Sunday, February 9, 2014

Soothed by South Cotabato (Part 2)

If it is southern comfort I’m looking for, I’d readily set my eyes on South Cotabato. People who’ve been there are one in saying that it’s truly a place quite unlike any other. Nowhere else in Mindanao can you find a plethora of diversity that’s evident in many parts of the province. Many of its towns are interesting tourist destinations and two of them should be part of your must-see list: Surallah and Lake Sebu.

Surallah is a fast growing town you shouldn’t miss if you’re bound for South Cotabato. Those heading for Lake Sebu would surely be passing by the town found at the southern portion of Allah River, one of the tributaries of the Rio Grande de Mindanao a.k.a Mindanao River, the second largest river system in the Philippines. Given its location, I surmise the town’s name literally means “south of Allah River”.

There is in Surallah an interesting landmark that’s been featured in photos and blogs many times. The said structure, which was erected within the town’s rotunda, features Surallah's ethnic diversity, rich cultural heritage, and productivity. Renowned Davao artist Kublai Millan, who also did numerous sculptures in various provinces and cities in Davao Region and beyond, created the town’s pièce de résistance. 
Inaugurated about three years ago, the elaborate landmark features a towering, obelisk-like two-string lute that points upward into the sky. Known as hegalong among T’bolis, the indigenous Filipino wooden musical instrument stands prominently in the middle of the rotunda. Below it is a gazebo that’s shaped like the wide-rimmed gong called agong by Muslims and other Philippine indigenous groups.

At the mini-park near the municipal hall, the themes reflected by the structures at the rotunda are echoed by the array of sculptures I saw there. The minutes seemed to have frozen as I went around the works of art and struck several poses with them. To others, the times I’ve spent there may seem boring and uninteresting but for this wannabe culture vulture they’re bright and unparalleled!

Local and foreign tourists who go to South Cotabato usually head for Lake Sebu, probably the most frequented adventure hideaway in the province, mainly because of its amazing lakes and waterfalls, which I’ve visited on three separate occasions. Located at an altitude of about 300 meters (984 ft) above sea level, the upland town never fails to captivate me even if I’ve already seen it time and again.  

Heralded as the Summer Capital of Mindanao, Lake Sebu is the homeland of the T'boli, one of Philippines’ most interesting indigenous tribes noted for their colorful costumes. It’s also best known for being the breeding ground of tilapia, a freshwater fish that’s a sought-after delicacy in those parts. Name it and, chances are, the locals would cook up something delightful with the catch—stewed, grilled, fried, sautéed, baked, steamed!

Three lakes dot Lake Sebu’s rugged landscape: Lahit (the smallest), Seloton (the deepest) and Sebu (the largest), all of which I’ve seen on separate occasions. Very few places in the country have landscapes that are dotted with several lakes and Lake Sebu is one of them.  Interestingly, sebu is the T’boli word for "lake", thus, the upland town’s  name roughly translates to “lake-lake”. Can you beat that? LOL! 

Punta Isla Lake Resort

In the silence of the town’s three lakes, tourists can indulge themselves in emotional catharsis to the hilt. Those still bodies of water offer silence and serenity, especially at night when only the sounds of the wild can be heard. Visitors can commune with God and nature for as long as they want with hardly any interruption. Of the three, however, I find Lake Sebu as the most placid of them all.

Cruising over Lake Sebu is probably one of the most exhilarating journeys I’ve ever had. Lasting for nearly an hour, the spectacular joyride, which is being offered for free by some resorts dotting the lakeside, is a must-try for those who want to experience something soothing to the senses. (You may go over my post on the Lake Sebu cruise at  

Falls No. 1 (Hikong Alo)
Then there’s the popular Seven Falls of Lake Sebu. Found in the village of Seloton, these amazing wonders are considered the major tourist attractions not only of the town but also the entire province. The sheer beauty of the stunning series of cascades will surely take any first-time visitor’s breath away. That’s why the local government is going to great lengths to develop and promote them.  

Falls No. 2 (Hikong Bente)
Named "Hikong Alo" or “passage” in T’boli, the first among the seven cascades has a total drop of about 35 feet. Near Hikong Alo, adventure junkies will have the time of their lives “flying” over 700 feet up in the air by taking the “slides of death”—the 400 meter and 300 meter zipline rides, which treat thrill seekers to a journey above some of the waterfalls. Caveat: the breathtaking rides aren’t for the fainthearted!

Defying gravity, I’ve flown over those falls three times. Suspended in mid-air for several seconds, I felt at some point that I’ve died and gone to heaven!  Geez, they’re probably the ultimate cliffhangers! And I’m raring to have another one! For more about my first experience with the zipline rides in Lake Sebu, go over

Aerial shot of rainbow at Falls No. 2

Falls No. 3, 4 and 5
Incidentally, the other six falls are known as “Hikong Bente”, meaning “immeasurable” (No. 2),  which has a drop twice that of Falls No. 1; “Hikong B’lebed or “zigzag/coil” (No. 3); “Hikong Lowig or “booth” (No. 4); “Hikong Ukol”  or “wildflower” (No. 5); “Hikong  K’fo-I or “short” (No. 6); and “Hikong Tonok” or “soil” (No. 7). So far, only the first two are accessible as the others have treacherous trails. 

More than just a tourist destination, the province has endeared itself to me time and again. It has proven itself in many ways than one to be a hideaway where I can rejuvenate my body, a haven where I can my refresh my mind, a home where I can revitalize my spirit. I love South Cotabato so much; leaving it is always a sad affair. That’s why a revisit is always in the back of my mind.

Having said all that, I believe the province should make it into the bucket list of every adventure-loving traveler who’s yearning to soothe his or her soul, perhaps way up there than Singapore, Cambodia, Macau, Hong Kong or any other foreign land. South Cotabato is a cradle of serenity and sobriety, with interesting attractions we Mindanaoans are so proud of. Whew, whatta province! :D

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