Oyog begged off in the morning as it was Sunday and she was going to church. I had made arrangements with our moto driver to go boating in the lake and hike all the way up the hill in the biggest island.
Around 8 in the morning, he came promptly down from the hill where Oyog lived bringing with him the klutang that Ma Fil had delivered. The wood hadn’t fully dried yet so I left it underneath the sun. The nylon cord had also been replaced with abaca.
We hired a large traditional dug-out canoe for Php 200 with the moto driver rowing. Come to think of it, I never even knew his name. Punta Isla had motorized outrigger boats that take tourists around the lake. It had a cover to keep the sun out and life jackets. My canoe was powered by the strong arms of the driver who paddled slowly across the tranquil lake as I sat on a really low wooden bench. There was no cover but I welcomed the sun’s warmth. I would take the canoe anytime. Not only is it more environmentally friendly but it really is the traditional way to go around the lake.
I had asked for a large canoe as seeing the smaller ones made me doubt my ability to balance in such narrow boats. I marvel at the T’boli’s skill in being able to sit precariously on the edge of the small boats as they cast their nets on the water.
Our canoe skimmed the water and we went quietly past water lilies and fish pens to the middle of the lake. If it were not for that radio or videoke blasting from one of the resorts, it would have been oh so still. A few were already up and casting nets on the lake while others had water jugs with them presumably to fetch water somewhere.
Out in the center of the lake, life seemed so far remove from that of the mainland. I was surpised how large the lake truly was. It did smell very fish though maybe because of all those fish pens. Such a pity.
According to my moto driver/boatman, a canoe that size costs around Php 3,500 (cheap!) and could fit up to eight people. I said I wanted to watch the boat builders and have one made. For that, he said, I would have to go to the mountains where the T’bolis who live there make them.
We reached the shore of Isla Tebowol and disembarked. My little day pack partially fell into the water as I had failed to wear one of the shoulder straps. Fortunately, my stuff inside didn’t get wet.
Someone was preaching in a small shack where about a couple of dozens of locals listened. The trail was muddy and quite steep especially near the top. Fortunately, steps had been carved out of the hill in the last few steep portions. I was a little sweaty as we made it to the row of corns planted on top. The small patch of land and the little hut was owned by the driver’s brother who was nowhere to be found. The hut stood quietly empty as the corn leaves fluttered in the morning breeze.
The House on the Hill
Past the rows of corn, we exited to a patch of newly-tilled land. This was the hill that we could see from the mainland. On top, referred to by the T’boli as telutot, was a small shack with sacks as walls. A couple were tilling the land while children played. They were also related to my driver.
The view was amazing from where I stood. The lake shone below while the famous “three fingers” contour formed by land that jutted out from the mainland. It was really very beautiful and it was not surprising that other visitors who had come had expressed a desire to stay and perhaps spend the night on the hill. But amidst the natural beauty was the depressing poverty of the family that lived there.
Their only means of livelihood was to plant corn on the small patch of land where they lived. The harvest would be sold for about Php 30/kilo in Surallah. Their last harvest only yielded 15 sacks. The rest of the hilly field were planted with root crops for their own consumption.
Of the five kids, four went to school as one of them had been born with a non-functioning right arm that hand limply from his body. To confound the problem was the young boy’s inability to speak. It was so sad because he had a really cheerful disposition and smiled and posed gamely when I motioned to him that I wanted to take his photograph.
The eldest boy was an incoming third year high-school student but he was too short for his age. He had gone through a lot to put himself to school, having worked in his school canteen in GenSan. Asked where they get their drinking water, he pointed to an opposite island. They take a steep path down the hill, cross by boat, and get water from a spring storing them in plastic gallons and return the same way. Their living conditions were really deplorable. But amidst all these, they welcomed me with warm smiles and even apologized for their condition as they were embarrassed with their shack. I told them I would buy the kids school supplies and they could go pick them up at my driver’s place. It was the least I could do for them.
My driver found me a long bamboo pole to use as a trekking pole as I didn’t wanna risk slipping on the steep trail on my way down.
As I made my way across the lake back to the mainland, I couldn’t help but think of the kids and their hard life. I wished kids who had more in life would realize that there were other kids who were not so lucky.
Back at the mainland, we went to a general supplies store in Poblacion to get some notebooks, pad papers, pencils, and crayons for the kids. While my driver brought them back to his home for safekeeping, I went to withdraw at the atm at the local bank beside KDatu Souvenirs. Wonder of wonders, the atm worked! One of the most magical moments in traveling is when you’re in an area where you least expect an atm and you find one and it actually dispenses money! This was one of those moments. I’ve had similar ones in Sagada and in Sapa.
My driver had returned and we motored back to the Green Box to wait for Oyog who still had not returned from church. Maybe the sermon was long, I told my driver. To kill time, I headed to the Kehulingan Craft Foundation a few meters down the road beside a restaurant that apparently was affiliated to the store. The spacious store had beautiful T’boli wear for sale and other crafts such as baskets and a few musical instruments including a drum with a torn skin.
I could have easily spotted any of the small items such as the beads because no one was there. Fortunately for them, I wasn’t that kind of person. I took photographs instead of the pages of a small book on T’boli music published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. On the small store out on the side of the road were small t’nonggong on display but whoever was in charge was probably busy at the restaurant as there were some people lunching there.
It was almost twelve so I decided to just head to one of the restaurants (if you could call it that) where I had dinner the previous night and ordered a tilapia chicharon. Oyog and the driver soon arrived so I just told the server who was already cleaning the freshly-caught tilapia to just reserve it for dinner later in the evening.
Oyog had not yet lunched so we decided to just eat at the waterfalls even if it was way past lunchtime. I had some bananas and junk food at Green Box so I wasn’t really hungry.
A stone-and-gravel road led up to the hills where the falls were. It was a little bumpy but we managed to hold on to the moto. The second falls could actually be glimpsed on one section of the road. We chose to go to the second waterfalls first as it will be easier to go down the 700+ cemented steps leading to the first falls rather than hiking up.
Past the registration area where I got in for free courtesy of Oyog, a cemented pathways led to the first falls known by its T’boli name: Hikung Alu which means “passageway.” Is it because it led to some netherworld that only the T’boli who first glimpsed know about? To get up close and personal with the falls, I took the short trail leading to it but stopped short just before it as it was quite slippery. Bathing in Hikunh Alu isn’t allowed probably because of the strong current. Oyog joined me on the short walk back going down the banks to try to get some small clams to show me but there were none. “Maybe because the water is too strong,” she explained.
We took the 700+ concrete steps that led to the second falls. It gently spiraled down through the forest and made for a nice albeit knee-tiring walk. We heard the falls before we saw it. It really was spectacular. It was high and cascaded in torrents down below. So powerful was the water that a perennial spray of water hang around the swimming hole where the water plunged down. It was really beautiful.
I’m always mesmerized with waterfalls. The volumes of water that drop over the cliff face look so magical and it is awe-inspiring when you think of how powerful that water is. I’ve always considered waterfalls as one of the most potent symbols of the majesty of God’s creation and that of nature. It must have been even more awesome when the surroundings were in its natural state— no infrastructure, no pathways, no nothing. Just the falls and nature. I wonder how the first T’bolis who stumbled on those falls felt the moment they laid eyes on the crashing water.
The falls were really beautiful and it’s just right that they be promoted in a big way as one of the natural attractions in Lake Sebu. I just wished they were better managed and had more upkeep. The cottages really looked old and quite dilapidated and there were some litter on the trails.
The eateries surrounding the parking lot were without food anymore as it was way past lunch time so we just headed to one of the eateries overlooking Lake Seloton for tilapia chicharon and sugba. Judging by how many vehicles stopped to buy the live tilapia swimming in wooden rectangular tanks, you’d really think that people love their tilapia in this part of the world. The eatery we were at even ran out of the fish when a truckload of people stopped and bought kilos of fish.