provincial Tourism Office, Lake Sebu EcoTourism Council, the LGU of Lake Sebu, our birthday girl Ate Ju Dy Pazon and of course the LGU of  T’boli and its Local Tourism Office.  Special thank you shout out goes to Louie Pacardo and Jonalier Perez.

Bong S’lamat. Hanggang sa muli!