June 19-20, 2009
Exploring Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
Safety, Safety and Safety!
I was directed to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato when I asked a few Gen San locals where I could go to see more of Mindanao. It was the nearest safe tourist spot west of Gen San. In militarized Mindanao, safety is always an operative word. In fact, I was discouraged from venturing north of Lake Sebu. I was also warned about a place I wanted to see - Maragusan in Compostela Valley. Word of the wise was, there's increased military operations in the area. If I just show up without anyone vouching for me, the military was likely to mistake me for an NPA supporter/member (NPA - New People's Army: an armed revolutionary shadow government). The NPAs in turn will suspect me as a military plant. Both scenarios make me vulnerable to harassment, interrogation or worse, torture. Nope, I didn't go to Mindanao for that!
What Makes Lake Sebu Special?
Many reasons. It's a beautiful 300+hectare lake nestled 2316 feet up in the mountains. Also, it's the ancestral domain of the indigenous tribe, the T'bolis. There are also 7 magnificent waterfalls taking the lake overflow down to irrigate the lands of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato.
It is not clear how water is fed into the lake, but the overflow cascades down a flight of 7 waterfalls. It takes a habal-habal ride to get there (P100 - P150). I only went to the waterfall #1 and #2 (yes, that's how they're identified). It was spectacular! It would have taken a longer hike to see the rest, but I've already seen enough. It's not encouraged to bathe there as the water from the lake is suspect (according to the resort people).
The Lake is abundant in tilapia. Selling live tilapia is an established cottage industry within the surrounding communities. Not surprisingly, the regional specialty is tilapia...chicharong tilapia (crispy tilapia rinds). As a general rule, I never miss out on a regional specialty dish. Sometimes, that's all I eat in that area (I still challenge any Ilonggo who had more La Paz Batchoy than me when I was in Iloilo....I had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from every conceivable vendor...street-side eateries, mall food courts, wet market stalls, etc.). The first chicharon tilapia I ordered was from Estares Lake Resort...it was a let-down. It was nothing but fried breaded tilapia chunks that tasted aweful. Not easily discouraged, I went to the most popular resort, the Punta Isla to try theirs. It was much much better, although I wouldn't go out of my way for it. It still didn't blow my socks off. However, if you're already in the area, it's definitely worth a try.
Tuba is that coconut nectar coming out of a cut-off branch. Taken fresh, it's an invigorating morning fixer upper. Allow it to ferment a few days and it makes for an intoxicating wine. Distill it and you have the Lambanog...super potent but leaving no hang-over. When in a new rural place, I always sniff out where I can buy fresh tuba...the early morning harvest type. There's always one somewhere...you just to ask around. That's what I did here in Lake Sebu and I was pointed out to a place just across the street from the T'boli Museum. Price? P25/gallon! Yeah!!!! I tried finishing off half a gallon but I got drunk before I could down it. I dozed it off. The following day, I had no problem downing 1.5L before I headed to my next destination, Davao City.
From what I've read before coming over, the highlight of the place is to take a boat ride around the lake. I should feel like a food bowl up in the mountains where fish is abundant. The shoreline houses and the numerous tilapia farms could also be seen. Alas, I couldn't piggy back on a boat ride. It charges P500 for a boatfull of 11 people. Always, the boat was full. I had to leave before I could manage one. Hmmm....another thing for 'next time'.
If I had more time, I would have persisted to take the boat ride, walk some more to see the other 5 waterfalls, and eat more versions of chicharon tilapia. Staying by a lakeside hut was especially conducive for reflection, reading or writing. I would certainly pencil-in Lake Sebu to get away from it all, where air is clean, tilapia is fresh and the climate cool.
Sheane May Sungahid
- From Bulaong Terminal in Gen San, take bus to Koronadal (often referred to as Marbel, its old name) and get off at the Koronadal bus station. Tell the conductor to drop you off there. P50 (a/c), 1 hour 11 minutes
- From Koronadal, take the Yellow Bus to Surralah. P22, 38 minutes
- From Surralah, take a jeep to Lake Sebu. P30, 43 minutes
(Jul 15, 2012) it's more fun in Lake Sebu....
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