Tuesday, April 30, 2013

High in the Highlands of Davao City (Part 1)

Why hie off to the hills? What’s up there that urges people to scale heights or drive thousands of feet above sea level just to make it to higher ground? Well, I can cite a hundred and one reasons. But for brevity's sake, let me just narrow them down to a few personal ones. I head for the highlands because the air is cool, the greenery relaxing, the vistas picturesque, the living stress-free.

Hazy view of Davao Gulf and Samal Island as seen from the highlands of Davao City

As pointed out by naturalist and author John Muir, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity...” It certainly feels like home when I’m up there. In the hills, life is so simple and sluggish yet so serene and salubrious, too. That’s why I love the highlands and I love going there once in a while. This penchant to escape to the mountains, I guess, was born out of the few times I've spent camping on higher ground way back during my school days.

The din and drudgery of the lowlands drive people to head for the hills

To be able to call the highlands your home, however, you must first learn to love them. That can only grow inside you if you find time to scale and explore them as often as you can. Whether you go up to the hills on foot, by bike or by car, I bet you’ll experience the same magical high quite unlike any other that I’ve experienced. Going uphill, I have gotten more enjoyment out of my two feet than I did out of my car. Mind you, hiking up the uplands can be so liberating and calorie-busting, too!

The exhilarating trails to the highlands of Davao City leave you dazed and dazzled, taking you to another place and time where the pace of life seems to have slowed down—so slow you can literally take time out to sink into some comfort zone, smell the flowers, sip your favorite drink, soak up the beauty of distant valleys and hills, and snap at anything you fancy. Who knows, if you’re lucky, you could come across an eagle, a monkey or a deer! How’s that for a rare encounter with wildlife? 

Why, even Jack Kerouac, one of my favourite novelists of all time, has made the sublime and serene imagery of the highlands the backdrop of his amazing travel stories, particularly those focusing on his meanderings in the wilderness. In The Dharma Bums, for instance, Kerouac takes his readers on a journey to the American hinterlands as he describes what many of us born in this technology-hungry, consumer-driven society openly or secretly crave for—finding the path to spiritual enlightenment. 

A log cabin in Eden Nature Park

Mt. Apo Natural Park. I’m far from becoming a Kerouac but I would like to think that some of what I consider the best I’ve ever written, published or unpublished, were inspired by thoughts and feelings I had while I was up in some mountainous terrain. Take the case of my first-ever climb to the Philippine’s highest peak which I managed to put together in a blog years ago. Up to now, I still regard that story on my Mt. Apo experience the best travel tale I’ve ever written so far.

Mt. Apo, the grandfather of all mountains in the Philippines 

Growing up in southern Mindanao, I had long wanted to scale the heights of Apo (which is said to be over 10,000 feet above sea level), whose name means "master" or "grandfather" in the vernacular. After completing my MBA, I felt the need for a new challenge, something that would push me way beyond the borders of my comfort zone. 

It was then that I saw climbing the country’s highest peak as the kind of challenge that could quench my thirst for adventure, an extremely risky venture that I had pushed into the backburner for some time in favor of other pursuits. 

Overlooking the three Mindanao cities, Digos City (in Davao del Sur), Kidapawan City (in Cotabato) and of course, Davao City, Apo’s peak is every avid mountaineer’s dream conquest. I’m far from what you’d consider an experienced mountaineer but I also once dreamed of climbing it—and did so. Seeing the mountain's silvery cone from afar—they’re actually boulders turned white by sulfur—nearly every morning when I go to work whetted my desire to reach its summit.

Mt. Apo as seen from the village of Kapatagan in Digos City

Mt. Apo on a clear day as seen from Davao City

But the chance to go up there and put my mettle to the test seemed elusive as the wind. Each time I decide to go vertical, something came in the way of my best-laid plans. But as fate would have it, I made it to the mountain’s seven summits. In the end, however, it was country’s highest peak which eventually conquered me. And I thanked the mountain for all the lessons in humility I learned there.  Anyway, so much about Apo. Anyone interested to know more about that experience can just browse the rest of my travel tale at

The summits of Apo as seen from a resort in Kapatagan, Digos City

Undoubtedly, the highlands are among the best places to be when you want to hibernate and hook up with nature and God. That’s why whenever they beckon, I scamper to higher ground in haste. For I’m looking forward to some wonderful lesson in life that just might unravel itself up there. Good thing, I live in a place where the highlands count among the many places of interest that could easily be accessed anytime you want.

Blessed with a gently rolling terrain, Davao City has a number of mountain resorts where world-weary weekend wanderers can retreat and recreate themselves after a weeklong struggle in their respective workplaces. Far from the din, desperation and drudgery of the urban grind are two accessible resorts where people from all walks of life gravitate to bask in the beauty of the great outdoors: Eden Nature Park and Loleng’s Mountain Resort. Located at the foothills of dormant Mt. Talomo, these two hideaways in the highlands never fail to attract a good number of nature trippers during weekends and holidays.

Serenity resides at Loleng's Mountain Resort

Loleng’s Mountain Spring Resort. Nestled on a 135-hectare, gently sloping terrain, Loleng’s, which is being managed by the owners of the University of Mindanao, one of the city’s premier academic institutions, is a perfect spot to bask in the grandeur of nature. Far from the madding crowd, it offers a magnificent view of Davao City, its gulf and the neighboring island of Samal as seen from over two thousand feet above sea level. Now, that’s something that would surely upsize your sense of self by making you feel you’re on top of the world!
Bunk houses at Loleng's

On numerous occasions, I’ve spent a day or two at the inland mountain resort with the company of family, friends and colleagues. Personally, there’s really not much to rave about the place. The amenities—cottages, tennis and basketball courts, a children's playground, a chapel, a cafĂ©/restaurant, a free-flowing spring water swimming pool and a man-made lake for fishing and boating—aren’t that exceptional as far as I’m concerned. But it’s the cool and quiet ambiance that really makes that haven in the mountains tick, luring lowlanders to go there, especially on weekends and holidays. 

Have fun with Loleng's pigeons!

Having had enough of beaches, my colleagues and I opted to spend our mid-year performance evaluation in the resort. Revisited after a few years, I was elated to find a number of improvements strewn all over it.

As expected, the moments spent in the resort did wonders to revive my sagging spirits following a string of deadlines that took its toll on me. I guess I owe this in part to the warm reception we had from the flock of doves which have made Loleng’s their official residence. So, if you’re planning to go there, see to it that you’d get to bond with the birds for those picture-perfect moments!

I once stayed there overnight which proved to be one of the most relaxing evenings I’ve ever had in the mountains. Lovely cottages set up amidst lofty pine trees, dense foliage and the sprawling terrain provide shelter to those who stay for the night. Secluded yet secured, the homey accommodations shield guests from unwanted distractions that spoil a short vacay. Except for a few lights, the resort and its sprawling grounds are bathed in darkness. Far below the hills, the sights and sounds of the city, along with the social realities accompanying it, hardly intrude the stillness of night.

Eden Nature Park. This popular hideaway in Eden, Toril,  on the other hand, is what I’d consider a showcase for efforts at reclaiming a potential wasteland and reconstructing it into a haven for rest, recharge and recreation. Once a logged–over area covered with wild grasses, the owners gradually developed Eden into something that has become one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations in the city. A few of the most interesting nooks and crannies worth your while are the amphitheatre garden, the camp sites, playing fields, the Fishing Village, the swimming pool, the sports playground, “Indiana Jones”, the “Skyrider” and the “Cave of Wisdom”, to name a few. 

Eden Nature Park, one of Davao City's sought-after destinations

Around 95 percent man-made, the nature park is home to rare tropical flowers and foliage, towering conifers and prolific fruit trees as well as sprawling gardens of herbs and organic vegetables organically grown through a technique known as hydroponics. It also serves as a sanctuary for indigenous animal and avian species found at the deer park, butterfly sanctuary and bird walk. It has also become a favourite venue for picnics, camping, strolling, zipping, fishing, horseback riding, trekking, meditating and other outdoor activities. For more about Eden, check out my travel tale at http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2012/06/escaping-to-eden.html.

Watching the dusk settle all over the cabin where my friends and I spent the night, I suddenly remembered these lines by author Jonathan Lockwood Huie: “You have a choice about the perspective you take on life. See tragedy, and the world is tragic—see  beauty and the world is beautiful.”  

I couldn’t agree more. Truly, life, with all its imperfections and uncertainties, is still beautiful. And it’s more beautiful to look at when you’re up there in the hills. In silence, I uttered a prayer of thanks to God for taking me there one more time and showing me that slice of the beautiful life even for just a day.   

So, fellow adventure junkies, whether your interests are aviaries or arbor, boondocks or bird watching, culture or camping, picnics or photography, salads or swimming, Zen or ziplines, these two mountain havens, Eden and Loleng’s, as well as the other resorts scattered in the outskirts of Davao City, are definitely worth exploring if only to satisfy a craving for a different kind of high in the highlands. :D