Saturday, November 8, 2014

Calmed by Camp@Tagan Lake Mirror and Hillside Resort

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” Written by prolific French author Alexandre Dumas, these lines come to mind whenever I’m caught up in the eye of a storm.

I couldn't have put it any better myself than Dumas who hit the nail right on the head. Life, as we know it, can be turbulent sometimes, tearing us apart with twisters of troubles that bring about stress and tension. There may be occasional lulls. But just when we think the worst is over, we suddenly find ourselves tossed into storms of far more catastrophic proportions!

Lake Mirror before the rain fell

I think of myself as a survivor of many storms. Though they’re not as tempestuous as the storms of others I know, they were, to say the least, formidable, too. But I’ve dealt with all of them by keeping calm and hanging on even when the going gets rough. 

Whenever I’m faced with a storm, I often think of escaping to the hills to clear my head and plan my moves. Seeking serenity, solace and strength there has always done wonders to lift my spirit and strengthen my resolve to win the battle against my storms. That’s what I did a few weeks ago. Destination? Kapatagan Valley in Digos City.

Rising over 1,200 meters above sea level, the highland plain is one of the dreamy destinations I’ve visited on two occasions. The first was when I scaled the summits of Mt. Apo, and the second was when I rode the ziplines of Camp Sabros a few years ago. Both occasions count among the most defining moments of my life. 

Nestled within a verdant plain, Kapatagan is blessed with a chilly mountain breeze, lofty forest trees and conifers as well as rare flora and fauna set amidst a picturesque landscape at the footslopes of Apo. There are days when the village is blanketed with a mantle of cold mists and a canopy of thick fogs both in the morning and at dusk. 

Its nearness to Apo makes Kapatagan one of the most fascinating take-off points for mountaineers seeking to get to the top of the country’s rooftop. It was in the village where my fellow climbers and I started our ascent to Apo some years ago. It’s been a while since I last visited the place so a return to the village seemed in order. 

I’ve been wanting to get close to Apo once again, whose panoramic vista as seen from Kapatagan has been featured in numerous postcards, blogsites and magazine articles both here and abroad. I’m not as fit to scale it as I used to be, thus, going to the highland valley is probably the closest I could get to the mountain. 

There’s this resort in Kapatagan that has caught my fancy these past few years—Camp@Tagan Lake Mirror and Hillside—where interesting sites and activities await nature lovers and weekend wanderers. Once known as Mt. Apo Highland Resort, I’ve heard so much about it but didn’t have the time to explore it until recently.

Mt. Apo as seen from Camp@Tagan

Camp@Tagan offers one of the most spellbinding views of the country’s highest peak and its scenic man-made lake is right in the heart of it all. Lake Mirror, which also boasts of a cold spring swimming pool, provides an awe-inspiring reflection of Apo during the early hours of a clear day, hence, the name. 

The fastest way to reach the resort in the highlands of Digos City is by private vehicle. But I’m not very familiar with the narrow and winding roads that lead to Kapatagan so I opted to take the public ride. Leaving Davao City one weekend, I hopped into one of the buses bound for Davao del Sur’s capital, reaching it an hour later.

From the bus terminal, I flagged a tricycle that took me to the public market where vans going to the village are stationed. Caveat: You’d be playing the waiting game before the vehicle leaves Digos for Kapatagan. Just be patient. Fare is Php100. 

Forty-five minutes down the road, the village came into view. A slight drizzle greeted our van as we pulled over at the public market. It was way past lunch time and my tummy was grumbling so I grabbed a bite first at one of the carinderias near the public market before proceeding to the resort. 

Sated, I hailed a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) nearby to take me to Lake Mirror, which is roughly 500 meters away. I made small talk with Buboy, the amiable driver, who drove me there in no time. I also asked him if he’s game for a tour around Kapatagan the following day. He obliged, for a fee, of course. 

We were already at Lake Mirror’s entrance when I suddenly remembered something. I hadn’t made any prior arrangements for my accommodation there! Since it wasn’t summer yet, I assumed I wouldn’t have a hard time billeting myself. I was wrong. To my chagrin, the resort was fully booked that day!

The staff at Lake Mirror then tried to billet me at Hillside, the other half of the two-part mountain resort. No vacancy, too. Located about a kilometer away from the lake on a hilly portion of Kapatagan, Hillside is adjacent to the Mt. Apo Highland Civet Farm where visitors can sip the famed civet coffee. It was one of the things I missed doing.

Outdoor enthusiasts can take their pick from those two campsites in Camp@Tagan. Both offer comfy and reasonably-priced accommodations. Each of the bunkhouses there can accommodate two to four persons. For those who want to sleep under the stars, the resort also offers tents for campers.

I  had second thoughts about pitching a tent for the night for fear that rainwater might seep in. So, I waited for one of the bunkhouses at Lake Mirror to get vacated. Good thing, a couple changed their mind and opted to go back to Digos City.

Beautiful stranger at the lake

Without much ado, the staff gave me their shack which is located near the lakeshore. It rained hard as soon as I reached the bunkhouse. Tired, I hit the sack. After all, bed weather is best enjoyed when you’re in the highlands When I woke up two hours later, the rain had stopped. It was comforting to see the less gloomy sky. It was calming to feel the weight of the world becoming less cumbersome after the cloudbursts.  

 Rainy day by the lake

The late afternoon breeze got too nippy for comfort. Feeling my ears getting cold, I donned my bonnet and idled the hours away at the back of my shack, staring at nothingness, unmindful of the cares of the world while waiting for twilight to descend all over the place.

Darkness soon crept into the village. It came like some pitch-dark, sluggish, almost still river, creeping into the valley, inch by inch. As it crept, it swallowed everything that stood in its path, first the grasses and shrubs, then the conifers and forest trees, from their trunks way up to their twigs and eventually to the tip of their leaves.

I felt darkness gradually inundate the resort as I listened to the morbid silence that came in its wake. As it passed, everything seemed to grind to a halt, turning hush-hush, with some exceptions—the muted voices of the resort guests, the flapping of birds’ wings, the chirping of crickets, the croaking of frogs, the crying of the tuko (gecko).

Arriving at the vast area of the resort, where no trees and shrubs impeded it, the river of night progressed quickly, almost imperceptibly. There it stretched out, without ebbing, and in seconds, it flooded the entire place.  Then, one by one, the faint lights of Camp@Tagan’s cottages began to flicker in silent staccato. 

I embraced the almost sepulchral stillness that came with darkness. For it brought with it the sought-after calm and consolation that’s been eluding me for quite some time. Someone aptly put it when he said that it is in darkness that you find the light. When you’re in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to you. 

Dusk at Camp@Tagan

It was up there in that desolate corner of the world that I saw the light I’ve been seeking. To borrow some of the words of the late American singer/songwriter Phoebe Snow, sometimes when you're overwhelmed by a situation—the darkest of darkness—that's when you see the light. I owe Camp@Tagan for showing me the light that night.

Summit of the country's highest peak

Morning came. I woke up at a little past five to the freshness of the cold mountain air that permeated my room. I struggled to rise for it was the most perfect time to bask in the beauty and serenity of the lake. After completing my morning rituals, I went to my porch to catch some rays of the early morning sun. 

While standing there, I saw a small bevy of herons and egrets starting to congregate at the floating lilies strewn all over the still murky waters of the lake. Quickly, I took out my Nikon and started shooting at the feathered creatures. Geez, the playful birds gave me a hard time before I was able to capture a few of them!

Later, I went out of the bunkhouse for a walk around the lake. The stillness of the resort at that hour proved to be the elixir I’ve been looking for. The silence, however, was ephemeral, rudely interrupted by the shrieks of children as they made a splash into the cool pool. I turned my back to catch a glimpse at the boisterous bunch. Such happiness…ah, the reckless abandon of childhood! When you’re young, everything seems so perfect, so wanton, so spur-of-the-moment. 

I shifted my gaze and noticed something above the pool that caught my fancy. Lo and behold! There, partly hidden by the forest trees and the conifers was the image I’ve seen in pictures, the image I thought the fogs and the mists would keep from me, the image I’ve been wanting to capture for the longest time—the hulking figure of Apo! 

Mt. Apo and Lake Mirror

Geez, I never knew it was visible from that vantage point because the thick clouds hid it from view when I came to the resort. Quickly, I walked towards the other side of the lake to catch a front seat view of Apo. Geez, it was a marvelous moment for me to stare at the spectacle for the first time in years. I was choked up with joy!

Then I remembered something. OMG! Where’s my gizmo? Like some crazed animal, I raced back to the cottage to get my camera. Heart pounding fast, I kept praying in silence that the clouds won’t appear and shroud Apo. 
With my Nikon in tow, I ran back to where I was, grinning as I gazed at the summits of Apo once again. Good thing, the breathtaking vista remained unobstructed. As I started to look for the best angles to capture the mountain, I noticed an unlikely photo bomber threatening to ruin my snaps—a cell site tower! 
If you think humans and animals are the only photo bombers, think again. Why, even those towers can do that, too! Just like the one allegedly owned by a telecom company (Is that yours, Globe?) that has somewhat diminished the picture-perfect view. Whoever thought of putting it there deserves a severe beating!

Having had enough captures of Apo and Lake Mirror, I sank into one of the chairs facing the lake. I just sat there gazing at the body of water that mirrors the country’s highest peak, practicing the art of doing nothing, of slowing down, of shutting out myself, of settling down with my thoughts.

Kublai's Agong House

Whew, it’s been a long time since I’ve spent some quiet moments just doing nothing—staring at the sea, or watching the wind caress the flowers, or riveting my eyes on the ripples on a pond, or peeking at the people in the park. I guess it’s one of the best things you can do when you’re up there in the highlands! 

Buboy, my tour guide/habal-habal driver/porter
Out of nowhere, thick fogs started to envelop the resort, hiding the mountain. I quietly walked back to my cottage and waited for my brekkie. Almost an hour later, the resort staff delivered my food. He also told me that Buboy was already waiting for me at the gate for our tour around the village. Time to pack my stuff.   

The original plan was to drop by the campsite at Hillside and take a peek at the civet cats nearby before my return to Digos. But I decided to forgo that one and head for another destination that has intrigued me: Kublai Art Garden, a brainchild of prolific Davao artist, Mujahid “Kublai” Ponce Millan.

Kublai, as he is fondly called, turned a hilly landscape of Kapatagan into an amazing artist’s open-air studio-slash-public park-slash-garden where he put on display some of his sculptures and art pieces. With Buboy leading the way, I invaded the artist’s kingdom after passing through a pine tree forest that’s shadowed by Mt. Apo and the other mountains.

Buboy leading the way to Kublai's kingdom
His magnum opus in that park is undeniably the Agong House, a unique-looking structure that’s shaped like a giant percussion instrument known as agong, which is used by Muslims and the indigenous tribes of Mindanao.

Too bad, I wasn’t able to explore that house as the rain fell again when we got there. I guess that would be on top of my itinerary during my next visit to Kapatagan. 

Truth be told, the storm I’m going through is far from over. The one I’m facing, however, does not and cannot define me. The way I’m battling it and how I’ll come out of it—that  would be my defining moment. Deep in my heart, I know this one, like the other storms I’ve survived, will come to pass and it’ll help turn me into a better version of myself.

(map courtesy of Camp@Tagan)
Some may think the time I’ve spent “hiding” in that hideaway in the hills was a sign of evasion, capitulation and defeat. It turned out to be my requiescence, my reawakening, my redemption. That short but sweet weekend wandering in Camp@Tagan did wonders to ease my storm.

That resort whose lake mirrors the country’s highest peak turned out to be the perfect hideaway for some “soul time” that infused me with new reserves of calm and courage. I’m so thankful for the chance to make it there.  

Whenever you’re distraught, snap out of it. Grab your backpack and head for some place away from the madding crowd. Destination? A lake perhaps. Or a beach, a farm, a hill, a mountain, an island, or whatever suits you. There, you’ll have time to stake out some space for yourself, slacken your life for a few days, and seek solace from the storm of your life. :-D

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