Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Agog over Agusan del Norte (Part 2)

Bursting with so many natural attractions, Agusan del Norte is probably among those provinces that rarely see throngs of tourists. Even so, going there has long been part of my bucket list. It was only this year though that my plan of exploring AgNor’s bucolic beauty finally found fruition. Good thing, I got to scour some parts of the province where wonderful spots are located that other adventure junkies have yet to discover.

Lake Mainit as seen from the highway along Kitcharao

Gifted with so many unspoiled wonders, the province is perhaps best known as the home of marvelous Lake Mainit, the fourth largest lake in the country with a total area of about 173,000 hectares. Natural habitat to a variety of fish and wildlife species, I first saw the lake in 1998 during a detour from a quick vacay in Tubay, one of the province’s ten municipalities.
In 2013, I had another glimpse of picturesque Mainit on my way to Surigao City. Agog over what I saw then, I vowed to stage a revisit to take snaps at one of the country’s most charming bodies of water.
Said to be the deepest in the country at 223 meters, the pear-shaped lake is shared by the provinces of Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte.  On AgNor’s side, the towns bordering the lake include Jabonga and Kitcharao while those in the other province are Alegria and Mainit. Eight towns from both provinces, including the four I’ve mentioned, share the lake’s watershed area.

An islet within the lake

Snaking along the well-paved Daang Maharlika Highway, my car reached the town of Kitcharao a little over three hours later, coming from Butuan City and passing along the municipalities of Magallanes, Remedios T. Romualdez, Tubay, Santiago, Jabonga and of course, the new provincial capital, Cabadbaran City, where I lingered for some time.

Lake Mainit is said to be best viewed in Kitcharao, which provides a spectacular vista of the picturesque body of water. Seeing the lake from the highway, I readily pulled over and scoured for the perfect spot to take my snaps.

Then I saw this dilapidated structure, said to be the former Almont Lake Resort, which I was hesitant to enter at first as I would be trespassing into private property. To enter or not, that was the question that begged to be answered at that precise moment. Mustering enough guts, I decided to go inside and explore the perimeter of the abandoned property! 

Whoa, it turned out to be a smart gambit! Almont Lake Resort (or what’s left of it) offered the perfect locale for catching a glimpse and taking some snaps of the fabulous lake! Geez, sometimes, it pays to be a trespasser!
From what I’ve gathered, Mainit is the fourth largest lake in the Philippines, having a surface area of 173.40 sq. km and it’s also the deepest lake in the country with maximum depth reaching 223 m (732 ft). It was so named because two of its sources are said to be hot springs. Mainit means “hot” in the vernacular.

Panoramic shot of the lake

Too bad, I didn’t get to dip my foot just to get a feel of the water. Gazing at the lake from my vantage point, I couldn’t help but be stunned by its placidity, not to mention its pulchritude. Whew, it was truly a sight to behold! At that instant, how I wished I could go canoeing there, mesmerized by all the verdant surroundings around me. Maybe next time.

I can count by the fingers the lakes I’ve seen during my sojourns in the country: Lake Sebu in South Cotabato; Taal Lake in Batangas; Lake Caliraya in Laguna, four of the seven lakes of San Pablo City (Bunot, Muhikap, Palakpakin and Sampaloc) and of course, the biggest of them all, Laguna de Bay. To me, however, Lake Mainit ranks among the most beautiful in the country. 

The AgNor escapade also offered me the chance to take a stroll around Cabadbaran City. Still young having attained its cityhood only last 2000, Cabadbaran, the former town, however, is as old as Butuan itself, tracing its roots to a settlement that existed as early as 1200 AD and boasting of at least two archaeological sites where relics of pre-Hispanic Philippines have been unearthed!

While I was there, I dropped by the town plaza, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Catholic Church. After saying a little prayer at the lovely Nuestra Señora dela Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles) Church, I went around looking for the ancestral abode of the Ategas, one of the most prominent families in Cabadbaran. 

Atega Ancestral House in Cabadbaran City

The white-painted house, considered to be the biggest and best preserved among the old homes in the city, was built around 1904, with 36 rooms and a garden to boot!  There are other Spanish-American houses dotting Cabadbaran’s landscape but the Ategas’ eerie-looking abode is probably the most popular because of its “scare” factor. I’ve read stories that certain rooms of the house are haunted by ghosts!

Too bad, I didn’t get the chance to enter the property (it’s not open to the public unless visitors make prior arrangements with the owners) that’s said to be laden with several antique furniture and fixtures. It would have been interesting to see those “rooms” and get the scare of my life!

The port town of Nasipit

The following day, I headed for the wide beaches of Nasipit, located west of Butuan City, for a dip in Butuan Bay. Once a part of Butuan, the town came into its own as an independent municipality in 1929. Ships bound for Manila, Cebu, Bohol and Cagayan de Oro dock at its seaport. From Butuan, Nasipit can be reached via car in about 40-45 minutes.

Amontay Beach Resort

There are a number of beach resorts in Nasipit offering a marvelous view of Butuan Bay but I opted for Amontay Beach Resort, said to be the best in town. Actually, the sand isn’t white, pink, brown nor black but ochre. I took a dip in the cool waters of Butuan Bay, which did wonders to calm my nerves. I lingered there for a few hours before heading back to downtown Butuan.

Having spelled out everything I’ve seen, felt and heard in AgNor, I’d like to end this travel tale with something kinda cliché in the country’s tourism circuit but which I believe holds true to one of Mindanao’s amazing provinces that has left me agog about it: “It’s more fun in Agusan!” Of course, that includes Agusan del Sur, which is part of my growing must-visit list. :D

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