Friday, December 30, 2016

Mystified by Malagos’ Resorts (Part 2)

A few months ago, Chris, a nephew of mine from the US (yep, he’s a certified “foreign-oy” whose mom happens to be my first cousin on the maternal side) visited Davao to reconnect with his Pinoy roots. Although it’s his second trip to the country, it was his first time to visit Mindanao, which many of his mom’s kins call home.
Malagos' lush surroundings can be therapeutic

Being the closest relative he’s got in these parts, I felt duty-bound to give Chris a taste of that  brand of hospitality that we Pinoys are known for. Other than that, I had promised my cousin that I’ll look after her son while he’s in Davao. So, like a dad who’s about to see his son for the first time, I rearranged my schedules at work so I can fetch him at the airport.

It wasn’t hard to recognize Chris who I only got to see in pictures before; he stood out among the exiting passengers because of his height. After the usual pleasantries, bear hug and all, we drove to a nearby mall for his first dinner in the city.

The Philippine eagle: Malagos' most popular denizen

Because it was a hectic work week for me, I told Chris that I can’t be with him the whole time he’s in Davao, except at night and during the weekend. He didn’t seem to mind. The dude is used to exploring places all by himself—not just in the US but in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and a host of other Asian destinations that even his mom, a constant traveler herself, has yet to visit. 

I asked Chris if he’s got an itinerary. He mentioned some places but there’s one thing he asked me to do—to take him to Malagos. Making it there seemed foremost in the dude’s mind. Oh, it must be because of the Philippine eagle, the village’s famed denizen, I thought. He admitted later that he's  eager to see the famous avian, which has been successfully bred in captivity these past several years by a privately-owned breeding center based in that part of Davao.

Chris was veritably excited about our sojourn to the outskirts of Davao. He woke up early—way too early than what his body clock would usually alert him!—as it would take more than an hour to get there from where we’re staying. He wanted to maximize his time in Malagos so we readily kicked off as soon as he was ready, opting to have our brekkie on the road.

One of the city’s sought-after destinations, Malagos never fails to dazzle first-time visitors (like Chris) and frequenters (like me) with the sheer beauty of its lush, rustic and serene surroundings that’s still largely unspoiled by the city’s urbanization. I’ve been there over a dozen times already but each time I hit the road to Malagos, I get to discover something fresh and new that helps demystify this haven that’s fast becoming part of many weekend wanderers’ bucket list.

Home to over 6,000 Davaoeños, Malagos is one of the 182 villages that make up Davao City. The name Malagos is said to have been derived from the word mala-agos, which suggests continuous flow even during the dry season. This can be attributed to the presence of a vibrant watershed that’s being maintained by the local water utility.

Welcome signage at PEC

The remote sanctuary is special to me, a refreshing refuge whenever I feel the urge to be far and away from the madding crowd. In most instances, I often head for either of the three popular resorts found there: Malagos Watershed and Park, Malagos Garden Resort and the Philippine Eagle Center. Chris and I visited all of them.  

Located about 33 kilometers away from the city proper, Malagos Watershed is considered as one of the most vital sources of the city’s water supply. Way back in the 1920s, it was in Malagos where Davao’s first communal water system was established. At present, the local water utility relies on the 235-hectare Malagos Watershed to meet the water supply requirements of the southern portion of the city, particularly the Calinan area. Found within the watershed and park are a number of water facilities, including sand filters, a chorinating facility and a dam.

Brahminy kite, another eagle species found inside PEC

After passing through the Malagos Watershed, we headed for our ultimate destination—the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC). Home to about thirty-plus Philippine eagles (half of which were conceived, born and raised in captivity), PEC is a sprawling 8.4-hectare conservation breeding facility located up there in the foothills of Mt. Apo in the district of Baguio, about an hour or so (depending on the traffic) from the heart of the city.

Fighter's formidable look

Aside from providing a simulated rainforest habitat for its most popular but endangered denizens, PEC also houses ten other species of birds, four species of mammals and two species of reptiles. It’s the sought-after Philippine eagle, however, that’s obviously PEC’s most famous crowd-drawer. Standing about a meter tall and weighing approximately 5 kilograms, the creature is a sober-looking avian who sports a patrician profile highlighted by a pointed, curved beak and luminous bluish eyes. On his pate rests a headdress of light brown feathers that form a crest when raised, giving him a war god’s appearance.

His dark brown dorsal feathers, thick and neatly tucked, complement a fluffy white chest. His broad wings, spanning about two meters, allow him to rise almost vertically to maneuver between trees, branches and vines. Gifted with a squared-off tail, powerful legs and sharp claws, he’s an excellent hunter who’s always ready for the kill. He feeds on a wide variety of forest species that include squirrels, snakes, civet cats, hornbills, and occasionally bats and monkeys. His primary prey, however, is the flying lemur.

We chanced upon one of the specimens of the species—the formidable-looking “Fighter”. Finally, Chris got to meet him live in the flesh, up close and personal at that, for a quick photoshoot that left my American guest in awe. The avian’s exotic appeal, mighty built and regal bearing have earned for him and his kind the title of “Haribon” or Haring Ibon, meaning Bird King. And it’s only fitting that his species was declared as the Philippines’ national bird last July 4, 1995 by virtue of a presidential proclamation.

The continued destruction of their natural habitat has significantly reduced the Philippine eagles’ population to less than a thousand or so birds. They’re scattered in about four out of the over 7,641 islands making up the Philippines—Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. Their main breeding season is spread out from September through February. Laying only one egg, they rear one offspring every two years. Their life expectancy, particularly those in the wild, is anywhere between 30 to 60 years.

From PEC, Chris and I headed for a quick tour of Malagos Garden Resort. Owned by the Puentespina family, it’s a sprawling inland nature-themed hideaway replete with accommodations and function rooms, seminar halls, a restaurant and coffee shop, well-manicured gardens, a swimming pool, a bird park and butterfly sanctuary, a science-themed park, a contemporary art open gallery, a children’s playground, to name some. 

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Tired after hours of exploring the tourist spots of Malagos, we called it a day after a super late lunch at the garden resort’s resto. By three in the afternoon, the hideaway got gloomy as rainclouds hovered all over the place. Before hopping into the car, we managed to drop by the pasalubong shop near the parking lot where I bought organic veggies, a bottle of sinamak (popular Visayan spiced dip made from coconut vinegar, Cayenne pepper, onion, ginger, peppercorn, and garlic, among others) and, of course, the award-winning Malagos chocolate. For those who have a fetish for rare flora, the resort is a must-see as it's home to the famous Philippine orchid, Vanda Sanderiana, locally known as waling-waling.

Malagos' internationally renowned product

On the way home, Chris had quietly fallen asleep. I took a glimpse at the sleeping dude, searching for any clue about his state of mind. I wasn’t disappointed. I saw what I wanted to see. It was written all over my American guest’s face—pure satisfaction, that is. Well, not surprising. After all, it isn’t every day that someone from the West like him gets lucky to discover a mystifying place in the East, a mystery-shrouded haven like Malagos. :-D

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