Sunday, September 11, 2016

Carefree in Cagayan de Oro City (Part 2)

Hakuna Matata—this became one of my favorite mantras after watching The Lion King many years ago. Roughly translated, the Swahili phrase (which happens to be the title of a song featured in the popular animated film) means "no worries", or the kind of attitude that I’d like to associate with what the French call joie de vivre or “the joy of living”. 

Ayala Centrio: one of the most frequented shopping complexes in CDO

Like so many people, I’ve been trying to lead a life that’s worry-free. But then again, life’s a bitch most of the time. Like it or not, trials and tribulations come our way. That’s why we must have the courage to stay afloat, not letting our worries get the better of us. Carefree, that should be the attitude if we want to live longer, I guess.

Me? I practice a simple approach in keeping my worries at bay. Hard as it may be, I strive to be carefree no matter what the circumstances are. How? I drive. Long distance, that is. Shhh, don’t laugh now but that’s my stress therapy. The escapist in me gets a kick out of driving to faraway places. 

In recent months, some personal circumstances have made life kinda rough and tough to handle. I wanted out, at least for a few days. Seeking some breathing space, I decided to hit the road to Northern Mindanao. Destination: CDO. That’s Cagayan de Oro, in case you don’t know.

CDO's changing cityscape

In the “City of Golden Friendship”, the chances of getting infected by its feel-good vibes run high. Exag as it may seem, there’s something magical about the smiles and warmth of Kagayan-ons that can ease anybody’s worries even for just a few days. Believe me, the folks there are probably the best versions of the happiest Pinoys in the planet.

It wasn’t my first time in CDO so I was far from clueless about what it can offer to the woeful and world-weary. The city teems with many attractions that can pumped up the right dose of adrenaline and endorphin into your sagging spirits. Think river rafting, zip lines, rappelling, spelunking, dragon boat racing, the works!

There’s so much to see and do in the city that can help you find your balance and keep you light and easy. It has everything and anything for any adventure junkie, be it in air, land, or water. You just have to discover them yourselves and choose something that suits your wild.

For this recent sojourn, however, I wanted something more laidback so I focused my sights on two popular attractions that CDO is identified with: Macahambus Cave and Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village.  For the longest time, I’ve been lusting after these spots because of their historical and cultural significance.  

The road to Macahambus Cave

Historic Cave

Hidden somewhere in the hilly village of Lumbia, Macahambus Cave is included in the bucket list of many weekend warriors. Like them, I’ve been raring to see this attraction for the longest time but, for one reason or another, I failed to squeeze it into my previous itineraries. This time, however, I made sure that I’ll get to explore it once and for all, come hell or high water. 

Entrance to Macahambus Cave

For dabblers in history like me, this cave is a must-see mainly because of its historical value—it was there where the “Battle of Macahambus Hill” took place on June 4, 1900. This momentous event in the country’s history marks the first among our few victories during the Philippine-American War.

Gripped with excitement, I got behind the wheel and careened towards Lumbia (my first time to explore that part of the city) to take a peek inside Macahambus Cave. Several minutes later, I reached the site, which is easily located given the billboard that motorists can see from the highway.

Pulling over from across the cave’s entrance, I noticed a makeshift souvenir shop selling various handicrafts. I then asked the woman manning the store if I can go inside the cave. “Anytime, sir,” she said. By the way, visitors need not pay any entrance fee to get inside Macahambus Cave.

Aside from the souvenirs and trinkets for sale, I noticed several headlights on display at the stall.  I asked the woman if they were up for grabs, too. “For rent only, sir. Twenty pesos each”, came the reply. I got one and placed it on my head. In a jiffy, I was ready to explore the cavern!

Near the cave’s entrance are two markers that provide details about Macahambus as well as its historical significance. Incidentally, I learned from the woman at the souvenir stall that the ideal time for visiting the cave is usually in the morning, say, 9 AM onwards. By late afternoon, it is usually off limits to the public. 

Inside Macahambus Cave

One of the markers stated that Macahamabus is a “thru” cave, meaning it can be entered at one and exited at the other. The cave has three chambers, all of which served as sanctuary of many Kagay-anon soldiers during the Philippine-American War.

Upon entering the first chamber, I readily felt the cool breeze coming from the cave’s opening at its opposite side. Soon it turned dark as I walked deep into the inner recesses of Macahambus with only my headlight and my phone’s flashlight illuminating the path.

Then I saw a small, cramped opening—quite small that I had to crouch to fit right into it—that leads into another chamber. After making it through that hole, I walked several  meters more. To my delight, the path I was treading grew bright as light coming from outside illuminated the walls of the cave. 

Geez, before I knew it, I had reached the other side of Macahambus Cave! I came out of the dark chamber and stepped into a steel view deck. Standing there, I was rewarded with a breathtaking vista of the mighty Cagayan de Oro River (or at least a part of it), several hundred feet below me. Whew, whatta quickie of an adventure!
Hole at the other end of the cave


For visitors who have no vehicle but want to see the cave, they may take any of the PUVs going to Lumbia, where the old CDO airport is located. Fare is about Php25 per person. A taxi, on the other hand, will cost them around Php400 for a round trip.

A portion of the mighty Cagayan de Oro River as seen from the view deck

Entrance to Gardens of Malasag Eco-tourism Village

Highland Gardens

Still flushed with exhilaration, I hopped into my car and drove towards the village of Cugman along the Cagayan-Iligan-Butuan Highway. Destination: the Gardens of Malasag Eco-tourism Village (GMEV).

From what I’ve gathered, GMEV provides visitors with a colorful glimpse of the rich ethnic heritage of Northern Mindanao as well as its ecology thru various artifacts, customs and traditions and flora and fauna, put together in one unique highland resort. 

GMEV's ethnic-inspired dorms

Neatly tucked within the verdant slopes of CDO’s Cugman Watershed, GMEV, which was conceptualized in 1991, is an eco-friendly habitat, which, according to the brochure I read, was created out of inspiration from the botanical gardens of Spain and Canada. 

Spread across seven hectares of forestland, GMEV is made up of several botanical plots with a small wildlife collection of butterflies, birds and deer. Seeing the highland resort for the first time, it struck me as an ethnic theme park of sorts whose main come-ons are the tribal houses representing the abodes of the indigenous cultures found in Northern Mindanao.

The tribal village represents a microcosm of the life and heritage of the lumads like the Subanon, Talaandig and Higaonon, to name a few. The houses feature the tribal communities doing handicrafts, perform rituals, dances and other art forms, their traditional handicrafts, agricultural implements, ethnic instruments and ornaments.

Huge forest trees inside GMEV

GMEV also boasts of the following amenities: camping ground, swimming pool, function halls, dormitories, amphitheater, aviary, hanging bridge, souvenir shop, mini-plaza, flower gardens, to name some.

I had no idea where GMEV is specifically located. Though I saw the place in pictures posted in several websites, I wasn’t familiar with the routes in CDO. Good thing, I managed to locate it using Google® Maps. With the virtual map as my guide, I was able to reach it. 

For visitors who have no vehicle but wish to see GMEV, they can take any of the PUVs passing by Cugman. At the waiting shed along the highway, motorcycles for hire await passengers bound for Malasag Hill. Fare is about Php25 per person. A taxi will compel guests to shell out around Php300 for a two-way trip.

A slight drizzle welcomed me as I negotiated my way through a narrow but well-paved road that leads to the highland hideaway. Though it hardly dampened my spirit, the light rain made the road slippery so I had to drive at low speed to avoid any untoward incident as I went up the hill.

Walkway inside GMEV

Minutes later, I saw the sign pointing to my destination. Pulling over, I headed for the information counter and paid the entrance fee (Php50). Afterwards, I proceeded with my photo walk around GMEV.

All of a sudden, it started raining cats and dogs, forcing me to abort the tour and seek refuge in a resto-cafĂ© within the GMEV premises. I ordered some pica-pica while waiting for the rain to stop. 

Hazy view of CDO and Macalajar Bay

Sitting there, I was treated to a breathtaking seascape of CDO and Macalajar Bay below, albeit nebulous because of the haze. On a clear day, I bet it would be an awe-inspiring vista worth a dozen clicks. 

By 5 o’clock, the drizzle still showed no signs of waning. So, before darkness could creep into the resort, I decided to drive my way back to the downtown area.

Thinking about going somewhere where you can be carefree and cheery? A happy place bursting with so much dynamism and energy that will make you smile like you haven’t smiled before. No problemo, mi amigo. Just go to CDO pronto. When you get there, I’m certain you’ll find something to make you exclaim: “Hakuna Matata!” 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Carefree in Cagayan de Oro City (Part 1)

Chada—that’s what Cagayan de Oro City or CDO, for short, will always be to me. The unique word, which could either mean “beautiful” or “good” among the locals, aptly describes the highly urbanized city which is also touted as the “Adventure Capital of the Philippines” given the wide range of extreme sports activities it boasts of having.

Tribute to the Slain Members of the Press

For this incorrigible photography buff and adventure junkie, CDO is definitely an excellent choice for indulging in photo expeditions. And what makes CDO so chada in my eyes? Well, there’s the rapids of its mighty river, those mysterious caves and enchanting waterfalls, the friendly folks, the thrilling whitewater rafting and of course, those charming girls, some of whom end up as national as well as international beauty titlists!

CDO, which is also billed as the “City of Golden Friendship” because of its warm and friendly people, has earned another ace up its sleeve, not to mention, for Mindanao and the whole country for that matter as far as being chada is concerned—it’s the second home of the country’s third Miss Universe, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach!

It is, however, the range of extreme sports happening in CDO that has lured many tourists to explore its many attractions. Home to whitewater rafting, one of the most exhilarating water sports introduced in recent years, it attracts thousands of adventure junkies in search for adrenaline rush.

Cagayan de Oro River on a gloomy day

Aside from river rafting, CDO is also known for other thrills—zip line riding, ATV driving, rappelling, dragon boat racing and much, much more. But so much for those extreme sports. Let me now go back to photography. As I’ve said, the city is one lovely destination for photo walks. I’ve done a lot there and I really enjoyed to the hilt the excitement of roaming around the city and capturing its many-faceted beauty.

St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral

Interior of the cathedral

Another thing about CDO that fascinates me is its unique name that’s said to have been derived from two languages: Malay and Spanish. Legend has it that there’s a mighty river that runs through a settlement where the early Spanish conquistadors discovered gold nuggets.

That settlement was then known as Kagay-an, a name which was allegedly derived from the ancient word kagay, meaning “river” in Malay. Kagay-an, therefore, means "place with a river."

Interior of the cathedral

When the law creating the city was passed more than 50 years ago, former Congressman (and later Vice-President) Emmanuel Pelaez, one of the city’s most eminent sons, appended “de Oro” to the city’s, which means “gold” in Spanish, in recognition of the gold mining activities in the area during the pre-Spanish times.

Limketkai Luxe Hotel

Hills and mountains surrounding CDO

Almost four years have passed since I’ve last explored CDO. I’ve been raring for a revisit so when the chance came to go there came unexpectedly this month, I readily drove into the highly urbanized city—my first time to do so! Mind you, getting behind the wheel for more than seven hours proved to be one of the most strenuous I’ve ever experienced.

Massive road widening/ rehabilitation projects in some parts of Bukidnon prolonged the trip as public and private transport were forced to go slow and/or stop every now and then. If I’m not mistaken, all the lulls along the way stretched the usual travel time from Davao to CDO by almost an hour longer!

A glimpse of Macalajar Bay and CDO's coastline

Part of the Butuan-CDO-Iligan Highway

Then there’s the traffic in the city itself. Almost all roads there are congested! This I have to say: CDO probably has one of the worst traffic situations in Mindanao! I’ve been to other regional cities in the island—Butuan, Davao, GenSan and Zamboanga—but I’ve never encountered traffic as horrible as the one in CDO!

Since my last visit, the traffic situation there has gone from bad to worst! Want proof? I witnessed at least three vehicular accidents taking place in half-day’s time—along the main highway-that is, the Butuan-Cagayan-de-Oro-Iligan Road! Well, so much for traffic. That’s probably the big price HICs like Cagayan de Oro have to pay.

Even so, the brief sojourn in CDO afforded me the chance to see anew some of its distinctive landmarks, including St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral, Gaston Park, Vicente Lara Park, and of course, Limketkai Center, which now boasts of having one of the tallest hotels in Mindanao, Limketkai Luxe Hotel!

As CDO continues to swish its way to progress, its cityscape is fast changing dramatically, too. More high-rise buildings, posh subdivisions, towering condos and huge shopping complexes are occupying its urban sprawl.

One of the two 60-year old acacia trees found inside Ayala Centrio Garden

So far, there are over a dozen or so shopping malls in the city, including Limketkai Mall, Ayala Centrio, Gaisano City, SM City CDO, among others. Mind you, four more are still under construction, including SM CDO2 Premier!

Oh, did I fail to mention that the streets are filled with throngs and there is hardly any place where you can neatly park your vehicle? Geez, I had to drive to so many one way streets before making it into my hotel! Despite these inconveniences, CDO will always be one of my favorite regional cities in Mindanao, mainly because of its interesting sights, smells and sounds.

Traffic or no traffic, the “City of Golden Friendship” made me feel so carefree, chipper and cool—and yes, chada—even for a few days. Must be those cheerful faces that greeted me wherever I went.

The warm, smiling and friendly locals are reason enough for travelers to pay a visit to what could be the “friendliest” city in that part of the world. If only for the cheerfulness that CDO brings into my heart and soul, I’ll go back again. Again and again.

(to be continued)