Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bucked up by Bukidnon (Part 2)


It seemed like ages since I’ve last staged a sojourn into the landlocked province of Bukidnon—it’s just a couple of years, actually—so invasions of the exhilarating kind seemed in order. As the summer months set in, I felt it’s time once again to pack my stuff, pamper myself with the refreshingly cool climate that swathes the province all year round and prance around the tourist attractions Bukidnon is known for. 

A pineapple plantation in Malaybalay




If I want to, I can head for Baguio or Tagaytay to get the best that the summer season offers. But why go too far when I can savor all that in one place here in Mindanao that’s not only adjacent but also accessible and affordable? In the many instances I’ve been there, Bukidnon has never failed to buck me up with the myriad of scenes, scents and sceneries that are always there for the taking by weekend warriors like me.
 
Said to be the third largest province in the country (land area: 10,498.59 sq. km), Bukidnon comprises more than half (59%) of Northern Mindanao. The province, which has an average elevation of  about  3,000 ft  (915 m) above sea level, is blessed with a plethora of natural wonders such as mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, among others, that lend credence to its being one of the must-visit places in this part of the country.

While Bukidnon boasts of awesome mountains like Mt. Dulang-Dulang and Mt. Kitanglad (reputedly the country’s third and fourth highest, respectively), a greater part of it is a gently rolling grassland plateau cut by deep and wide canyons, with vast portions planted with rice and corn, making it one of Mindanao’s major agricultural producers. It’s also home to vast pineapple, banana and sugarcane plantations. 

Vast portions of Bukidnon's fertile lands are planted with rice







Unlike my last sojourn to the province, I consider my most recent journeys to Bukidnon more thrill-packed, fun-filled and adventure- laden given the many firsts I experienced while exploring the picturesque province in Northern Mindanao.  Two of my latest exploits also happened to be my first-ever one-man escapades into some of its twenty fascinating towns, including its two cities. 

The solo sojourns to Bukidnon had me driving on my own for the first time into the cities of Valencia and Malaybalay as well as the southern towns of Quezon and Maramag, coming all the way from Davao. These were adrenaline-pumping journeys that thrilled me no end as I meandered through the long and winding highways of the province, which, for the most part, are well paved.

Here are more bits and pieces about the interesting destinations in Bukidnon which formed part of my sojourns’ ends: 
 

Bukidnon Provincial Capitol



Malaybalay.  Billed as the “City in a Forest”, the provincial capital, which rises at an average elevation of 622 m (2,041 ft) above sea level, often serves as my home away from home whenever I’m in Bukidnon.  Exploring it for the first time in 2007, Malaybalay struck me as Baguio some ten to fifteen years ago when it was still relatively congestion-free and its pine-scented mountain air was pure and unpolluted.  


One of the first things I did during my recent visit to Malaybalay was to head for the Capitol Grounds one morning. Fronting a wide football field and surrounded with lush greenery, the Provincial Capitol was erected in 1933, many years after Bukidnon became a province on September 1, 1914. The colonial-inspired building stands as one of the more outstanding kapitolyos built during the Commonwealth era.   

The two-storey structure has an unpretentious architecture reminiscent of the traditional bahay na bato, that is, concrete at the lower floor, wooden at the upper.  At the balcony, the old provincial seal is prominently displayed. Today, the capitol stands as a mute witness to the province’s history, radiating its power and influence well all over the highlands and lowlands of Bukidnon.

Pine Hills Hotel Complex


Driving my way back to Pine Hills Hotel where I was billeted, I pulled over at Rizal Park. Not to be missed when you’re in that part of town are the sculptures depicting Malaybalay’s founding—Erreccion de Pueblo (Creation of Town).  The landmark at the park commemorates the signing of the pact between the Spanish officials and the local tribal leaders that signaled the end of hostilities between them in 1877.

Erreccion de Pueblo (Creation of Town) Monument










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A cowboy and his horse at Kaamulan Nature Park



In the afternoon, I proceeded to Kaamulan Nature Park, one of Malaybalay’s distinctive attractions. A project of the local government, the park was established to pay homage to the seven indigenous hill tribes of the province—Bukidnon, Higaonon, Manobo, Matigsalug, Talaandig, Tigwahanon and Umayamnon.  Replicas of the different houses of the tribes are positioned all over the complex. 

Replica of a tribal house











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Tall conifers at Kaamulan Nature Park













For me, the park provides a sought-after respite from the hubbub of urban life where you can seek refuge, meditate, go on a picnic and what have you amidst the backdrop of verdant forest trees. I had a grand time basking in the beauty of the Kaamulan’s green surroundings. Time seemed to stand still as I sat there under the shades. Geez, it feels great to be shielded from social realities even for just a few hours! 

Young tribal cowboy romping around the park



















I also made it to one of Malaybalay’s popular destinations—D’ Stable Eco Resort.  When craving for some eats, this resort, more popularly known as Quadra, is one of the best places to satiate your hunger. Quadra has a number of horses, stables, huts and cottages—all set up to conjure a ranch-like ambience set amidst a verdant landscape with lofty mountains, lush forestlands and all.

D' Stable Eco Park a.k.a. Quadra




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The resort is a perfect place for dining and drinking as it offers reasonably-priced food and beverages. Quadra also has closed cottages that can accommodate guests who wish to stay for the night. For those who want a little adventure, it also offers horseback riding for that complete cowboy experience in Bukidnon.

Malaybalay also offers some of the best gastronomic experiences to its visitors.  A number of restos offering grilled seafood and meat are scattered all over town, including Rey’s Grill, Mama Lo’s, Fiona’s,  Amadeo’s, The Garden, Skyway and Sir Edwards.  For the best seafood fare, however, I have a strong bias for Anton’s, which for me is the best place for savoring my comfort food—fresh bounty from the sea!

A section of Sayre National Highway traversing Valencia City



Valencia City. While Malaybalay is considered as the provincial seat of power, it is Valencia, however, that serves as Bukidnon’s hub of trade and commerce. Since attaining its cityhood in 2000, Valencia has evolved into a progressive urban center in that part of Mindanao. Today, several business establishments like hotels, malls, shops, among others, dot the city’s bustling landscape. Construction is booming, too.



About an hour’s drive away from the provincial capital, Valencia is located at the heart of the province, near the mighty Pulangi River, which traverses many of its rice-producing villages. Considered as Bukidnon’s longest, the river is the source of the 255-megawatt capacity Pulangi IV Hydroelectric Power Plant (located in the nearby town of Maramag), which supplies about 25% of Mindanao’s power requirements. 

A portion of Pulangi River as seen from Valencia City



From what I’ve gathered, Valencia has been dubbed as the “City of Golden Harvest” in light of the vast tracts of prime agricultural land being planted with the so-called golden Valencia rice. The city is also a major producer of agricultural crops, including corn, pineapples, bananas, sugarcane and the like. Every September, the city celebrates the bounty of its rice and corn products through the Golden Harvest Festival. 

Scenic view of Mt. Musuan and Pulangi River as seen from Valencia City





Blessed with mountain ranges, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and caves, Valencia City is a certified must-see for those who love to bask in the beauty of nature. What makes the city such an interesting destination is the presence of Lake Apo, a serene lake with a breathtaking backdrop of mountain ranges and lush virgin forests. 


Said to be a crater lake with clear waters, Apo is hailed as “the cleanest inland body of water in Northern Mindanao.”  Named after the Pinoy word for elder or grandfather, the serene lake (elevation: 640 m (2,100 ft), which is found in the village of Guinoyuran, some 11 km away from Valencia City, has long been one of my dream destinations in Bukidnon.

Lake Apo 



I’ve been raring to visit the said lake during my recent visits to Bukidnon but attempts to go there have gone pfft. Even so, I’m not giving up though. After all, it ain’t over till it’s over. And I’m confident I’ll get to see it this year.

Power lines amidst sugarcane fields dominate Maramag's landscape











Maramag.  One of Bukidnon’s most progressive towns, Maramag owes much of its economic prosperity to sugarcane production and hydroelectric power. Crystal Sugar Company, Inc., one of the four sugar milling companies operating in Mindanao, is located there. Maramag is also home to one of the island’s vital sources of power—Pulangi IV Hydroelectric Power Plant.


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Panoramic view of Mt. Musuan and a section of Pulangi River as seen from Valencia City












For eco-adventurers, there’s one breathtaking—literally and figuratively!—attraction in Maramag worth exploring:  Musuan Peak, a small but active volcano that last erupted in the 1800s. A favorite destination of hikers, sprinters, and lovers of the great outdoors, the volcano, also known as Mt. Musuan and Mt. Calayo (literally “Fire Mountain), is located only a few hundred meters away from the Sayre National Highway.

A glimpse of Mt. Musuan



Mt. Musuan offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the sugarcane and rice fields at the lowlands, the mighty Pulangi River and the mountain ranges from afar. Rising some 646 m (2,119 ft) above sea level, the peak always fascinates me whenever I catch a glimpse of it.  Later, when I found out that there’s a hiking trail leading to the top of the mountain, I vowed to return and scale its peak. 

Climbing the mountain formed part of my itinerary during my recent visit to Bukidnon. Leaving Malaybalay early in the morning, I arrived at the entrance gate to the peak where the Mt. Musuan Zoological and Botanical Garden is located. The said complex, which is part of the nearby Central Mindanao University (CMU), serves as the research facility for CMU’s students and researchers.

Incidentally, CMU, one of the two state universities found in Bukidnon (the other is the Bukidnon State University in Malaybalay), ranks among the country’s top performing schools in the fields of veterinary medicine, engineering, forestry education, agriculture education, nutrition and dietetics and teacher education.  Established in 1910, CMU has a student population is over 7,000. About 80% of them are children of farmers.
 
After paying my entrance fee (Php10) to the guard on duty, I started my first ascent to Mt. Musuan. Fortunately, there’s a  well- established, tree-shaded trail that leads all the way to the peak. I took slow but sure strides for fear that my arthritis would get the better of me if I hiked too fast. 

As I got higher, the scenery down below started to turn into a visual feast—the picture-perfect vista of Bukidnon’s verdant rice fields, the mighty Pulangi River, the distant mountain ranges and the thriving communities of Valencia City. 


Later, I reached a view deck which provides a sweeping view of the province's rugged landscape  Whew, it was such a sight to behold!  Quickly, I held up my Nikon and started clicking at the marvelous scene. For more about my Mt. Musuan trek, visit my post at http://scorpio-sojourn.blogspot.com/2015/03/musing-at-bukidnons-mt-musuan.html.

One of the cool pools at RR Family Spring Resort






Endowed with an abundant supply of spring water, Maramag, which is billed as the “Cold Spring Capital of Bukidnon” is home to several nice swimming resorts. Not a few of these resorts are well-developed with overnight accommodations, restaurants and other creature comforts. Popular cold spring resorts include RR Family Spring Resort, Waig Crystal Spring Resort, Edlimar Farm and Spring Resort, and MGM Mountain Resort.

Waig Crystal Spring Resort


So far, I’ve managed to visit two of these during one of my weekend wanderings in the province: Waig Crystal Spring Resort and RR Family Spring Resort. On a hot and humid day, these two resorts offer the perfect rendezvous for a refreshing plunge into their cool pools—the sweet escape from the sweltering heat!

Located roughly ten minutes away from right smack at the poblacion, Waig Crystal Spring Resort has ample facilities, including five swimming pools, picnic huts, a souvenir shop, a restaurant, function halls, tennis and basketball courts, billiard halls as well as aircon and non-aircon cabanas, dormitories and campsites for those who want to spend the night there.



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Meanwhile, RR Family Spring Resort offers its visitors a scenic vista of Valencia City’s verdant rice fields and awesome Lake Pulangi. Nestled in the picturesque village of Tubigon (a good twenty-minute drive from the poblacion), it also has two swimming pools surrounded by several open-air cottages set up like an amphitheater. 

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Panoramic shot of RR Family Spring Resort
  

For those who want to spend the night  there, RR Family Spring Resort has four duplex-type cottages that can cater to a maximum of four persons each; two aircon dormitories that can accommodate a maximum of 16 people each; several open-air cottages; a conference room, a mini-function hall; and a dome that can house up to a 100 persons.

Quezon's rugged landscape



Quezon.  You’ll know you’re in Bukidnon once you see truckloads upon truckloads of sugarcane traversing the national highway.  Most of these trucks emanate from the town of Quezon, said to be the “Sugar Bowl of Bukidnon” and the whole of Mindanao for that matter. The town is home to Bukidnon’s first sugar mill and Mindanao’s second—Bukidnon Sugar Company, now known as BUSCO Sugar Milling Company.  


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Awe-inspiring vista of Bukidnon at Overview Nature and Culture Park








Other than sugar, the town is also known for the Overview Nature and Culture Park (ONCP), a favorite stopover of motorists on their way to or from Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Davao, etc. Situated at an elevated portion along the highway, ONCP  offers an awe-inspiring vista of Quezon’s rugged landscape as well as its neighboring towns and the surrounding mountain ranges. 









More than just a pit stop for nature lovers, ONCP is also a promenade for artists and culture vultures. The park features several masterpieces of Davao-based artist Kublai Millan—sculptures of indigenous peoples arranged into tableaus and assembled in different locations. Seeing his works all over the park all the more reinforced my admiration for Kublai—he’s truly one of the art geniuses of this generation! 

 

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Just like those I’ve seen at Kaamulan Nature Park, the works of art at ONCP pay tribute to the seven hill tribes who were the original inhabitants of Bukidnon. Altogether, the sculptures celebrate the tribes’ artistry by showcasing their unique musical instruments (agong, kubling and bangkakaw) and their dance (bubudsil). If you’re into ethnic art and music, you’ll have a grand time feasting on Kublai’s works that are on display there. 
 
One of Kublai Millan's sculptures depicting the ethnic dance called bubudsil




Across ONCP is another landmark worth visiting: Overview Helipad. Like the park, it’s also adorned with sculptures of indigenous people from the seven hill tribes of Bukidnon, all done by Kublai. What struck me most was the concrete hat that’s actually an overhead cover of the helipad's view deck. The hat provides shelter and shade against the sweltering heat for those who want to bask in Bukidnon’s beauty.

The pathway to the giant cowboy hat at the ONCP helipad



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Nature lovers, hikers, trekkers and adventure junkies will surely find the park and the helipad  the ideal setting for their varied activities. But it also offers the perfect setting for painters, sculptors, photographers, composers, writers and poets who may wish to create their magnum opuses in a rarefied and rugged landscape like Bukidnon’s. 
Both  are owned and maintained by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Like many other towns in the province, Quezon is endowed with huge tracts of fertile plains, virgin forests, rolling hills, lofty mountain ranges and mysterious caves. One of the most interesting natural attractions worth exploring is Blue Water Cave, a largely unexplored cavern with a blue lagoon inside one of its chambers. Perhaps someday I’ll get to reach it—I hope soon enough before my chronic arthritis could finally stop me from pursuing my weekend wanderings! :-D