Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lazing around Kidapawan City’s Lake Agco

Known for its tonic springs and tropical fruits, the city of Kidapawan in North Cotabato has long been one of my favorite summer hideaways. Home to many of my relatives, I usually visit the city to see them whenever time permits me as well as seek solace and satisfaction in the soothing waters of its hot and cold pools.

Mahomanoy Mountain Resort's cold swimming pools 

Given the numerous natural springs dotting the city’s rugged landscape, Kidapawan may well be dubbed the “City of Highland Springs.” And aptly so for this place whose name is a combo of two Manobo words, tida (spring) and pawan (highland), that the early Christian migrants had changed to what it’s called now.

Mt. Apo, the Grandfather Philippine Mountains

Mt. Apo as seen from Kapatagan, Digos City

One of the most exciting destinations in the city is a sought-after sanctuary lying at the footslopes of Mt. Apo. Following a successful conquest of the mountain in 2005, I first saw this place where boiling sulfuric mud and water heated by underground volcanic vents from the bowels of Apo gush forth to a mud lake and a hot pool. 

For many climbers who’ve succeeded in scaling Apo, it’s the proverbial oasis where they can seek relief and restoration after a grueling conquest of the mountain. This haven in the highlands is a veritable slice of heaven here on earth, especially for those who love the great outdoors and yearn for a different kind of thrill. 

Sulfuric emissions from Agco's boiling lake

Weary from the backbreaking descent from Mt. Apo (Lake Venado to be exact) via the Kapatagan-Kidapawan route, my companions and I spent a few hours immersing ourselves in a cold spring to wash off the dried mud from a boiling lake we had earlier rubbed our bodies. That certainly did wonders to relax us! The name of that enchanting place? Lake Agco.

Nestled 1,200 m (3,937 ft) above sea level, the area is part of the upland village of Ilomavis, some 45 minutes away from downtown Kidapawan. From what I’ve gathered, Ilomavis is a portmanteau for Ilocano, Manobo and Visaya, the three major tribal groups who’ve been living in peaceful co-existence in the area.

The road to Agco

A trek to Agco introduces first-timers to an amazing boiling lake with sulfuric emissions—tangible proof that Apo is a potentially active volcano!—and a brownish mud pool whose sulfuric waters are a relaxing treat to tired bodies, not to mention a widely believed cure for all sorts of skin illnesses.

Incidentally, the area surrounding Agco is regarded a sacred ground of the Manobo tribe, the original inhabitants of Kidapawan before Christian migrants from Luzon and the Visayas came and populated the town many decades ago. 

Together with my aunt, some cousins and their kids, I returned to Agco one chilly day in May to laze around its amazing wonders set amidst a picturesque ambience. Not even the slight drizzle that greeted us along the way dampened our spirits as we headed for the lake.

The road to Agco isn't exactly a primrose path
While my cousin’s Ford Everest snaked its way through the concrete road leading to Agco, excitement gripped every part of me as I caught sight of thick fogs engulfing tall conifers dotting the verdant foothills of Mt. Apo. It was pure zen for this city slicker who usually gets his high by basking in the beauty of nature. 

What made our sojourn so sleek and smooth is the well-paved stretch (with very few rough and bumpy exceptions) connecting Ilomavis to the downtown area. As far as I can recall, going there used to be a rocky ride all the way to the highlands.

Revisited after ten years, I was amazed at how Agco had transformed itself into—a sought-after destination boasting of hot and cold springs, natural whirlpool baths and spas, complete with cottages and overnight accommodations, hawker stalls selling all sorts of wares plus a number of other creature comforts usually found in the lowlands.

One of Mahomanoy's cool pools

There are three resorts found within Lake Agco: Mahomanoy Mountain Resort, Lantapan Jacuzzi Resort and Madadma Mountain Resort. Of the three, only Mahomanoy, so far, has room accommodations. With their presence, Agco has become somewhat touristy, if not for its natural come-ons.

After pulling over at the parking area, we went to Mahomanoy Mountain Resort which is being run by the local cooperative whose members are mostly farmers and members of the indigenous communities who are helping to protect and preserve Agco’s environment. We then paid our entrance fees (Php25 per person) and cottage rental (Php300). A staff then ushered us into one of the cottages found near the resort’s large pool.

A day spent at Mahomanoy is pure joy. The watery wonderland features a mud pool, a sauna and two swimming pools with cold spring water: a kidney-shaped one for adults and a heart-shaped one for kids. It also has rows of open-cottages situated near the two pools, making them the perfect venues for al fresco dining, drinking and relaxing.
Mists engulfing the footslopes of Mt. Apo

We were about to have lunch at the cottage when the rain fell, making the air nippier. Good thing, my cousin brought along a bottle of red wine which somehow helped us fight the bitter cold. 

It also whetted our appetites for the sumptuous fare which consisted of sinugbang bangus (grilled milkfish), pork adobo,  kinilaw na malasugue (blue marlin ceviche), among others. It was a hearty meal which was spiced up by humorous banter. Sated, we rested for a while before heading for the pools.
Mahomanoy’s pools, whose waters are fed by cold springs of Mt. Apo, seemed to be ice-chilled but once your body gets acclimatized to the coldness, you’ll surely enjoy it to the hilt. Cold as it was, I mustered enough guts to take a dip at the resort’s larger pool. Geez, it was so refreshing and relaxing!  

The little ones (my nephew and niece) also never seemed to mind the cold water. Why, they were swimming like fishes in the kiddie pool for hours! With summer rearing its scorching head all over the country, it was surely bliss for them and for all of us who’ve made it to the cold pool that time.  

Mahomanoy's hot mud pool 

Some of Agco’s visitors like it hot. Fortunately for them, Mahomanoy has this fancy hot pool with chocolate brown water, which, at first glance, looks dirty. But the hot water, which comes from the bowels of the mountain, is believed to relieve body pain, heal certain skin diseases and other illnesses. 

Dirty pool? On the contrary, it's therapeutic!

No wonder there were many visitors who seemed to be having the time of their lives even if they’re in hot, murky water! 

Later, we hiked towards nearby Madadma Mountain Resort where the boiling lake and the mud pool are located. Madadma, if I’m not mistaken, stands for Manobo Apao Descendants Ancestral Domain in Mt. Apo. Entrance fee is Php20 per person. 
The trail leading to Agco’s boiling lake used to be difficult, compelling curious visitors to hike through a craggy terrain to reach it. Now, there’s a walkway made of concrete slabs leading people to the site. Caveat: The pathway gets slippery and muddy when it rains. So, you should walk with extra care over the trail.

Walkway leading to Agco's boiling lake and mud pool 

After passing through tall trees, dense foliage and lush shrubbery, I finally saw it again—the boiling lake of Agco! Geez, it’s still as captivating as the day I first saw it. Too bad, the lake wasn’t so visible that time as sulfuric steam obscured it from view. Nonetheless, I managed to get a few snaps of the spectacle. 

Agco's boiling lake


I slowly walked towards the muddy banks of the lake and then dipped my foot to get a feel of the water’s temperature. Inch by inch, I immersed my toes into the water. OMG! It’s darn hot—hot enough to cook eggs! 

Interestingly, the mud found along the fringes of the lake is said to be therapeutic. Women will be pleased to know that it’s the perfect natural mud pack that can help remove wrinkles and keep skin soft and smooth! 
During my first visit to Agco, my colleagues and I took some of the mud and rubbed it all over our faces and bodies. It somewhat relaxed our aching muscles, especially after we washed our bodies with cold spring water.

A stone’s throw away from the boiling lake is a mud pool where visitors can relax in the water coming straight from the lake which I guess is mixed with cold water since it felt warm when we took a dip.  At first glance, visitors may find it dirty but the mud pool can do wonders to your skin, exfoliating it in a few minutes to give way to new, younger skin. 

One more caveat: The water can be quite hot for comfort for those who aren’t used to hot baths. The trick is to slowly dipping your body, slowly but surely so you’d get accustomed to the hot water. Try immersing your feet first, then your legs and then your whole body.

Right in the middle of the resorts of Mahomanoy and Madadma lies another interesting hideaway—Lantapan Jacuzzi Resort which features a steam bath. The waters there are said to be much clearer than those of Mahomanoy. Visitors can also head for the waterfalls found within its periphery. Too bad, we weren’t able to explore that resort. Maybe next time. 

Very few places in the country have a lake similar to that of Agco. Given that, I felt so privileged to have been afforded the chance to revisit such a unique destination—in a city where kith and kin abound! With summer still rearing its searing head, isn’t it nice to beat the heat in such an amazing place, together with your family and friends?

So, weekend warriors, find time to laze around the boiling lake as well as the hot and cold springs of Agco at the footslopes of Apo, the Grandfather of Philippine Mountains. Who knows, it could be the best thing that could happen to you this summer! :-D

No comments:

Post a Comment