My second solo travel to the land of promise brought me to Lake Sebu, 90 miles away from Davao City, a first class municipality, 26 miles away from its capital. It is surrounded by mountains covered with rainforest and hills and serves as the home of the indigenous T’bioli tribe, one of the most colorful and culturally rich ethnic groups in the Philippines. It is famous for its 7 waterfalls, spring, river, and lake. It’s the place where I found tranquility in a region believed to be without peace; Lake Sebu.
I arrived before sunrise in Davao City, which is about 6 hours away from Lake Sebu. They say that it’s best to go there via General Santos to lessen the travel time. Visiting South Cotabato was not part of my plan, but that’s what I ended up doing. The 6 hours travel time didn’t stop me from seeing the beauty of Lake Sebu.
Getting there may involve a little adventure because of the lack of direct transport. From Davao Airport, I told the taxi driver to bring me to Ecoland Bus Terminal. Before we left the airport, someone was knocking on the window. I didn’t open it because I was busy browsing on my phone, but the taxi driver told me to please open it so I did. A guy in a military uniform asked, “Name Sir?”
I didn’t respond until he said it again for 2 to 3 times. The driver called my attention and said, Sir, ano daw pong pangalan nyo? (Sir, he is asking for your name)
I was surprised that someone was asking my name before I leave the airport; I found that very unusual. Even so, I gave my name and that’s the only time we were allowed to leave. I asked the driver why they had to ask my name. He explained that in Davao, it is a protocol to get the names of the tourists. Turns out, it is part of their security measure so in case something bad happens to you, they can easily identify you. Well, that makes sense and it certainly made me feel safer inside the cab. Davao city brags that they are the safest city in the Philippines, in fairness, I did feel safe there.
On our way to the bus terminal, the driver suggested dropping me somewhere along the national highway. I insisted that I want to go to the bus terminal but he explained that the buses from the terminal would pass through that highway. We waited together but not a single bus passed even after 30 minutes. I kept calm when he told me that he needed to go. He said that I could just stay there and wait for the bus going to South Cotabato.
The sun was about to rise, still, no bus heading to South Cotabato came. In my desperation, I stopped some van vehicles and asked if they would be going to Koronadal; none of them was familiar with Koronadal. I kept telling them that it’s somewhere in South Cotabato. They said they didn’t know such a place and that they were heading to North Cotabato. I was deeply confused because Koronadal is the capital of South Cotabato, how come these people don’t know where it is.
Finally, I found a driver who said that they’re going to Koronadal and he let me jump in. I called Kat, my friend from SoCot and told her that the people are not familiar with Koronadal. She then explained that they know the place as “Marbel,” the former name of the city. I had a feeling that just like the other vans, the driver would go to the North, not the South; I was right. When I asked the driver if he would go to Marbel, he said he was heading to Kidapawan.
Immediately, I browsed my Google map and learned that it would turn right somewhere in Digos City to Kidapawan. I told the driver to drop me at Digos City where luckily, I found another vehicle going to General Santos. From Gensan, everything went smoothly. I just took the yellow bus going to Koronadal City and from there, I took another bus to Surallah Terminal. From there, I took a jeep that goes to Lake Sebu. It took me more than 6 hours to get from Davao City to Lake Sebu because of all the hassles I went through.
Upon arrival at the terminal at Lake Sebu, expect to be welcomed by locals offering tour around the area. I already have my contact, Sir Jun Aranas (0906-7586256) who was referred to me by a friend. We went to the house of Ms. Maria “Oyog” Todi, A T’boli cultural worker who runs the Tboli house of School of Living Traditions. I wanted to experience staying in a homestay to learn from their rich culture. Unfortunately, her house was closed and we were informed that she went to Davao.
I told Kuya Jun to look for an affordable place where I could spend the night and he recommended, Tolento Lodge Resort. I think this is just the right place to stay in Lake Sebu if you are on a budget. I got a fan room for 500php or 11usd. It comes with a comfortable bed, private restroom, and an old television but it’s not working. It has a partial view of the lake from the window. I noticed that there were only a few tourists visiting the area. I even think I was the only guest at that time. Their staff is accommodating, but I find the food quite expensive. Make sure to eat tilapia if you visit Lake Sebu. Most resorts, restaurants, and eateries here offer different dishes of tilapia fresh from the lake.
Because I have a limited time in Lake Sebu, we immediately went to the 7 Falls, which is approximately less than 30mins away from the town center. Habal-Habal is the main mode of transportation in the area. I rarely saw a four-wheeled vehicle during my stay. According to my guide, we could trek all 7 Falls if we started early in the morning. But since I arrived late, we could only visit two falls.
The most exciting part of this trip was the zip line, dubbed as the highest zip line in Southeast Asia at the height of almost 600 feet. I don’t have a fear of heights so I was not scared to do this activity. The view was absolutely stunning that I couldn’t help but shout my amazement. The feeling of flying way above the trees and the view of the 7 Falls flowing strongly was indeed electrifying. This activity is something you can’t afford to miss when visiting Lake Sebu.
Our next stop was the home of late Lang Dulay, a national artist and Gawad Manlilikha awardee for her outstanding masterpieces that made tnalak, the Tboli cloth woven out of abaca fiber and natural dyes, known worldwide. I have regrets that I wasn’t able to see her alive, but I’m still happy that I was able to visit her home. There, I had an opportunity to interact with the tribe and watch them closely as they did their weaving.
Your visit to Lake Sebu would never be complete without kayaking at the lake. I thought that it was going to be just a usual kayaking. The lake is not bluish in color but it’s clean. As we sailed along, I looked on the water and was delighted to see the garden of water lilies. I was amazed to see hundreds of flowers, birds flying freely in the blue sky, the beautiful mountains in the background, with nothing but the smooth sound of the paddle hitting the water as we moved along. It was calm and peaceful, a totally different view that betrays the negative notion that people have towards Mindanao. I never thought to have this kind of comfort in a region where most of my countrymen struggle due to an ongoing war and terrorism.
I spent the rest of the day roaming around the municipality of Lake Sebu, interacting with locals, visiting museum and church. The place is modest and quiet and the people are kind and friendly.
I ended this journey watching the sunset at a nearby eatery while eating BBQ. This was one of my most undisturbed travels and I didn’t expect that I would find this tranquility in the southern section of central Mindanao.