It was mid-August of 2017 then, it’s the night when the sky was the darkest and the Perseids meteor shower will lit the Earth’s sky with great spectacle. My friend invited me over for a camp to witness this heavenly show. We talked that night and our conversation partook from Perseids meteor shower to the great cosmos, and to landscape astrophotography which we commonly shared an interest with, until out from a bubble, he then shared his cosmic thoughts about photographing the Milky Way above a vast still body of water. This is when Lake Holon came into the picture. Such ideal that we planned a trip months ahead, a night camp out by the lakeside — clear moonless night sky with oceans of stars — in hopes to photograph the Milky Way above Lake Holon.
But when the fateful day came, the sky wasn’t dotted with stars but with cold jewels falling from it, mighty dark clouds and roaring thunders. It rained hard on the day we planned to camp out by the lakeside. The original plan turned to a night off at the foot of the mountains with bamboo ceilings as our roofs. Such hopes turned to despair, but we never lost our enthusiasms.
H’YU LAFUS, KULE!
When we woke up past 3 AM, roosters were already declaring it daytime through the pitch darkness. Crickets nearby screeching distinctly soon will halt their choral performance. But the freezing atmosphere was mercilessly relentless. I curled up my body, curved my back and bowed my head, just enough that my knees could touch my face under my hammock with my limbs embracing my lower torso. Then came David offering us rounds of hot native coffee.
“H’yu lafus!” said David with a warm smile on his face greeting us good morning.
The Tbolis typically wake at this transitional hour to share with their hot native coffee but this time, it was special. Merry voices singing in chorus from nearby house transitioned the silent village. Guitar strummed while villagers sang joyfully on their tongue to celebrate the life of one of the villagers. Their voices and mañanita (birthday serenade) warmed the whole atmosphere like coffees warming our bodies. They ended the mañanita with joyous greetings and thanking the One above for another year.
BLESSED MORNING TO US
Prepped and ready, we began our trek with a blessing from one of the Tboli tribe. A woman chanted us a soulful Tboli prayer with words we couldn’t comprehend. But surely, those were words asking God for guidance and protection as well as goodwill upon our journey. It’s 5 AM and we commenced our journey comprised with me, three of my friends, David, and two porters to see Mt. Melibengoy and Lake Holon.
KULE TRAIL, THE HUNTER’S TRAIL
Cold winds blown from every direction grazed our timid bodies that still longing for the warm comfort of our bed sheets. Pitch views and dense fog limited our sights on these jagged trails. We often bump and stumble to some shards of rocks with the still finite light we had on our headlamps. Despite the struggles, our energy didn’t deplete. The shivers lessen as our bodies gaining heat. Visions clearing slowly as the sun was cautiously navigating from the horizon. But still, the presence of the fog and clouds above remained.
We’re too focused on straddling our footings between rocks that some humungous silhouettes gradually materialized amidst the mist without us noticing it. Beautiful perennial beings came to sight with trails and spaces in between them still engulfed with a light mist. Otherworldly, as if we’re in a forest above the clouds or as if the mountains brought the heavens below. I asked myself in silence, “What mystic world did our feet brought us?”
Mt. Melibengoy hides such beautiful splendors with forest floors cloaked by hectares of everyday flowers. The fog gradually uplifted as the earthy aroma of the forest came to our senses. The everyday flowers are so romantic. It seems like it’s inviting us, persuading even, to a place that’s more beautiful than it already is. And with these exquisite florae, it felt like the gruesome hike subsided with the feeling of astonishment. David once told an ironic myth about how everyday flowers came to be. Long ago in the mountains of Melibengoy, there’s a kingdom led by a king. One day, the king got irritated by a bunch of naughty children on his kingdom. For them to be useful, the king used his sorcery to turn all of those naughty children into flowers that’ll bring smile and joy to his dominion every day — so its namesake, everyday flower. Thus, Mt. Melibengoy was dotted with hectares of everyday flowers. Quite an ironic ending for those naughty children.
THE TEST BEFORE MT. MELIBENGOY
After an hour of a gentle but still arduous trek, we came to the spot that’ll give us a grandiose view of Lake Holon. I thought it’s only the sweat trickled on our faces that were holding but pulling off of our frustrations, again, came also on the other hand. Here we were, down in the dumps. Fogs and clouds hugged the whole mountain. We saw nothing but an empty canvass of a painting. It dampened our excitement but sulking will only blight our efforts for coming here.
So, we waited. And to make matters worse, we were left in an open freezing atmosphere amongst the mist. Strong cold winds gushed from every direction.
We thinned out our patience, thinner than a hair’s width. I can barely gather my thoughts to settle my mind knowing that every minute passes by it could turn into positivity or worse, a worthless effort. Nonetheless, we still waited. We were glued from where we stood and sometimes paced back and forth to ease the cold and boredom.
Hugging the fog while our eyes are closed, feeling the chilly air that kisses our numbing cheeks, we found ourselves serenading the mountain, the lake, the guardians, and even the gods and goddesses dwelling in Melibengoy. Sweet gestures and gentle kisses in the air. No remorse or negativities in between to welcome the blessings of the mountains. We had our palms touching one another close to our faces praying to get to see the ethereal wonder even for a second.
We even danced ‘Sun Dance’ with the dogs just like how Sarah Geronimo danced erratically in her movie, begging the mighty sun to pierce through the thick clouds. We shouted our lungs out similar to what Angelica Panganiban did in Kiltepan Peak but in spite of imprudence, words of pure sincerity transpired from our hearts to our mouths. With borrowed words from the tongue of Tboli people, we shouted with our hearts, “Teybong nawa hokum, Lake Holon! Teybong nawa hokum, Melibengoy!” Those words translate: I love you, Lake Holon. I love you, Melibengoy. Truly, we did awfully a lot of crazy things out for entertainment but it was with taintless intentions.
THE REWARD FROM LAKE HOLON
Hours passed, it was almost 9 AM. We waited an anguishing 3 hours to have a clearing. From time to time, David spoke with his incessant words meant to give it up and let this chance pass. We acknowledged his timidly spoken words but the view deck acted like a magnet that we’re still steel drawn attracted to it. We have this mutual feeling that if we’ll wait a little longer — just a nibble of time — and if only stares could do wonders, the reward will eventually come. And then suddenly, from the depths of her mysteries, it’s coming into view.
Slowly, Lake Holon infuses life into our beings. The dense fog cleared just above her and we were greeted with one of the most picturesque views we could ask for.
From the view deck, the metaphor of Lake Holon as The Crown Jewel of the South came to life. Below us and from a distant, scattered wispy clouds lingered over the verdant peaks ringed around Mt. Melibengoy like mighty pillars while the blue-colored waters glistened as if thousands of sapphire stones glimmered from the bottom. Truly, a crown worth honoring for.
Upon gazing this beauty, a thought struck my mind that patience and perseverance are the sculptors of tomorrow’s reality. Lake Holon did come to reality. Oh, how beautiful it really is to experience such hidden treasures of the Pearl of the Orient. My soul was once again unfolded to some kind of magic. It held me spellbound for a few minutes. It was worth every thump of my exhausted heart. We took quick photographs here and there — every corner or angle is worthy of a click on sight.
WELCOME TO LAKE HOLON
The smooth rhythm of the terrain downhill to the lake made the pacing faster from the view deck. We traipsed our whimsy feet on the trail and straddled over shards of rocks. We can’t contain our excitements to finally meet Lake Holon. More or less than an hour, we finally got near its bank. We stumbled upon onto these Tboli fishermen of Lake Holon.
A jiggling ride on a dugout canoe was needed to cross to the camping grounds. On our cruise, the flock of birds made distinct sounds from the forest’s canopies. David said that it’s a sign of acknowledgment by the guardians of Melibengoy and Lake Holon. The recognition itself left us honored and proud, another blessing from their guardians.
The canoe docked at the shallow waters of Lake Holon as I dangled my feet on the side of the vessel touching the cold waters. My lower body’s muscles wriggled and squirmed, slowly dipping deeper into the water, as the pain extinguishes. We had the place all to ourselves. Such a shame that we didn’t experience this tranquility the night before ’til sunrise.
As a true blue water baby, I couldn’t help but to dip and even swim in the extremely cold waters of Lake Holon.
It didn’t bother me and there I stood half naked before the lake and the mountains before me. I gave my sincere thanks and gratitude as a sign of respect by mumbling the words, “Tey bong nawa hokum, Salamat Holon ug Melibengoy.”
The place is so serene and peaceful and the only sound prevailing is the music of nature. I found a perfect place for solace. Undoubtedly, this is a priceless reward and gift, and certainly, this wonders earned a sweet spot in my heart.
Short before noon, we started our trek back at the foot of the mountains traversing Salacafe trail/Monkey trail. It’s quite an easy trail than Kule trail/Hunter’s trail but with the longer route. The trail is wide and flattened unlike the Kule but the latter gives a better trekking experience and will challenge your physical abilities — the one that we look forward to for this trek. After an hour, we stopped at the other view deck found while traversing Salacafe trail. It was short stop then back to our feet again on the trail. Loud thunder came with dark clouds not far from our sight and we knew what will come after — a rain, again, for an nth time.
THE RAIN AND FAREWELL
For the entire duration of our SOCCSKSARGEN trip, it rained almost every day. The rain brought the destruction of our meticulous plan and halted some of our major goals prior to this trip. Obviously, we’re devasted and it dampened our enthusiasm. We wish that the rain would never come again. But the rain that poured unto us while traversing Salacafe trail felt different. We were happy it came. It had brought satisfaction and feeling of fulfillment. It felt nostalgic. It brought back my memories from my childhood with my cousins playing in the rain, a sudden memory rush. All I know was I’m happy for that time. We let the inner child in us scamper and enjoy the little blessing. With no hatred, we welcomed the rain as a farewell present from the guardians of the mountains.
It rained hard enough to engulfed the trails of Salacafe with clouds and fog. With several meters apart, all I can see is the silhouette image of my friends. That’s how dense the fog was. We passed other Tboli community going downhills. It reminded us me of a village from the Silent Hill movie, a place engulfed in fog. It’s so cold that our lips went blue, our breath fogged up, and our hands have gone numb. Nevertheless, it didn’t hinder our pacings downhills.
We arrived at the receiving area of Brngy. Salacafe as wet as a rug. From there, we parted our ways to our guide, David, and said our heartful thanks. We charted habal-habal ride back to the town proper and changed into our dry clothes. It was quite a series of bus rides before we got to our last destination, General Santos City. We had a night off at the city before boarding an early flight back to Cebu the next day.
HOW TO GET TO LAKE HOLON
- Via Cotabato City. Take a bus/van (P150.00-P200.00) from there bound for Isulan, Sultan Kudarat. Travel time is more or less than 1.5 hours. Take another bus/van (P60.00) from Isulan bound for Surallah, South Cotabato. Travel time is 1 hour. And lastly, take a bus/van (P30.00) bound for T’boli, South Cotabato. Travel time is 30 minutes.
- Via General Santos City/Davao City. Take a bus or a van (P85.00-P150.00) bound for Koronadal City, South Cotabato (popularly known as Marbel). Travel time is more or less than 1.5 hours. Take another bus/van (P50.00) from Marbel bound for Surallah, South Cotabato. Travel time is 30 minutes. And lastly, take a bus/van (P30.00) bound for Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Travel time is 30 minutes.
- From T’boli Tourism office. Registration and Environmental Fee for P150.00. Seeds for tree planting is P10.00. There’s a camping fee which is P100.00/tent. You can rent a tent at their office. An individual or a group will be given a guide on duty upon arrival (P600.00/group). The only form of transportation going to the jumpoff area/s is by habal-habal. There are only two jumpoff areas going to Lake Holon: Salacafe trail/Monkey trail (P300.00/habal-habal) and Kule trail/Hunter’s trail (P400.00/habal-habal). The Salacafe trail jumpoff area is at the Brgy. Salacafe proper. It is an easy trail — wide and mostly flattened — but the longest to trek. While the Kule trail jumpoff area is at Sitio Kule, Salacafe — some 30 minutes away from the Salacafe proper. It’s more arduous than the latter but the shortest to trek and has a better view going to the deck. For me, I prefer Kule trail because (1) it gives a better view of the trail to the view deck until to the camping grounds, (2) trekking experience is worth it and (3) will challenge your physical abilities — the one that we look forward to for this trek. It takes more than an hour or two of a rollercoaster habal-habal ride going to the jumpoff area/s.
- The trek from jumpoff area. It takes more than 4 hours of a trek when choosing Salacafe trail depending on your pacing before the arrival at Lake Holon. This trail is perfectly fit for beginners, young hiking enthusiast, and for those young at heart. On the other trail, it takes 2-3 hours when choosing Kule trail to get to Lake Holon. This trail is suitable for seasoned hikers and hardcore mountaineering enthusiasts. But, this is also good for the brave one who would take up for the challenge. Guides and porters are provided for every trail to assist every individual along the journey. Porter fee is P20.00/kg. There’s also a rental fee of the dugout canoe going to the camping grounds. I forgot how much it was.
- Please practice LNT principle. Although Tboli tribe is slowly adopting the modernization, the rawness of how they live before is still visible until now. Do not loiter around the village, on the trails along the mountains, and on the lake for it brings disrespect to the tribespeople.
- Always be mindful. Let us help them preserve their culture and tradition by putting in our minds the negative impacts that could bring about the unmindful acts we do and/or exploitation of the tribespeople.
- Be friendly to the whole village. Always wear a smile. They are the most hospitable, the most accommodating, and friendliest people I ever met on the planet.
- Help the tribespeople through a simple act of kindness. Buying their local crafts can help them better their lives. On our journey, I bought an alternative to a trekking pole for P30.00 which is a sturdy wooden stick with some cute designs in it handcrafted by the young Tboli children. Their earnings will help them crawl those school expenses. I brought that back here in Cebu and I still have that wooden stick until now. Hiring a porter will also help them, that’s P10.00 per kilo of your things. There’s also a local souvenir like bamboo cups with ‘LAKE HOLON’ engraved around it which you can buy from P30.00-P50.00. It’s really worth your money. Lastly, I also bought their native coffee for P10.00 per pack.
- Protect yourself. Bring an umbrella, raincoats and/or rain jackets. The weather is unpredictable due to its geographical location. Check weather updates prior to the date of transit. Wear proper trekking attire like leggings, arm sleeves, trekking shoes, etc. It’s better to be ready than sorry.
- Safety first. Lake Holon’s depth is still unfathomable so swim with caution. Life vests are required for those individuals (with rental fee) who’s about to swim the lake. For those non-swimmers, there’s a shallow part of the lake near the dicking area that you can swim to. Just wear life vests all the time when near the lake.
- ENJOY YOUR ADVENTURE! Pull off a memorable trekking experience to Lake Holon.
- BONUS! Learn the locals. Don’t pass the chance of learning the mother tongue of the tribe. Ask your guide or interpreter to help you learn some basic phrases and/or greetings. Converse with the locals using their dialect to have a full tribal experience.